The Anti-Israel Launch of the Balfour Apology Campaign
Nov 15, Dec 8, 2016
On Oct. 25, I witnessed an event at the House of Lords (the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom) in which the Jews who died during the Holocaust were staggeringly held accountable for their own fate.
While public meetings of this kind are typically innocuous enough, this one was different. The event at the Palace of Westminster was put together by the Palestine Return Center, a United Kingdom-based non-government organization that focuses on Palestinian refugees. It was hosted by Baroness Jenny Tonge, a life peer in the House of Lords and (at the time) a member of the Liberal Democrat Party. She resigned soon after because of massive worldwide criticism of the event and of her apathy. Tonge is no stranger to controversy about the land of Israel. During the past 12 years, she has been rebuked and sanctioned several times because of her comments about the issue. After Israel sent medical help following a disaster in Haiti, she was linked to claims that the Jewish people had taken that opportunity to harvest organs.
This particular House of Lords meeting was called to launch the “Balfour Apology Campaign.” Nov. 2, 2017 will mark the 100th anniversary of United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour’s letter to Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. The letter said that Britain “viewed with favor” the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.
This letter started the international political process that would result in the mandate, partition and eventual creation of the State of Israel. For Israel, the upcoming 100-year anniversary is a cause for celebration. For the Arabs, it is an entirely different matter. Palestinians have asked the British to apologize for Balfour – for what they view as Britain’s giving away their land.
I was shocked at the anti-Semitism in the air at the event. There is no point in being directed by anger, nor in losing one’s self in the creation of an irrational inhuman enemy. These methods merely provide a lazy way out; a system of avoiding uncomfortable moments of self-reflection. There is a line that can be drawn between the civil war in 1948 and those who sat in the House of Lords demanding an apology from the British government. The line can be drawn farther back than even the 1917 letter that the House of Lords created this event to discuss.
I looked around and felt sorry for the Arabs in the room. They have tied their flag to yet another pole that will bring only additional wasted years and more bloodshed. I cast my mind back to my Arab family and friends in Ramallah and Nablus, Jericho and Bethlehem, Qalqilya and Tulkarm. It has been 16 years since the outbreak of the second “intifada;” since all of those bridges were burned. Another generation wasted. I could not help but feel sympathy for a desperate people who depend so totally on this, the hopeless cast of a thousand who lead them.
The PRC event
I was not the only Zionist in the room. Tonge publicly welcomed someone from “Israel radio.” She took the opportunity to score points by thanking the reporter for the publicity his articles had brought her in the past. But her welcome also warned everyone that Zionist ears were in the room. From that moment on, I knew that Tonge would be on her best behavior.
The central thrust of the event was to discuss the activity that will take place during the next 12 months. An online petition asking for a British apology for Balfour is expected to launch within days; its target is 100,000 signatures by late spring. There are also plans to have a large public demonstration in London’s Trafalgar Square on the 100th anniversary.
One of the event speakers introduced himself as a “British Palestinian.” Karl Sabbagh was born in Worcestershire in the early 1940s as a British passport-holder, not a refugee. His mother was British, of American and Irish parentage. He asked the international community to create an alliance of power to remove the “invaders” and replace the Jewish State. A mirror image of the Zionist monster he imagines in his head, Sabbagh is on a strange personal mission.
The first two talks were nothing special; they served up the same fare I have heard 1,000 times: Balfour was a “mistake.” The telling of a narrative held together by sticky tape with a C.S Lewis or Enid Blyton signature. The third talk was by Betty Hunter, honorary president of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the U.K.’s largest pro-Palestinian organization. There was also a “special guest speaker” who had not been listed on the program: Yakov Rabkin, a “professor of history at the Université de Montréal.” A rabid anti-Zionist Jew.
After the speakers finished, the audience got its turn, leaving the scripted, careful talk behind. There were four incidents that I need to describe to expand on this issue of growing anti-Semitism. But first, the groundwork:
The failure of a science
The pro-Palestinian reasoning is built on falsehoods. It is why “anti-Israel” is a more fitting description of the movement. In truth, it does nothing to help the Palestinians. Yes, it supports the British Palestinian. And yes, it waves the flag of an emotional cause. But to assist the future of the actual Palestinian family? To invest, build infrastructure, help carve the groundwork for a future nation? To encourage sacrificing some of the “principles” to gain future prosperity for the children? These are things that nobody in the anti-Israel camp ever does.
The narrative itself is founded upon too many myths to withstand rigorous investigation. The conclusions and assumptions built from within this paradigm are also false. This creates major issues for those who have become emotionally invested in the Palestinian cause.
Prior to 2000, there was room to maneuver. As the Oslo process presented a two-state option, it was possible to be both “for the Palestinians” and – in theory at least – a vocal supporter of Israel. This possibility collapsed in September 2000 during the violence of the second intifada.
The Israelis and most of the rational world understood the causes and implications of the failure of the Oslo process. Sure, Israel hadn’t been the perfect partner; it had not stuck precisely to the letter of the agreement. But this didn’t cause the intifada. The violence was strategy; a Palestinian choice. The leaders (such as they were) remained unable to provide an end game. They left the negotiating table. Today, the weakness of the Palestinian leadership is amplified tenfold.
This was a dilemma for the opposing camp. The outbreak signaled a major flaw with the underlying assumptions. Enough to cause a shift. This fundamental challenge destroyed the Israeli peace camp and ended most support for the Palestinian cause. For the Arab narrative to hold true, additional adjustments needed to be made to the basic principles. Thus, the narrative of “demonic Israel” began to enter the mainstream.
Anyone familiar with Thomas Kuhn’s structure of scientific revolutions understands that there is always strong resistance to change from within the established community, which will continue to add ever more elaborate dimensions to the paradigm in an attempt to hold it together. The Israeli left collapsed because it was no longer able to maintain scientific cohesion. If the Arabs had to be absolved of blame entirely – despite the evidence at hand – Israel needed to turn from a nation seeking to defend itself into a demon state capable of committing all evils. The Israeli left knew this was not true.
This “demonic” element is now a primary pillar on which the entire movement is built. People such as Ben White in the U.K., Max Blumenthal in the U.S. and Ronnie Barkan of Israel have made careers out of it. So as expected, during the House of Lords event, Israel was demonized at every turn.
When Hunter discussed the label of democratic Israel, she said,
A crucial point is put in the media all the time: that is Israel is not a democracy. It is not a democracy because not all the citizens have the same rights. They can’t live in the same places, they can’t get the same jobs, they can’t go to the schools together, they don’t get the same amount back from the taxes – which are equal. That’s very equal between the Palestinian Israelis and the Jewish Israelis, but the benefits do not go to the Palestinian population, and we heard about what happened (as Karl said) to the elected representatives to the Knesset. We just have to remember the campaign that has been going on all year about the Bedouin people who are being driven from their land by the 10,000s. There have been many more already driven from their lands, but this is the current catastrophe. So it is not a democracy. And that is another issue that we have to explain to the British public.
This is nonsense. Israel is a vibrant democracy. When placed against the majority of nations on this planet, its liberal values simply sparkle. But the demonic label is not restricted to Israeli policy inside the lands taken in 1967. It is vital for the “cause” that the very nature of the Israeli state be called into question. Thus came about the ludicrous labels of “apartheid,” “settler colonial,” “genocidal” and so forth, which attempt to force Israel to question its right to exist. This is why the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has to focus on Israeli citizens.
Although this demonizing process was crucial to the anti-Israel movement’s maintenance of its integrity, the scientific “bolt-on” created another issue within the ranks: the accusation of anti-Semitism. The overwhelming majority of Jewish people are Zionists. According to a recent poll, more than 90 percent of Jewish people believe that Israel is a part of their Jewish identity. The fringe anti-Zionist Jews are split between Communists and a single strange, ultra-orthodox sect. Those who demonize Israel and Israeli supporters effectively tarnish almost every single Jew.
How can the cause maintain integrity while also allowing for the horrific accusation of anti-Semitism to be leveled toward the humanitarian groups of the left? Never underestimate the innovation of adherents desperate to maintain the inherent structural logic of their own particular paradigm. It was time to split the Jewish people.
The Zionist and the Jew
As questions were asked, another Zionist Jew, Mike Abramov, presented himself. In the room full of vitriol, he was one of the brave individuals who would not sit by idly as lies were spread. He spoke up for Israel. The woman sitting next to me muttered, “There is always one.”
Then, a “Palestinian writer and political analyst” said that Balfour was deliberate, rather than a mistake. He added,
What a difference between the Jew and the Zionist’! [Applause] Most Jews who admit that Israel does not stand for them should come forward and stand with us, because what we want is coexistence. We don’t want to throw anyone into the sea. We want to reclaim our rights, and we want the world to stand with us for claiming our rights.
He was referring to the difference between what he deemed the acceptable Jewish anti-Zionist professor and the Zionist Jewish attendee who stuck up for the democratic Jewish State. His comment denied the Jewishness of the Zionist. It created a good Jew – a real Jew – and, on the other side, the Zionist. The clear message was, “Real Jews are ones who hate Israel. Only if you hate Israel will we accept you as Jewish.” The anti-Israel camp clearly defined what it considered Jewish and what it did not. During the meeting, my Jewish identity was deliberately and specifically attacked. But that’s not all.
The Zionists who caused the Holocaust
Four ultra-orthodox Jews from the Neturei Karta showed up at some point during the event. As relevant to Judaism as some esoteric Christian sect is to Christianity, these same Jews are at the front of every anti-Israeli action.
The spokesman of the group began his speech by comparing Israel to the Islamic State:
ISIS is a perversion of Islam, just as Zionism is a perversion of Judaism. One of the main Zionists in America, Rabbi Stephen Wise, a reform, a heretic so-called rabbi, he spoke in The New York Times in 1905 that there were 6 million – note the number – bleeding and suffering reasons to justify Zionism.
I cannot stress strongly enough the implication of the instruction to “note the number.” This is from a Holocaust denial script. The explanation given by neo-Nazi sites is that this quote is evidence that the Jews had already decided on the 6 million figure 40 years before the Holocaust. Therefore, the Holocaust is a hoax.
Not done with regurgitating the Holocaust hoax argument, the man continued by saying that the Jews antagonized Hitler, pushing him over the edge and into becoming a madman. By stating that Zionist actions caused Hitler to go mad and kill Jews, this speech placed the blame of the Holocaust squarely onto the Zionists.
Another member of the audience said, “Chaim Weizmann did a confidence trick back in 1917/1918. He made the British establishment think that world Jewry had power that it just didn’t have. The trouble is, 100 years on, I am not talking about world Jewry. I am talking about ‘that segment’ which we call the ‘Zionist movement’ has that power, and it has it over our own parliament.”
This is the transference of classic anti-Semitic tropes from the hands of the Jew to the hands of the Zionist. This comment makes no sense outside the existence of anti-Semitism. How can the “Zionist movement” control anything? I have met most of the local leaders of the Zionist groups. As nice as they are, world controllers they are not.
And the evening was over. I went home physically sick. This was not the first time I had witnessed such an event within the central estate of one of the greatest democracies on earth.
It is important to understand that anti-Semitism is a natural by-product of the anti-Israel position. Further, to maintain integrity, several new myths must be propagated. Many people tell the strange tale of the Khazars, suggesting that Jews are not even Jewish, but rather obscure converts. Interestingly, they apply the Jewish label freely onto anyone who will demonize Israel. Only Zionist Jews have a fake heritage.
Many anti-Semites argue that Zionism isn’t Jewish at all. Rather, they seem to believe that the Zionists – with their Jewish status now removed, of course – are evildoers who must be opposed. “Real Jews” oppose Zionists. Through this method, they define “Jewishness.” They create a type of Jew that can be legitimately hated; a brilliantly created necessity to prop up a narrative full of holes. Jews must pay the price. At some point during the event, a member of the audience commented that “if anyone is anti-Semitic, it is the Israelis themselves.” That remark was applauded by the rest of the audience.
Zionist power. Every insult that was once thrown at Jews is now safely directed toward any Jew who supports Israel. Zionists control the banks, the media and – as we heard at the House of Lords – the government. How is this not anti-Semitism?
Zionists have evil intent. Every Zionist action is driven by greed or bloodlust.
These are groups of people with major emotional investment in their cause. They will not simply let go. It is getting worse because it must get worse. The anti-Zionist movement cannot maintain integrity without further fueling the split between Jew and Zionist. The longer this goes on, the louder the accusations of anti-Semitism will become.
Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism as we have seen it before. This is a new breed. A mixture. It is dangerous and it is scary because it cannot survive without carrying anti-Semitism along with it.
So, Jewish Zionists – the vast majority of Jewish people in the world – become targets. Until someone in a position of power puts a stop to this, preferably through an internationally accepted definition of anti-Semitism, the vast majority of Jews remain “legitimate” targets of hate crimes.
On Oct. 25, I witnessed a Jew-hating festival at the heart of the British estate. Balfour is a cause for celebration. The only apology necessary must come from those responsible for feeding anti-Semitism.
This article originally appeared on Philos Project, November 3, and reposted with permission.
David Collier has been writing about Israel for 18 years and blogs from "Beyond the Great Divide." He spends much of his time undercover inside the anti-Zionist camp, and is researching rising anti-Semitic forces in Europe.