UPDATE - See below for Stephen Marks' comment
This event, Hosted by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPACUK), was held at Friends House on Friday Evening 9th December 2005. It had originally been scheduled to take place at Westminster University, who eventually decided not to host it. The report below is not a word for word transcript from the debate but just based on some notes I made from the meeting that I attended.
Alan Hart: Author of ďZionism: The Real Enemy of the JewsĒ
Asghar Bukhari: Head of MPACUK
Sadia Hossein: MPACUK (moderating)
In the introduction it was made clear that Stephen Marks was speaking in a personal capacity and not as a representative of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, even though he had been billed as a representative of Jews for Justice.
The first speaker was Alan Hart (AH)
AH stated that he has spent six years writing and researching his book. He commented that in the Judeo/Christian world a debate about who must do what for peace in the Middle East is futile as the history that has been taught is "the" "Zionist" history. He stated that the aim of the book was to rewrite the Zionist mythology for the truth. AH then stated that he had very many Jewish friends. He commented that few of them could define "Zionism" so he gave his own definition as follows:
"Zionism is the Jewish Nationalism of some but not all Jews who colonised Palestine to create a state for some but not all Jews"
He stated that the colonisation of the land by the settlers required the Palestinians to be ethnically cleansed. He believes that it is possible to be passionately anti-Zionist without being antisemitic in any way.
He stated that during the summer he sent letters to the editors of various newspapers and journals offering an advance copy of his book, but he got no replies. He also stated that he wrote letters to the "top fourteen people at the BBC" but also got no replies. This, he claims, says something about the fear of offending "Zionism". It is not selling newspapers that make the media money but selling advertising to corporations that make money and the media do not want to upset their corporate advertisers. He admitted that the argument about corporate advertisers could not be used against the BBC, but did not specify why the BBC turned him down.
AH went on to state that he believed it was true that antisemitism was on the rise but the prime cause of the rise in antisemitism was the behaviour of Israel and Americaís support for the "Zionist State". He does not believe any American President will ever act against Israel because if they even tried it, Israel would warn them to be careful as they have an atom bomb.
AH believes it to be a Zionist myth that Israel has ever been in danger of annihilation but a myth that the Zionists want the world to believe.
He believes that the main thing that needs to happen is that Jews in the Diaspora who constitute the majority of Jews in the world need to speak out. However they are silent for the following three reasons:
1. Many fear a second Holocaust and therefore perceive a need for Israel as the refuge of last resort.
2. Jews not living in Israel live in a ghetto and believe that the community they live in will provide them security
3. If they do speak out the Zionist lobby will organise the members of the community to condemn them.
He stated that a lot of people say that it is time to boycott Israel, but that if the boycott does not carry the support of the Diaspora Jews then the boycott will not happen. Jews will claim that anti-Semitism is happening again. The purpose of his book was therefore to end the silence of "the Jews".
He stated that he could not be accused of antisemitism and that if Zionists want to suppress debate then they call any criticism of "Zionism" or Israel antisemitic. If it comes from someone who is Jewish then they are called a self-hater. He wanted to make it clear that if anyone accused him of antisemitism then he would sue and has put the Board of Deputies on notice that he will sue if he is referred to as an antisemite. He continued that, as "the Zionists" cannot accuse him of antisemitism, they ignore him and use the media to suppress debate.
His next comment was that "Zionists" know how to play all the cards and used America as an example of the effect of "Jewish money" and "Jewish votes". He states that the Arab states could have trumped all of that if they were united, with oil and if they were united could have gone to America and used the oil card if Israel refused to go back to its 1967 borders. However the Arab states were not united and his book is therefore critical of the Arab regimes. It is on the side of "the people" irrespective of whether they are Jewish, Muslim or Christian.
The next speaker was Stephen Marks (SM)
Unfortunately my notes on SMs speech are not so detailed as in my opinion he kept jumping around in what he was saying and was not very coherent. However the main gist seemed to be about the creation of the State of Israel itself, which he clearly believed to be unjust. He pointed to the fact that before the creation of the State of Israel the United Nations Security Council had said that no-one should take any unilateral action. Israel, he said, made a unilateral declaration of a state in 1948. He argued that the creation of the State had constituted a criminal injustice. He commented that "real Zionists" go and live in Israel and "insurance policy Zionists" just support Israel. "Zionism" was about colonisation and not just about living in Israel and that the Jewish Diaspora have constructed the idea that "Zionism" is a psychological necessity.
Stephen Marks then went on to discuss various forms of antisemitism and said that he saw nothing in Alan Hart's book that could be understood as antisemitic. The only section that could possibly be seen as antisemitic is the discussion on "Jewish power and influence". But that in itself is not antisemitic if it is just a discussion of facts. For example he believed one should be able to discuss the "Zionist lobby" and how that lobby has shaped American policy without being accused of antisemitism.
The final speaker was Ashgar Bukhari
This was not so much a speech but more of a rant. The tone was set in his opening comments where he made clear that he was there to talk to the Muslims in the room. He said he was not going to talk about "Zionism" as the other speakers were far more knowledgeable than him. He wanted to talk about how Muslims must protect themselves from "Zionists". He stated that "Zionism" was a very powerful force and much if its aim was directed against "you" (addressing the Muslims). He went on at length how the Muslim community is not doing enough to defend itself against "Zionism" and that it was asleep to the danger. He mentioned that the Christian-Zionist lobby was "very very powerful indeed" and that most Muslims have no idea of this power. He went on to criticise Muslims for not doing enough to defend Islam, that it is not enough just to learn to wear the hijab. Muslims must also defend the hijab and the beard and cap.
He mentioned that Muslims could learn from "the Zionists", that the meeting was not held at Westminster University as "Zionist students" lobbied behind the scenes to ensure it didn't happen there. Muslim students on the other hand did nothing. "We are asleep".
He went on: "Brothers and sisters, there will be two things that will be your downfall: firstly, Muslim Institutions, and secondly, your own mindset.
"The reason why you are not mobilised is that no-one organises you. Mosques and Islamic societies do not mobilise you. Your leaders are not mobilising you so you are not mobilised. "
"When I was a little boy, I believed I could conquer the world, but when I got bigger and a brother is shot in Palestine, Muslims will shrug their shoulders and say 'what can we do?'" When it comes to their job Muslims can work hard at being doctors or lawyers but when it comes to defending Muslims they do nothing."
"Today Palestine, tomorrow your neck on the block. Never forget Bosnia!"
"Most people in the audience are too pacified, they will go home and go to sleep. They are not prepared to do anything".
"I know that as MPAC tries to activate the Muslims there will be those that try to silence us and accuse us of antisemitism. We are a bunch of volunteers and we make mistakes. We are not like AIPAC with a budget of hundreds of millions, we run on a budget of £12,000 a year. We have made mistakes and when we find them, we try and rectify them"
"Muslims, do not sit down. We must fight to do something for the eleven year old who will get his eyes blown out in Palestine".
Question and Answer Session:
The first question/statement came from "Abdul", who claimed that Alanís book interested him as well as the book by Norman Finklestein. He commented that there is too much emphasis on religion and that Muslims should criticise injustices anywhere and Muslims should awake a political entity. Whilst reading the Koran was good Muslims must participate in other aspects, as there is too much emphasis on religious matters. MPAC should enlist the support of all communities to emphasize the injustices anywhere in the world.
The second question came from Layla who claimed to work in a human rights organisation. She asked Alan Hart about the other silences. AH responded that he discussed the silence of the Jewish Diaspora but the other silences were the silence of "the gentiles" who did not speak out because they still feel guilt about the Holcaust. The other silence was the silence of the Muslims and that they did not speak out partly as a generational thing as the older generation did not want to rock the boat and also because Muslims are scared about accusations of antisemitism. Alan Hart stated that he wanted these silences to be ended as the only way to make democracy work.
The next question came from someone who claimed to be an independent who asked that if the Arab regimes are corrupt and incompetent what can Muslims do? Stephen Marks seemed to completely ignore this question but made some comment about the Bund in Poland criticising rabbis. Stephen Marks then went on his own rant about Christian Zionists being the biggest Jew-haters in the world. He stated that the most powerful Jew haters are not a bunch of Nazis who put Swastikas on Synagogues or desecrate graves but the Christian Zionists. Lord Balfour, who kept the Jews out of England and some of his own family perished as a result, was an example of this. Stephen Marks then said that Zionists were getting clever and that they were now saying "Not all anti-Zionists are antisemitic but all antisemites are anti-Zionists". Stephen Marks said that this view was wrong and it is the Christian Zionists who are the biggest antisemites and that it was odd that there was an alliance between Jews and the "Christian antisemitic Zionists".
Alan Hart also did not answer the question but answered just the end part of the question and seemed to assume a different beginning to the end of "What can Muslims do?" He stated that British society was quite racist but in a more sophisticated way than America. He stated that if Tony Blair is calling you (the Muslims) a bunch of religious nuts then British Muslims should get involved in politics.
Another question then came from the floor, this time from someone referring to himself as a political commentator who goes by the name "The Sharpener". He wanted to know how much antisemitism was on the rise and from where that antisemitism was coming. He claimed that there was no violent antisemitic activity amongst Muslims in this country and that the antisemitism that there was, originated from the far right. Alan Hart responded that the House of Commons Committee is considering this at the moment and they put the rise in antisemitic incidents at 40% last year. He went on to add that the idea that Muslims are antisemitic is not true. What drives Muslim fury is America's support for Israel. He claimed that the monster of antisemitism is the product of European societies.
Asghar Bukhari interjected that the only time he has seen antisemitism discussed by Muslims is when the matter of Palestine is discussed and that he has never met a Muslim that has stated "I don't like Jews". Stephen Marks then piped up about MEMRI, which he claimed to be financed by Israeli Intelligence. He stated that MEMRI's sifts through all the Arab media to find the odd crackpot who has said something that can be used against them. He wanted to know where the equally well-funded anti-Zionist equivalent of MEMRI was, that could deal with the filth that came out of Israel. Alan Hart came back and added that Zionism is brilliant because it is well funded, but he said that there are 1.4 billion Muslims in the world, including a lot who are wealthy. With Arab and Muslims as enemies the Zionists do not need friends.
Until now, the meeting had been quite orderly with the exception of one heckler who had heckled on a few occasions. On each occasion, he was asked politely to keep quiet or he would be asked to leave. He was reminded that there would be time for questions. He was now given the chance to speak. He introduced himself as a regular Jewish Jew who was pro Zionist, and started to talk about the population of Jews in Israel by Mid 2006 and by 2020 in relation to the rest of the world, but was told by Alan Hart to get to the question. (Personally I felt this was unfair as a number of others from the floor who spoke made quite lengthy statements and no one else was told to get to their question.) He did then ask his question which was if you can't persuade us (the Jews) to stop supporting Israel, what are you going to do about it?
Stephen Marks did not answer that question but started going on about the fact that his problem with Israel was that it was racist and that 92% of the land in Israel was reserved for Jews. He made an analogy in relation to Israeli laws that if the mayor of London said that there were too many blacks in Brixton, it would be illegal. He said all the racist laws in Israel should be scrapped. The questioner was clearly very agitated through this and made a number of interruptions asking again in relation to his original question "What are you going to do about it?" A suggestion was made that he be removed from the room and one of the stewards clearly touched him to try and make him leave. This led to the questioner screaming at the steward "Don't touch me". The steward then raised his fist to the questioner as if to hit him. This act was clearly seen by all in the room. The moderator then screamed "No Violence" and rushed over to the situation and admonished the steward. The questioner was then escorted from the room.
In relation to the above fracas: There was a later statement from the floor where someone claiming to be a trainee lawyer talked about Islam being a way of life, and that any truly practicing Muslim must be politically active. He then went on to say that the Zionist did not denigrate our (Muslim) religion and that any violence should not have happened. Later on the moderator also gave an apology for the behaviour of the steward.
In my opinion the things that MPAC did wrong here was firstly not really giving the self declared Jew and Zionist an opportunity to make a proper statement of a reasonable length in line with the length of other contributors from the floor and also having a particularly violent steward. Given that the meeting was headlined "The Great Debate" it did not seem to me that it was a debate at all as everyone up and until then were on the same side. I do not believe that MPAC really wanted any debate as such.
A question then came from the floor from a student at UCL that objected to "Zionists" being portrayed as baboons on the web site of MPAC and wanted to know all about the Spiderman imagery used on their site.
Asghar Bukhari from MPAC responded as follows:
"MPAC is a volunteer organisation. We are highly anti-Zionist and are not afraid to say it. It is a good thing. We do not have offices and a number of people can put things on the web site. A few years ago it could have been an 18 year old girl updating the site."
"People send us articles every day and we do not have time to read it all. If it looks OK, we may not read it and just put it up. As MPAC has grown and we have more manpower, as soon as something is flagged to us we take it down straight away."
"18 months ago, an article went up that may not have been appropriate, but we wouldn't know as at one point we were receiving about eight articles a day."
"We make mistakes. What I find crazy though is the idea that we must have known it or did it on purpose. Now for the first time Spiderman is considered anti Semitic. The phrase "pound of flesh" was used on the web site. I had no idea that it was Anti-Semitic, I don't know Shakespeare. We screw up. We are humans. We take it off. If you think it is that bad, give us some money and we can go over everything with a fine tooth comb."
A questioner from the floor wanted to know if there was anything in Judaic religious law that said something about "Zionism" being wrong. Stephen preceded a long response by admitting he was not an expert on Jewish religious law. He went on to add that for a long time it was not part of Jewish belief to establish a state. He gave an example of 1492 when Jews were expelled from Spain and could have all gone to Palestine, but only a few hundred families went. He accepted that the majority of Jews have accepted the "Zionist" view of Judaism but there were a few organisations such as Neturei Karta who view Israel as an abomination. He also stated that the majority of orthodox Jews are non-Zionist and that the Liberal and Reform movements saw Judaism as an ethical code. He went on to quote a Jewish philosopher who has claimed that modern Zionism is a form of idolatry as people are worshipping Israel instead of worshipping God. He also quoted Mark Ellis who said something like modern Jews should take the Sefer Torahs out of their arks and replace it with F16s and guns as that is what they worship. Alan Hart then stated that the survival of the Jewish people does not depend on land but relies on living n accordance with the religion. He commented that Zionism is an enemy of the Jews and that prior to the Holocaust most Jews who were thoughtful were opposed to Zionism.
The next questioner from the floor wanted to hear from a Jew explaining why they are not "anti-gentile". The questioner understood terms like "Goy" to be derogatory. It was OK for Jews to charge interest and to have rape relationships with non-Jews. Stephen Marks responded by saying that verses in all religious texts can be taken out of context.
Someone called Deborah from Jews for Justice for Palestinians asked Alan Hart if it was too late for a two state solution. Alan Hart responded that the idea of a two state solution was absurd and that it was a one state solution or no solution at all.
I then raised a question myself by stating that it was not just 18 months ago that MPAC were publishing antisemitic stuff on their web site, but only this week, they had put up two articles. The first one claiming, in relation to David Cameronís election, that Likud has won, claiming that Cameron has Israeli masters. Furthemore I wanted to know why were they claiming that Mossad were operating in British Universities. Stephen Marks claimed that it was not antisemitic just silly. Ashgar Bukhari also denied that it was antisemitic. I then queried why had they then taken the posts down. Bukhari then turned away from looking at me to address others in the audience and said that Muslim religious leaders are too passive and that they do not teach political activism. He claimed that they (the Zionists?) will publish a list of all the mistakes made by MPAC. He said that "the Zionists" are awake. Pointing at me, said that this was an example of it, and it was happening in front of your eyes. (Note before my question, I did not introduce myself nor did I state or even imply that I was a "Zionist"at any point). He went on to state "We (Muslims) are always going to be under attack and that they ("the Zionists") want to smear you so you can't fight for the Palestinians. Don't let MPAC fight alone. Activate yourself".
Stephen Marks ended his contribution by stating that there are Jews who fight for the Palestinans. Alan Hart concluded by saying that the reason why "the Zionists" want to suppress debate is that they know they have done wrong.
The moderator from MPAC in her final announcements advertised the march the next day being organised by Hizb ut Tahrir.
I left the meeting immediately at the end as I did not want to hang around in that atmosphere, but someone who did stay to ask Bukhari some more questions afterwards reported back to me that Bukhari said and I quote "Any one who supports Israel can go and boil their head".
You can also have a look at MPAC's own account of last night's event, and at this rather good one, on Indigo Jo's blog. And this one on Harry's Place.
Here is Stephen Marks' comment on Harry's Place:
Itís difficult to reconstruct a meeting at which you were one of the speakers. I am trying to reconstruct what I said from my notes, as I donít recognise most of it from the accounts that have appeared elsehere. Mark Elf canít post anything on his blog till tomorrow and my efforts are hindered by a stomach bug.
The cancellation of the meeting by Westminster, in response to secret behind-the-scenes complaints, was scandalous. On those freedom of speech grounds alone I am glad I spoke.A phone call from persons unknown was enough to get the meeting cancelled - I donít know of a Muslim organisation in the country that could get that result in that way.
I donít know who was responsible but if it was the UJS I wouldnít be surprised - in my experience that is the way they operate. If you donít like anti-Jewish conspiracy theories - and I dont - then donít act like a conspirator.
I still donít know what the charge against the meeting was supposed to be. If they think Hartís book was antisemitic let them come out and say why - Hart has said he will see them in court. I made clear my points of agreement and of disagreement with it from the platform. The banners had their chance to do the same - they chose not to.
The same goes for MPAC. If they want to say it should be banned as an organisation from holding meetings on campus let them say so in the open and the question can be discussed. I made clear to Asghar from the platform that I thought their coverage of issues like Cameron and UJS was childish and hysterical, not least because it actually precluded a serious discussion of the issues.
I would like to see a serious discussion of the role of Conservative Friends of Israel and its Labour equivalent, as well as of the Labour Middle East Council and CAABU. I would certainly like to see a serious discussion of the way UJS operates on campus to close down debate. But rants about ĎLikud winsí and ĎMossad agentsí actually get in the way of that and discredit those who come out with them, as I told Asghar to his face.
In the same way, I would like to see a serious discussion of whatever comes out in the RESPECT local election manifesto. As someone very sceptical of that outfit I would expect it to contain unexceptionable sentiments about local services; criticisms of New Labourís record with much of which I could agree; and an alarming degree of ignorance about the nuts and bolts of local government and actual policy implementation; all covered with a lukewarm sauce of demagogic goo.
I would also expect to keep an eagle eye open for concessions to certain communalist concerns of a conservative or reactionary nature - though as local government has little say in such matters as gay rights and abortion there would probably be little room for that.
So I was glad to see that David T had posted some advance leak of the RESPECT local election manifesto and clicked on the link hoping to see something serious.
What I got of course was a childish joke of a kind that give or take the difference in bias, would fit in well to the MPAC website on a bad newsday. Keep it up David T; youíre well on the way to winning the title of the thinking manís Asghar Bukhari.
Actually thatís unfair on Asghar - at least when he makes a damn fool of himself, he leaves the comments box open.
Posted by stephen marks at December 12, 2005 12:12 PM
ďThe Great DebateĒ Ė The Truth About Zionism - 'Mikey'
Added by Alexandra Simonon on December 10, 2005 05:28:57 PM.