Recent weeks have seen a sustained campaign of repressive bullying tactics against a Muslim doctor and vocal anti-racism, pro-Palestinian voice Dr Siema Iqbal by pro-Israel activist organisation North West Friends of Israel (NWFOI). The retweets by Dr Iqbal, which were contested as “anti-Semitic”, were clarified three years ago.
Despite this, NWFOI has resumed its harassment.
Recently, Dr Iqbal was invited to read a statement on racism at the Assembly of Greater Manchester Citizens UK. Seemingly unable to stomach a Muslim woman with strong pro-Palestinian views, NWFOI restarted its harassment, this time led by the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), an organisation which Alastair Sloan highlights has defended Israeli leaders from the principles of universal jurisdiction and therefore accountability of potential war crimes. Declaring Dr Iqbal’s tweets/retweets anti-Semitic despite being political in nature and directed in response to the Israeli government’s aggression against Palestinians in Gaza, the JLC seems to have pressured Citizens UK into distancing itself from Dr Iqbal. These statements were then circulated in the Jewish Telegraph (complete with a statement from the NWFOI), Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News, and shared by the far-right-linked Quilliam Foundation’s Haras Rafiq.
So what do we know about the NFWOI?
An Agenda of Political Repression
In May last year, I wrote a detailed article on how ostensibly “grass-roots” organisations were part of a web of pro-Israeli activist organisations dedicated to whitewashing the disproportionately violent occupier reality of Israel. Intimidation and bullying tactics now endemic of such groups were employed against Jewish and non-Jewish MPs that were critical of Israel. As part of a PR strategy for Israel, these groups employed “illiberal” conflations of opposition and criticism of Zionism with anti-Jew hatred. NWFOI has worked closely with another “grassroots” group called Sussex Friends of Israel (SFOI). The northern organisation has been a platform for repressive censorship calls against political actions such boycotting Israel, far-right racist denials of Palestinian existence, anti-Muslim rhetoric, intolerance towards politically dissenting Jews, and smearing of Muslims using heavily distorted allegations.
Taking Down MPs
Since writing this article, Al-Jazeera aired its ground-breaking undercover investigation into the pro-Israel lobby. Shai Masot, the now disgraced former Israeli navy captain and former senior political officer at the Israeli embassy, was exposed for being involved in activities which comprehensively undermined Britain’s democracy. He was caught plotting with Maria Strizzolo (former chief of staff to Robert Halfon MP), to “take down” MPs that were sympathetic to Palestinians.
Pertinent here is that Masot explicitly identified NWFOI-affiliate SFOI among others as one of the organisations that were ostensibly “grassroot”, but were linked to/“helped” by the Israeli embassy. It seems the controversial culture of “taking down” pro-Palestinian activists ranging from independent individuals to MPs extends from Israel through to “grassroot” organisations.
This threatening culture is exasperated given the views of NWFOI and its leadership.
As I highlighted last year, demonstrating extreme hypocrisy, in one Tweet, the NWFOI asserts that saying “Jews buy cheap bombs” is wrong and that “if some said Muslim that would be wrong”. However, NWFOI has,
generalised Muslims as “butchering” each other “across the Middle East”,
- referred to alleged knife attacks as “Muslim terror”
- made demands of a Muslim on Twitter to condemn “Muslim terror”
- Tweets banners sprawled with the words “Extremist Islamic Terrorism” (with “Islamic” in enlarged font).
- By its own standards, NWFOI is perpetrating anti-Muslim hate.
Since my last blog, NWFOI has further demonstrated hypocrisy and flirtation with anti-Islam hate.
Demonising Islam as the basis of terrorism, NWFOI believes that there is “global organised structure of terror based on Islam”. In another Tweet, NWFOI claims that Israel is “at the forefront” in its fight against “radical Islam”. Shockingly, it includes the Shari’ah and mainstream Islamic concept of Caliphate as constitutive of “radical Islam”. In other words, NWFOI seems to openly support the fight against Islam.
Links with anti-Islam and Muslim Hate Preachers
This hate-filled rhetoric on Islam in relation to terrorism is placed into context when one considers NWFOI’s online association with anti-Islam hate preachers.
Phillips was a clear source of inspiration for the white supremacist terrorist Anders Breivik, featuring in his 1500 page manifesto published online before he began his killing spree. Pertinent here is that Breivik represented the increasing merger between European fascists, Zionists and the notorious Islamophobic “Eurabia” conspiracy theory about Europe being handed over to Islam in exchange for oil. Breivik was an ardent Zionist who stated in his manifesto,
“So let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists.”
In the forward to her book Londonistan, Phillips wrote that “Britain is even now sleepwalking into Islamisation”.
Phillips helped Michael Gove in writing his vitriolic book Celsius 7/7, which justifies religious symbols being viewed from the “War on Terror prism and refracted by perceptions of religious extremism”.
Just last month, in a period of spiking violence against Muslims precisely due to their faith, Phillips reinforced the idea that Islam itself was to blame for terrorism and that until it was reformed, Islamic practices should be treated with suspicion or outlawed:
“Until and unless Islam is reformed, we need to treat its practices on a scale ranging from extreme caution to outlawing some of them altogether.”
Perpetuating active discrimination, she declares that Shari’ah courts should be “outlawed”, whilst completely ignoring Jewish (Beth Din) courts.
“Mad Mel” is not the only hate preacher NWFOI supports.
The pro-Israel activists share material authored by neoconservative hate preacher Douglas Murray – an active proponent of far-right Eurabia conspiracy theory. In one article which NWFOI describes as a “fantastic piece”, Murray asserts that an increased Muslim population and “current demographic trajectory” in Europe “poses a pretty terrifying problem which we’ll have to face up to one day.”
More recently, Murray effectively argued for the ethnic cleansing of Muslims by declaring that if we wanted peace, there was a need for “less Islam” – a vacuous but potentially deadly claim. Murray has also claimed that Islamophobia is a “mythical beast”. With this thorough demonisation of Islam and dehumanisation of the Muslim minority, it is little wonder that some particularly valiant white folk are now ploughing a van into Muslim worshippers, slapping Muslim women with bacon, attacking Muslim women and children knocking one unconscious during Eid celebrations, and throwing acid on Muslims. Muslim children are being battered and bullied whilst being called terrorists.
In his recent book (The Strange Death of Europe) in which he defends the EDL as misunderstood, Murray declares Enoch Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech as “prophetic foreboding”. Finsbury Park Mosque which had already endured a van attack on its congregants, has received death threats, incidentally promising “rivers of blood”.
It seems Murray’s desire for less Islam is being used a clarion call for some among the majority white population.
Another hate preacher tagged is Katie Hopkins. She tweeted demanding a “final solution” for Muslims. Less than a week ago, a Muslim man was attacked by thugs who then vandalised his home quoting Hopkins’ tweet.
Anti-Muslim views and Racism in NWFOI Leadership
Unsurprisingly, views as expressed by the abovementioned hate preachers are found in NWFOI’s leadership. NWFOI’s vice chair is Stuart Ai. Ai similarly expresses anti-Muslim views. Commenting on an article on Sweden, Ai Tweets the following, perpetuating the “problem community” demonisation:
“They are concerned with appeasing their rapidly growing and radicalised Muslim population.”
The Islamophobic associations include the violent far-right organisation, Britain First. NWFOI’s co-chairman is Raphi Bloom (he is also a fundraiser for the charity UJIA). Bloom’s son, Benjamin Bloom, who has undergone the “Aliyah” and joined the terrorising IDF, shared a post from Britain First’s Facebook page with the caption “respect”.
Raphi Bloom also “Likes” his son’s anti-Arab racism. In a Facebook post dated 18th June 2014, Benjamin asks rhetorically,
“And the Arabs ask why they are singled out for being the most cruel and disgraceful people to have ever walked this earth?”
Will Raphi Bloom condemn the sharing of a Britain First post, his son’s racism and his own approval of it?
Denial of Palestinian Existence
The continuing far-right Zionist, racist denial of Palestine and the Palestinian identity highlighted in my previous blog also continues in the personal views of the vice chair. Ai in a number of Tweets categorically rejects the existence of Palestinians as an indigenous people.
The Israeli historian Illan Pappe aptly noted on the violent implications of this denial:
“This denial was there at the beginning of Zionism and led to the ethnic cleansing in 1948. And it is there today, which may lead to similar disasters in the future — unless stopped immediately.”
Extending from Israeli officialdom, the NWFOI’s “take down” behaviour is typical of pro-Israel lobby groups engaged in “covert” hasbara trolling. Where the “moral” army of Israel shoots fifteen year old teenage girls whilst illegal Jewish colonisers yell “die bitch”, activists for the regime harass and intimidate Muslim women in Britain. NWFOI has history in harassing Dr. Siema Iqbal through her work place (see here, here and here).
With the latest round of intimidation, Dr. Iqbal has now had threatening calls made to her workplace after NWFOI published her work details. Then again this is NWFOI; its ethics are such that it does not even spare a fifteen year-old Palestinian poetry competition winner, targeting her, along with other pro-Israel bullies, with online abuse and labelling her an “ISIS supporter”.
Laden with hypocrisy, NWFOI’s anti-Muslim/anti-Islam bent, racism and support of hate preachers leaves it without any moral standing whatsoever. MPs, charities and activists would do well to note that the propaganda that is thrust before them often with suppressive screams of anti-Semitism conflated with political opposition to Israel has its tentacles penetrating deep into the Islamophobia industry.