Joint Fast and Vigil with Scottish Islamic Foundation

Candlelit vigil for Gaza

On a very cold December evening in Glasgow over 70 people gathered to mark the 1st anniversary of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead – the 22 day assault on Gaza which resulted in the deaths of over 1400 Palestinians, thousand of injuries and the wholesale destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure. The candlelit vigil was jointly called by the Scottish Islamic Foundation and SJJP and supported by many other groups and individuals. The day coincided with the Muslim festival of Ashura when Sunni Muslims believe that Moses freed the Jews from Egypt and is marked by fasting from sunrise to sunset. Given the continuing oppression of Gazans through Israel’s blockade and Egyptian support, the symbolism (and indeed, irony) of the event was not lost on those present. In time honoured tradition, the Ashura fast was broken with the breaking of Samosas and Matzoh!

Speakers at the event included MSPs Sandra White and Pauline McNeil, both staunch supporters of the Palestinian cause alongside speakers from the Muslim community and support groups. Our own speaker rounded off the event and focused on the impact the war and blockade is having on children in Gaza – particularly relevant given the time of year when children are very much in our minds. This was a sombre and powerful event; and significant, perhaps not in terms of numbers, but both symbolically and practically. Joint initiatives like this involving Jews, Muslims and other sections of civil society demonstrate a number of things – that criticism of Israel is not anti-semitic as others would have us believe; that there is a joint will for peace and justice in the Middle East and that strong constructive relationships can be built here and now between our communities – a real building block for the future. We should actively pursue further opportunities to engage with the Muslim community and develop a real dialogue over how we can work towards a just peace. We can maybe sometimes underestimate the impact of our network and what our collective activity can achieve.

Fun at the expense of the JC

I don’t normally reproduce other people’s postings, but this appeared on the JustPeaceUK mailing list where most people won’t see it, and I couldn’t resist:

I am beginning to think those people are right who say the amount of antisemitism in Britain is exaggerated. I always used to suspect them of downplaying a serious issue, but lately I have been reading the Jewish Chronicle and seeing how hard pressed it is for news.

I could understand editor Stephen Pollard getting upset because some passing bloke on a bike shouted “dirty Jew” at him as he came out of shul, but whereas in my childhood years such incidents were not out of the ordinary,and might have been dealt with by shoving the bloke off his bike, Mr.Pollard thought it was news, and what’s more, required searching for an explanation. He figured the cyclist must have been reading some criticisms of Israel, (by Jewish writers), in the London Review of Books. There’s a deduction for you.

This week I see the JC headlined an “attack” on a Hapoel Tel Aviv supporter in Glasgow for the Celtic match. I was relieved to then read that police said a man was arrested for brandishing a weapon during a confrontation between two groups of men in a Glasgow pub, and said no one had been hurt. All the same, I am sure violence and threats are exceedingly rare in Glasgow pubs, and rival football fans normally embrace in friendship and sing each other’s songs,so perhaps this was an antisemitic incident, and may, as the JC seems to suggest, have had something to do with people waving Palestinian flags at the game. The JC quotes outraged Celtic fans, who of course have never waved flags at football matches before. Still, it is reassuring to know this was the nearest thing the JC could find to a serious incident.

Worse, perhaps, was the evidence the JC was able to report of antisemitism at a pro-Palestinian carol concert. I thought they must have heard a speech or interpreted the words of the alternative carols carefully, but no, it seems that another anonymous person in the street (did he arrive on a bike?), confronted by those charming people from the Zionist Federation outside, made some anti-Jewish remarks.

You may say that is an obvious news story, but it takes a keen ear and journalistic instinct or skills to spot things like that. I mean, how many times have you heard people coming out of a Zionist event or Israel property fair giving you their opinion on Palestinians and Arabs, and what should be done to them, or tell you that “you should have died in Auschwitz”? OK, you may have told your friends about it, but I bet you didn’t rush to write it up as a news story, let alone manage to get it on the JC front-page.

I once stood on a picket across the road from an Ilford shul where an obnoxious Israeli general was speaking for Jerusalem Day. An Asian woman in shalwar and khemis crossed the road, nothing to do with our demonstration, and one of the shul security people jeered “She must be one of your lot!”, as though this was the most insulting wit he could think of. I remarked about his ignorance, but it never occurred to me to write up the incident as showing what sort of people were at the shul event (though the general had spoken of Palestinians as “cockroaches”).

It takes aptitude, training, and knowing the policy of your paper. If some of us had been sent to get a story about the mayor attending a gay party we’d probably have come back to the Standard office saying we could not get his comments because he was pissed and insulted us and the paper. A skilled man got the insults on tape, and the story ran and ran.

The voice of Anglo-Jewry is almost as good. Not that Stephen Pollard is taken in by false allegations of antisemitism. When a Polish right-wing politician says there’s no need to apologise for a massacre of Jews because Jews did not apologise for Bolshevism, others tried to make something of this, but Stephen Pollard rejected the accusations, pointing out that Mr.Kaminski was not only leader of the Conservative group at Brussels, but a declared friend of Israel.

So short of shouting insults at Mr.Pollard as he goes past on a bike, he is certified kosher. All hail Stephen Pollard, he know’s what what and what’s not!

Open letter to Gordon Brown on the Goldstone report

The Times yesterday published, as a full-page advertisement, an open letter to the Prime Minister supporting the Goldstone Report and regretting “your Government’s failure to endorse the Report and its recommendations at the United Nations General Assembly”. It was signed by more than 500 British Jews – a lot of work went into gathering so many signatures in just a few days. Several SJJP signatories were among the letter’s supporters, and SJJP itself was a sponsor of the initiative. You can read the text of the letter and see the signatures on the JfJfP blog.

Scottish Parliament motion on Mohammed Othman

Mohammad Othman is a human rights activist and a volunteer with the grassroots “Stop the Wall Campaign”. On 22 September 2009, Mohammad arrived at the Allenby Bridge Crossing. He was returning home, to the West Bank, via Jordan, from his travels in Norway where he attended several speaking events and advocacy meetings. He was taken into administrative custody where he remains despite never having been charged and no specific allegations made against him. Note that he is a human rights activist who is not suspected of any violence. The current administrative detention order expires on December 22/23, but even if he is released then, he will have spent three months in detention without any due process – a clear message of intimidation to Palestinians contemplating non-violent activism against the occupation.

More information on the Free Mohammed Othman blog.

Update: press release from Dr. Bill Wilson, SNP MSP for the West of Scotland, 1st December 2009

Israel’s attempt to silence human rights activist condemned in Scottish Parliament

Dr Bill Wilson, an SNP MSP for the West of Scotland, today lodged a second motion condemning Israel’s detention of human rights activist, Mohammad Othman, who recently had his administrative detention extended by a military court.

Dr Wilson said: “It’s easy to despair at Israel’s continued abuse of human rights on multiple fronts, and its determined attempts to shut down even peaceful voices of dissent such as that of Mohammad Othman, who was locked up after returning from a campaigning trip to Norway and is effectively facing indefinite unlawful detention. However, despair will not solve the problem, and it’s not the response of the many brave people – Palestinian, Israeli and of other nationalities – using peaceful means to fight the human rights abuses of the oppressive Israeli regime.

“This sort of behaviour on Israel’s part – flouting international norms of due legal process and civil liberties, such as those outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – can only make peace in Israel and Palestine more remote.

“For the sake of all in the region, I urge Israel to respect human rights and international obligations and norms, and to release Mohammad Othman, or, if there is any credible evidence that he is guilty of any serious offence, to offer him a speedy and fair trial.”