Were the canapés at the JNews launch last week really so delicious that guest Matt Seaton felt the need to commission two CiF articles on the subject in 5 days? On March 15th Miri Weingarten waxed lyrical about her new project and a few days later Keith Kahn-Harris pitched in with one of his signature cloyingly naive articles. Mr. Kahn-Harris may be in for some disappointment; there’s nothing to suggest that JNews is “a potential voice for peace” as stated in his piece, unless of course one considers the undermining of a sovereign state to be peaceful.
So what do JNews claim they will do according to Director Miri Weingarten?
“JNews will bring to public attention the authentic voices of those directly affected by the conflict and highlight the problems facing migrants and asylum seekers in Israel, the poor and the dispossessed, Arab-Palestinian citizens and the Bedouin. More generally in Israel-Palestine it will focus on the conditions of prisoners and detainees, the status and treatment of women, and the political and civil rights of Palestinians living under occupation and under the control of the Palestinian Authority.”
Translation: JNews will push to the fore stories which highlight the viewpoint of everyone except the Jewish Israelis.
“A key theme of JNews’s output will therefore be the provision of information, views and comment from alternative Jewish sources, which will demonstrate that it is perfectly possible maintain a critical Jewish perspective, but one that arises out of deep empathy for both Israelis and Palestinians.”
Let’s see how they’re doing on the ‘deep empathy’ front so far. Some of the main stories running on the JNews website at the time of writing are as follows: ‘Israel set to forbid mourning its Independence Day’, ‘EU Parliament endorses Goldstone Report’, ‘Childhood under fire; an exhibition of Gaza children’s drawings’, ‘No hiding place for criminals’ and an article about gender segregated buses.
At the same time, some of the main stories running in Israel itself were ‘IDF kills 2 attackers in West Bank trying to stab soldiers ’, ‘Government approves investment of 800 million shekels in Bedouin and Arab communities’, ‘Weekend riots flare up in Jerusalem’, ‘Kassam hits south of Ashkelon’, ‘Palestinians open fire on IDF ’, ‘Shalit becoming Ron Arad ’.
In other words, issues which actually concern the average Israeli such as attacks in all their various permutations by Palestinians or soldiers kidnapped by terrorists receive no coverage from JNews, but stories depicting Israelis as criminal, bigoted, bullying and violent do. Not only is this obviously as far away from balanced or empathic as it is possible to get, it is not journalism either but blatant political propaganda.
So let’s see if this already miserable start to JNews’ mission can be explained by the ‘souls at work’ as we say in Hebrew. As we already know, the Director is Miri Weingarten, formerly of ‘Physicians for Human Rights Israel’ and a woman who has no problem collaborating with the PSC or MAP. The Chair and one of the Trustees of JNews needs no introduction to CW readers; he is none other than Antony Lerman of Independent Jewish Voices and CiF fame. Other trustees include Ellen Dahrendorf, also of IJV and chair of the UK branch of the New Israel Fund, Maurice Naftalin, also of IJV and JFJFP, Lynne Segal who sits on the IJV steering group, and the person whose brainchild JNews apparently was; Richard Kuper of Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Last year I happened to come across Mr. Kuper in person at a showing of Caryl Churchill’s anti-Semitic play ‘7 Jewish Children’. Needless to say he was publicly advocating the idea of Israel as an apartheid state at the time.
I’m afraid things don’t get any better when it comes to the Patrons of JNews either; they include Francesca Klug of IJV, Morris Farhi, Stan Cohen and Avi Shlaim. Tony Klug of JFJP, Jews for Justice and Human Rights and a member of the IJV steering group and Brian Klug – co-founder of IJV – are also involved. I’m sure readers have already noticed something of a pattern here: JNews appears to be nothing more than a somewhat incestuous rehash of IJV. Many of the names involved with JNews can be found on this public letter to the British Prime Minister urging him to support the Goldstone Report which was the initiative of IJV and JFJFP amongst others.
As regular readers will already have realised, I’m something of a believer in ‘cherchez l’argent’, so I decided to take a look at who is funding JNews and it appears to be ‘The Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust ’. Sounds very respectable, but who are they? Well, this is a group of die-hard Marxists, but with the money to promote their anachronistic agenda.
“The general objectives of the Trust are to advance public education, learning and knowledge in all aspects of the philosophy of Marxism, the history of socialism, and the working- class movement.”
In 2006 their annual lecture was given by none other than ex- and- anti-Israeli communist Moshe Machover – father of Daniel Machover of ‘arrest warrants for visiting Israelis’ fame. In 1998 they hosted Noam Chomsky. Another recipient of the Trust’s money has been the Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association which was involved in a scandal last year and received criticism from the Mayor of London when borderline antisemitic and blatantly anti-Israeli leaflets were handed out at a London school with Jewish pupils.
The Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust is a registered UK charity and its Trustees include Rodney Bickerstaffe, President of ‘War on Want’ – yet another British charity with a nasty anti-Israeli agenda which promoted Ben White’s oeuvre ‘ Israeli Apartheid – A Beginner’s Guide’. Bickerstaffe is also a signatory to this PSC initiated letter demanding that Veolia boycott the new light rail system in Jerusalem. Another Trustee is Rebecca Amiel of JFJFP and a signatory of the above letter in support of the Goldstone Report. Then there’s Tariq Ali; a one-stater who spoke at one of the 2009 demonstrations against Operation Cast Lead in London and who is of the opinion that Oslo was a surrender on the part of the Palestinians, that suicide bombings in Israel need to be contextualized and that the situation in the Middle East is the cause of the 7/7 bombings.
So all in all, I think we can safely assume that Keith Kahn-Harris’ naïve hopes that JNews will hasten peace in the Middle East should have been dashed before the caterers finished clearing up after the launch. The only perspective JNews will be bringing is an anti-Israeli one and despite the snazzy website, the PR and the hyperbole, this is in fact nothing more than another step in the campaign by the 1,300 or so members of IJV and their hangers-on to delegitimize the Israeli state and its people by disguising themselves as a news agency. Of course the comments to Weingarten’s article were full of gushing praise for this ‘noble project’, but I will not bore readers by subjecting them to a reproduction of such sycophantic twaddle. Instead, I would like to use this space to raise an issue which has been bothering me for some time – ever since I first came across groups like IJV and JFJFP.
As an Israeli and someone who through marriage has come into contact with the experiences of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews who were forced to leave their homes in Arab lands – in the case of my mother-in-law, literally at knife-point – I have to say that I find the approach of people such as Lerman, Kuper and the assorted Klugs to be incredibly parochial. Here we have a group of people who do not want to live in Israel, do not speak its language, are not familiar on a personal level with the day to day demands and dilemmas of life there and are not part of its democratic process. And yet (in my view purely out of self-interest) they appear to think that from on high in their ivory towers thousands of miles away, they have some sort of right to judge the decisions and actions of the people who do live the often difficult and challenging Israeli experience every day. More than that, they form their opinions based on a Jewish experience which has no relevance in the place about which they pontificate and totally ignore the many other Jewish viewpoints which are the product of hands-on experience of life with neighbours who are not quite as amicable as those in Islington or Oxford. The members of IJV and other such organisations may very well wish to distance themselves from Israelis and Zionists in order to avoid some of the opprobrium we receive; that’s more than fine by me and the feeling is definitely mutual, but they have absolutely no moral right to interfere in and endanger the existence of my country.
IJV and similar groups are incredibly quick to jump on the bandwagon of Palestinian Human Rights which is undoubtedly an important and legitimate subject. However, in their rush to do so and in the populist style they adopt, they become complicit in undermining and denying the Human Rights of another group of people – Israelis. To me it is quite obvious that any successful solution to the problems of the Middle East can only be based upon respect for and preservation of the rights of all parties involved, which is why I find groups such as ‘Jews for Justice for Palestinians’ and IJV so offensive. Their blatant one-sidedness is far from being a recipe for peace and reconciliation and this latest project going under the name of JNews shows no potential for being any different.