Category Archives: Uncategorized

Sheffield Hallam University corrects itself in the case of Shahd Abusalama

The immediate purpose of this post is to share with readers Shahd’s – @ShahdAbusalama – heartening announcement on Twitter. Plus a few words of my own. But first, Shahd in her own words:

‘We’re celebrating a fantastic victory for Palestine today @sheffhallamuni will not be progressing with any further investigation of the malicious smears that have been levelled against me.’

‘Therefore, I have been wholly exonerated of the false charges of antisemitism, brought under the unfit-for-purpose IHRA definition.’

‘I will also be offered a more secure contract that will afford my employee status at @sheffhallamuni. That wouldn’t happen without your support. so THANK YOU.’

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What lies beyond the victory?

For some time it has seemed to me that ‘we’ need to ask ourselves some questions about the nature and scope of ‘our’ response to the IHRA defintion in general. The victory of Shahd is – no word of exaggeration – joyous. But, once the banners are put away for another day, and the protesters disperse, is our task simply to wait for the next assault by the IHRA protagonists, then to gather once more in protest?

Put another way, we know that the Israeli state and its supporters are well-funded and well-organised. Their actions are not simply random eruptions of attack on Palestinians and their allies. Rather, underpinning their individual acts of aggression there is a strategy. So, some questions occur in respect of opposing the IHRA definition and its malign use:

  • Are we acting within a wider, meaningful, overarching, coordinated, strategic approach in combating the IHRA definition and the uses to which it is put?
  • Are we mainly reactive, not sufficiently pro-active?
  • Have we harnessed sufficiently the formidable ethical, intellectual, legal, religious resources that, in principle, are at our disposal?

I think these are important questions – and in posing them, I do not presume the answer. But it seems to me they need to be posed. They need to be posed because, in my view, the IHRA definition represents a strategic threat to the Palestinian cause. It therefore needs a strategic response.

I may make these questions the topic of the next blog article. But in the meantime, I would welcome hearing from people and organisations that think it worthwhile to consider the questions above, and no doubt others.

I have used ‘we’ and ‘our’ in this post. I do this because I’m confident ‘we’ know who we are.

In closing: Hearty congratulations to Shahd. She sparked and led a magnificent campaign.

The shame of Sheffield Hallam University – letter of protest

Introduction

Along with many others, I have written to Sheffield Hallam University protesting the suspension of Shahd Abusalama from her teaching post. That letter appears below after this brief introduction.

The suspension appears to be based on accusations made by Jewish News and the Israel lobby group Campaign Against Antisemitism that she had been fostering hostility to Jews. She was preparing to teach her first class on 21 January when an administrator informed her the evening before that her class was canceled and her students would be notified.

The basis of the accusation appears to be based on Twitter posts in which she discussed accusations of antisemitism made against a member of the Sheffield Hallam Palestine Society, this arising from a banner created during a banner-making session, which stated “Stop the Palestinian Holocaust”. She made clear that she herself would not use that term in relation to Palestine.

More background can be found here, here,, and here.

My letter:

Professor Sir Chris Husbands
Vice-Chancellor
Sheffield Hallam University
By Email: c.husbands@shu.ac.uk

26 January 2022

Dear Professor Sir Chris Husbands,

Re: The investigation of Shahd Abusalama and cancellation of the class she was scheduled to teach.

According to reports, Ms Abusalama is under investigation by Sheffield Hallam University for social media posts published on Twitter on 4 December 2021.  There is no need to repeat the details here – they have been set out across social media and in other letters to the university – save to say that Ms Abusalama sought to explain what might have motivated Palestinian students to create a banner stating ‘Stop the Palestinian Holocaust’.  At the same time, she made clear that she would not herself have used the term ‘Holocaust’ in the context of Palestine. Ms Abusalama’s speaking about this, apparently, has been sufficient to sustain a prima facia accusation of antisemitism against her.

The first and obvious point to make is that, on the facts of the matter, Ms Abusalama was fulfilling the role of educator and critical interlocutor to the students in an exemplary manner. In other words, her actions, as reported, were directed to explaining, to critiquing, to, in effect, challenging the students’ thinking in respect of linking the term ‘Holocaust’ to Palestinian issues.  An aspect of this process was articulating, and respecting, the perspective of the Palestinian students who created the banner. Anyone who has even the faintest understanding of the brutality daily visited upon Palestinians by the Israeli state should have some insight into the surrounding circumstances that prompted those particular words on that particular banner.      

It is sometime since I attended university, but my understanding has always been that one of the key functions of a university is to serve as a haven where ideas can be freely explored, and challenged, without fear of penalty or retribution. In this matter, it appears that Sheffield Hallam University has been derelict in its duty to secure that space for, in this case, Ms Abusalama and indeed Palestinian students in general.  This should be a cause of shame for your institution.

It appears that the undergirding for the accusation of antisemitism is based on the university’s formal endorsement of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. This is a definition that has attracted extensive and authoritative critique and disavowal by scholars – Jewish and not Jewish – legal experts and civil society groups. And, as a Jew, it gives me no comfort at all; and I object to its use in attempting to negate Palestinian voices.   The IHRA definition is a messy, confused, over-embellished jumble of ideas that is having, as predicted, a chilling effect on free speech in relation to Palestine/Israel issues. Indeed, one of the authors of the definition – Kenneth Stern – has made it clear that the IHRA definition is not designed to be a guide as to what constitutes permissible speech in universities.

The definition has in fact become weaponised by those who wish to silence legitimate Israel-critical speech. Your university now stands charged with being complicit in this silencing and is so doing joins those who wish to stifle, indeed erase, Palestinian voices.  It is a shameful for a university to put itself in this position, in effect hollowing-out your university’s own pledge in respect of the IHRA definition:

‘Adoption of this definition will not limit legitimate criticism and debate. The University will continue to uphold and protect the rights of students and staff to hold legitimate debates on issues related to Israel, Palestine and the Middle East.’

In closing, I endorse the demands as formulated by the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies that Sheffield Hallam University:

  • immediately inform Ms Abusalama of any accusations against her; of the evidence of any such accusations; and give her the right in consultation with her union to respond to those accusations;
  • uphold Ms Abusalama’s right to freedom of expression such as it is guaranteed under the law, particularly when it comes to speaking about her experiences as a Palestinian refugee from Gaza;
  • publicly apologise to Ms Abusalama for the breach of confidentiality committed against her when the university informed the media of an investigation into her social media posts;
  • revoke the decision to cancel the class she teaches;
  • uphold its duty of care towards Ms Abusalama both as a student and member of staff at Sheffield Hallam University;
  • rescind the use of the IRHA definition of antisemitism as a tool in complaints and disciplinary procedures.

Yours sincerely,

Bernard Spiegal

December 4, 2021. Tuba, South Hebron Hills (David Shulman)

A richly evocative article in words and pictures. It connects readers, as much as any medium can, to the lived experience of the villagers, and Israeli activists supporting them, as they suffer and resist the brutalities of the agents of the Israeli state.

Touching Photographs

Tuba in 2018. credit: Margaret Olin

It’s 8:00 on a winter morning as we arrive in South Hebron, and immediately there is a call: settlers attacking in Tuba. Five of us—Guy, Yigal, Noah, Yossi, me—tear off over the gravel-and-goat paths , through the desert, to Tuba. Guy is driving as if he were flying a plane or flogging a horse. The car careens over the rocks, kicking up dust. They need us. Now.

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August 20, 2021. Dir Jarir. Text and Photographs: David Shulman

‘Can a handful of adolescent criminals destroy an entire village? Yes, easily. Sadiq and Faris tell us the stories of the last few days…To put things simply: these shepherds and farmers are being relentlessly pushed farther and farther westward, away from their lands. We are talking about privately owned Palestinian land, with documents of ownership going back as far as Ottoman times—which means, Abu Rafa’ tells me, that they go back to the beginning of time.’

Touching Photographs

Dawn at Dir Jarir. One herd of sheep is already out on the hills with Khairi’s son. They’re grazing not so far from the noxious outpost of Maaleh Ahuvia, but for now things are quiet. No settlers in sight. That sentence reveals the story of Dir Jarir. Dawn, noon, dusk, midnight, and all the hours in between– demented teenage settlers can turn up at any moment, in the Palestinian fields, in their makeshift tents, and even in their homes. They threaten and bully them, often they beat them, and always they invade their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and grazing grounds, wreaking havoc. The shepherds and farmers live in a state of terror, and the apparatus of the State is unwilling to intervene. There are good reasons to think that the army in the area stands with the settlers. The police are reluctant to come to Dir Jarir without an army…

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June 11, 2021: Taybeh Junction. Texts and Photographs: David Shulman

‘I don’t know if you have seen a family living in terror.’
A haunting evocation of the evil Israel daily visits upon Palestinian Bedouins counterpoised by the quiet courage and persistence of those that resist it.

Touching Photographs

I don’t know if you have seen a family living in terror.


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So you and I could be anti-Semitic, and we didn’t even know it. Part two

This article can be read as a stand alone. But, as the designation ‘Part two’ suggests, there is merit in visiting Part one for useful, additional background. In particular, Hasbara is explained, as is the inept and damaging IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism along with its supposed examples.

Give or take a minute, each article is about a five minute read.

Israel’s current ascendancy

At present, and for some time now, Israel and supporters of its racist, apartheid state have been in the ascendancy at least so far as mainstream media and political opinion is concerned. In more tangible terms, this is evidenced by Israel’s involvement in bi-lateral and other trade deals (e.g. with the EU), arms deals, joint academic research projects, joint military enterprises, and much more.  There are, too, the massive transfers of USA dollars and European Euros to Israel. Taken together, all this helps keep Israel afloat, free to daily colonise more and more Palestinian land whilst working to empty the stolen land of its indigenous Palestinian inhabitants.

Hasbara’s aim is to deflect attention from all this. To put it out of sight, to direct our focus elsewhere, to project Israel as a perfectly normal Western-type state. The sort of state that can host a European Song Contest. The sort of state replete with pavement cafes in Tel Aviv or West Jerusalem, where one can relax, drink coffee, oblivious to the fact that British JCB bulldozers are demolishing Palestinian homes; children are being shot by the ‘most moral army in the world’;  that the Israel Defence Force (the inapt name for Israel’s army)  ‘makes its presence felt’, as a matter of policy, by breaking into Palestinian homes in the dead of night, armed, no warning given, often dragging some or all the inhabitants – mum, dad, brother, sister, uncle, aunt – away, traumatising all, but children in particular. All this a mere twenty five miles away from Tel Aviv’s cafés where people sit unconcerned, the facts unacknowledged, or wilfully ignored.

If the truth was acknowledged

An inherent difficulty for any hasbara effort is that there are few facts to hand that, in truth, point to a state and society that one would admire or aim to emulate. Beneath the surface glitter of normality, there is a highly militarised, colonising, corrupted state and corrupted society. It would not take a visitor long to verify this should they care to bother.

The real and present danger

Hasbara, and the actions that flow from it, must be understood as a highly aggressive, counter-democratic programme that not only camouflages Israel’s perpetual law and rights-defying behaviour, but also attacks and corrodes democratic discourse here in the UK, and in the West more widely. 

Hasbara and its associated policies and practices, is working to diminish and close down the public spaces available for critiquing Israel, its policies and practices towards Palestinians.  This, as I have made clear, is not accidental. It is the outcome of deliberate strategy.  And it’s been, and is, remarkably successful, here in the UK, in Europe and the USA as the following examples demonstrate:

Gavin Williamson, the UK Education Secretary, has threatened university with cuts to their funding if they do not adopt the IHRA definition.

Leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, has imposed a blanket ban on constituency parties discussing Jeremy Corbyn’s, its former leader, suspension; and David Evans, Labour’s General Secretary, has forbidden discussion on Labour’s adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

In USA, Zoom, YouTube and Facebook censored an online class featuring Palestinian, Black, Jewish and South African activists at San Francisco State University. The open classroom event “Whose Narratives?: Gender, Justice & Resistance” featured Palestinian activist Leila Khaled and was scheduled to take place at 12:30 PDT before being erased from Zoom, Facebook and YouTube.

Mike Pompeo, for the moment still USA Secretary of State, has said:  ‘As we have made clear, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism’. On the back of which the USA intends to identify and sanction organizations that engage in or support the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

A non-binding Bundestag resolution, adopted by a large majority on May 2019, condemned the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement targeting Israel as “anti-Semitic” and compared it to the Nazi regime’s demands not to buy from Jews. The resolution also called for denying public funding and public spaces to individuals and organisations which support BDS.

Profoundly mistaken

Anti-Semitism has been weaponised, aggressively deployed to support the Israeli State.  This is its main, indeed arguably, its only purpose.  It does not mean it is good for Jews in general, in fact it is potentially damaging. Damaging because the impression can all too easily be given – has already been given? – that anti-Semitism must be given special regard, divorced from the wider, most urgent, most necessary, struggle against racism in all its forms –Islamophobia, anti-black prejudice and discrimination, anti-Roma prejudice and discrimination.  This point is well made in a letter to the Guardian from 122 Palestinian and Arab academics, journalists and intellectuals who expressed their concerns about the IHRA definition:

‘To level the charge of antisemitism against anyone who regards the existing state of Israel as racist, notwithstanding the actual institutional and constitutional discrimination upon which it is based, amounts to granting Israel absolute impunity. Israel can thus deport its Palestinian citizens, or revoke their citizenship or deny them the right to vote, and still be immune from the accusation of racism. The IHRA definition and the way it has been deployed prohibit any discussion of the Israeli state as based on ethno-religious discrimination. It thus contravenes elementary justice and basic norms of human rights and international law.’

‘The suppression of Palestinian rights in the IHRA definition betrays an attitude upholding Jewish privilege in Palestine instead of Jewish rights, and Jewish supremacy over Palestinians instead of Jewish safety. We believe that human values and rights are indivisible and that the fight against antisemitism should go hand in hand with the struggle on behalf of all oppressed peoples and groups for dignity, equality and emancipation.’


That’s all it took: six army bulldozers and around a hundred soldiers

My purpose in this posting is simply to put before you first-hand testimony of the lived experience of the Jordan Valley Bedouin. The testimony offered here is by Professor David Shulman accompanied by his and Margaret Olin‘s photos .

Below is a brief introduction by David followed by a link to his 6 November 2020 report. The combination of words and photos is evocative indeed. No additional words from me are required.

One of Ta’ayush projects, writes Professor David Shulman, centres on protecting Palestinian shepherds and farmers in the Jordan Valley. [Rabbi] Arik Ascherman and the group of activist-volunteers who have joined him are with these shepherds and farmers almost every day.

There is no doubt whatsoever that without our presence accompanying the shepherds to their grazing grounds, it would be dangerous for them—perhaps impossible—to bring their sheep and goats out to pasture. They regularly and repeatedly suffer violent attacks by Jewish settlers, who are in many cases supported by soldiers and the police; the overall aim of this violence is to drive these Palestinians out of the Jordan Valley altogether. The authorities make no attempt even to disguise this brutal goal. One should keep in mind that the Jordan Valley settlements, like those elsewhere in the West Bank, sit on Palestinian land. All of the many newer “outpost”-settlements in the Jordan Valley are illegal even under the lenient terms of Israeli law. Such settlements tend to attract sociopathic young men who have found in them an outlet for their aggressive impulses.

One could say that this is a struggle on the micro-level for the lands still available to Palestinians in the Jordan Valley (probably less than 15% of the lands in the Valley as a whole, since huge areas have been declared closed military zones and/or handed over to settlers). It is also fair to say that in many cases the only thing standing between the Bedouin shepherds and their final expulsion is the presence of Israeli activists, on a daily basis, to protect them from the settlers and the soldiers. This form of activism is not without danger; all of us have been physically attacked at times by the settlers. This is a risk we need to take, if we are to live up to the privilege of being human.

In so far as it is possible to convey in words and pictures the brutal reality of Isaeli rule, it will be found in Professor Shulman and Margaret Olin’s Ta’ayush post of November 6, 2020.

ODSC calls for international support against Israel’s annexation plans

Free Haifa

A CALL AGAINST APARTHEID OVER PALESTINE; ONE DEMOCRACY FOR ALL

One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC)

April 29, 2020

Israel is racing to complete its project of institutionalizing a colonial apartheid regime over all of historic Palestine. The next step is planned for July, when the coalition government of Benjamin Netanyahu intends to formally annex large swathes of the West Bank. The expansion of Israel onto 85% of historic Palestine leaves the Palestinian majority imprisoned in dozens of impoverished enclaves on just 15% of the land, under permanent Israeli rule, bereft of any civil or national rights. This is apartheid, pure and simple.

Having “given” occupied East Jerusalem to the Israelis, Trump’s “Deal of the Century” allows Israel to take possession of the rest of the West Bank. Israel’s unilateral annexation of its massive settlement blocs has been waiting on a green light from the Trump Administration, the only international authority…

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PLAYLINK changes in Twitter notifications

The @PLAYLINKuk Twitter account has until now been used to publicise all of my blog posts, regardless of subject.

The new position

From now on a new Twitter feed – @BernardSpiegal – will be used for posts which discuss Palestine/Israel issues.  Please follow me at @BernardSpiegal if interesed in that subject.

PLAYLINK’s tweets will continue to be on play and reated matters.

Apologies in advance: this post may go out two or three more times by way of friendly reminder.

Thank you

Bernard Spiegal

Another Israeli state violation now, and a harbinger of more to come

The proposed demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar – a violation now, and a harbinger of more to come

This article has just been published on the ICAHD UK (Israel Committee Against House Demolition, UK) web site.  I would urge you to take a look at the web site as a whole.

The website also announces an  Edinburgh Festival ICAHD UK benefit gig – Laughing for Palestine – Monday 13 August.  The curernt line-up includes Danny Boyle and Comedian Daphna Baram (ICAHD’s Director) in her own show Sugarcoating.  Other comedians for the fundraising gig will be announced shortly.

On 24 May the Israeli High Court confirmed that the mass demolition and transfer of the Palestinian Bedouin community of Khan Al Ahmar can proceed.  This Bedouin village is located on the outskirts of East Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank.  From Israel’s perspective, it represents an impediment to the state’s intention to link and expand the exclusively Jewish settlement of Maale Adumin into the area known as E1.

In human terms, the judgment means the demolition of dozens of Bedouin family homes along with a school in which 165 children study; that, and also the destruction of pens that shelter 850 sheep.  The proposed transfer will move a rural livestock-dependent community to an urban site and life style unsuitable for Bedouin livelihood, culture and traditions.  It is an attempt at the vanquishment of a community, body and soul. Eight homes were already demolished by Israel in 2016. Many in the international community are familiar with the story of the now doomed school, built in 2009 by members of the community out of  2,200 recycled car tires, mud and falafel oil – an outstanding example of eco-building and community initiative. Israel, unsurprisingly, refused to provide the children of the village with a modern standard school.

Khan Al Ahmar is one of 18 communities located in or next to the E1 area.  This area is critical to Israel’s intention, which it pursues with relentless brutality,   to create a continuous built-up area between the Maale  Adumin Jewish settlement and East Jerusalem and expanding east to Jericho. Therefore this is part of the wider strategic goal to cut the Occupied West Bank in two thereby ending any possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state.

In a further twist of the screw, Israeli authorities have approved a scheme for the construction of 92 new housing units and an educational institution in the Kfar Adummim Jewish colonial settlement.  This settlement, which is immediately adjacent to Khan Al Ahmar, represents yet another move to create a ‘fact on the ground’ notwithstanding their illegality in international law.  And in a display of toxic neighbourliness that no longer surprises, the Kfar Adummim Jewish settlement petitioned the High Court to hurry along the outstanding demolition orders of these rooted, long-established Bedouin communities.

ICAHD and ICAHD UK have many times over the years raised awareness about the threat to Khan Al-Amar, but the Israel bulldozer state is immune to entreaties to act reasonably, still less ethically. However, in this context, it appears to be increasingly the case that Israel’s actions are yielding, for it, unintended consequences.

The state’s intention is clear: its goal is to create a majority Jewish state with no possibility of a vibrant, equal, and certainly not equal in numbers, Palestinian presence. Hence population displacements, dispossessions, apartheid laws, racist practices and institutionalised brutality, of which Israel’s killings and wounding of Palestinians Gazans is but one sickening example.  And through these policies and practices Israel is close to achieving its tutelage over the area bounded by the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River – Greater Israel.

The current Israel regime believes it is creating for itself one state, a Jewish state, moulded to its current shape and image – the culmination of a settler colonial enterprise whose inception dates back to the 19th century.  If there ever was a chance of a two state solution, it is dead now, whether one wishes it or not.  It is therefore almost beyond argument that the reality we confront revolves around questions about the nature of the future one state, the state that will lie between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

This, then, is now the urgent task: to flesh out, argue for and demonstrate what an ethical, pacific, one-state of equal citizens – Palestinians and Jews – would look like.  This task is central to the purpose of the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC), a campaign that emerges – breaks forth into the day light – from the thinking and activism of Palestinians and Israeli Jews, in a mutual, rights-based, endeavour.  This campaign will launch formally in the autumn.

As important, perhaps, as ODSC is and will be in terms of addressing in practical terms knotty issues of constitutional structure and statecraft, there is at the core of the campaign a metaphorical and psychological dimension.

Hitherto the orthodox discourse – a notionally pragmatic one – was rooted in a belief in the necessity and inevitability of division – of people, of religions, of individuals, one from another: the two state dispensation: a Palestinian state and a Jewish one.  It was always a false prospective, if only because an entity structured to be a specifically Jewish State must be, as is the current Israel state, a racist state. This must in principle be morally iniquitous and ultimately unsustainable – unsustainable, at least, according to common ethical precepts.

The ODSC offers a glimpse of a better future – a break in the clouds.  As the song says: ‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in[1].’   A fine sentiment, but one that should not obscure that there is work to be done in support of Palestinians- here, now and with vigour.

Edinburgh Festival ICAHD UK benefit gig – Laughing for Palestine – Monday 13 August.  The curernt line-up includes Danny Boyle and Comedian Daphna Baram (ICAHD’s Director) in her own show Sugarcoating.  Other comedians for the fundraising gig will be announced shortly.

[1] With thanks to Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem.