Is Mira Bar Hillel prejudiced against Jews? “Alas, yes.”

Mira Bar Hillel is Jewish. She is also prejudiced against Jews.  

We typically wouldn’t so brazenly make such a charge except that Ms. Bar Hillel, a journalist for the London Evening Standard, removed any doubts as to her feelings on the subject in the following response to a question posed in a Haaretz interview:

The Jews of today scare me and I find it almost impossible to talk to most of them, including relatives. Any criticism of the policies of Israel – including the disgraceful treatment of Holocaust survivors as well as refugees from murderous regimes – is regarded as treason and/or anti-Semitism. Most papers and journals will not even publish articles on the subject for fear of a Jewish backlash. Goyim (gentiles ) are often treated with ill-concealed contempt, yet the Jews are always the victims. Am I prejudiced against Jews? Alas, yes.”

Undeterred by her acknowledgement that she is indeed prejudiced against Jews, Indy editors decided that she was nonetheless the commentator uniquely equipped to expound upon The Daily Mail/Ralph Miliband/antisemitism rowin the following essay:

Mira

After providing some personal background and explaining the difference between classical and modern antisemitism – the latter, she claims, is not caused by Jew-haters but by “overzealous Zionists,” – she helpfully explains a bit more about the problem with these “overzealous Zionists”: 

The most extreme example was a case decided by an Employment Tribunal in March. The case was brought against the University and College Union (UCU) by lecturer Ronnie Fraser, who was represented by Anthony Julius, Princess Diana’s divorce lawyer. Julius is said to be “known for his opposition to new antisemitism, the alleged expression of antisemitic prejudice couched in terms of certain kinds of discursive assaults on Israel”. 

Fraser alleged that he was treated unfairly and with hostility during union debates about academic boycott of Israel, and about the decision not to use a contentious working definition of anti-Semitism that conflated it with any criticism of Israel.

Fraser did not dispute that he had been able to speak in UCU’s boycott debates but claimed that his speeches at the Annual Congress were not applauded (!) because of anti-Semitism on the part of fellow delegates. 

This is a fabrication. As we documented shortly after the case was adjudicated, the charges against the union by Fraser were numerous and quite serious. As David Hirsh detailed in a superb post at Engage, in addition to the UCU’s rejection of the EU working definition on antisemitism, there were a number of other incidents representing a union culture whereby “antisemitism was accepted as normal within the union”. Hirsh outlined many of them:

In 2006 Ronnie Fraser stood as a delegate to NATFHE conference (a predecessor to UCU).  It was said at the regional meeting that Fraser could not be a delegate because he was a Zionist and therefore a racist.  NATFHE held an investigation and found that this statement had not been antisemitic.

Israel has been relentlessly condemned at every UCU Congress, often by motions to boycott Israel.  There were no motions to boycott any other states.

The Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism reported that the boycott debates were likely to cause difficulties for Jewish academics and students, to exclude Jews from academic life and to have a detrimental effect on Jewish Studies.  UCU responded that these allegations were made to stop people from criticizing Israel.  76 members of the UCU published a critique of the union’s response, but the union took no notice.  John Mann MP told the Tribunal that UCU had been unique among those criticized by the inquiry in its refusal to listen.

Sean Wallis, a local UCU official, said that anti-boycott lawyers were financed by “bank balances from Lehman Brothers that can’t be tracked down”.  Ronnie Fraser asked him whether he had indeed made this antisemitic claim.  Wallis admitted having said it.  But it was Fraser who, for the crime of asking, was found to have violated union rules concerning “rude or offensive communications”.

Gert Weisskirchen, responsible for combating antisemitism for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) asked the union leadership for a meeting to discuss antisemitism relating to the boycott.  The union did not meet with him.  When 39 union members protested publicly, the union ignored them.

The union invited South African Trade Unionist Bongani Masuku to speak at a pro-boycott conference in London.  Masuku was known to be under investigation by the South African Human Rights Commission for antisemitic hate speech.  Here is an example of what he had said:  “Bongani says hi to you all as we struggle to liberate Palestine from the racists, fascists and Zionists who belong to the era of their friend Hitler!  We must not apologise, every Zionist must be made to drink the bitter medicine they are feeding our brothers and sisters in Palestine”.  Masuku also said  that vigilante action would be taken against Jewish families suspected of having members serving in the Israeli military, and that Jews who continued to stand up for Israel should “not just be encouraged but forced to leave South Africa”  The union ought to have known Masuku’s record.  Ronnie Fraser told the union about Masuku’s record.  Masuku was found guilty in South Africa of hate speech before speaking as a guest of UCU.  And months later, UCU Congress explicitly rejected a motion to dissociate itself from Masuku’s “repugnant views”.

The Activists’ List is an email list hosted by the union.

Ronnie Fraser argued on the list that there was no absolute blockade of Gaza.  In response, another union member said that he was like the Nazis at Theresenstadt.  The union found that there was nothing inappropriate about this comment.

Josh Robinson put together a detailed formal complaint about antisemitic language being employed by union members on the list.  He documented how people who opposed antisemitism on the activists’ list were routinely accused of being: deranged, crazy, nutters; Israeli agents; hysterical; dishonest; twisted; rotten Zionists; less than human; believers in a promised land; motivated by the fairy story of the Old Testament; genocidal; accepting of the murder of innocents; racist; pro-apartheid; supporters of ethnic cleansing; Nazis.  The Holocaust was referred to as an ‘attempted genocide’.   There followed volleys of insults made against those who raised concerns about this description of the Shoah.  The formal complaint was given to Tom Hickey to adjudicate.  Hickey himself, the Tribunal was told, had said that Israel is “more insidious and in some sense almost nastier than Nazi Germany.  In the end, nobody even bothered to tell Robinson that his complaint had been dismissed.

A significant number of union members resigned over the issue of antisemitism.  Congress voted down a motion to investigate these resignations.  There was no mechanism for counting resignations over antisemitism, and such resignations were instead counted as being because of disagreements over the Middle East.

People who complained about antisemitism in the union were routinely confronted with accusations that they spoke in bad faith They were told that they were making it up in order to try to silence criticism of Israel.  They were accused of ‘crying antisemitism’.

In court Sally Hunt, the General Secretary of the union was asked hypothetically:  “If somebody said ‘if you want to understand the Jews, read Mein Kampf’, would that be antisemitic?”  She answered that it would not necessarily be antisemitic.

After smearing Ronnie Fraser and dismissing accusations of antisemitism by grossly misrepresenting his charges against the union, Bar Hillel writes the following:

In all my time in this country, which I love with all my heart, I have never – as an Israeli as well as a Jew – suffered a whiff or sniff etc [of antisemitism], although I have been patronised by re-religionists who assumed I owed them some tribal loyalty.

My most vicious Twitter trolls are Jews from all over the world accusing me of treason for daring to criticise Israel’s racism and other excesses and trying their best to gag me.

As far as those trying to gag her, she expanded upon this ‘Livingstone Formulation‘ theme last December when she wrote the following:

Since arriving in London I have not ONCE experienced anti-Semitism, although jews talk about it a lot, as Marcus said. I am not a self-hating jew – I hate people who use the label to gag into submission any critic of Israel and its deplorable actions. And very effective they are too.

Finally, and of relevance to Bar Hillel’s essay, The Independent responded furiously to a recent remark on Radio 4’s Today by Alex Brummer, City Editor of the Daily Mail, who said: “In comparison with The Guardian and The Independent, which frequently demonises Israel, and in so doing demonises the broader Jewish community.”  Their rambling editorial was titled ‘Neither Israel nor the broader Jewish community is demonised by this newspaper,” and ends with the following:

Mr Brummer, then, committed two intellectual errors. First, misinterpreting our robust views and scepticism as demonisation; second, conflating opposition to Israeli policy with anti-Semitism. The latter is ironic, given how many Jews, in Britain and elsewhere, oppose the actions of successive Israeli administrations.

Incidentally, in an article filed before Mr Brummer’s silly remark, Howard Jacobson assesses the career of Woody Allen on page 47. Demonisation doesn’t come into it, though you can make up your own mind about that.

In fairness, it should be noted that, when it comes to legitimizing antisemitism, the Indy is certainly not in the league of the Guardian. 

However, their coverage of the director of Annie Hall notwithstanding, perhaps their reputation would be less tarnished if they didn’t ask writers to comment on antisemitism who themselves have smeared British Jews with the accusation they exploit the charge of antisemitism to stifle debate, and who, when asked whether they are prejudiced against Jews, have responded, “Alas, Yes!

Of course, “you can make up your own mind about that”. 

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