After Corbyn, Israel Lobby Turns Guns on British Academia

The Jewish Chronicle warns that the dismissal of Professor David Miller by the University of Bristol is “just the beginning,” writes Jonathan Cook. 

A tower on the University of Bristol campus. (Emily Gillingham, University of Bristol, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

By Jonathan Cook

The Israel lobby appears to be readying for a campaign to root out leftwing academics in the U.K. critical of Israel’s continuing oppression of the Palestinian people — echoing its efforts against the previous leader of Britain’s Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn.

As with the attacks on Corbyn, the assault on academia is being led by The Jewish Chronicle, a U.K. weekly newspaper that speaks for the most ardent supporters of Israel among the U.K.’s Jewish community.

The move follows the lobby’s success this month in pressuring Bristol University to sack one of its professors, David Miller, even after the university’s own investigation — headed by a senior lawyer — concluded that claims of anti-Semitism against Miller were unfounded.

Miller was formally dismissed on the unexplained basis that he “did not meet the standards of behaviour we expect from our staff and the University.”

The lobby has struggled to disguise its glee that, apparently fearful of bad publicity, Bristol University capitulated to a campaign of unsubstantiated claims Miller “harassed” Jewish students.

A sociologist, Miller had been at the forefront of research into the sources of Islamophobia in the U.K. His work includes a detailed examination of the Israel lobby’s role in fomenting racism towards Muslims, Arabs and Palestinians.

Israel has long promoted the idea that it is a bulwark against supposed Islamic savagery and terrorism, in what it and its supporters have presented as a “clash of civilisations.”

More than a century ago, Theodor Herzl, the father of political Zionism, argued in the colonial language of the time that a Jewish state in the Middle East would serve as “a wall of defence for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism.”

This was a key argument the Zionist movement used to lobby the great powers of the day, chiefly Britain, to help remove the native Palestinian people from much of their homeland so that a self-declared Jewish state of Israel could be established instead.

To this day Israel encourages the view both that it is under permanent existential threat from a supposedly irrational hatred and bigotry from Muslims and that it plays a critical, first-line role defending western values. As a consequence, the Palestinians have found themselves diplomatically isolated in the West.

‘Tip of the Iceberg’

The Jewish Chronicle’s offices in Furnival Street, London. (Basher Eyre, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Signaling the likely direction in which the lobby intends to head next, The Jewish Chronicle published an editorial last week headlined “Miller’s sacking should be the beginning, not the end.” It concluded: “Miller is not some lone voice but representative of a school of thought embedded in almost every part of academia.”

At the same time, under the headline “Miller is gone but he is only tip of the iceberg” its news pages reported that scholars in “74 separate British higher education bodies” had signed a letter of support for Miller earlier in the year, revealing “the extent of the network backing him at universities across the United Kingdom.”

Those signatories included, it noted, “a significant number representing Russell Group establishments, some of the U.K.’s most prestigious higher education institutions.”

The Chronicle highlighted the fact that 13 of the signatories were from Bristol University, and identified several academics by name.

The barely veiled implication is that there is an anti-Semitism crisis in British universities, which is being tolerated by senior staff.

The lobby used the same argument with Corbyn, claiming, despite a dearth of evidence, that he and his inner circle were indulging a supposed explosion of anti-Semitism within the party — with the strong implication that they were encouraging it.

The lobby’s claims were eagerly amplified by the billionaire-owned media and by a rightwing Labour party bureaucracy deeply hostile to Corbyn’s socialism.

Playbook Revived

Over the past three years, the Chronicle has had an astounding number of rulings against it from the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), the newspaper industry’s feeble, self-appointed “press regulator.”

Most of those misrepresentations relate to the earlier campaign against Corbyn that The Jewish Chronicle played a central role in advancing. It regularly claimed that there was a plague of anti-Semitism on Britain’s political left.

In fact, the Chronicle appears to be reviving the playbook it and the rest of the pro-Israel lobby used against Corbyn — an outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights — that saw him and large numbers of Labour members smeared as anti-Semites.

Famously, the Chronicle and two other Jewish community newspapers shared a front-page editorial in summer 2018 claiming that Corbyn posed an “existential threat” to Jewish life in the U.K.

The editorial was published in the wake of a general election the previous year in which Corbyn fell short by only a few thousand votes from winning a majority of seats in the British parliament. With the ruling Conservative Party mired in permanent crisis at that point, it looked like a rerun election was imminent.

The stakes for the lobby were high. Had he won, Corbyn looked like he might be the first leader of a major European state to recognize Palestinian statehood and impose sanctions on Israel — including a ban on arms sales — of the kind used against apartheid South Africa.

Keir Starmer, Corbyn’s successor, has been waging a war on the party’s leftwing, again using anti-Semitism as the pretext, cheered on by the Chronicle and others.

The paper’s misrepresentations of the Labour Party — which repeatedly fell foul of press regulator IPSO — are now being pressed into service against academia.

The Jewish Chronicle’s two-step manoeuvre in the Miller case is familiar.

First it has suggested that the professor lost his job because the university concluded that his actions were anti-Semitic — when, in fact, all indications are that its investigation found in Miller’s favor.

And second, the paper has strongly implied that the more than 200 scholars who signed a letter to Bristol expressing concerns about Bristol’s investigation of Miller share his supposedly antisemitic views.

Placating the Lobby

Labour Leader Keir Starmer, at left, in December 2019 with former Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn. (Jeremy Corbyn, Flickr)

Just as the Chronicle sought to create the impression of a plague of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party under Corbyn, despite the lack of any evidence, it now hopes to suggest that anti-Semitism is rampant in British universities.

In fact, even those who signed the letter do not necessarily share Miller’s views about Israel or its role in fomenting Islamophobia. The letter chiefly defends the principle of academic freedom and Miller’s right to pursue his research wherever it leads him, without fear of losing his job. No one signing it has to agree with all of his findings or everything he has said.

What is truly shocking is that more academics have not come to his defense — especially given the fact that the allegations against him made by the Israel lobby were discounted by Bristol University’s own investigation.

Corbyn and his inner circle chose a similar course of action to Bristol’s, seeking to placate the lobby. But Corbyn’s office found every concession they made to the anti-Semitism smears only fueled the lobby’s belief that its intimidation campaign was working and that the net could be widened further.

Soon the lobby was not only claiming that widespread support on the Labour left for the Palestinian struggle against Israel’s decades of belligerent occupation was anti-Semitic, but that anyone who denied that it was proof of anti-Semitism was also outing themselves as an anti-Semite.

As with its attacks on Corbyn, the Chronicle’s claims against Miller are hyperbolic, with the paper reporting uncritically that members of the Union of Jewish Students at Bristol had accused the professor of “harassment, targeting, and vicious diatribe.”

In fact, this supposed “harassment” refers either to a lecture about propaganda by Miller, based on his research, that cited the Israel lobby’s promotion of Islamophobia, or to critical comments he made about Zionism and the Israel lobby in forums outside the classroom.

Miller did not harass anyone. Rather, those who identify as Zionists — for whom Israel is an abiding political priority — have chosen to take offence at his findings. They have not been bullied, intimidated or threatened, as the Chronicleimplies. Their political beliefs about Israel have been challenged by Miller’s academic work.

Notably, Miller’s research also shows that conservative movements like the ruling party in the U.K. have played a central role in promoting Islamophobia, as several key figures in Britain’s Conservative Party such as Baroness Sayeeda Warsi have repeatedly warned.

But would Bristol have seriously investigated claims by Conservative Party students, for example, that they were being “harassed” by Miller for presenting his research in class or his speaking at political events outside the classroom? Would the university have considered sacking him based on those claims?

The question does not even need posing. The political nature of the complaints — and their threat to academic freedom  — would have been instantly obvious to everyone.

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And therein lies the Israel lobby’s special usefulness to the establishment. The lobby’s own highly partisan, politicized campaigns against the left can — perversely but all too often effectively — be disguised as anti-racism or the promotion of human rights.

Mounting Scrutiny

But, as the Chronicle implicitly recognizes in its call for the targeting of a much wider circle of British academics, ardent Zionists are facing a much bigger challenge than a single political leader or a single professor.

They feel personally affronted as their political passion project, Israel, comes under mounting scrutiny. Like the Chronicle, Zionists hope to reverse various political developments over the past decade or two that have made it much harder for them to publicly defend Israel.

Those developments include:

* The success of Palestinian civil society’s calls since the mid-2000s for an international boycott of Israel to end its oppression of Palestinians;

* The horrifying images of Israel’s repeated military assaults on a Palestinian population in Gaza besieged by Israel for 15 years, living in what has become effectively an overcrowded, open-air prison;

Palestinians collect their belongings from under the rubble of a residential tower, which witnesses said was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Aug. 24, 2014. (UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan)

* Israel’s sabotaging of a two-state solution offered by the Palestinian leadership by illegally building ever more settlements on Palestinian land, while also rejecting the alternative of a single state guaranteeing equal rights for Jews and Palestinians in the region;

* and recent reports, from Israeli and international human rights groups, clearly making the case that Israel qualifies as an apartheid state.

The Chronicle and the ardent Zionists in the U.K. it speaks for feared that Cobyn represented the moment when this view of Israel broke into the political mainstream.

And now they fear that, unless drastic action can be taken, scholars like Miller will introduce a more clear-eyed discourse in academia about Israel, exposing the lobby for the anti-Palestinian racists they are.

Financial Penalties

Boris Johnson taking his first prime minister’s questions, Sept. 4, 2019. (UK Parliament, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Under threat of financial penalties from Johnson’s rightwing government, dozens of British universities have been pressured to adopt a new definition of anti-Semitism.

This was the prize the lobby sought against Corbyn. He was forced to accept not just the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s imprecise definition of Jew hatred but also 11 appended examples, most of which openly conflate strenuous criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.  The lobby has argued that any denial that these examples amount to anti-Semitism is also a form of anti-Semitism.

In detailing how Israel is an apartheid state in recent reports, both the New York-based Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem, Israel’s most respected human rights organization, would have fallen foul of the IHRA’s claim that it is anti-Semitic to describe Israel as “a racist endeavour.”

Similarly, large numbers of Israeli scholars — and almost all Palestinians and their supporters — would breach the example against requiring of Israel “behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

They question the notion that Israel is a democratic nation. Israeli scholars have instead termed it an “ethnocracy” because it mimics a democratic state while actually according rights and privileges to one ethnic group, Jews, that it denies to another, Palestinians.

Corbyn quickly found himself trapped by the IHRA definition and its associated examples. Any meaningful support for Palestinians against Israeli oppression – including his past actions, before he became Labour leader – could be twisted into evidence of anti-Semitism.

And any argument that anti-Semitism was thereby being weaponized by the lobby could be similarly adduced as proof of anti-Semitism. It provided perfect conditions for a witch-hunt of the Labour left.

Now, the lobby hopes, the same conditions can banish scholarly criticism of Israel.

One of the early targets for the lobby’s new campaign is likely to be the University and College Union (UCU), a higher education union representing over 120,000 academics and support staff. It has so far held out against the pressure campaign.

Its resistance appears to have galvanized some academic bodies to stand their ground too. Notably, in February the academic board of University College London revolted against the adoption of the IHRA definition by the university’s governing body, calling the wording “politicised and divisive.”

A report by the UCL board in December had warned that the IHRA definition conflated prejudice against Jews with political debate about Israel and Palestine. That, it said, could have “potentially deleterious effects on free speech, such as instigating a culture of fear or self-silencing on teaching or research or classroom discussion of contentious topics.”

That is exactly what the Israel lobby, and its activists in the Union of Jewish Students that targeted Miller, will hope for. With their new war on academia — assisted by a rightwing government — they may be able to inflict as much damage on academic support for Palestinians as they did political support.

Jonathan Cook is a former Guardian journalist (1994-2001) and winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. He is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. If you appreciate his articles, please consider offering your financial support.

This article is from his blog Jonathan 

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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6 comments for “After Corbyn, Israel Lobby Turns Guns on British Academia

  1. October 22, 2021 at 02:24

    “Corbyn and his inner circle chose a similar course of action to Bristol’s, seeking to placate the lobby. But Corbyn’s office found every concession they made to the anti-Semitism smears only fueled the lobby’s belief that its intimidation campaign was working and that the net could be widened further.”

    A route often taken and predictable that it will fail. Concessions too often prove to the aggressors that their opponents are weak and easy to steam roll.

  2. October 20, 2021 at 09:42

    Crangles, all of them. Reminds me of the Twilight Zone “Four O’Clock” episode in which Theodore Bikel plays Oliver Crangle as a twisted, cruel, vicious little man who builds lists of people who he tries to destroy with innuendo and phone calls and letters to employers and the FBI and so forth. He gets an FBI agent and tells him that at 4 o’clock something will happen to all the evil people in the world.

    All this is done in the name of Jews everywhere. It is long since gone beyond just Zionists and their movement, or Israel itself. I keep hearing insistence that we should remember the holocaust, again and again. I have. I do. I also see no evidence that Zionists, or Jews in general remember the holocaust, or rather, its lessons. Instead, what they do in the name of holocaust victims and survivors is really a slap in the face.

    I’ve yet to read or otherwise hear that any Palestinians ever rounded up Jews and sent them to the camps, to the cattle cars, to the gas chambers and the ovens. Yet, it is the Palestinians who have been subjected to ethnic cleansing (another, “gentler” name for genocide), by Zionists and, because of complicity, of Jews.

    That is a huge disappointment to me and was a long-coming disillusionment. I was brought up believing that all (all, again) Jews were courageous stand-up defenders of human rights. I also remember cheering on the Jews in the 1967 war (yes it was Israel, but it was Jews we cheered) with Jewish friends and without a clue to what I much, much later realized was outright aggression on the part of Israel. There are plenty of other moments of disillusionment, but I will just leave it with the admonition that it is high time Jews overall (more than say Jewish Voice for Peace or B’Tselem, etc. the Jews I grew up believing in) take another look at the holocaust and mostly the lessons of the holocaust, the lessons about human rights and against hatred.

  3. mikjall
    October 20, 2021 at 08:32

    Why does anyone pay the least bit of attention to these malevolent fanatics? If no one did, they would evaporate.

  4. Em
    October 20, 2021 at 07:46

    Mirror Images in Contemporary History

    Xenophobia is racism. Israel today is most definitely xenophobic. Call it what you will, any form of ‘Apartheid-like’ separatist differentiation, by creed especially, skin hue, body type, or whatever, is racist, and this applies to all forms of institutionally formulated dogma.

    Hereby. any person, especially of Jewish religious heritage, who dares utter a word of criticism against the xenophobia of the Israeli state is automatically branded, by it, as a “self-hating” Jew or worse and is castigated as somewhat deranged by those powers that be.
    This is speaking from firsthand direct observation, dating back to 1967, when it first sharply dawned that Israel, no matter its protestations of being the only democratic state in the region, in fact, was nothing of the kind. Israel, founded on exclusive religious pretext – theocracy, cannot, by extension, be a democracy, and saying it is does not make it so.

    Any state, founded, even in an unconscious notion of sublime superiority, is still, ipso facto racist.

    In South Africa, back in the day heyday of Apartheid, from the very early sixties, at the height of entrenchment, the white South African Apartheid racist regime, were claiming the same absurdity as Israel – that they were the only civilized democratic country in all of Africa; that they were there by their gods hand, to bring humanity to the natives. This was the height of overt nationalist audacity, back then, as it is today.

    How can any political system claim democracy, when it brazenly attempts to exclude the countries indigenous majority – “non-white” Africans being 83% of the people, with long-time European colonists, as well as more recent colonial settlers, accounting for the remainder – a mere 13%?

    When the State of Israel was declared, in May 1948, the total population of Jews within all of pre-Israel Palestine was approximately one-third of the total population distribution; within the Mandated territory of indigenous Arab Palestine. As far as religions go, Muslims were the vast majority of the population.

    What the ‘Afrikaaner’ led nationalist government of South Africa, at the time, after much international pressure, from, and by its former mentor – no longer so Great Britain, was induced to do, was change tack politically. Ergo, the creation of arbitrarily and undemocratically designated ‘independent’ Bantustan homelands; within the overall territory of South Africa.
    The long-term objective: to maintain minority rule in a con(ned)federated South Africa. And, with what savage and brutal ferocity and connivance they did go about attempting to reject the inevitable outcome!

    Anyone notice, that what Israel has been attempting to do, formally, at least since 1967, is replicate this diabolical strategic policy in order to unilaterally incorporate all of Palestine, and thereby, to maintain its control over the Arab Palestinian ‘areas’.

    Here, the similarity to the South African methodology is uncanny. At one time there was even an illegitimate law, called the “Group Areas Act” (see wikipedia) culminating finally in the ill-conceived Bantustans, similar to areas A, B and C in the illegally occupied Palestinian lands; presently reduced to a mere 22% of what was once greater Palestine.

    During the harshest times of Apartheid in South Africa, most South African Jews were staunchly Zionist. However, back then, when the first Jewish migrants flocked to Palestine, in the late 1880’s, mainly from Russian territories, to plant a seed of Zionism in the ‘holy land’, the immediate definition of Zionism was other than what it is today – more hospitable about sharing, although at the time, they had not yet developed a sense of ownership rights over the land.

    After three-quarters of a century of the State of Israel’s honing of the ‘development’ of the hardnosed imitation (Zionism) of the fascist ideology of National Socialist Germany, the Übermensch notion of Zionism is in the saddle.
    It is no longer even a question as to where that idea arose! But of course, those who now see themselves as the sole perpetually persecuted religion on the planet, can ill afford to let their guard down, and turn the mirror around, to actually see, that what they are doing to others is replicating what was done to them, and that when push comes to shove, they are no different than any others who attempted to commit genocide on those weaker than themselves.

    So much for the forward march of the civilizing forces of Homo-sapiens’ – a wiser mankind, to a more humanitarian species.

    Just as attempting to link the ‘late’ international anti-Apartheid movement, against South Africa – in its racist heyday, with anti-Christian feelings towards white South Africans, is absurd, so too is any form of attempting to link anti-Semitism with Judeophobia contemporarily. It is just as ridiculous!
    In Apartheid era South Africa, it was Christians who held the reins of despotic political power; working hand-in-glove with other non-Christian whites and others.

    Bigotry is bigotry, going forward, or looking backward, no matter the source!

    Without exception, all Homo-sapiens are born equal into the universal class of people! All else is specious appendage of division, surreptitiously implanted by the propagandistic narratives of the reigning power elites

  5. Carolyn L Zaremba
    October 19, 2021 at 14:53

    Excellent article. The Israel lobby is a disgusting propaganda machine attempting to paper over the apartheid state’s persecution of the Palestinian people. I support BDS. Everyone should. And as for “barbarism” – it was Muslim scholars who preserved the works of ancient Greece and Rome that have come down to us from being destroyed by the REAL barbarians: the Christians, who were anti-knowledge and anti-science (of the time). The Christians murdered Hypatia, a female mathematician in Alexandria. The Christians burned books and gave humanity a millennium of dark ages and religious superstition. Theodore Herzl was wrong. Face it. Islam gave the world algebra. Islam gave the world astronomy.

  6. HereandThere
    October 19, 2021 at 13:54

    “That is exactly what the Israel lobby, and its activists in the Union of Jewish Students that targeted Miller, will hope for. With their new war on academia — assisted by a rightwing government — they may be able to inflict as much damage on academic support for Palestinians as they did political support.”

    Although not all agree, hopes are vectors of transcendence of “our hopes”.

    This is also enhanced by the contents/targets of “our hopes” – in this example “they may be able to inflict as much damage on academic support for Palestinians” which is assumed to be a negative.

    This effort to “be able to inflict as much damage on academic support for Palestinians” – not restricted to Palestinians but believed by some so engaged to be restricted to Palestinians, have “opportunity costs” not restricted to “effort”.

    Consequently such efforts by those “holding these truths to be self-evident” should be encouraged by criticism, thereby increasing opportunities of transcendence.

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