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Letters / Collusion in antisemitism?

‘Free Palestine’ said the placard so prominently displayed in front of Lerwick Town Hall. Or it did. More recent protests, led and organised by a group called Palestinian Solidarity Shetland, have carefully modified the messages on show to the media so that the concentration is on children, and a call for peace.

This is no accident, as those two words ‘Free Palestine’, like the fascist call for genocide “from the river to the sea” is a trope signifying something else.  Namely, opposition to the state of Israel’s right to exist and, by straightforward implication, one of the oldest of ethnic hatreds: antisemitism.

Last week, the Community Security Trust (CST) issued a report into antisemitism in Britain since the horrific attack by Hamas on Israeli communities on 7 October – an attack which consciously broke a settled ceasefire and led to the death of 1,200 people as well as the taking of 240 hostages, torture, rape and atrocities such as the beheadings of children. Their actions were described by Hamas as “a necessary step and a normal response.”

The report showed that there has been an increase year on year of anti-Jewish incidents of an astonishing 589 per cent. Over 4,000 such cases of abuse or attack in 2023. Both James Cleverly, home secretary and his Labour shadow Yvette Cooper have described this as “utterly deplorable” and “a stain on our society.”

Between 1 January and 6 October last year, 19 per cent of reported antisemitic incidents included anti-Israel elements; between 7 October and 31 December, the percentage rose to 56 per cent.

“In at least 427 instances, the phrase ‘Free Palestine’ was employed in speech or writing. Although not an inherently antisemitic statement, in each of these cases it was targeted at Jewish people or institutions simply because they were Jewish, or formed part of a larger tirade including overtly anti-Jewish sentiments,” the CST report said.

The phrase had “become a formalised, almost anthemic slogan of anti-Jewish abuse, which offenders know will offend or intimidate their target”.

That the phrase ‘Free Palestine’ is not included in the motion before Shetland Islands Council next week is a relief, but the fact that this motion is being raised for debate at all is regrettable.

Councillors Alex Armitage and Ian Scott, Green Party member and unaligned jolly Marxist respectively, are proposing “that Shetland Islands Council calls for an immediate and permanent ceasefire by all parties inIsrael/Palestine, for the immediate provision of all necessary humanitarian aid and the release of all hostages. Shetland Islands Council urges the UK government to use the power at its disposal to achieve these.”

Nobody approves of war. Not a single Shetland islands councillor, some of whose relatives have served and died in various conflicts, would say anything, as individuals, but “stop all the fighting, now”. War is bad. But not only in Gaza.

Personally, I would call for fighting to stop in Ethiopia, where in the Tigray conflict barely anyone has heard of at least 600,000 have died in five years, thousands of women have been raped, and thousands of children killed.  I sincerely wish for an end to war in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Somalia, Libya, the Central African Republic, Ukraine, Yemen, Burkina Faso and many other areas of violent death and destruction throughout the world.

It’s so obvious that any sensible person would want these terrible conflicts to stop that it surely doesn’t need a public performance to prove it. It certainly doesn’t require a sophomoric motion before Shetland Islands Council to state “that war is a bad thing and we of the Scalloway and Bigton coalition demand it stops right now”.

But this is not that motion. Messrs Armitage and Scott are identifying one particular war for their attention and doing so they are – I hope unintentionally – colluding in attacks on Jews throughout the world, in Britain, in the UK but thankfully, not yet in Shetland.  The vandalism of synagogues, the abuse of school children, public verbal and physical assaults, the spitting on men and women in the street. That is what this second-year student notion of posturing politics is permitting. Encouraging.

The motion is being vociferously supported by Palestinian Solidarity Shetland via social media, a petition and an article in The Shetland Times by PSS co-organiser Leanne Sydonie-Goodlad. I note that the paper is encouraging readers to sign this petition via its own website.

Their calls for ceasefire are in effect calls for Israel to cease to defend itself against a terrorist organisation that has repeatedly and explicitly said it doesn’t want a ceasefire, and is steadfast in its intention to commit repeated genocides against the Israeli civilian population.

Our council has urgent business to deal with; this motion is a self-indulgent, biased, inappropriate and damaging distraction from the work we need to do for the good of this community. It connives with those who seek to destroy the state of Israel. It eases the path of those who hate Jews.

Cllr Tom Morton
Hillswick
Shetland North
Scottish Labour

SIC to debate Gaza ceasefire motion later this month

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