A Guardian op-ed (“The conflict in the Middle East is sustained by the silencing of Palestinians”, June 10) by Ghada Karmi, an academic and pro-Palestinian activist, which rests on the premise that the space for Palestinian and pro-Palestinian voices is shrinking, included the following:
In Britain the space that had briefly opened for the Palestinian narrative is shrinking. New attempts at deliberately silencing the Palestinian voice are in train, using the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. The UK government and 28 other countries have adopted the IHRA definition, and the US may incorporate it into federal law. Its coercive adoption by British universities, although a survey conducted last September suggested that only 29 out of 133 had adopted it, has already had a chilling effect on free speech about the Palestinian issue.
First, in addressing the “stifling of free speech” argument directly, CST’s Dave Rich wrote, in a piece at Fathom eviscerating accusations that the non-legally binding IHRA is an attack on free expression or academic freedom, that “it is hard to see how a non-legal definition with no legal authority could undermine legally-guaranteed rights to free expression and academic freedom” in the UK. In fact, Karmi’s accusation has been contradicted by Palestine Solidarity Campaign – the group to which she’s a patron – in their own Legal guide for Student Activists, which admitted that “there is no known case of any university directly citing the IHRA definition to close down an event that is legitimately critical of Israel”.
Karmi’s warnings that the pro-Israel lobby stifles free speech in fact goes back years, and, as we’ll demonstrate, her concerns over IHRA may have less to do with free speech than with her fear of being held accountable for her own history of evoking racist tropes about Jews.
One man, who has decided not to be intimidated [by the Israel lobby] however, is Tam Dalyell, the longest-standing British MP…In a recent interview to the American magazine, Vanity Fair, he spoke about a ‘Jewish cabal‘ that drives U.S. and British policy towards the Middle East. He specifically named his fellow MP, Peter Mandelson, Foreign secretary, Jack Straw and Lord Levy, Tony Blair’s special Middle East advisor. When pressed, he said he was referring to advisors in the U.S. who had adopted the Sharon/Likud agenda. He pointed out that of the seven hawkish policy advisors to Bush, six were Jewish and were urging a strike against Syria.
Factually, Tam Dalyell was quite correct. The U.S. policy advisors of the likes of Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, are not only Jewish but, more to the point, ardent supporters of Israel. Pro-Israeli influence over the U.S. Congress and the decision-making process in the American administration is well documented. Many have raised the issue of how far Bush was influenced in his decision to attack Iraq by his pro-Israel advisors, since it was apparent that the party with most to gain from it was Israel. In Britain, Peter Mandelson, whose father is Jewish (and as such would make him eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Israeli Law of return), is a log-time supported of Israel. Lord Levy was a donor to Ehud Barak’s election campaign and his son worked in the former prime minister’s office in Tel Aviv [sic].
In the Guardian, in 2007, she wrote that “People [in the US] are hardened or resigned to having their freedom of expression limited by the pro-Israel lobby“. In a book published that same year, Karmi wrote of her wishes that the “tormented, suspicious and neurotically self-absorbed” Jews “had never gone to Palestine” in the first place.
As documented by Richard Millett, in 2012 Karmi told a pro-Palestinian crowd in London that “Israel is finished” and that it “it does not to deserve to continue as a state”.
On a panel that same year, Karmi was silent as her co-panelist at an anti-Israel event, Ken O’Keef, evoked comparisons between Israel and the Nazis and claimed (here at 55 seconds in) that “Israel and the Mossad” were involved in 9/11.
In an Al-Jazeera op-ed in 2015, Karmi characterised efforts by pro-Israel British Jewish organisation to allegedly ‘silence criticism of Israel’ as a “kind of terrorism“, and warned that the fact that these groups “can be assembled so effectively to protect a foreign state, Israel, to the detriment of free speech in a democratic country, should be cause for alarm”.
In 2018, Karmi chastised the British Jewish community for their “artificially whipped-up witch hunt” against Jeremy Corbyn. And, in 2020, she was called out for writing, in Middle East Eye, that Jeremy Corbyn was brought down by a coordinated campaign of the Israeli embassy.
Finally, it’s disturbing that Guardian editors chose to publish such an op-ed now, warning, amidst a dangerous surge in antisemitism in the context of several huge pro-Palestinian rallies in London and Manchester all compromised to varying degrees by anti-Jewish racism, that the real problem is not the demonisation of Israel and Jews, but the ‘silencing’ of pro-Palestinian voices.
As Dave Rich observed in his Fathom piece, “you would be forgiven for treating the suggestion that criticism of Israel is widely suppressed, either in our universities or elsewhere [in the country], as a laughable fantasy”.