The decision came after a smear campaign against the main speaker David Miller, falsely accusing him of anti-Jewish bigotry.
This capitulation is a slap in the face to Palestinians and to the long tradition of Quaker solidarity and support for Palestinian rights. It is also being criticized by another major Quaker group.
Campaign Against Antisemitism, a right-wing Israel lobby group whose head of “political investigations” took credit for the political destruction of Jeremy Corbyn – boasting that the former Labour Party leader had been “slaughtered” – applauded the blatant act of censorship against Miller.
But the cave-in by Quakers in Britain – also known as Britain Yearly Meeting – has not been received well by one of the world’s best known Quaker action organizations, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).
AFSC is widely known among Palestinians for its long commitment to their struggle for justice, dating back to the immediate aftermath of the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
“With full respect to our colleagues and friends at Britain Yearly Meeting, our experience and work lead us to different conclusions regarding peacebuilding and activism for Palestinian rights,” AFSC said in response to The Electronic Intifada’s request for comment about what occurred in Edinburgh.
“As noted in our statement opposing anti-Semitism, over the last several years we have seen a rise in anti-Semitism,” the group said.
“Jewish people are faced with persistent bigotry, hate, racism and violence. We condemn and work to end anti-Semitism in all its forms.”
AFSC added: “We have also witnessed a dangerous trend where allegations of anti-Semitism are used to silence those advocating for Palestinian rights.”
The organization highlighted how the so-called IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, promoted by Israel and its lobby, seeks to redefine “criticism of Israel and Zionism as anti-Semitism.”
“A concerted and well-funded effort uses lawfare, anti-Semitism accusations, accusations of terrorism support, legislation, doxing and online smear campaigns to stop advocacy for Palestinian rights,” AFSC added.
That is precisely what has happened to David Miller.
Capitulation under pressure
Miller was scheduled to speak Tuesday at an event titled “Free speech on Palestine: Zionist networks and the threat to freedom of expression” at the Quaker Meeting House in Edinburgh.
This was one of two appearances by Miller organized by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
According to SPSC’s Mick Napier, an event scheduled for Monday at Glasgow’s Renfield Centre had to be relocated after Scottish police advised the venue to “reconsider” the group’s booking – the result of another clear attempt at censorship.
“The Quaker meeting House in Edinburgh initially rejected Zionist pressure to cancel the Tuesday night event but then collapsed and canceled the booking a few hours before the meeting was due to begin,” Napier stated. “We quickly relocated to a venue a few hundred yards away.”
Although the event was able to proceed elsewhere, the grave harm done by Quakers in Britain cannot be overlooked. Its cave-in to Israel lobby pressure played out in part in a public exchange on Twitter.
On Tuesday, Nicole Lampert, an apologist for Israel’s crimes against Palestinians and a writer for the right-wing Daily Mail, tweeted the announcement of Miller’s Edinburgh appearance and asked, “Why are British Quakers giving this man a platform in which to spread his virulent Jew hate?”
Quakers in Britain responded, “After further consideration this booking at Edinburgh Quaker Meeting House has been canceled.”
“Quakers in Britain believe that all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, are barriers to building a just and peaceful world,” the group added in a clear endorsement of Lampert’s characterization of the event as a potential platform for “Jew hate.”Miller has been the target of a sustained campaign of lies and smears by the British government, Israel lobbyists and sympathetic media, painting him as an anti-Jewish bigot because of his research about the Israel lobby and his criticism of Zionism, Israel’s racist state ideology.
His employer at the time, the University of Bristol, commissioned two independent investigations into the torrent of allegations against Miller. Both investigations, conducted by a senior British lawyer, cleared him completely.
The lawyer’s first report states unambiguously that “there is no case to answer against Professor Miller” for any alleged anti-Semitism.
“Professor Miller is at pains to distinguish between Zionism and Israel, on the one hand, and Jewish people, on the other,” it adds.
The lawyer concluded that Miller’s “conduct cannot reasonably be categorized as misconduct.”
The second investigation, commissioned to look into complaints about a public talk Miller gave in February 2021 as well as an article he wrote for The Electronic Intifada the same month, reached identical conclusions.
The lawyer found that “there is no formal case to answer against Professor Miller” and that he had not “exceeded the boundaries of unacceptable speech.”
“Being defamed by the Quakers is a low point,” Miller told The Electronic Intifada on Friday.
He added that it is “manifestly the case that allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ have been weaponized. My research shows that this is a consciously planned strategy by the State of Israel, drip fed through its assets and agents in the Zionist movement.”
Response from Quakers in Britain
The Electronic Intifada asked Quakers in Britain to explain the factual basis for their endorsement of Lampert’s smears and for the cancellation of the booking for Miller’s event in Edinburgh.
Had the group been provided with any information not in the public domain that would support the already disproven smears and lies against Miller? Does the group believe that criticism of Israel and Zionism is anti-Semitic?
This writer had hoped that Quakers in Britain would stay true to its professed creed of “speaking the truth at all times, including to people in positions of power.”
In that regard, the group’s reply, emailed to The Electronic Intifada on Thursday, was disappointing.
“Quakers in Britain do not believe that criticism of Israel, its policies, practices and political ideology is anti-Semitic,” the group wrote. “Indeed we have criticized the actions of the Israeli government on several occasions, when we believe their actions to be harmful to the possibility of a lasting peace.”
But Quakers in Britain does want to place severe limits on speaking the truth, so as not to offend the powerful – in this case Israel and its lobby groups.
Judging from its response, Quakers in Britain does not even recognize that such a lobby exists. Perhaps the group believes that recognizing its reality will open it up to charges of anti-Semitism?
“When we do criticize, it is precisely the Israeli government that we address. We take care not to use or allude to dehumanizing tropes of Jews,” the group asserted.
“Our key concern about the Edinburgh event was the way the promotional material used phrases like ‘weaponizing allegations of anti-Semitism’ and ‘faux outrage.’ We believe using phrases like these creates a barrier to dialogue, which is essential to peace.”
Quakers in Britain asserted that “peace between Palestine and Israel will only be found through dialogue underpinned by the principles of international law” and that “in dialogue, the choices you make about words matters.”
But Quakers in Britain did not point to any “dehumanizing tropes against Jews” in the promotional material for Miller’s Edinburgh event, so they appear to be saying that even trying to expose and challenge false Israeli or Israel lobby allegations of anti-Semitism is itself anti-Semitic.
Quibbling about a few phrases in the event announcement – which nowhere mentions Jews – appears to be a retroactive attempt by Quakers in Britain to justify a panicked and unprincipled overreaction to what can only be described as faux outrage by opponents of Palestinian rights.
Finally, Quakers in Britain confirmed that it had “advised Edinburgh Quaker Meeting House to cancel the booking and still believe this is correct.”
Slamming the door on Palestinians
Instead of reflecting honestly on their actions, heeding the wise counsel of their counterparts at AFSC and making amends for their error, Quakers in Britain leaders have doubled down on their complicity in a smear campaign by Israel and its lobby to silence Palestinians and their supporters.
This cowardice may buy Quakers in Britain “peace” with the Israel lobby, but it slams the door in the face of Palestinians. It will not promote the “dialogue” Quakers of Britain claims it seeks, because dialogue cannot arise from a foundation of lies.
Indeed, as AFSC wrote to The Electronic Intifada, “dialogue and international law have been distorted and used to maintain the unjust status quo in Palestine and Israel for decades.”
“In light of the increasing recognition of the apartheid realities faced by Palestinians, understanding and addressing power imbalances and the need for structural change through actions that move beyond dialogue is vital for peacebuilding,” AFSC said. “And this includes opening space for and listening to voices that make us uncomfortable.”
“At some point groups like Quakers in Britain will have to decide between their stated pursuit of ‘equality, peace, truth, justice and simplicity,’ on the one hand, and being used to give cover to the ongoing ethnic cleansing, indeed creeping genocide, of the Palestinians, on the other,” David Miller said.
“There is no middle way. The crime of the occupation of Palestine cannot be resolved by a ‘balanced’ approach to the relation between the oppressor and the oppressed.”
AFSC and Miller are right. Waffling about “dialogue” while sitting on the fence fools no one and only serves the oppressor.
The cancellation of Miller’s event at the Edinburgh meeting house by Quakers in Britain is an injustice to him. But it is much more than that.
It is a deep and cutting betrayal of all Palestinians and of the fellowship and solidarity so many Quakers have shared with them for almost 80 years.