At least six bus stops in London were defaced with posters declaring “Israel is a racist endeavor” early Thursday, in protest of the UK Labour Party’s adoption of an internationally recognized definition of anti-Semitism that characterizes that statement as anti-Semitic.
The signs were put up by London Palestine Action, which posted images of the photos on Thursday on its Twitter and Facebook accounts, along with multiple posts detailing the reasons for the group’s contention that Israel is inherently racist.
The posters went up in Westminster, across from the Parliament building, at Elephant and Castle, Bloomsbury and Waterloo Bridge, according to the Jewish Chronicle.
London transportation officials and the ad agency that sells the space said the posters went up without approval and constituted “vandalism,” and promised to remove them immediately. The British capital’s police force also tweeted about the posters, saying an investigation had been launched and that “offensive material will be removed.” London’s Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan also condemned the vandalism and ordered the posters removed.
The phrase in the posters is a quote from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, which lists calling Israel a “racist endeavor” as one example of anti-Semitism.
I had to do a double take when I saw *this* on Westminster Bridge pic.twitter.com/IN41T7XYrF
— Aine Lagan (@ainemichellel) September 5, 2018
Two days ago, Labour’s national executive committee formally approved the full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism in a bid to quell a long-running storm over the party’s failure to stamp out anti-Semitism in its ranks and its leader’s own alleged anti-Semitic statements. The Labour NEC adopted the IHRA provisions, together with a vague and controversial caveat declaring that the commitment to the IHRA definition “will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians.”
In approving the definition, the NEC rebuffed party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s attempt to get his party to declare that it should not be considered anti-Semitic to describe Israel and/or the circumstances of Israel’s establishment as racist.
The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism does not preclude criticism of Israeli policies. However, it does state that it is anti-Semitic to claim that Israel’s very existence is racist.
Corbyn himself would appear to have breached clauses of the IHRA definition, and his failed push for the approval of his statement may have been designed to offset further controversy over his alleged breaches.
Among the examples of contemporary anti-Semitism cited in the IHRA definition are: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” — the provision Corbyn’s statement apparently sought to counter, and that Thursday’s posters explicitly referenced.
In the 1980s, Corbyn reportedly sponsored and was active on behalf of a group called the Labour Movement Campaign for Palestine, whose official platform declared its “opposition to the Zionist state as racist, exclusivist, expansionist and a direct agency of imperialism.”
On Thursday, JCDecaux, the advertising agency that sells the bus stop billboard space, took to Twitter to assure some angry commuters that the posters were not paid ads, but “vandalism.”
“This is vandalism not advertising and our teams went out to repost as soon as we were alerted,” the company said.
This is vandalism not advertising and our teams went out to repost as soon as we were alerted.
— JCDecauxUK (@JCDecaux_UK) September 5, 2018
A spokesperson for Transport for London, the city’s public transportation agency, said, “These adverts are absolutely not authorized by TfL or our advertising partner JCDecaux. It is fly posting and therefore an act of vandalism which we take extremely seriously. We have instructed our contractors to remove any of these posters found on our network immediately.”
The Sun newspaper quoted a spokesperson as adding, “We have spoken to JCDecaux and they believe that there are six such posters in London. We are working together to take them down as soon as possible.”
Some pro-Israel Twitter users replaced the word “Israel” with “Labour” in the photos.
— lindi (@Lyndagee49) September 5, 2018
London Palestine Action, which describes itself as “a network of people in London taking creative action against Israeli apartheid through BDS and other effective, participatory Palestine solidarity work,” doubled down on the campaign online, posting tweets with photos of the posters and explaining its view that Israel was “created by ethnic cleansing; maintained by ethnic exclusion,” and that “1.8 million Palestinians, mainly refugees, [are] locked in Gaza for being the wrong ethnicity.”