Tag Archives: palestine

Guardian writer claims Google excluding Palestine to please customers.


The Guardian’s weapon of choice on Monday against the Jewish state was maps with Petter Hellström, a PhD candidate at the Department of History of Science and Ideas, Uppsala University, claiming, in the Science section, that Google “chose not to mark Palestine on their maps…to stay impartial in the eyes of customers and the surrounding society…their fellow westerners.”

Once again this article would have been more at home in the opinion section.

Hellström complains that Google’s Map of Israel shows Israeli population centre Ma’ale Adumin on the West Bank but not “not even major (Palestinian) ones like Gaza City, Khan Yunis or Nablus”.

He then reproduces two maps of North America from 1614 and 1729 which he claims “made the colonists visible at the expense of the indigenous population” and which he calls “instruments of colonial legitimisation”, the obvious inference being that Google is doing the same to the Palestinians.

He also reproduces an Israeli government map which doesn’t delineate the West Bank and Gaza as separate from Israel while accepting that the Palestinians do the same with their maps but giving the Palestinian action a more innocent gloss:

“Palestinian maps often label the whole country as Palestine – effectively a refusal to acknowledge the development since 1948.”

Hellström then invokes anti-Zionist Israeli historian Meron Benvenisti who “described the process with which the Israeli state Hebraized the place-names of the country they had conquered”.

Hellström quotes Benvenisti:

“The Hebrew map of Israel constitutes one stratum in my consciousness, underlaid by the stratum of the previous Arab map.”

Hellström also invokes that ambiguous 173 year old phrase originated by Christian evangelicals ” a land without a people for a people without a land” but which Hellström attributes more directly to “the architects of Israel.” The phrase is now commonly employed as an epithet against Israel’s supporters.

Hellström took his cue from the Forum of Palestinian Journalists when they “accused Google of removing Palestine from their maps.”

His main concern is “whether Palestine and its people exist at all” and is under the impression that there was once a country called Palestine because “It is there on old paper maps, of the Holy Land, of the Roman and Ottoman empires, of the British mandate.”

But it was the “British Mandate for Palestine”, merely an administrative name. And on Ottoman maps Palestine was subsumed as a part of southern Syria.

Meanwhile, Palestine’s current status is as a UN non-member observer state having failed to join the international body as a full member state.

Irrespective of all the above I was bemused anyway because when you play around with Google maps of Israel and Palestine and zoom in closer then Palestinian population centres do appear.

Furthermore, Google’s map for Palestine has a sidebar showing Wikipedia’s definition of Palestine’s current UN status. Google, itself, even puts Palestine’s capital at “East Jerusalem” instead of the, arguably, more accurate Ramallah.

Here’s the link to Google’s map of Palestine.

I wrote to Hellström for clarification of his criticism. His response (which I publish in full below at his request if I was going to quote from it) was that Israeli population centres are disproportionately represented, that the Google sidebar is, depending on your device and settings, not necessarily always available, and that the content of Wikipedia is not stable.

He has a point to the extent that Google’s map of Palestine isn’t labelled. There is an argument that it could be labelled “Palestinian territories” or, “administered Palestinian territories” with delineated Areas A, B and C or, even, “non-member observer state”. Some might prefer “Judea and Samaria”.

It would just be inaccurate to refer to it as Palestine.

Hellström’s article could, quite validly, have gone down this road of discussion, but by directly implicating Israel and its creation in all this and suggesting that Google might have some financial agenda is to go down a far more sinister route.

Petter Hellström’s response to my email (23rd August 2016):

Dear Richard,

Many thanks for your e-mail. I am only happy to clarify what I wanted to say in the article; the short online format is not always helpful to give full disclosure of an argument.

First, it is not my main contention that the name of Palestine is absent from Google Maps. My argument is rather that this absence – like the relative absence of Palestinian place names – is significant, that it can tell us something, and that it matters.

If you search for Israel on Google Maps, the map centres on the State of Israel. It displays Israeli place-names, both in Israel proper and on the West Bank (Ma’ale Adumin), but no Palestinian place names, even as several Palestinian urban centres are significantly larger than the Israeli urban centres labelled (most striking is the labelling of Yotvata, pop. 700,while Gaza City, pop. 515,556, is not labelled; but even on the Palestinian territories there is a preference for Israeli urban centres, since only Ma’ale Adumin is labelled on the West Bank, although significantly smaller than several of the adjacent Palestinian urban centres). Since 19 August, in response to criticism, Google Maps also labels the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (even as it is not clear what status they enjoy). As you zoom in on the region, Palestinian place names start to appear along more Israeli place names. However, their respective representation is still disproportionate (Israeli urban centres show up at a much lower resolution than Palestinian urban centres of comparable size).

Now, if you search for Palestine on Google Maps, as you did, the map centres instead on the West Bank (you are in fact shown the same map image as if you searched for the West Bank). This map image is consequently of higher resolution, and thus more place names are shown, both in Israel and on the Palestinian territories. Their disproportionate representation is still apparent (the map image is, in fact, the same as the one you get if you first search for Israel, zoom in, and move the centre from Israel proper to the West Bank).

The Google Maps interface sometimes shows – depending on your settings and your device – a sidebar with a link to Wikipedia. It is Wikipedia, not Google Maps, that describes Palestine as ”a de jure sovereign state in the Middle East that is recognized by 136 UN members and since 2012 has a status of a non-member observer state” and which states East Jerusalem as its capital. The content of Wikipedia is not stable but changing depending on contributors. As far as I know, Google exerts no power over it, they merely provide the link. If you search for Jerusalem on Google Maps, it is clearly stated as located in Israel, not as in Israel and in Palestine.

In conclusion, Google Maps shows Israel but not Palestine, although both are states recognised by the UN as well as by most of the world’s independent states (Palestine is presently recognised by 136 and Israel by 161 UN member states). Moreover, and importantly, Google Maps shows Israeli presence in Israel and the Palestinian territories disproportionately more than it represents Palestinian presence.

Having said all this, it was not the purpose of my article to pass judgment on Google or to suggest how they should produce their maps in the future. Others are more willing to do this. My objective was rather to say that Palestine’s absence on Google Maps, like the relative absence of Palestinians, has precedents in the history of cartography; my example was New England, both because I thought it would speak to an Anglophone and predominantly British and American audience, but also because Harley made his argument about New England in reference to Israeli policies). My objective was also to say that history shows us that cartographic omission matters, especially when a state or country is in military occupation of another people, whose lands it is confiscating.

I hope this clarifies my argument. Again I thank you for your polite e-mail.

If you publish my reply on your blog or in any other forum, I would appreciate that you publish it in its entirety, rather than using only parts of it.

Best regards,

Petter Hellström

(This blog post also published at UKMediaWatch)

Corbyn slams Israel at JW3; Admits he met Hamas.

Liz Kendall gives her closing appeal to become Labour leader as Corbyn and Jonathan Freedland (chairing) listen

Liz Kendall gives her closing appeal to become Labour leader as Corbyn and Jonathan Freedland (chairing) listen

Jeremy Corbyn laid into Israel at the Labour Leadership hustings at JW3 on Monday night and admitted he met Hamas but said “you have to have talks with everybody to bring about a long term settlement”.

In that case when will he meet Islamic State?

Corbyn claimed Israel had “put Gaza under siege” and that there were “serious issues concerning the bombardment of Gaza, the failure to reconstruct Gaza, the level of poverty and unemployment that exists in Gaza and there are also questions of children held in Israeli prisons. And there are also questions of the number of African refugees that are not being allowed into Israel and that are being deported from Israel.”

Children in Israeli prisons? For anti-Israel activists a “child” is anyone under 18 and these “children” may have thrown stones at a car with intent to murder its occupants, so they are not necessarily as angelic as Corbyn seems to imply.

Corbyn said he supported an arms boycott of Israel and a boycott of settlement products but said he did not support an academic boycott or an economic boycott of “Israel proper”.

On the issue of calling Hezbollah and Hamas “friends” at a House of Commons event Corbyn claimed he was just being “inclusive” but said that didn’t mean he agreed with the “social attitudes, social policies or legal views of those organisations” and claimed he has made that clear to them when he has met them.

He was also asked whether he would withdraw his support for the Stop The War Coalition due to its sponsorship of the Al Quds Day annual demonstration through London where Hezbollah flags are waved and which is a festival of hatred. Corbyn replied that it is “not designed to be a festival of hatred”.

But placards that have appeared at Al Quds Day demonstrations include: “Israel is a disease, We are the cure“, “Listen Israel, Leave!!!”, “For world peace Israel must be destroyed“, “Israel your days are numbered”, “Death to Israel”, “The world stopped Nazism…the world must stop Zionism”.

For an organisation of which he is the Chair he is pretty ignorant of the hatred it helps to incite on the streets of London.

Corbyn also stated that the Balfour Declaration was “imposed by some of the Jewish members of the cabinet” at the time but has since backtracked to claim that he meant to say “opposed”. It is worrying that a potential leader can get something so wrong from what he meant to say.

As for Liz Kendall, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper who are the other Labour leadership contenders they all condemned Corbyn’s use of “friends” to describe Hamas and Hezbollah. Cooper said that language is very important when discussing terrorists. Burnham said he would have sanctioned Corbyn for such language.

Meanwhile, Burnham said that he had voted in favour of the “Palestine” recognition resolution last year only because the vote had been whipped by Labour but that the first country he would visit on becoming leader would be Israel.

Kendall said that the vote was not whipped and that she had abstained because passing resolutions either at the House of Commons or the UN wasn’t the right way to achieve peace and a two state solution which should come about only via negotiations. She said she was a friend of Israel.

Finally, there was a lot applause for Corbyn but that can be explained by the many anti-Israel activists I recognised in the audience including ex-Labour MP Martin Linton.

Clips from Monday’s JW3 event:

Jeremy Corbyn attempts to explain away his description of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”:

Corbyn says Jewish cabinet members “imposed” Balfour Declaration:

Corbyn slams Israel and its holding of “children” in prison:

Opening remarks of each contender. Liz Kendall explains why she abstained on “Palestine” recognition resolution:

The blood of Israelis and Palestinians will be on the hands of our politicians.

Cross-posted at CiFWatch.

With the British Parliament due to take up six hours of precious debating time on Monday over whether to recognise a “state of Palestine” Vincent Fean’s article in The Guardian sums of the ignorance of those who will vote for such recognition.

Fean uses Sweden, which recently recognised “Palestine”, as a precedent for Monday’s vote. But as Amotz Asa-El points out in the Jerusalem Post this move says more about Sweden than anything else. Asa-El writes of the Swedish government’s social and economic failures:

“Unable to affect the domestic scene, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven fled to a foreign affair where talk is cheap and responsibility is everyone else’s except his.”

And so with British politicians. With May’s general election starting to loom large on the horizon and UKIP continuing to take votes off all the main parties (they have just won their first ever Member of Parliament) many of our Parliamentarians would rather flee to a foreign issue which is certain to win them votes due to the vehemence of many voters where Israel is concerned.

Fean thinks the debate, and subsequent vote, is important because we, Britain, have a “bigger share of responsibility than all the 135 (countries that already recognise “Palestine”) put together.” But do we really?

Britain operated the Mandate which ended in a 1947 UN vote to partition the land, a vote which was rejected by all Arab leaders. Britain’s responsibility ended then.

Fean also obliges the Israel-haters with the usual “The illegality of settlements, the separation barrier, and the demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem and the West Bank is incontestable.” Really? Incontestable? Who said? A court? An international court, maybe? Of course not! There has never been such a decision.

The ICJ’s Advisory Opinion on such “illegality” is just that, an Advisory Opinion. It wasn’t a proper court case.

In fact the only case I know that relates directly to the issue of “illegality” is the recent British Supreme Court case Richardson and another v DPP in which, because it could not be proved that Israeli-owned Ahava’s London shop was selling illegal products, those who occupied the shop forcing it to close down for some three hours were found guilty of aggravated trespass. Therefore, Ahava’s factory on the West Bank is, in fact, legal.

As for home demolitions once again they turn on the legalities of each individual case. Illegal Jewish homes are also demolished.

Perhaps the most risible part of Fean’s article is this:

“The United States should guarantee the safety of both peoples with US or Nato troops during the full, phased withdrawal of Israeli forces from Palestine, endorsed in a unanimous security council resolution.”

Really? Fean must have not been near a radio or television for the last three years and so not seen what Assad and Islamic State have been doing to their own people while the US, UN and NATO all watched on. Never again? Don’t believe it.

If Monday’s debate ends with a vote in favour of recognising the “state of Palestine” there will be no change on the ground. Israel won’t suddenly give up its security requirements because of our Parliament. That would be suicide.

The recognition will only ratchet up the expectation of the Palestinians and lead to more bloodshed and violence on both sides. This blood will be on the hands of the likes of Fean and our politicians who vote in favour on Monday.

Our politicians should get back to representing their own constituents instead of desperately trying to buy votes by fleeing to foreign fields.

Protesters compare “Palestine” to Auschwitz and Dachau outside Israeli Embassy.

Yes, that really does say Auschwitz, Iraq, Dachau, Palestine.

Yes, that really does say Auschwitz, Iraq, Dachau, Palestine.

Some mocked the Holocaust, others disfigured the Israeli flag, a few screamed “Allahu Akbar”, they all called for the destruction of the Jewish state.

That was the scene outside London’s Israeli Embassy yesterday afternoon as many thousands thronged to hear blood-curdling speeches calling for the end of Israel.

Kensington High Street was closed off to traffic leaving London buses stranded by the protesters who requisitioned them and covered them with anti-Israel slogans.

The protest against Israel’s latest attack on Hamas in Gaza was a toxic mix of Islamists, trade unions like Unison, charities like War On Want, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and, of course, the extreme religious Jewish sect Neturei Karta.

I knew I had outstayed my welcome when a protester grabbed me and shouted “A Zionist!”. I shook him off and made for the relative safety of the tube station.

Here’s a clip for you to savour some of yesterday’s toxicity and some photos:

Disfiguring Israel's flag. At least they didn't burn it.

Disfiguring Israel’s flag. At least they didn’t burn it.

"Cheap Jewish settlements" because Jews are tight money grabbers of course!

“Cheap Jewish settlements” because Jews are tight money grabbers of course!

War On Want's Executive Director John Hilary.

War On Want’s Executive Director John Hilary.

Agreed! Palestinians should be freed from their Hamas oppressors.

Agreed! Palestinians should be freed from their Hamas oppressors.

Is that because Israel builds bomb shelters but Hamas doesn't bother, possibly?

Is that because Israel builds bomb shelters but Hamas doesn’t bother, possibly?

Courageous guy climbs a traffic light.

Courageous guy climbs a traffic light.

They're the stars of the show at these hate events.

They’re the stars of the show at these hate events.

Will she be off to protest against Assad, Iran, ISIS and Boko Haram now?

Will she be off to protest against Assad, Iran, ISIS and Boko Haram now?

Police under pressure and looking under-numbered for once.

Police under pressure and looking under-numbered for once.

Libyan support despite things not looking too rosy in Libya either.

Libyan support despite things not looking too rosy in Libya either.

One of our buses gets occupied. Tell Boris!

One of our buses gets occupied. Tell Boris!

Remind me to invite him over for Friday night dinner soon.

Remind me to invite him over for Friday night dinner soon.

War On Want flags. WOW to be renamed War On Israel anyone?

War On Want flags. WOW to be renamed War On Israel anyone?

Not too sure what to say about this, so I think I'll leave it at that.

Not too sure what to say about this, so I think I’ll leave it at that.

Hmm, they mean Iran, Saudi, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq don't they? Oh wait...

Hmm, they mean Iran, Saudi, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq don’t they? Oh wait…

Can we have our bus back now please?

Can we have our bus back now please?

Errr, the problem is not Gaza, the problem is Hamas.

Errr, the problem is not Gaza, the problem is Hamas.

Ask them to ring back, you're at an anti-Israel protest!

Ask them to ring back, you’re at an anti-Israel protest!

War On Want No! Who can argue with that?

War On Want No! Who can argue with that?

Oh really. Now where does it say such a silly thing like that?

Oh really. Now where does it say such a silly thing like that?

"Cover up, sweety, it's getting a bit chilly". Aw.

“Cover up, sweety, it’s getting a bit chilly”. Aw.

(I dedicate this blog to the memory of my recently deceased mum whom I loved and miss and who, before she lost the ability to speak due to her terminal illness, always gave me one piece of treasured advice when she knew I was going to an anti-Israel event: “Be careful.”)

Bibi declared “most dangerous political world leader today” at Centre for Palestine Studies, SOAS.


An MA in Palestine Studies is being introduced by SOAS. Judging by the last two nights at the Centre For Palestine Studies, which is based at SOAS, one can just imagine some of the questions on the end of year exam paper!

On Wednesday CPS hosted Ilan Pappe and last night it hosted Walid Khalidi who spoke on the subject of 100 years since WW1 and the Balfour Declaration.

Admittedly, unlike Pappe, Khalidi supports a two state solution due to its “global support” but also because “in a one state framework Israel would have the ideal alibi to remove whatever constraints remain on settlements. Within a twinkling the Palestinians would be lucky if they had enough land to plant onions in their back gardens and to bury their dead alongside”.

Khalidi is the Godfather of “Palestine Studies”. Gilbert Achcar introduced him as “the founder of the scientific study on the question of Palestine”. But at the Centre for Palestine Studies on Wednesday night Ilan Pappe had referred to the “so-called scientific research” of Zionism as nothing more than “marketing” by Israel.

Hypocrisy doesn’t come bigger than that. While the study of “Palestine” is “scientific”, the study of Israel is mere “marketing”!

The glitterati of the Palestine Lobby, including “Ambassador” Manuel Hassassian, were present to hear Khalidi describe the Balfour Declaration as “the single most destructive political document on the Middle East in the twentieth century”. But the 16 million dead of WW1 were not even mentioned by Khalidi.

Interestingly, Khalidi wasn’t too keen on UNSCR 242 either. While anti-Israel propagandists use 242 as proof that Israel is in the West Bank illegally, Khalidi said it doesn’t specify a time when the withdrawal of Israel’s armed forces should begin, a line for them to be withdrawn to or the name of the territories they are to be withdrawn from.

Neither does 242 mention the word “Palestinian” or describe who the “refugees” are. Khalidi said while the Balfour Declaration was the fountainhead of all developments from 1917 to 1967 UNSCR 242 was the fountainhead of the conflict since 1967 to this day.

Khalidi said the 1967 War’s “most profound and potentially catastrophic impact lies in the inspiration it gave to neo-Zionist religious fundamentalist Messianism and to its creation of conditions conducive to a clash over Jerusalem’s holy places between Jewish and Christian evangelical jihadists on the one hand and Muslim jihadists on the other.”

Khalidi doesn’t like Israel’s leaders much either. The last part of his talk was all about the influences on Benjamin Netanyahu, which included his grandfather (Nathan), father (Benzion) and brother, Yonatan, killed in Israel’s raid on Entebbe in 1976 to save Jewish and Israeli hostages from Palestinian terrorists.

Another influence was Jabotinksy who, Khalidi said, was referred to by Ben Gurion as “Vladimir Hitler”. Another was Menachem Begin who, according to Khalidi, introduced into the Middle East the letter bomb, the parcel bomb, the barrel bomb and the car bomb.

Khalidi thinks Arabs are powerless and he said “just how sorry the state of the Arab nation is can be gauged from the fact that the future of Palestine hinges more on the desires and prejudices of Benjamin Benzion Natan Netanyahu than those of any incumbent in the proud Arab capitals”.

Khalidi said Abbas is “committed to non-violence”, that there’s “evidence of pragmatism” in the Hamas leadership and that “civil disobedience” could well be common ground for Abbas and Hamas.

But Khalidi’s final dramatic rhetorical flourish, for which he received a standing ovation at which he waved his walking stick high in the air, was aimed solely at Israel’s Prime Minister:

“All the other protagonists are committed to a peaceful resolution…Obama’s understanding of the Palestine problem far surpasses that of all his predecessors. Abbas’ commitment to peace is genuine. At his age peace would be the crowning achievement of a lifetime.

We want to focus on the real enemy…Bibi will never share Jerusalem. Continued occupation and settlement while tightening the noose around East Jerusalem is  a sure recipe for an apocalyptic catastrophe sooner or later over the Muslim holy places in the Old City.

With the continued surge in religious fundamentalist zealotry on both sides the road to Armageddon will lead from Jerusalem.

That is why, ladies and gentleman, Benjamin Benzion Ben Natan Netanyahu is the most dangerous political leader in the world today.”

Jewish holy places, anyone? Roll on those MA in Palestine Studies exam questions!

Jews under attack at Centre for Palestine Studies as Ilan Pappe comes to SOAS.

Jews came under fire last night at the Centre for Palestine Studies, based at SOAS and under the chairmanship of Gilbert Achcar. It was irrelevant if you are a Jew in Israel, Scotland, Wales or England. Ilan Pappe, the CPS guest speaker, doesn’t discriminate.

Pappe, a lecturer at Exeter University, started by saying he wished “to answer the riddle of the growing gap between the image Israeli Jews have of themselves and the external image the world has of them”. In North Korea the gap between the view North Koreans have of themselves and that of them by outside world would not be much different, but in Israel there is “genuine difference”.

He said the Zionist movement in Israel should be credited for its marketing skills, particularly the way it marketed both Palestine as a land without a people for a people without a land and also Israel as a European country. This helped “absolve them from what they did to the native population”.

Israel, he said, therefore appeared to be a democracy while actually being an “ethnic racist state”. Israel had succeeded in “marketing an oppressive reality as a democratic one”.

Israel had marketed Zionism, he said, to include such enlightenment concepts as liberalism, capitalism and social democracy. And Zionism was far more successful than other ideas because it was “born after the failures of Nazism and fascism”.

Such branding and marketing, according to Pappe, had been done via academia and fiction.

Israeli academics, he said, undertook a “willing role to commodify the Zionist project on the basis of so-called scientific research”. And books and films like EXODUS showed Zionist figures looking like “Aryan Israelis”, while the Palestinians looked “like either Osama Bin Laden or ET”.

But, Pappe said, at one stage certain Israelis had an “epiphany”. Using the same methodology of books, articles and films they challenged these “truisms of Zionism by re-examining the Zionist project from the beginning”.

They showed Israel was a “settler colonial society, an aggressive society and a discriminatory society”. However, they got “cold feet” when challenged and apologised before disappearing without trace, some being forced to leave Israel.

However, this same methodology has now been adopted by people outside Israel which, according to Pappe, worries Israel. Israel can “stifle criticism and crush those who don’t toe the line from within” but cannot do the same to those outside Israel.

In response to this, Pappe said, the Israeli elite has re-adopted the Zionist dogma in a “neo-Zionist” form, which is far harsher and less flexible than the original. Such “neo-Zionism” being symbolised by the likes of Netanyahu, Bennett and Lieberman.

Pappe said he was worried how Israel would react to a new, even non-violent, Palestinian Intifada as “the Israel of 2014 is worse than the Israel of 1987 and 2ooo. It is a more ruthless Israel”.

“Neo-Zionism”, Pappe explained, attempts to combine liberal and theocratic ideas of how to live as Jews in the twentieth century and is a “lethal combination if you are the enemy”. Pappe said this is “not easy to sell as a liberal democracy”.

“Israeli society is neo-Zionist. Most (Jewish Israelis) want an ethnic racist state. There are no liberal Zionists anymore,” he said. He cited Peter Beinart, J Street and Ari Shavit as the last possible bastions of liberal Zionism.

Pappe said that in 2005 the Israeli government created Brand Israel Group (BIG), to target the Jewish community in America, despite already having America “in its pocket”. Israel, he said, is doubtful of their support in the future.

Pappe said his publisher, Verso, would neither allow him to show the fairly explicit posters in his new book that were used by Israel to “appeal to the Jewish homosexual community in New York City” nor those aimed at Jewish heterosexuals. The idea being, Pappe said, if you like this sexy woman you might like Israel’s occupation.

By 2010, however, this campaign was seen by Israel to have failed and so, Pappe said, Israel’s new policy was to distract the opposition. Instead of trying to win an argument about “apartheid and ethnic cleansing” activists were urged to say, for example, “But Israel invented chewing gum!”.

Pappe said Israel had also been successful in convincing Jews in other countries that Israel is their story as well. He said he was once confronted by Jews in Edinburgh and that he had told them in no uncertain terms that Israel was not their story.

Then at the end of last night’s event when I criticised his lecture he asked me in Hebrew if I speak Hebrew, presumably to imply that Israel is not my story either. Ironically, your typical SOAS audience member has absolutely no connection with the Palestinians and cannot speak Arabic.

The final irony is that the marketing and branding Pappe accuses Israel of doing is just what he does! For example, during his talk he urged his audience to use “settler colonialism”, “Israeli apartheid”, “regime change” and “ethnic cleansing” when discussing Israel.

(I have been banned by SOAS, under threat of legal action, from filming or taking photos at these events without permission. All my requests for permission have since been declined. Others are permitted to film and take photos.)

History lecturer: “Britain should apologise for Balfour Declaration.”

James Renton and Deborah Maccoby of JfJfP at SOAS.

James Renton and Deborah Maccoby of JfJfP at SOAS.

A little known history lecturer is quickly becoming the new poster boy of the anti-Israel movement. Last night at SOAS James Renton detailed why he thinks the British government should apologise for the Balfour Declaration. He was invited to speak by Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

The thrust of Renton’s argument is that there should be such an apology because the Balfour Declaration lacked clarity on the meaning of “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, which, he said, unleashed an expectation of statehood amongst Jews that was never intended. He blames the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on this “misconceived, ill thought through policy of the British government”.

He also argued that the Declaration was based on the mistaken and anti-Semitic assumption that Jews had great power in America and Russia and that they were mainly Zionist. Therefore, such a declaration would encourage Russia and America against Germany during the Great War.

Renton thinks that there was never an intention to create a Jewish state and he quoted from a letter from David Lloyd George to the then Archbishop of Westminster, who told Lloyd George in 1919 that the Zionists in Palestine were “causing a stink and claiming that the country would soon be coming under their control”. Lloyd George replied to the Archbishop:

“If the Zionists claim domination of the Holy Land under a British protectorate then they are certainly putting their claims too high.”

Renton criticised Britain for advertising that it was a big supporter of Zionism while at the same time promoting national freedom for Arabs but without thinking either side really expected political independence in Palestine. This was because the British viewed both Jews and Arabs as “politically backward”.

You can read Renton’s thesis in Haaretz (contact me in you cannot access the link and I will send you the article).

However, his thesis is facile. For one he contradicts himself by saying both that the British thought the Jews had immense power but that they were also politically backward. Which is it?

For Renton the Balfour Declaration was mainly down to anti-Semitism. As he puts it “Balfour and Mark Sykes said nasty things about Jews” (Sykes was the government’s advisor on the Middle East at the time). And he downplays the role of Christian support for a Jewish state as well as Chaim Weizmann’s efforts in manufacturing ammunition for Britain during the Great War.

This campaign to have Britain apologise for the Balfour Declaration was dreamt up by the Palestine Return Centre. They launched a petition with the view to obtaining one million signatures in support of an apology by the time of the centenary of the Declaration in 2017. Unlike Renton, the PRC thinks the apology should be for the “tremendous injustices” the Balfour Declaration has caused to the Palestinian people.

The PRC are now using the recent decision in the Mau Mau rebellion case, where Britain has been found guilty of complicity in the torture of victims in the Mau Mau uprising against British rule in Kenya in the 1950s and 1960s, to give their campaign a boost.

Renton spotted one difficulty with the PRC’s campaign though. He noted that there will be no one alive from the era of the Balfour Declaration to attest. So he suggested to a representative of the PRC who was in the audience last night that the PRC might have more success if they asked the British government for an apology for the Arab losses during the Arab uprising of 1936-1939.

The problem with that is that the PRC’s raison d’etre is the destruction of Israel via the so-called Palestinian “right of return”. They want an apology to undermine Israel’s existence. I doubt that Arabs were killed during that Arab uprising is of great significance to the PRC in the scheme of things. Renton might not know of the PRC’s politics, but there’s a good clue in their name Palestine Return Centre as to why they might want an apology.

Anyway, the wording of the Balfour Declaration is clear. What is meant by “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” if not a state? The clue is in the words “national home”.

Renton gave us a sheet of homework asking all 10 of us in the audience some questions:

1. Did today’s talk differ from your previous understanding of this issue?
2. Has Dr Renton’s talk affected how you think about the Balfour Declaration?
3. What aspects would you challenge, and why?

Maybe you could email him at james.renton@edgehill.ac.uk with your answers. He wants to hear from you.