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Archive for May 15th, 2023

The UK government’s targeting of Palestine solidarity attempts to criminalise and depoliticise action taken by activists like Tony Greenstein, and silence campaigns on Israel’s crimes under the guise of ‘fighting anti-Semitism’,

Emad Moussa

12 Apr, 2023

Until very recently, Elbit Systems Ltd, the Israeli arms firm, was one of the main beneficiaries of some of the UK Ministry of Defence’s lucrative contracts.

But in December last year, the firm was reportedly ousted from two contracts to deliver training for the Royal Navy.

Elbit’s headquarters was for years the target of an ongoing campaign by rights activists, particularly Palestine Action, for their complicity in Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.

The UK Armed Forces feel that their association with the firm was too problematic for their image.

For the activists who set out to expose the firm’s complicity in war crimes, the Elbit aftereffect continues to define much of their lives. Not only that, their cases have become yet another iteration of the UK government’s renewed attempts to suppress Palestine activism.

”In addition to the heavy judiciary’s gavel, Tony Greenstein has been demonised by pro-Israel groups as an anti-Semite. The UK-based newspaper The Jewish Chronicle, among others, had already developed a negative fixation on him, publishing several articles with ‘anti-Semitism’ as the recurring theme, either to ‘explain’ Greenstein’s activism or the reason he was suspended from the Labour Party in 2018.”

One of those activists is Tony Greenstein, a long-time British Jewish anti-Zionist and writer, and a founding member of the Palestine Solidarity Movement.

Along with five others, and personally labelled the ‘lead defendant,’ Greenstein is currently standing trial at the Wolverhampton Crown Court charged with the possession of ‘articles with intent to destroy property’ belonging to Elbit.

Two years ago, a group of Palestine Action activists, including Greenstein, were intercepted by the police on their way to Elbit’s UAV engines factory near Shenstone, Staffordshire.

The goal was to climb over the factory roof and spray it with red paint symbolising the blood of Palestinian children killed by Israel, and to attract public attention to Elbit’s role.

After arrest, Greenstein was kept in a holding centre for a week before being bailed out in anticipation of the trial. Due to Covid and the resulting Crown Court backlog, the trial was postponed for two years. If convicted, the 69-year-old activist is facing up to one year in prison.

Stripped down to its bare legal components, the court procedures appear like a typical case of ‘criminal conduct’ associated with property damage.

Greenstein, however, argues that the judiciary approach was to take Palestine out of the equation, depoliticise the case, and simply reduce it to a criminal act.

The police action and, subsequently, the judiciary reaction have been highly disproportionate to the ‘threat’ posed by the activists. What is even more critical is that the disproportionate response did not apply to Elbit’s serious breach of not only international law but also the UK’s human rights norms.

One can only speculate, in this light, that the MoD’s cancellation of contracts with Elbit was more about dodging public embarrassment and less about committing to the UK or international laws tackling the usage of lethal weapons against civilians.

Asked whether that sounded ludicrous considering he is Jewish, he explained that anti-Semitism merely means opposing the Israeli state, which is falsely projected unto the world as the ‘collective Jew.’ Hence the conflation between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

The new definition of anti-Semitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) has indeed broadened the ‘anti-Semitic label,’ becoming a point of reference to Israel’s advocates and state officials.

Even with the lack of certain examples in the definition, the IHRA has urged civil society bodies, locally and internationally, to adopt it on the basis that it reflects a hard-won consensus among IHRA’s member countries.

2021 Oxford University report found irrefutable evidence that the IHRA definition was principally drafted and negotiated by pro-Israel advocacy groups, not Jewish history scholars. Instead of protecting Jews against anti-Semitism, it was skewed to shield the Israeli state against valid criticism.

The British government adopted the IHRA definition in 2016. It has since deployed it repeatedly as a quasi-legal apparatus to disrupt the UK’s free speech whenever Israel was in question.

UK universities, for instance, were pressured to embrace the definition or otherwise lose funding streams.

The result was – and continues to be – stifling and sabotaging the career of academics and scholars who dared to stand up for Palestinian rights.

From the smearing campaign against Bristol University’s Professor David Miller to Sheffield University suspending Palestinian academic Shahd Abu Salameh, all are examples of how the UK government has selectively weaponised anti-Semitism to silence pro-Palestine dissent.

Perturbing for rights campaigners in particular is the introduction of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC).

The Bill grants the police not only additional powers to suppress protests but also broad discretion on what constitutes illegal campaigning or activism.

Against the PCSC backdrop, the government is also planning to introduce a bill banning BDS, which would severely cripple social movements campaigning for justice in Palestine.

Not all is bad news, however. Successful push-backs are also a growing phenomenon. Greenstein remains optimistic that public opinion is steadily shifting in Palestine’s favour. “At some point,” he said, “anti-Zionism was a very small fringe amongst Jews. But nowadays, more [disillusioned] Jews are turning their back to the Zionist state.”

His optimism is not without grounds. After a decade in which US Democrats have shown increasing affinity toward the Palestinians, their sympathies now lie with Palestinians not Israelis, 49% to 38% respectively.

This is paralleled by growing indicators that the Israeli hasbara has been losing its influence in the US, with more Americans saying it is “acceptable”, even a “duty” for the U.S. Congress to question the Israeli-American relationship.

As it stands, a tangible change in government policies toward Palestine in Britain may not be likely in the foreseeable future.

An increase in activism may even lead to further criminalisation of solidarity efforts. But that could also trigger more dissent, especially when free speech becomes conditional.

Greenstein likes to look back at history as an indication that times can change. Political activism deemed criminal today, could be heroised tomorrow.

Nelson Mandela was once a ‘terrorist’ and the suffragette movement was treated as ‘criminal’, but today they are seen as inspiring examples of historical justice. Victory was obtained by people waging struggles in the past, and it will one day be the case for Palestinians also.

Dr Emad Moussa is a researcher and writer who specialises in the politics and political psychology of Palestine/Israel.

Follow him on Twitter: @emadmoussa

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May 2023

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