The Community Security Trust (CST), a UK charity which records and combats anti-Semitic incidents, is “abusing its mandate” in order to give “political support for Israel,” according to former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and author Antony Lerman.
The CST has been frequently cited in the British media this summer as the authoritative source for monitoring anti-Semitism, while its communications director Mark Gardner has been a prolific contributor to news reports and op-ed pages.
Speaking in London on 5 August, Gardner claimed that “the most serious impact for the Jewish community” going forward would be a growth in boycotts of Israel.
Answering a question on the National Union of Students’ recent endorsement of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), Gardner said that while the Jewish community would “get through” the spike in anti-Semitic incidents, “the boycott stuff is really, really serious”:
Israel has, I think, come right up to that red line, to that tipping point, where it becomes in danger of really seriously being the new South Africa, the new South Africa that everybody should boycott, that Israel is equivalent to apartheid South Africa, and that therefore, if you support Israel well you’re just like the Afrikaners of old.
Gardner highlighted the loss of support for Israel among British politicians, before returning specifically to the NUS decision, and warned that when Jewish students “try to bust the sanctions,” there will be “fierce political scenarios” and some “anti-Semitic over spills.”
The conflation of the political campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), which aims to pressure Israel to comply with international law, with attacks on synagogues and violent, abusive insults leveled at individual Jews, is completely unjustified. There is nothing inherently antisemitic in the aims of BDS yet the CST clearly implies that there is.
Lerman cites other examples, such as Gardner’s comments made to the Jewish News last week that while “anti-Semitic incidents will subside … the long term damage to Jews of anti-Israel boycotts will persist,” as well as a piece written for The Express (where, tellingly, Gardner claims that “boycotts of Israel” are “not strictly CST’s business”).
Since Israel’s attack on Gaza began on 7 July, there have been a number of despicable anti-Semitic incidents in the UK, including an assault on a rabbi, vandalism of a synagogue in Belfast, a swastika being painted on a family home, and numerous racist tweets.
In an article last week, Gardner said there were at least 200 antisemitic incidents in July – but he then went on to condemn those who are asking supermarkets to stop “sell[ing] Israeli goods.”
The reason for this disturbing conflation is that CST is not simply an anti-racism charity.
As recently as 2012, as revealed by The Electronic Intifada, the CST was helping to lead the so-called Fair Play Campaign Group, a “coalition of major pro-Israel organisations” that works to “fight boycotts of Israel.”
As revealed in secret documents published by The Electronic Intifada in 2011, CST privately denounced to the government campaigners like Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network as “extreme groups.” It has also participated in Israeli government conferences where strategies to undermine and fight Palestine solidarity campaigners are discussed and planned.
Now, as more people heed the Palestinian call to challenge complicity with Israeli war crimes through boycott and divestment strategies, those seeking to single out Israel for impunity are likely to get more desperate – and shameless – in the tactics they deploy to smear solidarity activists.
That includes linking “pro-Palestinian protesters” to violence, or claiming demonstrations are the work of “Islamists” and “their far-left allies” (a long-standing talking point of Israel’s propagandists).
This kind of shrill defensiveness is likely to be particularly pronounced on campuses, as students return after an unparalleled massacre in Gaza with renewed energy for BDS campaigns. Support for Palestinians under occupation, and campaigns to end complicity with war crimes in Gaza, will no doubt be portrayed as “intimidation“ of Jewish students. It is currently an official policy of the Union of Jewish Students to “counter the BDS movement.”
But it is unlikely to work. Those calling for an arms embargo, those urging divestment from complicit companies, those organizing boycotts in all their forms, are people of different backgrounds, including Jews. They are responding to the Palestinian call for solidarity which, at its heart, is an anti-racist struggle for liberation and decolonization.