Jenni Frazer

Palexpo professor dissects the “Israel lobby”

For the Jewish News July 8 2017

The controversial South African sheikh who quoted a Joseph Goebbels speech referring to Jews as “fleas” said this week that he thought it was “fair” to say “that a people who had gone though oppression should not mete it out to others”.

Sheikh Ebrahim Bham was a keynote speaker on the second day of the Palestine Expo, a multi-cultural series of workshops, seminars, lectures and cultural events, held at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster.

Organisers of the event, which bore a close resemblance to Limmud in its volunteerism, claimed that 10,000 people had attended on the first day, but were unsure of numbers on the second day, when no charges were made for entry.

Certainly almost every event was packed out, particularly Sheikh Bham’s session which was billed as an examination of Jerusalem’s importance to the three Abrahamic faiths.

However, Judaism’s connections to Jerusalem were not presented; instead Sheik Bham spoke about the links between Islam and Jerusalem, while the Rev Chris Rose, chair and founder of Kairos Britain, referred to the “Judaisation of Jerusalem” having “advanced at a rapid rate”, noting that the “Orthodox Jewish community” had grown rapidly and now formed 12 per cent of the population.

Ismail Patel, chair of the Friends of Al Aqsa, which staged the Palestine Expo, introduced Sheikh Bham and said that after his comments on “Jews and fleas” had appeared in the press, the organisers had done “due diligence. We can’t allow someone who says things like this. So having received the transcript, we see that he was quoting Goebbels. As far as we were concerned that was sufficient to show that he was not an anti-Semite. But he can speak for himself.”

Attempts to get the Sheikh to clarify quite why he had been citing Goebbels in the first place proved fruitless, however. Both he and Mr Patel referred reporters to his statement, which was issued after the press reports appeared.

In it, Sheikh Bham said: “I clearly use this quote to show how the Nazis had viewed and treated the Jewish people as subhuman. I categorically did not agree and do not agree with any subhuman categorisation of the Jewish community or any other people”.

But he goes on: “I then say that this dehumanisation treatment is being meted out to Palestinians by the state of Israel itself”.

Rev Rose, who said his mission was “not to bring Israel to its knees, but to its senses”, spoke of Israel as “a colonial project” and said that while there were those who believed Zionism was part of Christianity, “we have to denounce and deny that.” He believed that “most or those who say that stuff are highly anti-Semitic, even though they claim to champion Israel”.

While urging renewed support for the boycott campaign, even Rev Rose acknowledged it “narrowed the choices” when buying goods like laptops.

Earlier, Professor David Miller of the University of Bath gave a detailed presentation in which he told a packed audience about a variety of UK Jewish charities which, he claimed, “financially support the Occupation”, including the IDF and settlements.

Professor Miller is also director of Spinwatch, which does research on lobbying groups. Its most recent work looks at aspects of “the Israel lobby”, based on data of Charity Commission filings. “We looked at the background of these charities and their trustees. Many of them are rich individuals associated with the business sector”.

He broke down the donations into four sections: what he called the “national institutions”, the IDF, the Jerusalem Foundation and the settlements.

Four bodies, Professor Miller said, were “the backbone of the transnational Zionist movement” — the JNF, the Jewish Agency, the World Zionist Organisation and the Zionist Federation. These groups, he said, had a “parastatal” role in Israel, and JNF in particular he singled out as “active in stealing Palestinian land”. The ambiguity of status, he said, allowed the groups to elude accountability.

He then identified the UK charities which supported the Israeli groups; and broke things down even further by specifying British Jews who gave money to such charities. On his list was Community Security Trust Founder Gerald Ronson, the Bernard Lewis Foundation, and the Atkin Foundation. Picking out the Atkin Foundation which supports the New Israel Fund, Professor Miller said that the NIF was “involved in support of settlements”, a claim later dismissed by the NIF UK executive director, Adam Ognall, as “ridiculous and preposterous”.

Professor Miller said that the Jerusalem Foundation “presents itself as politically neutral” and suggested that some of its trustees — such as Dame Janet Wolfson Botton — were “liberal Zionists, not hardline Zionists”, and might not be aware of the use to which their money was put.

He called for more focus on where money from such charities went and the use to which the funds were put, and said more complaints should be made to the Charities Commission about their activities.

A man who has not yet been identified claims to have been ejected from the Palestine Expo conference on Saturday after he put on a kippah. He told a police officer, who secured a refund for him, that he had been attending sessions for three and a half hours before he decided to put on the kippah, and said that he was immediately told to leave by security staff without having been given a reason. The officer told him that since Palestine Expo was a private event, the organisers were entitled to monitor attendance how they liked. The man said he would prepare a complaint to the Met and said that there had been anti-Semitic statements inside some of the workshops.

  • 10 July, 2017
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