LONDON — A two-day pro-Palestinian event here this weekend – billed by organizers as the biggest in Europe – has come under attack from UK Jewish and Israel advocacy groups.
Held this year on July 6-7, the Palestine Expo conference and exhibition attracted over 15,000 visitors when it was last convened two years ago. It is accused by critics of being “a huge festival of hatred and propaganda against Israel” and promoting the BDS movement.
Unease at the event is such that a group of Israel-supporting British lawyers have now written to three of the German joint owners of the London exhibition center where the event is being staged urging it be canceled.
In their letters, UK Lawyers for Israel warn the Deutsche Finance Group, Versicherungskammer Bayern Group and Bayerische Versorgungskammer that the event at London Olympia contravenes a resolution passed last month by the German parliament which “condemns the arguments and methods of the BDS movement as anti-Semitic.”
“By allowing Olympia London to go ahead with hosting this event, you will be party to the promotion of a huge festival of hatred and propaganda against Israel, and to the promotion of BDS,” the lawyers write.
The group alleges that the Friends of Al Aqsa, the organizers of Palestine Expo, are “major promoters” of the BDS movement and “closely linked to the Hamas terrorist group.”
The Israel-based Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center describes the Friends of Al Aqsa as “a pro-Hamas British organization… which advocates Israel’s elimination.”
Throwback to PalExpo 2017! An incredible weekend packed full of all things Palestine and with something for everyone. Are you looking forward to PalExpo 2019?! What did you enjoy the most last time? Tickets available at https://t.co/7TZK8DKenL ???????? #TuesdayThoughts #Palestine pic.twitter.com/QdgAMSkdbN
— Palestine Expo (@PalestineExpo) May 14, 2019
The UK Lawyers for Israel letter also notes that Ismail Patel, founder of the Friends of Al Aqsa, told a rally during the 2009 Gaza war: “Hamas is no terrorist organization. The reason they hate Hamas is because they refuse to be subjugated, occupied by the Israeli state, and we salute Hamas for standing up to Israel.”
Patel has denied being a supporter of Hamas. Questioned by the Jewish Chronicle at the 2017 Palestine Expo event, he said his backing for the group revolved around one speech he had delivered in Trafalgar Square at a demonstration in 2009 against the Gaza war.
“To paraphrase my speech, I argued Hamas was defending the people of Gaza and without them Israel would have destroyed them. You will not find me talking about Hamas either before or after that speech,” Patel reportedly argued. He also suggested that Hamas had been guilty of “terrible stuff” throughout its history.
The Friends of Al Aqsa makes no secret of its support for BDS, saying it seeks to mobilize “international condemnation for Israel’s apartheid policies to be manifested through the boycott of Israel.” It has run a campaign, Check the Label, urging the public not to buy Israeli dates; called for a halt to UK arms sales to the Jewish state; and urged musicians and the BBC to boycott last month’s Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv.
The British lawyers say such calls for boycotts “are in contravention of [last month’s] Bundestag’s Resolution.”
The lawyers also highlight what they deem “virulently anti-Israel speakers and activities.” The event features interactive installations where attendees are invited to “have a go at knocking down apartheid in a game of BDS bowling,” view a Palestinian child’s bedroom after an IDF nighttime raid, and experience an emergency room in Gaza.
“See how you interact with your family during a meal with the Apartheid wall cutting through the dinner table,” the Palestine Expo website suggests. “A symbol of how families are separated by the wall.”
Among the topics which will be debated by the conference are BDS, the “siege” of Gaza, “decolonizing Palestine” and the “Israeli apartheid state.”
Expo could be banned in Germany
UK Lawyers for Israel argues in its letter: “The contents of many of these exhibits and talks are, as described in [Bundestag] resolution 19/10191: ‘statements and abuses that are formulated as alleged criticisms of the policies of the state of Israel, but in fact express the hatred of Jewish people and their religion.’”
According to a statement from UKLFI, Deutsche Finance Group has now responded by contacting its investments partners, including the UK-based private equity firm Yoo Capital, to ensure that the exhibition does not promote BDS. Yoo Capital is said to be in discussions with the UK’s Jewish Leadership Council. (Yoo Capital did not respond to a request for comment.)
UK Lawyers for Israel aims for the event to be canceled but recognizes that may be too difficult at this late stage. “Plan B,” the group says, is to have the event shorn of its anti-Israel and BDS elements.
According to UKLFI’s press release, the Deutsche Finance Group told Eugen Balin, a German lawyer working with it: “We would like to assure you that as the German Finance Group, we strongly condemn anti-Semitism, boycott calls for Israel or questioning Israel’s right to exist.” The investment company says it works with Israeli investors on real estate projects worldwide and added that “as a German corporate group we are aware of our historical responsibility.” The finance group claimed not to be aware that Olympia was hosting Palestine Expo until it received UKLFI’s letter.
Deutsche Finance’s spokesman, says UKLFI, has also assured it that, while it may be too late to cancel this year’s event, more intensive and detailed checks will be carried out in future.
What’s on the program
Speakers at the event include Hadash-Ta’al MK Yousef Jabareen; South African MP Zwelivelile Mandela — the grandson of former South African president Nelson Mandela; Israeli journalist and author Gideon Levy, and academic Ilan Pappe.
***NEW VIDEO: Palestine Expo 2017***
Europe's biggest Palestine Exhibition took place in London this year; over 10.000 people turned up to celebrate Palestinian culture, arts, history & food.
— Maktoob_uk (@Maktoob_uk) November 17, 2017
Advertising material for the event says it is “a unique experience, which proudly celebrates Palestinian art, history and culture whilst fostering discussion and activism in the UK.”
A number of politicians from the opposition Labour Party are due to speak this weekend, including London MP Andy Slaughter; Julie Ward, a member of the European Parliament; Huda Elmi of the party’s governing National Executive Committee; and parliamentary candidates Faiza Shaheen and Steven Saxby.
Commenting on their participation, Jennifer Gerber, director of Labour Friends of Israel, said that, “Instead of celebrating Palestinian culture, history and arts, the Palestine Expo demonizes and delegitimizes the world’s only Jewish state.”
“Labour MPs, MEPs, parliamentary candidates and NEC members should have no part in an event which promotes the pernicious BDS movement that does absolutely nothing to bring about peace in the Middle East,” Gerber added.
Slaughter declined to comment.
Jewish Voice for Labour, a controversial group which critics say denies that the Labour Party has a problem with anti-Semitism, is listed as a supporter of the conference. Leah Levane, the co-chair of JVL, is addressing a session entitled “Britain, Zionism and Jewish Resistance to Israel.” JVL secretary Glyn Secker, who was last month filmed telling a pro-Palestine demonstration that Jews were “in the gutter” and “crying wolf” about Labour anti-Semitism, was also originally slated to appear in that session.
Other organizations supporting the event include Britain’s biggest trade union, Unite. The hard-left union is fiercely anti-Israel. The PCS, CWU and TSSA trade unions are also supporters.
Conference organizers suggest the event will also offer opportunities for delegates to “take part and learn about the rich culture and heritage of Palestine and its people.” Workshops on playing the darbuka drum and making Bedouin Palestinian coffee, as well as dancing by Palestinian groups Hakaya and Fatafeet also feature on the program, as does a “tech hub” and “kids’ village” with “fun and engaging activities teaching children about Palestine.”
History set on repeat?
Michael McCann, director of the Israel Britain Alliance campaign group, labeled the event a “perversion of history, wrapped in multiple deceits, inside a propaganda machine that maintains Palestinian leaders in lives of luxury, and leaves ordinary Palestinians in penury.”
“Every aspect of their ‘show’ ignores the actuality, that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, and that they lack a leader with the requisite courage to broker peace with Israel,” suggested McCann, who is a former Labour MP.
“It is desperately sad that in 2019 many will be deceived by this rather sick celebration of self-inflicted victimhood,” McCann said.
The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism highlighted events alleged to have occurred when the Palestine Expo event occurred in July 2017.
“At the last Palestine Expo, we witnessed speakers making accusations about supposed Jewish lobbies, claiming that Jews are actually impostors who are not Jews at all, and suggesting that it is unfair to label groups which seek to massacre Jews around the world as terrorists,” a spokesperson said.
“Those attending were no better, claiming that Jews run the world under the table and in one case even dressing a child up as a terrorist. It is beyond concerning that Olympia has decided to allow this event to happen again,” said the spokesperson.
The UK government reportedly considered banning the 2017 event, which was held at the Queen Elizabeth II Center in Westminster, because of concerns about alleged links between the organizers and Hamas.
— Miko Peled, (@mikopeled) June 26, 2017
For its part, the Friends of Al Aqsa’s website says it is “concerned with defending the human rights of Palestinians and protecting the sacred al-Aqsa Sanctuary in Jerusalem,” and that it pursues its objectives through “all the available peaceful, legal and democratic means.”
Independent MP Ian Austin, who left the Labour Party earlier this year over its failure to tackle anti-Semitism, wondered at the efficacy of such a massive expo. “How does this help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?” asked Austin. “Campaigns for boycotts and sanctions or ‘Israeli-apartheid’ campaigns just drive the two sides further and further apart.
“What Britain should be doing,” Austin argued, “is developing closer links with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, promoting economic development, trade and investment in the West Bank, reconstruction and demilitarization in Gaza, and supporting groups which bring Israelis and Palestinians together.”