Monthly Archives: January 2016

Protecting free speech, at a cost

“It’s not only pro-Palestinian students who use intimidation to silence free speech” says Yachad’s leader

Yachad’s leader, Hannah Weisfeld’s backdrop to her Op-Ed in Haaretz was the awful events of King’s College and the talk promoted by Yachad delivered by Ami Ayalon.

However, she sees British Jews too shutting down free speech.  But she qualifies this with “shutting down free speech when it is the voices critical of Israel”.

I was lucky enough to hear Ami Ayalon speak the previous evening. Whilst I found plenty to disagree on, it was clear that ultimately we all want pretty much the same thing. A lasting truce with security for all, a civilised distribution of boundaries, prosperity for all and an end to the mutual hatred and mistrust. Our journeys might be different, but our goals are not poles apart.

The following night, of course, we witnessed a whole different kind of evening where difference of opinion was expressed with hatred, racism and violence.

Yet Hannah’s Op-Ed was not only condemning the suppression of freedom of speech that took place at Kings College. She drew moral equivalence to the protests by “right wing Jews” objecting to the views of Ami Ayalon at the following evening’s engagement in Manchester.

Hannah was outraged at that Jews could discuss the nature of a public speaker on the left through a closed Facebook site and that these Zionists had the audacity to send in emails asking for the speaker not to speak. And that “despite the intense pressure” of some emails and a closed Facebook site the talk went ahead in a civilised and law abiding way. No need for police, no need for protection (well not from a few Zionists anyway).

Hannah compares this legitimate protest by email and commentary (no matter the rights or wrongs of their opinion) with hooligans and racists attacking Jews and Israelis at Kings College, one of the UK’s leading academic establishments.  KCL Action Palestine (KCLAP) planned to and succeeded in a violent action to stop a civil voice. Their blurb includes this:

“Anyone knows…how f*cked up the Shin Bet and anything that has to do with the Israeli occupation is, or is aware of how much whitewash is involved in these hasbora events” and “support the Palestinian call for an end to apartheid”.

The comparison made by Hannah could not be more wrong or offensive between the two instances.

  • The KCLAP’s vitriol versus a closed Facebook group and a few hasbora activists.
  • Broken windows, flying chairs and assault versus some strongly worded emails.
  • Hatred and racism versus pro Israeli opinion.
  • Fear and terror versus voiced objection and civil discourse
  • Police presence and action versus CST security and pleasantries

In the grand debate some people I know wish speakers not to speak for fear of confusing or conflicting with their steadfast opinion.  But none of them revert to violence.  Indeed the only instance I have seen of possible suppression of free speech recently may have been the blocking of Tuvia Tenenbaum at Limmud (because his opinions don’t conform).

But it should come as no surprise that those on Hannah’s side of the political fence can play the intimidation game too; and generally with at least as much if not more vigour and self righteousness. Perhaps Yachad are not so incomparable to those who could not tolerate Israelis and Jews having oxygen like those haters at King’s College.

Recently, an event was arranged with a world renowned author and authority on many aspects of Jewish history and politics. He has upset some on the left of Israel’s political divide due to his exposé on Machiavellian going-ons within certain NGOs and left wing organisations operating in the Jewish / Israel / Palestinian arena.

He was scheduled to speak at a Progressive synagogue. When the event publicity came out, intimidating noises and complaints came from members on the left and threatened to bring the event down.

In fact the talk was actually about the persecution of Jews in the Arabic regions; a story that has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the persecution of one million Arab Jews last century. This is a story that should be close to the hearts of all Jews. Yet despite this being the subject matter, there was, as we would say, quite a “broigus” and many of the congregants stayed away rather than learn about one of our darkest periods in Jewish history and the heinous denouement to the Holocaust with this second wave of persecution.   Of course, none of this broigus translated to the event, which went off peacefully and hugely successfully.

And so back to Hannah’s Op-Ed in Haaretz. It is cynical, duplicitous and dangerous.  It shows Hannah’s and Yachad’s true colours. They would treat their political opposition as their enemy with intolerance and their enemies as their friends with appeasement.

A very wise friend of mine told me this story.

There was once a well known British Left wing Jewish politician. A child of World War II, the State of Israel was his birth-right. He loved Israel with all his heart. It was the perfect ideal, the Jewish homeland. It was his utopia. But when he realised his utopia was flawed and not as he had dreamt it, he blamed his fellow Jews. He hated those Jewish settlers, Zionists and right wing hawks who had ruined it for him. He could not forgive.

So it is with Yachad. If they can’t have their utopian dream, its ruins lie at the feet of the Zionists and the right. And the haters and the anti-Semites, well they are just the consequence. If it wasn’t for those Zionists we’d all live happily ever after.

And that is self serving politics of the first degree.