Review: MPAC UK and Alan Hart at Friends’ House
Tonight’s event was billed as “The Big Debate”: MPACUK hosting a debate involving their own Asghar Bukhari, former ITV News and Panorama presenter Alan Hart, and Stephen Marks of Jews for Justice for Palestinians. The MC was Sadia Hussain, also of MPACUK. The occasion was the launch of Hart’s new book, Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, and it was controversial well before it began, having to be moved from Westminster University to Friends’ House in Euston Road at suspiciously short notice due to death threats and various machinations by “Zionists” within that university. MPAC’s reaction to their difficulties with the university authorities led them to be pilloried on at least two blogs , and I went along wondering what the evening would hold in store. As it happened, some interesting points were made, including some worthwhile criticism of MPAC. (More: MPAC UK , , Engage Online, Harry’s Place, Pickled Politics.)
I was half an hour late for the meeting, but in the end it was nearer to 7pm than 6pm that it actually started, because one of the speakers was also late. I very nearly blew £15 on a copy of the hardback book, but in the event decided that I couldn’t justify the cost because I have not had much work lately and much of the content might well go over my head. I was half expecting a hostile reception myself, having referred to some of the group’s leaders as “a sandwich or two short of a picnic” on one of the blogs mentioned above. But nothing of the sort happened.
Hart gave the first speech. He talked about the power Zionism had, typefied by the problems they had had getting a place for the meeting, and those he had in getting his book published. He had written to a number of the well-known publishing companies and received a reply from nobody, and he pointed out that he was not an unknown quantity in media circles. He said that Zionism was based on an enormous injustice, which was allowed to go unchecked because of what he called “three silences”, namely from diaspora Jews, “Gentiles” generally and Muslims and their leaders in particular. In the case of Jews, it stemmed mostly in his view from what Stephen Marks termed “insurance-policy” Zionism, which is the belief that one must support Israel so that it would be there in the case of the situation for them becoming difficult in other parts of the world, and from the community-security apparatus which exists in Jewish communities, making people reluctant to speak out for fear of social isolation. He insisted that anti-semitism was on the rise, and that the main cause of this was the well-publicised abuses which are the work of the Israeli state.
Stephen Marks talked about the history of Zionism, about its frequent collusion with anti-Semites and the colonial intents which were present right from the earliest settlements in the 19th century. It’s frequently alleged that these were utopian settlements of Jews who just wanted to live peacefully in the Holy Land and were attacked by vicious Arab bandits; in reality, in some cases it had become known that these people were openly talking among themselves about claiming the land for themselves. Marks gave two examples of Jewish co-operation with people openly hostile to Jews: one was Arthur Balfour, who drafted what Marks called Britain’s first racist immigration laws which intended to keep out people with different customs, however hard-working they were, which in that time meant eastern European Jews; the more recent were the American Christian Zionists who intend that the gathering of Jews in Israel will lead to Armageddon, after which all but 40,000 of them will die and go to Hell.
Asghar Bukhari was the third and most disappointing speaker, offering up a slightly toned-down version of his usual “pacified Muslims” rhetoric. He alleged that he has come to Muslim events where people were debating what he thought the petty “where is Allah?” issue; he accused people of reducing the Sunnah to beards and clothes and of enjoining hijab on sisters without teaching people to “defend” it. Basically his theme was the usual one of the importance of “political jihad” (although on this occasion he didn’t use this term).
After the three speeches, there was the usual opportunity for questions and answers. I asked Alan Hart of what evidence there really was of any substantial rise in anti-Semitic incidents; the statistic he gave was 40%. I argued that much of what passed for “anti-Semitism” which was motivated by anger at Israeli actions consisted of things like too-strident and intemperate criticism of Israel; the people you might expect to show violent hostility for that reason never have done. There is currently no organised group or gang which attacks Jewish properties in response to Israeli house demolitions, for example. Most of the active anti-Semitism which is known of consists of attacks on religious Jews in the street, the kicking-over and other vandalism of gravestones and this sort of thing, which is known to be the work of white Nazis. He suggested that I wasn’t a very perceptive person and didn’t get out much, which I found rather insulting. Others argued that the figure might have been exaggerated and that two well-known violent anti-Semitic incidents in France had been found to be fabricated. Hart, however, did not respond to my request to enumerate who might have been behind the supposed upsurge in such activity; if it was more of the same from the usual suspects, it certainly does not prove a link to events in Palestine.
It was mentioned more than once that, in the interests of balance, it would have been nice to actually have a Zionist in the “great debate”. Mid-way through Marks’ speech, one turned up, went to the opposite end of the hall from that on which he had entered, and continually interjected. He was warned to stop this or he would be removed. Asghar Bukhari provoked him by calling him a clown, which of course led to more aggravation. The individual was finally given a chance to speak during the question and answer session, and said he was a typical Jew, and that the proportion of Jews who live in Israel is increasing due to assimilation and intermarriage in the diaspora, and that most Jews do support Zionism and what did those on the panel intend to do about it? The answer, of course, was that there was not much that could be done about it. The person eventually became involved in a scuffle, repeatedly shouting “don’t touch me!” to those who tried to sit him down. He eventually left; I was told that he has a history of turning up at such events and causing trouble.
Another questioner asked the panel what Muslims might do to improve their image, which is of course not really Hart’s or Marks’ speciality (and let’s face it, not Bukhari’s either). Marks did, however, mention an incident in inter-war Poland in which the socialist Bund party, which commanded the biggest share of the Jewish vote, got Jews out into the streets in protest at a proposed ban on both kosher and halal slaughter (supposedly out of concern for animal welfare, despite the enthusiasm of those in the government for hunting). This was not what the rabbis were advising, which was to stay at home and let them have a word with the government.
The point was put to Asghar Bukhari, and I intend to end this piece on this point, that the content of his website did not exactly do its reputation many favours: the reposting of material from David Duke’s website, the images of baboons, and most recently of Spiderman. Bukhari responded by saying that his website was often updated several times a day after a long day at work, and that they don’t realise that the material they post is offensive or unreliable. I must reply to this that it’s better not to add anything than to add something in a tired or otherwise unfit state when it’s not absolutely necessary. People do not generally assume, when they read sub-standard material, that the author was tired when he or she wrote it. David Duke, for example, is known only for his leadership of the Ku Klux Klan and later of various other white-supremacist and “white rights” groups. If whoever posted the material did not know this, he or she should have looked him up, and if they didn’t have time or were too tired, slept on it and looked him up the next morning. One of the benefits of the internet (particularly of resources like Google and Wikipedia) is that research can be done much more quickly and easily, which also means that lying is pointless and much more likely to be found out.
And this excuse can only wash so many times, and there will always be those who don’t believe it the first time. One may remember the example of Q-News, in which appeared in 1998 a half-page article attacking Shaikh Hamza Yusuf for the style of his presentation, Dajjal and the New World Order, part 2. The article was sneaked in by reporter Nadeem Azam and, as the editor said, was not seen by any of the editorial team before it went to press; if it had, it would not have appeared. Some might find this story unbelievable (or say that it wasn’t much of an excuse); if Shagufta Yaqub had not backed up the story to me personally, I would not have believed it either. Still, the quality of the magazine declined drastically after this incident; it became vastly less interesting, and disappeared from some Islamic bookshops for a long while. Despite a substantial improvement in production quality in early 2001, it has missed a number of months and its frequency is now best described as intermittent.
And surely, the most important concern for a “Public Affairs Committee” is its own public affairs; if they cannot look after their own, how can they look after anyone else’s? One might remember the collapse of Sophie Rhys-Jones’ PR career after she told Mazhar Mahmood (in his fake-sheikh persona) what she thought of a whole load of royals and other public figures. I have never believed that MPAC are a racist or malicious organisation, but the nuances of anti-Zionist versus anti-Semite will be lost on any observer who reads continual accusations of Zionist conspiracies whenever the author experiences some difficulty or other. Unless you have evidence that there is a Jewish conspiracy, don’t talk of one! And “evidence” does not mean that something did not go your way! You need to understand your audience, and in this country the audience may well be sympathetic to Palestinian rights issues, but they also know that conspiracy theories commonly emanate from malicious or unhinged people, and commonly results in one’s argument being dismissed out of hand as the howlings of a moonbat. This is, in fact, how MPACUK are viewed by a fair number of observers at the moment.
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