Ms Kate Allen
Amnesty International UK
The Human Rights Action Centre
17-25 New Inn Yard
London EC2A 3EA
12th January 2012
Dear Ms Allen,
We support freedom of speech and accept the right of people to criticise Israel’s policies. But we urge you to reconsider the appropriateness of promoting Ben White, whose book launch your organisation is due to host on 26th January, whose criticisms and whole approach to Israel go well beyond the bounds of acceptable conduct.
In 2002 he wrote “I have just provided a by no means comprehensive list of reasons why I can understand very well that some people are unpleasant towards Jews. I do not agree with them, but I can understand.” (“It is Possible to Understand the Rise in Anti-Semitism”, June 2002)
This appears to be a justification for anti-Semitism. Maybe you can’t see a problem with White’s statement; however, would you be prepared to host someone who had written “I can understand very well that some people are unpleasant towards blacks or homosexuals – I do not agree with them but I can understand”?
Further, in the same article White defended “alleged anti-Semitic remarks made by Jürgen Möllemann, the Deputy Leader of the FDP Party, when he compared the Israeli Government’s actions to those of the Nazi regime”. To White, these comparisons are merely “unwise and unsound” but “........not anti-Semitic. It does not make racist assumptions, nor does it smack of bigotism.” he wrote. This view is contrary to the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s working definition of anti-Semitism which includes the drawing of comparisons between contemporary Israeli policy and that of the Nazis.
White was, himself, guilty of using descriptions of Nazi-type actions when he wrote in 2007: “Pity the Palestinians, who, in the name of a ‘social-democratic experiment’, had to endure massacres, death-marches, and ethnic cleansing.” There were no death marches nor ethnic cleansing and one alleged massacre, which is disputed, as opposed to several documented Arab massacres of Jews) Such comparisons, and the use of Nazi- related terminology, go beyond legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies and are offensive to those who suffered so horrifically under the Nazis in ways which bear no comparison to what has happened in Israel. (“Boycott the Backlash, November 2007)
Perhaps you are unaware that White’s previous book “Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide” was full of untruths and inaccuracies. Among the worst of these was his misquoting of Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, as saying “We must expel Arabs and take their places” Ben Gurion had actually said the opposite: “We do not wish and do not need to expel Arabs and take their places.” Ben Gurion made it clear that he saw a future for Arabs living in a Jewish state. (2009, Chapter 2)
White also relied on dubious sources, one of them being an essay on Anti-Zionism by Roger Garaudy who was convicted of Holocaust denial in France in 1998.
White ignores inconvenient facts that don’t accord with his theories. The results of a survey conducted recently in September 2011 by leading Palestinian pollster Dr. Nabil Kukali of the Palestinian Centre for Public Opinion, contradict much of what White states. Only one-quarter (23 percent) of eastern Jerusalem’s nearly 300,000 Arab residents said they would "definitely" prefer Palestinian citizenship. Remarkably, 42 percent said they would actually move to a different neighbourhood if necessary in order to remain under Israeli rather than Palestinian authority, confirming results from a similar survey administered by a Palestinian pollster in November 2010. Participants offered several practical reasons for preferring Israeli citizenship: higher income, more employment opportunities, a better social safety net, including health insurance, pensions, and disability benefits and greater freedom of movement under Israel's jurisdiction. Indeed, two-thirds reported that they travel not just to West Jerusalem, but also to other parts of Israel every week. At the same time, more than half of the respondents said they were concerned about decreased freedom of expression and increased corruption under Palestinian rule. (Realclearworld.com, 23rd September 2011)
In 1949 there were 34,000 Christians in Israel; as at Xmas Eve 2011 there were 154,500, representing 2% of the population and being the only Christian community in the Middle East that is growing. Again, contrary to White’s dismal analysis, statistics show that over the years, the Christian Arabs have enjoyed the highest rates of success in the matriculation examinations, both in comparison to the Muslims and the Druze and in comparison to all students in the Jewish education system. (www.mfa.gov.il, Christians in Israel, December 2011)
You have announced on your website: “What many in Israel call ‘the demographic problem’ White identifies as ‘the democratic problem’ which goes to the heart of the conflict: Israel's definition not as a state of its citizens, but as a Jewish state.” Despite the fact that the rights of minorities are guaranteed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence and by Israeli law, and that Israel’s Arabs participate equally in all aspects of the State, White has a problem with Jewish sovereignty. White’s actions are motivated not by a true concern for the Palestinians but rather an irrational obsession with and hatred of Israel. If he were truly concerned with the rights of underprivileged people, why, in all the time that he spent living in Brazil, have we been unable to find any articles by him on the terrible discrimination and persecution suffered by those in the Favelas and by the native peoples in the Amazon region?
Why also does he defend Sheikh Raed Salah, a racist and anti-Semite who (inter alia) claimed the Jews baked the blood of children into their holy bread, claimed 4,000 Jews skipped work at the World Trade Centre on 9/11, laughed at the memory of taunting a Jewish teacher of his with a Swastika and wrote a poem referring to Jews as “monkeys and losers” and being “the bacteria of all times”. Why does he associate with Azzam Tamimi, who has advocated suicide bombing, has told students he “longs to be a martyr” and that Israel “must come to an end”?
For all these reasons, I and many others cannot understand why Amnesty is giving White a platform to propagate his abhorrent and mendacious views unchallenged, and I would urge you to reconsider your support for this event. Alternatively, you could postpone it in order to put on a revised event that would enable a genuine debate to take place with a speaker who holds a different view to that of Mr. White, for example, Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh who lives in Israel.
cc. Jewish Chronicle
London Jewish News