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(Jeff Haynes / Agence France Presse)

Zionists smear Amnesty over "cocktail" joke

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Farmers in Gaza inspect damage to their land; a British MP has urged supporters to stand by Israel when it bombs Palestinians. 

(Ashraf Amra / APA images)

The Community Security Trust (CST), a registered charity whose remit is to monitor anti-Semitism and provide security for the UK Jewish community, has published a blog post in which it compared Amnesty International to a man recently fined over a racially aggravated offense.  

CST linked the case of Liverpool music venue-owner Philip Hayes — found guilty of making anti-Semitic remarks to Labour Member of Parliament Luciana Berger — to a tweet by Amnesty International Campaigns Manager Kristyan Benedict in which he made a joke about three pro-Israel MPs (including Berger).

Benedict’s tweet in November, in the context of a parliamentary debate on Israel’s attack on Gaza, read: “Louise Ellman, Robert Halfon and Luciana Berger walk into a bar … each orders a round of B52s” — the latter being both a cocktail and the famous bomber plane.

This was seized on at the time by individuals including Arieh Kovler of the Fair Play Campaign Group, which opposes boycotting Israel, the Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard, Jeremy Newmark of the Jewish Leadership Council (the latter two calling the joke “anti-Semitic”), and the head of the Henry Jackson Society-linked group Student Rights. The claim made was that Benedict had only selected “Jewish MPs” as the target of his joke — the same angle adopted by the CST.

Benedict had long been a target of pro-Israel groups, the recipient of criticism also directed at Amnesty as a whole (including on account of events where I have been speaking). Amnesty, of course, is also a villain for Israel advocates like NGO Monitor for documenting Israeli violations of international law. So there must have been frustration that the complaints about Benedict’s tweet did not come to much.

Targeted for being Jews?

But were the three MPs mentioned by Benedict just because they were Jewish? Or — and this is a possibility that astonishingly goes completely unmentioned by the CST — are Berger, Ellman and Halfon being referred to because of their political views?

Berger is the former director of Labour Friends of Israel — one of the main Israel lobby groups in Westminster — and only stepped down prior to successfully contesting the last election. In 2011, The Jerusalem Post described Berger as “an active supporter of Israel who has visited the country over 20 times.”

Ellman, meanwhile, is a member of Labour Friends of Israel, and urged crowds at a rally in January 2009 to “stand together to stick up for Israel” as Gaza was being devastated. In 2011, her unchallenged claim on the BBC that Hamas used children as suicide bombers was at the center of a complaint upheld by a broadcasting standards watchdog.

The third MP, Robert Halfon, is a member, and former political director, of Conservative Friends of Israel, and in 2010 hosted the launch of the Friends of Israel, an international initiative headed by former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar, in Parliament. The British Jewish Telegraph called Halfon the Conservative “counterpart” to Ellman (praising the latter as “never scared to … fight for Israel … at every Parliamentary opportunity”). Halfon, the paper wrote, “has wasted no time since being elected” to “speak up on behalf of Israel.”

In summary, all three hold, or have held, prominent positions within Westminster-focused Israel advocacy groups, and have a reputation for being defenders of Israeli policies. But you wouldn’t know that reading CST’s blog post, which simply stressed that Benedict “singled out three Jewish MPs” and claimed that “there is no factual basis for Benedict’s ‘joke,’” and made the link with the fined Hayes:

Three days prior to Mr Benedict’s subtle association between Ms Berger and (non-existent) carpet-bombing in Gaza, Mr Hayes made the same assumption about her stance, but was being somewhat more forthright. [My emphasis]

I asked CST if it had complained to Amnesty at the time, and it confirmed that it had. Curiously, however, CST refused to explain what it would have seen as appropriate or sufficient steps in response to a tweet it obviously deemed serious enough to make the topic of a substantial blog post.

Only last month CST was criticized for participating in a conference part-funded by the right-wing American pundit Daniel Pipes, while in December 2011, it was revealed on The Electronic Intifada that CST had described organizations for anti-Zionist Jews as “extreme groups” in a briefing for the UK government. Now, the organization has published a post attacking a human rights campaigner with inane, politicized comments like Amnesty “is not exactly a fan of Israel.” Surely a body truly acting as a serious anti-racism charity would be avoiding such positioning.