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Jewish human rights: No need to boycott the boycotters, says High Court

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Is this the biggest setback to British equality law in modern history?

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Three local authorities did not breach equality legislation by voting to boycott Israel, the High Court has ruled.

The judicial review proceedings against Gwynedd, Leicester and Swansea councils were dismissed by Lord Justice Simon and Mr Justice Flaux.

Claimant pressure group Jewish Human Rights Watch (JHRW) had argued that the resolutions were anti-Semitic and “amounted to a get-out-of-town order for Leicester’s Jews”. However, the court held that council resolutions are not “formal and developed policy” and therefore not subject to the public sector equality duty under s149 of the Equality Act 2010 — and in any event there was evidence that councillors had fulfilled the duty by considering the impact of the motions on their local Jewish communities.

Simon LJ expressed concern at JHRW’s insistence that he closely analyse transcripts of debates from the Leicester council chamber:

This was not a productive exercise. Councillors do not (and should not) expect that their speeches will be scrutinised later in court to see whether the Council’s public sector equality duty was being properly addressed. It would significantly inhibit debate if this were a requirement of the law, and we see no warrant for it.

The local authorities themselves went further, telling reporters that JHRW was simply trying to “stop councils debating Israel”.

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This assertion does have some force. JHRW is a right-wing pressure group — a company rather than a charity so the source of its funding is unknown — which has appointed itself to (mis)represent the UK Jewish community. As Simon LJ noted, despite claims that the group had consulted widely with British Jews, there was “no evidence of any consultation at all”.

The organisation’s previous activities have included a string of press releases using Hitlerian imagery — ‘Achtung Juden’ (attention Jews) signs and the rest of it — to compare critics of Israel to the Nazis; threatened legal action against a pub for allowing a gathering of pro-Palestinian activists to hire one of its rooms; attempts to get the British citizenship of an anti-Israel protestor (‘Jew hater’) revoked; and a solicitor’s letter to the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University complaining that an anti-Israel protest took place on his campus.

The Cambridge letter was sent by RHF Solicitors, a Manchester-based firm of “experienced and specialised insolvency solicitors”, who also acted for JHRW in the boycott litigation. They were no doubt persuaded to act outside their insolvency comfort zone by their founder Robert Festenstein, who is also a director of JHRW.

And he shows no signs of insolvency yet, because JHRW has vowed to appeal the High Court’s judgment. In a press release on Twitter, the group said (somewhat hyperbolically):

This decision means that local councils can not only call for a boycott of Jews, but for a ban on women assuming official positions, for payment of black people to leave town, for locals to shun homosexuals, for the disenfranchisement of Muslims and the exclusion of the disabled.

Is JHRW right, and Simon LJ has caused the most fascistic setback to British equality legislation in the last 50 years?

Or is this yet another example of political activists trying to use legal processes to trump civilised debate and democratic discussion?

Gabriel Webber is a freelance journalist and Sussex University graduate.

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34 Comments

Anonymous

Anti-zionist is not anti-semitic – will they ever stop this cheap shot tactic?

Lord Cohen of Talmud

Nope because this far right racist bigots left their brains in the stone age.

Anonymous

If you do not believe Jewish people have the right to national self determination you are probably anti-semitic.

Anonymous

Self determination over the rights of the Palestinians? People like you sicken me. Carry the sword of hate in one hand, the shield of anti-Semitism in the other.

Anonymous

When you say people like you, do you mean Jews or Zionists or both? You are conflating two issues. I believe in Palestinian national self determination and Jewish self-determination therefore I believe in a two state solution. Do you believe Jews have a right to a nation state?

Anonymous

It’s a fact that they occupy the land, there is probably no civilised way to reverse that position.

But there’s no rational basis for claiming that they deserve some arbitrary piece of land. So no, I don’t believe that Jews have the “right” to a nation state – especially since, in this case, it meant driving others from that land.

Anonymous

If you do not believe Jews have a right to a nation state why are you not campaigning against the creation of Pakistan and Bangladesh? Are you saying it’s okay for muslims to take the land of ‘others’ but not vice-versa? Are you forgetting the Arab Conquests post 700AD? Most of the ‘muslim world’ today was invaded by muslims.

Trumpenstein

I believe in #OpenBordersForIsrael. Why would Israel not with to benefit from the rich diversity we have been required to absorb in Europe? Tel Aviv would be greatly enriched by some of the piquancy visited on German women in Cologne on NYE, would it nor? You disagree? What are you, a racist?

Anonymous

Anti-zionist is not anti-semitic just as criticising sharia law and *an* Islamic state is not Islamophobic.

Anonymous

Being anti-zionist means you do not believe Jews should have a nation State. This is different to criticising the actions of the State.

Anonymous

I boycott all isreali goods and I am not anti semitic.

Lord Cohen of Talmud

Who the f*ck downvoted this? Bet it’s someone who fails to realise that Jews are not the only semitic people and therefore equates dislike of a state’s actions with racism against the majority sub-race in that nation. The Palestinians ate also Semitic which means one could argue that the Israeli state and anyone who criticises the actions of Palestine are also anti-semitic.

Anonymous

I’ve never really understood the use of the term “anti-semitic”, and the way that people seem to use it exclusively to refer to Jews. Oxford is clear enough on what “semitic” means:

adjective
1 relating to or denoting a family of languages that includes Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic and certain ancient languages such as Phoenician and Akkadian, constituting the main subgroup of the Afro-Asiatic family.
2 of or relating to the peoples who speak these languages, esp. Hebrew and Arabic.

Which essentially makes everyone south of Turkey all the way to the tip of the Arabian peninsular, Semitic.

Anonymous

Thank goodness that etymology is a reliable indicator of the generally accepted meaning of words.

Anonymous

It isn’t generally accepted, it’s something that some stupid person with no education once said and everyone has been repeating it ever since.

If you think something is anti-Jewish just say that. “anti-semitic” in that context is oxymoronic. How could you accuse a Palestinian of being anti-semitic, it’s like accusing the Queen of being a republican!?

Trumpenstein

Quibbling over words. They’ve been at it for 3,000 years.

Dudi

But maybe you should look up the term “Anti-Semitism” in the Oxford dictionary as well. Of course, the term Semites refers to Arabs as well but please look up who framed the term “Anti-Semitism” and why it has been used as ‘Jew hatred’ ever since.
With your comment you only want to show that Arabs can’t be anti-Semites which is incorrect, of course. Don’t forget that there are also self-hating Jews and Arabs.

Anonymous

Are their solicitors not in breach of the code of conduct by taking on work being their competence. The press release detailing the consequences of this clearly show them to be incompetent. Perhaps they should stick to insolvency.

Lord Cohen of Talmud

I’m Jewish but dislike and boycott the Israeli state. This presents a conundrum for JHRW. They have to hate me as I don’t like the Israeli state but if they hate me they are hating a Jew which probably makes them, by their definition, anti-semitic.

Anonymous

Lord Cohen, this is brave of you to stand up and say this. The world needs more people with your courage.

Anonymous

They would, of course, call you a self-hating Jew or perhaps an ‘Uncle Tom’ who does nothing but serve to legitimatize the Palestinian movement as a figurehead – you are used and abused. They will say you are the worst sort of person who abandons their own people and they will wonder what will happen to you when, inevitably, anti-Jewish tensions in Europe are fully realized again, because you, being a self-hating Jew, will not be welcome in Israel.

Always stay one step ahead of the haters, Lord Cohen.

Jeremy Corbyn MP

I would like to thank maomentum for their continued hard work.

This post has been moderated because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

anon

Why is a LOCAL council which is supposed to be dealing with LOCAL issues (housing, education, elderly care) boycotting nations? What effect does that have, what does this mean in practical terms? – that the council does not buy israeli products? ……..

Do councils treat other countries in the same way? Afghanistan & Pakistan (support terrorism / human rights abuses), China, Turkey, iran, Zimbabwe (human rights abuses)…..nope…double standards….need to apply the same benchmark to all countries …..These countries should definitely be boycotted too.

The fact is local councils exist to administrate on grass roots issues (housing /education/ transport etc) for the people. It should stay out of international politics and focus on their primary remit which is to provide a better standard of public services.

Boycotts and sanctions are already dealt with on a national government level, banking/ financial institutions, campaigns / pressure groups – that’s where it should stay….

I don’t think it’s worth jeopardising community peace / whipping up tension on local council level. …

Anonymous

You’ve done no research to prove your “nope”. I think you’ll find that plenty of local government authorities have boycotted product, services and countries in the past – probably the best example was the boycotting of Barclays and South Africa in the 1980s.

Anonymous

When I was at University in the early 2000s, the Student Union council meetings were dominated by Israel/Palestine debates and as a result hardly ever focussed on actual student issues.

This local council has many prominent members of a certain very conservative wing of a certain religion.

You can bet they would not be boycotting other human rights abusing countries because it’s all OK if if they share a religion.

However if it’s Jews, that’s different.

Anonymous

*Leicester

Anonymous

I think that you are arguing that a muslim dominated organisation is being deliberately racist in a boycott of Israel. I suppose that could be true. However I hate to break it you, but there are many organisations that have taken positions against Israel, and the majority of them are not dominated by muslims.

Anonymous

I’m not saying that they shouldn’t boycott Israel, what I’m saying is that if they do, then they should also be boycotting other regimes with appalling human rights records, but they don’t because they share a faith.

Double standards.

Anonymous

Thats like running through a cancer ward preaching that other diseases are equally severe. If the people of each constituency make these decisions they shouldn’t be held to the highest moral standard and be asked to subscribe to every moral rights issue – as that is just absurd.

Anonymous

No it isn’t. Not when it’s based on religion.

There are far worse regimes out there than Israel, but a blind eye is turned because they are ******s.

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

Anonymous

This is a straightforward attempt to suppress criticism of a totalitarian and racist regime and the courts were right to refuse it. We should not cower before Israeli pressure. Anti-Semitism has become a meaningless term to deflect the horrors of Israeli occupation.

The day Israel stops dropping banned chemical weapons like white phosphorus on schools and children’s playgrounds, killing them from the inside out as it burns through their internal organs (warning: if you google it, you’ll see some very distressing photos), quite apart from the daily human rights abuses and indignities suffered by dispossessed Palestinians every day, stops the illegal settlements, and revokes the unabashedly racist “Right of Return” then, and maybe only then, will I stop campaigning for a boycott. Until then, heavy shame on Israel and heavy shame on its racist apologists.

Both sides of the coin

It seems you have a personal interest in this based on your impassioned “speech”. So, I wonder have you experienced this yourself, seen this for yourself at any stage or are you just relying on social media, the internet and the news based on whichever company is buying the news that day? I ask because I was holidaying in Israel when there was no war or any other military flare ups with other countries, when suddenly a missile was launched from Hamas and blew up a small school – right in front of my eyes! Israel did not retaliate this, but yet later that evening another Hamas missile launch occurred and for the next 2 weeks this occurred intermittently.

This is something Israelis have been putting up with for so long that their people are practiced in the method of finding shelter in such horrific circumstances and putting on gas masks for protection – something that is issued to every citizen including children and why would they need this if they were not under poisonous gas attacks with regularity?

I understand that Israel continue to build homes for their ever-growing population in areas that are considered to be “occupied land” and agree that this is unfair, but don’t dare sit there and dribble your lies unless you’ve actually experienced it for yourself, as I have. Could you imagine living this way – in real fear of your life daily – in safe, reliable USA or UK? You can’t and you don’t, yet you set judgment upon others who live a situation you have no right commenting about. I would like peace on both sides, for everyone to have the privilege of not living in fear.

Anonymous

Sophistry: the intricacy of your arguments and failure to address the blatant excesses of Israel’s tormentors – your tormentors in waiting – merely underlines where your prejudice lies

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