How Israel’s propaganda war has silenced Europe

Sourced from Gili Cohen article in Haaretz, 21 September 2016

JVL Introduction

Gideon Levy, doyen of Israeli journalists, finds the sacking or Rebecca Long-Bailey a matter of grave concern.

He pulls no punches, in his account of how antisemitism has been weaponised in Israel’s propaganda war and how effective this has been.

Critical of the original article Rebecca Long-Bailey tweeted, he is nonetheless adamant that: “When it comes to criticism of Israel, the rules of the game in Europe are different. There is Israel, and then there is the rest of the world.”

In the wider context, what is at stake is freedom of expression: “This a bewildering systemic confusion: the occupier has the right to defend itself, and whoever struggles against occupation becomes the accused.”

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye on Fri 3 Jul 2020. Read the original here.

How Israel's propaganda war has silenced Europe

An onslaught of exaggerated, sometimes wholly baseless, accusations of antisemitism has proved brutally effective

The UK Labour Party’s shadow education secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, was recently sacked after sharing an article on social media saying – among other things – that Israel had trained US police in the knee-on-neck choking method used on George Floyd.

This claim has been circulated widely in recent weeks among the global left. Labour leader Keir Starmer accused Long-Bailey of posting an article containing an “antisemitic conspiracy theory”. Evidently, the winds of change have come to Labour after Jeremy Corbyn stepped down – and the change does not portend well.

Daring to blame Israel

Middle East Eye on 25 June published details of the controversial article, with fact-checking. The accusation that it was from Israel that US police learned the choking method that led to Floyd’s death is unfounded. Police in the US have been frighteningly trigger-happy for decades where Black citizens are concerned – since long before the state of Israel was founded and its police force established.

US police certainly do not need Israeli expertise to be capable of killing innocent Black civilians in shockingly large numbers.

Still, the worrisome speed with which Long-Bailey was replaced in the shadow cabinet ought to be much more troubling to supporters of human rights than the credibility of any article she posted online. Long-Bailey was fired only because she dared to share an article that blamed Israel, not because she dared to share an article lacking a factual foundation.

It is doubtful that Starmer is all that concerned about the reliability of articles shared by members of his faction. He is much more worried by the antisemitic image that has adhered to his party, not always justifiably.

Even if the article’s accusations were fabricated and entirely baseless, it remains highly doubtful that Long-Bailey would have been sacked in that manner had she posted false accusations against any other country on Earth, apart from Israel. When it comes to criticism of Israel, the rules of the game in Europe are different. There is Israel, and then there is the rest of the world.

Effective Zionist propaganda

Israeli propaganda in recent years has had marked success in Europe. Long-Bailey’s sacking is just another link in a long chain of its achievements. Lately, under the direction of a relatively new minister for strategic affairs in the Israeli government – along with the close cooperation of the Zionist establishment in the rest of the world – Zionist propaganda has adopted a new strategy, which has proven itself unprecedentedly effective.

Israel and the Zionist establishment in various countries have begun branding all criticism of Israel as antisemitic. This has silenced Europeans. Propagandists for Israel cynically exploit Europe’s guilty feelings about the past that still linger, often with good reason – and the accusations have done their job.

It remains difficult to criticise Israel, the occupation, accompanying war crimes, breaches of international law, or Israel’s treatment of Palestinians; it is all branded as antisemitism and quickly disappears from the agenda. Alongside this campaign of branding, most Western nations, including the US, have passed sweeping legislation that aims to declare war on the completely legitimate boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, in an attempt to criminalise its activities and its activists.

How incredible that this struggle against an occupation and its legal infrastructure is undergoing sustained delegitimisation and criminalisation. Imagine any other committed struggle – say, against the sweatshops of Southeast Asia, industrial meat production or mass concentration camps in China – being labelled as criminal in the West. It’s hard to imagine.

And yet, the struggle against Israeli apartheid – and there is no more clearly moral struggle today – is deemed criminal. Coronavirus aside, try to book any large venue today anywhere in Europe for a gathering in solidarity with Palestinians. Try publishing an article against the Israeli occupation in mainstream news outlets. Israel’s hyper-vigilant propaganda machine will find you quickly, accuse you of antisemitism and silence you.

Supporting freedom of expression

This situation is about silencing, there’s no other way to say it. That means this issue cannot be confined to those interested in the Palestinian cause, it has to become an urgent concern for anyone who supports freedom of expression.

Israel is unlikely to profit in the long run from this aggressive, almost violent campaign, which may well backfire both for the state and for Jews in general, evoking opposition, or even revulsion, among stalwart supporters of freedom of speech. For whatever reason, this has not happened – yet. Europe has hung its head and surrendered unconditionally to the onslaught of exaggerated, sometimes wholly baseless, accusations of antisemitism. Europe has been silenced.

Antisemitism must be fought, of course. It exists; it rears its head again and again; it stirs memories of the past. But one cannot conflate necessary and legitimate criticism of the Israeli occupation, or even of Zionism, with antisemitism.

If Israel commits war crimes, they must be opposed and condemned. This is more than a right; it is an obligation. How in heaven’s name is this about antisemitism? How has a struggle of conscience become something forbidden?

If Israel talks about annexing occupied territories and turning Israel into an apartheid state not only de facto, but de jure, there is a duty to stand up and speak out against that, and to decry Israel’s intended actions. If Israel bombs helpless civilians in Gaza, how is there any possibility of not standing against that? Yet, doing so has become nearly impossible in Europe and the US.

Systemic confusion

It has been about a century now since Palestinians were robbed of their country. For the last 53 years, they have also lived under Israeli military occupation – without rights, without a present or future, their lands stolen and their freedom crushed, their lives and their honour made shockingly cheap – and suddenly the struggle against all that is forbidden.

This a bewildering systemic confusion: the occupier has the right to defend itself, and whoever struggles against occupation becomes the accused. Instead of denouncing the Israeli occupation, attacking it and finally starting to exact a price for it by punishing the country responsible, something Europe managed well enough within days of Russia annexing Crimea; instead of calling out Israeli apartheid as apartheid, since there is no other word to describe it; its critics are silenced.

This is infuriating, immoral and unjust. Europe cannot, and must not, continue to be silent about this, even at the price of being labelled antisemitic.

These accusations must not continue to silence Europe. So Zionist Jews and Israelis make these false accusations: so what?

Long-Bailey posted an article online that maybe did not deserve to be shared. Sacking her is a matter of much graver concern.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.


Gideon Levy is a Haaretz columnist and a member of the newspaper’s editorial board. Levy joined Haaretz in 1982, and spent four years as the newspaper’s deputy editor. He was the recipient of the Euro-Med Journalist Prize for 2008; the Leipzig Freedom Prize in 2001; the Israeli Journalists’ Union Prize in 1997; and The Association of Human Rights in Israel Award for 1996. His new book, The Punishment of Gaza, has just been published by Verso.

Comments (15)

  • DJ says:

    So much in this article to commend. Let’s get this out to a wide audience. The forces of darkness want to shut us down. We must not allow them to do this. Not in the UK or anywhere else.

  • John Lipetz says:

    I agree with the article above. Here is a section of a letter (sadly unpublished) I sent to the guardian last week.
    “It is well known that the definition of antisemitism is not fit for purpose. Freedom of speech allows us Jews (as I am) and others to criticise Israel in its actions against the Palestinians as we do likewise with Myanmar in its actions against the Rohingya people. It is hard to find any antisemitism in the actions of Rebecca Long-Bailey.”

  • Philip Ward says:

    This is a very powerful article and exposes the real reason for the endless accusation of antisemitism against pro-Palestinian activists, namely to silence them. But I think it is unfair to Rebecca Long-Bailey and even more so to Maxine Peake (who has been more than silenced, rather vilified, slandered and abused and possibly had her career ruined).

    Gideon Levy doesn’t answer why the US and Israel police have all these joint training sessions, if it is not to exchange experience and techniques in matters such as “crowd control” and of individuals deemed to be a “threat”.
    He doesn’t say who he thinks might have more to offer in that exchange.

    He also makes it sound as if this was a whole article about Israel’s crimes, when it was one sentence in an interview mainly concerning Maxine Peake’s work and less prominently about her political views in general.

  • Chris Khamis says:

    Gideon Levy is amazing. An eloquent and angry voice steeped in integrity. With people like him there is hope in the world. This article needs to be shared widely.

  • Max Cook says:

    I am fed up to my back teeth with the Israeli machine and it’s illegal activities against the innocent Palestinians and we it’s supporter’s, I have been under investigation in the labour party for more than a year now on spurious anti-Semitism charges and NO recourse.
    Now we have Starmer it certainly doesn’t bode well for we the MANY who support the Palestinians and the right of international and domestic law.
    SOLIDARITY with the Palestinians ALWAYS

  • what really saddens me more than anything with this RLB demotion from the shadow cabinet is the fact that she accepts it without any fight, this was Corbyns main fault and in my opinion caused his defeat.

  • Martin Read says:

    In response to John Lipetz I would say, ‘As one of the few less establishment British newspapers, I have found the Guardian to have been alarmingly complicit in the shutting down of the anti-Semitism debate in the Labour ranks.

    It was almost as if they, there were just a few breaches, were collectively afraid of certain Jewish lobbyists. Whereas those like Nick Cohen, Jonathan Freedland and Andrew Rawnsley continue to scribble together unsupported opinion pieces, still critical of Corbyn long after he has departed.

    The former Labour leader rose from certainly amongst the ranks of the most proactively anti-racist MPs, to be mislabelled as the most racist leader, and will now no doubt return to his honourable role as perhaps the least racist member of the House. But the media is alarmingly more reactionary!

  • john burns says:

    My understanding of the RLB affair is that she re-tweeted Maxine Peakes original message, saying she (RLB) ‘liked’ and that ‘MP was a gem’ (sic). MP’s tweet had said – and thus raised the question – that collaboration between the Israeli and US authorities included exchanging tech knowledge of physical restraint; is this wrong? (sic). If the knee on the neck ‘technique’ wasn’t ‘exchanged’ and if collaboration in general, between the Israeli – US security people, has never happened, then it should be quite easy to show (prove) that. So why has that not been done and the matter is then closed and, dare I say, KS’s reaction deemed justified.
    The reason that that has not happened is that there has been collaboration between Israel and the US (IMO). And I feel that that opinion is qualified by the substantial level of written accounts of such exchanges. The Homeland Security activities of Israel have gone beyond the Cottage Industry stage; Israel has turned this sort of ‘policing’ into an international business approaching $65B, according to some reports.
    In much the same way that our Party doesn’t investigate foreign policy issues, methinks that they’ll be no effort to look at the facts in RLB case, it would offend too many people.
    3 Questions: if a drug dealer supplies narcotics to a user and the user dies, the dealer is in the wrong? If a Marshall Arts trainer exchanges techniques with another and the other person uses those techniques and kills some one else; is the trainer wrong? The 3rd question is left to the reader to imagine.

  • John Hall says:

    So maybe thuggish Israeli security forces didn’t teach US cops how to kneel on a suspect’s neck. US cops are quite capable of copying tactics that they observe. Maybe the fact that a black man was killed would have justified US cops being taught how to do it properly!

  • Bill Risebero says:

    Israel is supported by the West because of its geo-political usefulness. The atrocities of the Occupation, and now the Annexation, take second place to the cosy military-industrial-strategic relationship which the US, UK and others have with Israel. We see it with Saudi Arabia too. This predominance of political expediency over morality seems to be gaining ground. Trump is one obvious advocate of it. Johnson is another one, given his unprincipled proposals to divert overseas aid from the most needy to the most politically pliable regimes.

  • Vera Lustig says:

    Well done, John Lipetz (posting 4 July at 20.:13. Sorry the Guardian didn’t print your article. This trend is very worrying. have you heard about the latest kerfuffle in the UK: two men displaying a banner urging that Israel be kicked out of UEFA and FIFA? True, the banner used the Everton logo, but that doesn’t make the banner “anti-Semitic”. Appartently the Labour Party is on the case. Here we go again.

  • DJ says:

    Give an inch they take a mile. The right wing media are relentless. That’s why sites like this are needed. All power to your elbow.

  • Jacob Butler says:

    What surprised me about Starmer’s reaction to RLB was the sense of urgency and the peculiar phrase “antisemitic conspiracy theory”. Not just a knee jerk reaction but an over reaction as though primed and ready; on the look out for the opportunity to use this mode of attack.
    He is supposed to be the new broom yet he has reverted without hesitation to using the scourge of false allegations of antisemitism which so dogged Corbyn’s period in office and helped to lose two elections.

  • William Johnston says:

    Churchill’s legacy is problematic, to say the least. On the other hand, he did say some very shrewd things. Like his definition of an appeaser being like a man who feeds the crocodile in the hope that it will eat him last.

  • josie Daniels says:

    I am not anti-sematic , I am anti Netanyahu & his corrupt doings, The cruelty inflicted upon The Palestinians , who lived there for hundreds of years, The Allies gave their lands away after WW2 , it caused a War & Churchill walked away & left the :Palestinians helpless, naturally they fought back !
    The People who arrived there taking their lands had no right morally , they never lived there before. This is my symplistic view, much is missing I know. This is the basic. Dare to critisise & you are called Anti- Semitic ! JKust a Propaganda Excuse. I do call these people out for their crimes against humanity & everyone walking around Israel on tippy toes !

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