in regard to free speech in the UK
as evidenced by sabotage of open discussion of my book, State of Terror
Note: In late 2016, my work State of Terror / how terrorism created modern Israel was published in the US (Interlink). This book was the culmination of several years’ research based primarily on British government source documents held by the National Archives (Kew), relating to Palestine during the four decades between the Balfour Declaration (1917) and the Suez Crisis (1956).
A. Book talks that were affected
1. SOAS (3 Nov)
My first publicised book talk was to students at SOAS. This was sabotaged by a handful of non-student outsiders, principally by well-known activists Jonathan Hoffman and, less flamboyantly, David Collier. Security was called, but Mr. Hoffman yelled “assault” when he was approached by a guard (who had done nothing), at which security declined to intervene. The student organisers were unable to control the situation and the Q&A was soon abandoned. The saboteurs had recorded the talk and uploaded out-of-context video snippets, labelling me as an anti-Semitic hate speaker.
Five days later the British tabloid, the Daily Mail, published a ‘news story’ devoted to me and the SOAS talk; its headline referred to me as an “anti-Semitic hate speaker”. The Israeli advocacy group CAA (Campaign Against Antisemitism), in which I believe Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Collier are active, filed a formal complaint with the SOAS Administration and the Charity Commission. I twice contacted the SOAS Administration and offered to face my accusers and answer the complaints, but was told that this was not required.
When these complaints failed, Mr. Hoffman filed a Freedom of Information request in an attempt to get damning information about me or the CC’s decision. The FOI results yielded nothing new about either. Nonetheless, other media continued to identify me as a spreader of, e.g., “racist conspiracy theories”, whose book is “every bit as anti-Semitic as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. The story was picked up by the music critic Norman Lebrecht, who uncritically spread the Daily Mail story in his popular blog, Slipped Disc. Had I still been a free-lance musician in New York, the Slipped Disc article could have seriously imperiled my professional life. The Amazon UK listing of the book was hit with an (obviously orchestrated) rash of 1-star ‘reviews’ claiming, for example, that it is a plagiarism of the Elders of Zion, or very poor as toilet paper.
Extracts of the Daily Mail story appeared in articles by other media, including the Evening Standard (19 Jan), the Independent (27 Jan), and Mancunion (3 Feb), the last of these implicitly linking me to a wave of pro-BDS graffiti. I wrote to these three papers asking for an opportunity to respond to the smears; none replied. An article in Jewish News (21 April) stated that I had given “an anti-Semitic lecture”, whereas Haaretz reporter Danna Harman (25 Apr) showed more integrity when she cited me in her report about Mark Regev’s visit to SOAS. She immediately replied to my concerns, and we subsequently met in London, though there has been no follow-up piece.
2. The House of Lords (14 Dec)
I spoke to an invited audience at the House of Lords without incident; however Mr. Hoffman (who had not been invited because of his earlier disruption) filed a formal complaint with the HoL, alleging that my talk was anti-Semitic because it was based on my book. Three months later, on 15 March, an ethics committee of the House of Lords dismissed his complaint (HL Paper 142). Although I was not called to testify, I responded to each of the points in the complaint as recorded in the HoL report.
3. Exeter University (would have been 27 Feb)
This talk had already been arranged, and train tickets purchased, when I reminded the students of the ongoing fallout from SOAS, to be sure they would not be caught off guard should they be challenged on it. I also supplied evidence to counter the smears. There had however been a swastika incident at the University, and the media smears made them fear that my presence would exacerbate the (ludicrous) presumptions or innuendos that they were suspects. They could not risk being accused of bringing an ‘anti-Semitic’ speaker onto campus after the swastika incident. They cancelled the talk.
4. Manchester University (would have been 14 March)
Despite the stated intentions of the organisers that the event would proceed even if external pressure required them to change the venue off-campus, the talk was ultimately cancelled in a wave of intimidation against ‘pro-Palestinian’ events.
5. Portsmouth (27 April; forced to relocate outside of Portsmouth as a private event)
On the morning of this Portsmouth event, the organisers (PSC) were informed by the venue, the Quaker Friends Meeting House, that they had cancelled permission for the event. This seemed particularly odd in that the organisers had held many events there over the years. The Meeting House explained that they had received a phone call in which PREVENT (a UK government “anti-terrorism and anti-radicalisation” program) informed them that due to “the nature of the speaker”, they should not allow it.
The organisers announced a new venue: the Buckland Community Centre. But a few hours later, that Centre also cancelled, citing again “the nature of the speaker”. Informally, the organisers were told that it was futile to try to book another room for this event, as word had been sent to all public and church venues in Portsmouth.
Finally, the organisers secretly secured a room in a hotel in a neighbouring town (Havant), and invited about a dozen people known to them. They could not risk announcing the venue.
Two days after the scuppered event, a Daily Mail article featured photographs of me and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (whom I have never met or had any contact with). The headline and by-lines are worth citing:
Corbyn is urged to cut links with Palestine charity [PSC] after it hosts anti-Semitic speaker who accuses Jews of exploiting the Holocaust
• EXCLUSIVE: Tom Suarez branded Zionism ‘fascist’ at SOAS talk in November
• Now speaks for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, of which Corbyn is patron
• Event moved venue after ‘concerned’ Tory MP contacted Portsmouth police
(To be sure, I of course had never “accused Jews of exploiting the Holocaust”.) The article itself was more of the same smears, such as that I “rose to notoriety after an hour-long rant on Jews and Zionism...”.
The organisers requested a meeting with the PREVENT representative. On 9 May, the committee and I met with him in Portsmouth for nearly two hours. He attributed the cancellation to the failure of the organisers to submit the name of the speaker to the venue, an explanation that left the contradictions and questions unanswered. Pressed as to who had contacted the government body about me, he refused to answer. (The Tory MP cited in the Daily Mail headline played some role but was not the source.)
6. Cambridge (11 May; forced to relocate as a small, private event)
This talk was scheduled to take place at the Friends Meeting House in Cambridge.
On Saturday, 6 May, the Quakers received a letter from the Board of Deputies of British Jews asking them to cancel my talk. The BoD’s allegations were forwarded to me via PSC, and I supplied a defence of each point, which then went back to the Quakers. The next day, the Friends Meeting House nonetheless heeded the BoD’s claim that my talks have been tantamount to “hatred against Jews”, and that to allow me speak would be to allow speech “very offensive to the Jewish community”. The organisers moved the event to a small community center whose location was kept confidential except to invitees.
The day after the Quakers voted to honour the BoD’s request to cancel my talk (three days before the talk), the Jewish Chronicle published an article with the headline
Board halt Israel hate author talk
• Leader praises Quakers after they cancel Palestine campaign group event with State of Terror author
... and quoted the BoD as saying that cancelling my talk was “in line with Quaker values”.
B. Meetings that proceeded without incident
• London’s Mosaic Rooms (18 Oct; open to public, but not publicised)
• East Jerusalem (29 Nov)
• Birmingham (13 March)
• Sheffield (25 April)
Self-censorship is in my view the most insidious aspect of this state of fear engendered by pro-Israel bullying, as it is done ‘by us’, not ‘them’. This not only leaves the individuals and organisations responsible for the intimidation ‘blameless’, but indeed leaves no evidence behind that there had been any censorship at all. By definition, the extent of this is impossible to quantify.
Students are particularly vulnerable. The extent to which students have wanted to invite speakers (certainly not just me) but have been afraid even to propose them may never be known, but it undoubtedly is ongoing — invisible censorship through the climate of fear.
Two examples of self-censorship that I know first-hand
1. There is a small but fabulous grass-roots human rights organisation that was interested in having me speak. I was very happy to do so. But after the smears of the SOAS saboteurs hit the press, I myself cancelled — the organisation is frequently targeted and has had its status and funding threatened, which would destroy it. I could not put them at such risk.
2. A very highly regarded medical professional read my book. He and I were in contact, and the idea was raised of our doing a joint panel discussion. In the end, he decided — correctly — that he could not jeapordise his important medical work in Palestine, as anyone entering Palestine does so only at the pleasure of Israel.