The rapper and campaigner Lowkey was smeared by a pro-Israel group before a planned visit to one of Britain’s best-known colleges.
On 15 March, Lowkey gave a talk via Zoom arranged by the Palestine Solidarity Society at Cambridge University.
The talk – titled “The Israel Lobby’s War Against You” – was supposed to take place on campus a week earlier. The night before it was scheduled, however, Lowkey was contacted by the organizers, who informed him the event had been postponed.
The postponement followed pressure exerted by the Cambridge University Jewish Society.
In an email message to the organizers of the talk featuring Lowkey, the group alleged he “has repeatedly used unfounded conspiracy theories and harmful arguments about ‘the Israel lobby’ to attack the British Jewish community, often in a way that undermines the lived experiences and realities of Jewish students.”
The message, seen by The Electronic Intifada, claimed that Lowkey had dismissed “genuine complaints of anti-Semitism from British Jews” and depicted those complaints as “a sinister ploy designed to promote a certain agenda on Israel-Palestine.” The group also accused Lowkey of arguing that the Israel lobby was “behind criticisms of anti-Semitism” in the UK Labour Party, when Jeremy Corbyn was its leader.
Funded by Israel
The Cambridge University Jewish Society is among around 70 groups that comprise the Union of Jewish Students (UJS). Jack Lubner, a Cambridge student who signed the email message smearing Lowkey, is also active in the UJS at national level.
The UJS makes plain its commitment to Israel in its official constitution. One objective of the group is “inspiring Jewish students to making an enduring commitment” to Israel, that document states.
In 2017, an investigation by Al Jazeera revealed that the UJS is financed by the Israeli embassy in London.
Asked for a comment, Lowkey said “I’m not surprised” a group with strong connections to the Israeli embassy “came after me in this way.”
“But it’s certainly disturbing that yet again the Israel lobby is attempting to prevent pro-Palestinian, anti-apartheid perspectives from reaching uni campuses in the UK,” he added.
“UJS, through the Masa Israel Journey program can serve as a gateway to the Israeli occupation forces. The two programs it can connect members to are Marva and Tzofim Garin Tzabar which directly enlist teenagers into the Israeli army.”
The email message from the Cambridge University Jewish Society argued that the title of the rapper’s talk “plays into a trope that Lowkey has employed against Jewish students.” Yet it failed to back up the insinuation that Lowkey is hostile toward Jews in any way.
That is not surprising. While Lowkey is a trenchant critic of Israel and its state ideology Zionism, there is no evidence that he is bigoted against Jews based on their ethnicity or religion.
On the contrary, he has a solid track record of opposing racism generally.
Because he has mastered an artform – hip-hop – popular among young audiences and sought to educate his fans about Palestine, Lowkey has long been regarded as an enemy by pro-Israel lobbyists. Back in 2011, the right-wing Jewish Chronicle quoted an unnamed “expert studying anti-Israel activity” describing the influence of Lowkey and similar performers as a “potential nightmare.”
Far from dismissing genuine complaints of anti-Semitism, Lowkey has condemned how such bigotry is cynically weaponized by the Israel lobby.During Jeremy Corbyn’s time as leader of Britain’s Labour Party, pro-Israel groups manufactured an “anti-Semitism crisis.”
Numerous allegations of anti-Semitism were made against Labour Party activists.
The allegations were usually based on comments criticizing Israel’s policies and activities. Many of the allegations targeted Jewish political activists who have rejected the ideology of Zionism.
Lowkey was correct in speaking out against a lobby which has conflated opposition to Israel with anti-Jewish bigotry.
Jack Lubner, who signed the email message protesting against Lowkey’s planned visit to Cambridge, was among those who took part in the witch hunt against Israel’s critics.
Lubner campaigned for Labour to punish Chris Williamson, then one of its lawmakers, a few years ago.
Williamson was suspended from Labour in 2019 after he denounced the witch hunt against Labour members who supported Palestinian rights.
The Union of Jewish Students, which Lubner represents, is seeking to muzzle Israel’s opponents in British universities.
It played a prominent role in efforts to have David Miller fired from his post as a sociology professor with Bristol University. Miller, who has researched the pro-Israel lobby meticulously, was dismissed even though he was cleared of anti-Semitism in investigations launched by the university.
The treatment of Lowkey can be contrasted with how Cambridge University hosted Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s ambassador to the UK, last month.
Hotovely’s visit went ahead as planned despite how it attracted a protest from Palestine solidarity activists.
There are clear double standards involved here.
An elite British college is willing to welcome a representative of Israel’s apartheid state. Yet when a critic of that same state is invited, some unfounded smears are sufficient to have the event postponed.
Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions. Twitter: @KitKlarenberg.