“Left-wing” anti-boycott group allegedly received undisclosed funding

Engage, a self-styled “left-wing” UK anti-boycott group, allegedly received undeclared initial funding and support from the anti-boycott, pro-Israel Board of Deputies of British Jews.

The claims were made by pro-Israel blogger “Judy” and first highlighted on the blog Jews sans frontieres. Commenting on her own post, Judy wrote:

the then Board of Deputies…funded Engage to run a campaign against the then boycott proposals of AUT in 2005

Asked why she had described this funding as “dishonest”, Judy continued:

It was dishonest because it was never formally announced…Additionally, it was deeply dishonest because had the funding been known and owned up to at the launch of the major campaign by Engage which got its funding from the BoD, their credibility as a radical left group opposing the boycotters from the left would have been shot to shreds.

Judy did not want to point me to her specific sources. When I asked Jeremy Newmark - Jewish Leadership Council CEO and named by Judy as the BoD official whose “idea” it was to fund Engage - to comment on the story, he replied:

When I pointed this out to Judy, she responded:

As this interview in Ha’aretz  with Engage co-founders David Hirsh and Jon Pike makes clear, the intention was to give the appearance of an anti-boycott group “within the left” to lobby “in the academic community” - as distinct from “run[ning] a Jewish or Israeli campaign”. Pike says he was accused of “getting money from the Israeli embassy”, a suggestion he dismisses as “really untrue” - but does not mention any genuine sources of funding received by Engage.

Similarly, when an announcement appeared in the Democratiya journal that Engage was expanding its activities, there was no explanation as to how a “rough and ready response” to the Association of University Teachers boycott was now transforming into “a respected resource base and co-ordinating centre for practical campaigning against left-anti-Semitism”.

But while Engage has presented itself as a group focused “on one issue, antisemitism” (that also “opposes all racism equally”), their real agenda has been transparent. The website has featured attacks on the likes of Ronnie Kasrils and Jews for Justice for Palestinians, and has described the academic boycott campaign as “a Jew-hunt”. It’s co-founder, David Hirsh, participated in a 2009 conference on “antisemitism” organised by Israel’s Foreign Ministry and chaired by Avigdor Lieberman, where he took part in an anti-boycott, divestment and sanctions working group.

Thankfully, this sort of manipulation of the study of contemporary antisemitism has suffered some setbacks - but it might be too much to ask for Engage to finally come clean about the questions surrounding their original funding. So far, they have ignored my request for clarification.


Ben White

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Ben White is a freelance journalist, writer and activist, specialising in Palestine/Israel. His articles have been widely published in the likes of The Guardian‘s Comment is free, Al Jazeera, Electronic Intifada, New Statesman, and many others. He is the author of ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’ (2009, Pluto Press) and ‘Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination & Democracy’ (2012, Pluto Press). Ben is a researcher/writer for the Journal of Palestine Studies.