Big questions for Police Scotland

Last summer, the Edinburgh-based, then law student Sophie Stephenson gained notoriety after boasting on Twitter that she had gone out to dinner wearing a Hezbollah T-shirt.

At the time, Campaign Against Antisemitism reported Ms Stephenson to the police, alleging that she had committed a criminal offence under section 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

That section reads as follows (emphasis added):

Section 13 – Uniform

(1) A person in a public place commits an offence if he—

(a) wears an item of clothing, or

(b) wears, carries or displays an article,

in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that he is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation.

(2) A constable in Scotland may arrest a person without a warrant if he has reasonable grounds to suspect that the person is guilty of an offence under this section.

(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to—

(a) imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months,

(b) a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or

(c) both. 

Under Schedule 2 of the same Act, the military wing of Hezbollah is a “proscribed organisation”. The idea that Hezbollah has separate military and political “wings” is of course a fallacy, but, unlike some, Ms Stephenson did not even pretend to be supporting the political “wing” only. On the face of it, therefore, Ms Stephenson appears to have committed a criminal offence under section 13.

It has now emerged, however, that Ms Stephenson will not be prosecuted. This raises challenging questions for Police Scotland.  There has been only one reported conviction under section 13: the 2004 case of Rankin v Murray which, coincidentally, also concerned events North of the border. Mr Rankin was convicted of the offence after passing through a port on the West Coast of Scotland wearing a ring which prominently displayed the initials ‘UVF’. This had prompted police to suspect he was a member or supporter of the proscribed Ulster Volunteer Force. The conviction was upheld on appeal. Lord Hamilton, one of the appeal judges, remarked (with a delightful Scottish turn of phrase) that

While the manner and circumstances of the offending in this case may… be at the least serious end of the spectrum of conduct against which s 13 strikes, it is not, in our view, outwith the range of the legislative intent.

The implications should be obvious. If wearing a ring emblazoned with the initials ‘UVF’ is “at the least serious end of the spectrum of conduct against which s. 13 strikes”, wearing a T-shirt which bears the Hezbollah emblem would appear to be at the other end of the spectrum and therefore all the more within “the range of the legislative intent”. It therefore seems surprising at best that Police Scotland have decided not to prosecute Ms Stephenson.

Police Scotland have not disclosed their reasons for declining to prosecute. There may of course be pertinent information of which we are not aware. For instance, it is unknown whether Ms Stephenson actually displayed the T-shirt “in a public place” or just wore it under a top and then paraded it on Twitter when she got home. Perhaps Police Scotland decided that the cost and difficulty of finding Ms Stephenson’s current whereabouts and prosecuting her outweighed the benefits of doing so.

The contrast between Rankin v Murray and the case of Sophie Stephenson nevertheless remains clear. In 2004, the Scottish police were prepared to arrest and prosecute a man who wore a ring bearing the initials of a group whose aims – while clearly reprehensible – were limited both in scope and in geography. In 2017-18, they have declined to take action against a woman who boasted of wearing a T-shirt displaying the emblem of a group whose leader is on record as desiring the death of every Jew on the planet. Whatever Police Scotland’s reasons, there appears to be an obvious and distressing double standard.

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John Rentoul on Brexit

This post has one purpose only: to link to John Rentoul’s article in The Independent: “No, David Cameron’s EU referendum wasn’t a mistake – and Brexit didn’t come from a campaign of lies either.” Plenty to think about – whichever way you voted.

PS just came across this letter in the FT, which makes a similar point.

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Ben White Revisited

Earlier this week, Gary Lineker retweeted Ben White, who had himself posted a video from B’Tselem which showed Israeli soldiers arresting Palestinian youths*. I tweeted some thoughts in response. As I result, I have had people defending Ben White on my Twitter feed, praising his work as “forensic” and referring to him as “leading academic.” Back in 2009, shortly after the publication of the first edition of White’s book, ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’, I wrote a piece for the American Jewish Committee’s now defunct ‘Z-Word’ blog. The time has come to revisit what I wrote.

My ‘Z-Word’ piece focused on two issues.

The first was some of the sources that White used. These included a number of discredited writers, including Uri Davis, Tanya Reinhart, Jeff Halper and Ilan Pappe. This is what I wrote at the time (emphasis mine throughout; I have updated some of the links):

“Uri Davis, as well as being an observer member of the PLO, helped to promote the antisemitic play ‘Perdition’ in the 1980s, which claimed that Zionist leaders collaborated with the Nazis in perpetrating the Holocaust. One of the central claims of Davis’ 1987 book Israel: An Apartheid State, namely that Arabs are banned from buying or leasing land in 92% of pre-1967 Israel, has long since been shown to be false. (White himself does not repeat the 92% claim and relies on Davis’ 2003 book Apartheid Israel, rather than on the 1987 book. Nevertheless, Davis’ track record hardly inspires confidence.)

The work of the late Tanya Reinhart is pulled apart in Paul Bogdanor’s and Edward Alexander’s book, ‘The Jewish Divide over Israel: Accusers and Defenders’. 

Alex Safian looked at Jeff Halper’s ‘ track record of material distortions. Werner Cohn accused Halper of trying to ‘hide and deceive’.  Tom Segev was accused by Michael B Oren of ‘twisting his text to meet a revisionist agenda’.

And then of course there is Ilan Pappe. Pappe was described as a ‘charlatan‘ by Yoav Gelber. Efraim Karsh labeled one of Pappe’s books as ‘disgraceful‘. Ricki Hollander examined Pappe’s ‘record of promoting blatant misinformation’, particularly with reference to the Tantura massacre hoax. Benny Morris wrote an emphatically devastating three-part review of Pappe’s A History of Modern Palestine (here, here and here). Morris concluded: This truly is an appalling book. Anyone interested in the real history of Palestine/Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would do well to run vigorously in the opposite direction.’ Reviewing Pappe’s later book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Seth Frantzman accused Pappe of ‘flunking history’: ‘As a work of scholarship, Pappé’s book falls short, and it does so in a particularly damning way. He ignores context and draws far broader conclusions than evidence allows by cherry-picking some reports and ignoring other sources entirely. He does not examine Arab intentions in the five months between the U.N. endorsement of Palestinian partition and Israel’s independence, nor does he consider the widespread public statements by Arab officials in Palestine and in neighboring states declaring their goal of eradicating the Jewish presence in Palestine. It is obvious why a polemicist such as Pappé would cleanse — so to speak — his narrative of any such references: To avoid doing so would strike at the core of the reality that he wishes to foist upon his readers, one which precisely inverts the historical record and turns a coordinated Arab attempt at ethnically cleansing Palestine of its Jews into a Jewish attempt at ethnically cleansing Arabs. Just to cap it all, there was the interview Pappe gave to the German neo-Nazi newspaper Die National Zeitung. Yet none of this stopped White from citing Pappe as an authoritative source, or from (presumably) sending Pappe a preview copy of his book for Pappe to write a commendation.

Of course, all of this begs the question: why does White treat all these sources as authoritative? After all, if you are aiming to write a ‘highly readable introduction’ for ‘beginners’, surely you owe it to them to use the most reliable sources possible; or, at the very very least, to give some sort of acknowledgement that the sources you do use have been (vigorously) contested. White does neither, for which there can surely be only two possible explanations. Either he knew that many of his sources are discredited but decided to cite them anyway – which would suggest a lack of integrity on his part. Alternatively, it’s because he didn’t know that they were discredited, which would suggest he is not quite the specialist his own website suggests. Either way, his use of these sources, without any qualifications or caveats, is a damning indictment of his work.”

The second issue I addressed was Ben White’s response to those who criticised him for using a false quote. It is quite technical, so I commence with some background on Israeli historiography.

i. In his 1988 book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, the Israeli ‘New Historian’ Benny Morris claimed that, in a 1937 letter to his son, David Ben-Gurion had written, “We must expel Arabs and take their places.”

ii. In his 2000 book, Fabricating Israeli History: The New Historians (and elsewhere), Efraim Karsh argued that Morris had falsified this quote, and that Ben-Gurion had actually written the exact opposite.

iii. On page 142 of his 2001 book, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict 1881-2001, Morris rendered the quote as follows: “We do not want and do not need to expel Arabs and take their places.” He thereby implicitly accepted Karsh’s point.

iv. Fast forward to 2009: Ben White opened the second chapter of his book with the quote, “We must expel Arabs and take their places”, which he ascribed to Ben-Gurion. This, of course, was the earlier version of the quote, as initially rendered by Benny Morris; not the later version of the quote as rendered by Karsh and then apparently accepted by Morris as well.

v. Unsurprisingly, White was criticised for using what had been exposed as a fake quote.

vi. This is how White responded to such criticism at the time (emphasis added):

‘The quotation which I am quite prepared to reconsider is from the beginning of Part I, when I cite Ben-Gurion writing, “We must expel Arabs and take their places”. The first prominent historian to include this quotation was Benny Morris, in The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem. This quotation was subsequently questioned by historian Efraim Karsh, who analysed the meaning of the hand-written edits in the original document. Morris accepted this point, and in Righteous Victims (2001), cited the quotation as: “We do not want and do not need to expel Arabs and take their places”.

vii. This response, however, raised more questions than it answered, inviting closer scrutiny. Such scrutiny would leave White facing difficult questions.

viii. Was White being charitable and gracious when he said that he was ‘quite prepared to reconsider’ the quote? The internal evidence in the first edition of his book would suggest otherwise.

ix. In the first edition of Israeli Apartheid, White referenced Morris’ 2001 Righteous Victims twice, on page 82 and page 121. He also referred to that book twice in his ‘Select Bibliography’ on page 164.

x. This is important, because it shows that White was aware of Righteous Victims when he wrote the first edition of Israeli Apartheid. He therefore had no excuses for not being aware of what Morris had acknowledged as being the correct version of the Ben-Gurion quote. Yet it was only in his response to criticism of his book, rather than in the book itself, that White acknowledged this.

xi. This leads to the pressing question: why did White include what he later recognised to be a false quote? There can surely be only two possible explanations.

xii. The first explanation runs like this. White referenced Righteous Victims twice, and included it in his select bibliography, but somehow managed to miss the bit where Morris included the accurate version of the Ben-Gurion quote. If this is the case, then the kindest thing that could be said of White is that his scholarship was sloppy.

xiii. The second explanation goes like this. White was aware of the correct version of the quote, but (perhaps gambling on the ignorance of the ‘Beginners’ at whom his book was aimed) decided to include the fake version of the quote anyway. If that is the case, then the kindest that could be said of White is that he knowingly misled his readers.

xiv. Only White himself knows which of these two explanations is correct. But the conclusions are inescapable. If White was sloppy enough in his scholarship to include Righteous Victims in his select bibliography but somehow overlook the correct version of the Ben-Gurion quote, this makes it difficult to take him seriously on anything else. Alternatively, if he knowingly misled his readers – knowing what Ben-Gurion actually wrote, but including a false version of the quote regardless – this makes it difficult to take him seriously on anything else.

xv. There is little to suggest that Ben White’s handling of evidence and source material has improved since 2009. Those who still describe him as a serious scholar, invite searching questions about their own awareness and/or motives.

(*Some will no doubt respond to this piece by accusing me of shooting the messengers and/or deflecting from the real issues. For the avoidance of doubt:

1. The ongoing settlement project and Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank is problematic.
2. The narrative presented by B’Tselem is also problematic, for the reasons outlined here .
3. Giving credibility to Ben White is problematic, even if the video he tweets portrays actual events (albeit only part of the story).

The three things are neither equally problematic, nor problematic in the same way.All three problems nevertheless need to be taken seriously.)

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Semantics, Semites and antisemitism

Every now and again, I come across an ‘argument’ that goes something like this:

“I condemn all bigotry, but it troubles me that, say, criticism leveled at the government of Israel and the illegal settlers is seen as antisemitic, but the actions of repressing the Semitic people of Palestine, burning their crops and levelling their homes is not antisemitic somehow. It is an example of how the meaning of a word has been warped to disregard the Palestinians.”

In fact, it is those who claim that the word ‘antisemitism’ can include prejudice against Palestinians/other Arabs (or indeed speakers of other Semitic languages such as Amharic) who – perhaps unwittingly – are warping its meaning. In short, the word was coined in nineteenth-century Germany, specifically, as a polite alternative to ‘Judenhass.’ Those who coined and popularised the phrase, such as Wilhelm Marr, only ever had prejudice against Jews in mind. David Paxton of the Gerasites explains in greater length here.

This is not to deny that the Palestinian people have suffered much at the hands of both the Israeli government and some of the settlers. Nor is it to deny that racism against Palestinians or other Arabs is just as deplorable as racism against Jews. It is, however, to suggest that each form of racism should be defined, analysed and fought on its own merits, rather than all being inaccurately subsumed under the term ‘antisemitism’. The term was never intended to mean anything more than prejudice against Jews, and it is misleading to suggest otherwise.



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A footballing thought experiment

A footballing thought experiment:

  1. This is prompted by Alvaro Morata’s request for Chelsea fans to stop chanting the “Y-Word”
  2. (The full wording of the chant is available here:
  3. Some point out that the term can be an indicator of more than just “football banter”.
  4. A point also made effectively made in this short video by @kickitout
  5. Inevitably, some have pointed out that Spurs fans chant the same thing…



  1. …and so argue that Chelsea fans should not be reproached for doing so.


  1. Some say the term is used as a form of abuse against Spurs fans only, not against Jews…


  1. …although Jewish fans of other clubs point out their dislike of the term.



  1. However, some Spurs fans remain proud to refer to themselves as “Yid Army”


  1. They argue they are reclaiming the word from opposing fans who initially chanted the term at them, and/or that it’s just a bit of fun.


  1. I don’t buy that: it normalises a racist term. @DavidHirsh explains why here:


  1. Now for a comparable situation from history. Not a perfect analogy, but some parallels.


  1. Back in the ‘80s, John Barnes became the first black player to sign for Liverpool from another club.


  1. At derby matches, Everton fans chanted “N-rpool” and proudly asserted, “Everton are white!”


  1. It is hard to imagine cruder or uglier racism.
  2. Such vile language is still used today as part of a broader racist discourse:


  1. Imagine Liverpool fans, purporting to show solidarity with Barnes, had adopted the “N-rpool” term for themselves or had started chanting “N-r army.”


  1. Would black Liverpool fans have initiated or welcomed this? (Doubtful)


  1. Would racist fans of other clubs have justified themselves by saying, “It’s what they call themselves”? (Probably)


  1. Would those racist fans have said to the black fans of their own clubs, “You’re following the wrong team, go and support that lot”? (Probably)


  1. Would black fans of other clubs not have pleaded Liverpool fans to stop using that term? (Almost certainly)


  1. No serious antiracist would think twice about denouncing the use of such language, either then or now.


  1. I’m sure you can see where I’m heading. The time has come for fans of all clubs, including Spurs, to stop using the Y-Word.


  1. Some may object: “But the 80s was v different, we’ve come a long way since then.”


  1. They prove my point. Use of racist language about other ethnic minorities at football matches (and elsewhere) is now frowned upon.


  1. The use of racist language about Jews now needs to be treated in the same way. No matter who uses it and what their intentions are.


  1. @AlvaroMorata is to be commended for his appeal to Chelsea fans to stop using the Y-Word.


  1. Spurs fans need to stop using it too. Perhaps we now need a Spurs player to say the same thing as Morata. (End)






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Non-religious people against abortion [update]

This post is prompted by Jacob Rees-Mogg’s recent comments about abortion and the inevitable, outraged response from many quarters. It is widely assumed that opponents of abortion are, as in Rees-Mogg’s case, motivated by religious belief. Whilst that is often the case, this post lists both well-known and lesser-known non-religious people who oppose(d) abortion to one extent or another.* I may update it from time to time.

  1. George Orwell in Keep the Aspidistra Flying 
  2. Christopher Hitchens, in debate with Frank Turek, recognises that an unborn child is a human being (0:07), considers that the occupant of the womb is a “candidate member of society” (2:08), says that the concept of an “unborn child” is a real one (1:44), says that it cannot only be the responsibility of the woman to decide upon the child’s future (2:12), says that the “unborn entity has a right on its side” and “that every effort” should normally be made to preserve him/her (4:40).
  3. “Pro-life feminist” Bex, who cites first-wave feminists in support of her position.
  4. This man (ignore the quirks on the website).
  5. Another “pro-life feminist” (ditto)
  6. This man (ditto)
  7. One of my Twitter followers.
  8. The American-based atheist Kelsey Hazzard.
  9. Marko Attila Hoare, an atheist.
  10. Suffragette leader Sylvia Pankhurst.
  11. Dr Bernard Nathanson: “Although he eventually became a Catholic, the former abortionist Dr. Bernard Nathanson had his mind, as well as his heart, changed by science, not faith; the new technology of ultrasound allowed him to view abortion as it was happening. For many years, as an unashamed atheist, he was one of the most prominent and effective activists against abortion in America. His films “The Silent Scream” and “Eclipse of Reason” fought abortion by showing abortions.”
  12. Kristine Kruszelnicki, the atheist President of the American organisation Pro-Life Humanists.
  13. This Twitter user (to some degree at least).
  14. From the Republic of Ireland, AtheistsFor8th.
  15. The various people featured in this video.

PS According to the British Social Attitudes survey, in 2016 30% of the UK population rejected the proposition that law should allow an abortion when the woman decides on her own she does not wish to have the child. Given the declining levels of religious belief/observance in British life, it seems unlikely that all who rejected this proposition did so for religious reasons. The statistic also, of course, suggests that there is more support for Rees-Mogg’s general position on abortion (if not his specific position concerning rape) than some of his critics appear to believe.

*By “opposing abortion”, I mean this in general terms only, i.e. I include those who oppose abortion on principle but may (like Christopher Hitchens) make exceptions e.g. where the mother’s life is seriously endangered or (in contrast to Jacob Rees-Mogg) in the case of rape or incest.

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Chris Williamson: accusations of antisemitism are “proxy wars and bullshit”

This is now available on the Engage site.


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