Antisemitism in Political Parties

Sahar Al-Faifi

2020/2021: Plaid Cymru Welsh Assembly candidate for South Wales Central

Incidents

  1. On 15th May 2013, Sahar Al-Faifi tweeted a verse from the Quran: “And We conveyed to the Children of Israel in the Scripture that, ‘You will surely cause corruption on the earth TWICE (17:4)” She appended the hashtag “#Nakba”, which means “catastrophe” in Arabic.
    It should be noted that 15th May is promoted by some Palestinians as “Nakba Day”, to coincide with Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948. The term “Children of Israel” is a biblical term which is commonly understood as referring to the descendants of Jacob, meaning all Jews.
  2. On 3rd September 2013, Ms Al-Faifi tweeted in response to another Twitter user sharing an article about “the story of humanity as told by modern genetics and the Bible”: “What about the Rothschild Jews and their branches in Palestine, would such genetic research effect [sic] their banking empire…”
  3. On 21st April 2016, Ms Al-Faifi tweeted in response to an article in The Guardian entitled “NUS president must address concerns over antisemitism, say Jewish students”, writing: “she has already for god’s sake! Supremacists & Islamophobes must accept the outcome of democracy.”
  4. On 4th June 2017, Ms Al-Faifi wrote a lengthy post on Facebook in the wake of the London Bridge terror attack — which was carried out by supporters of AlMuhajiroun and Isis and left eight dead — in which she laid much of the blame on funding by “pro-Zionists pro-war individuals”, naming three individuals specifically, two of whom are Jewish.
  5. On 10th April 2018, Ms Al-Faifi shared another person’s post on Facebook which stated: “I, like many other Jews, cannot help but wonder how much Israel has learnt from the greatest enemy Jews ever faced. When I see the ghettoisation of the Gazans, the displacement of the West Bankers, the violence and deprivations meted out to ordinary civilians every day, every week, every month, every year, just because they’re not Jewish, I am reminded of what Jews had to suffer in Germany at a certain time in history…”
    It should be noted that, whilst the author of the post claims to be “a proud Jew”, at the time of writing he is both a member of and active participant in the latest incarnation of the infamous “Truthers against Zionist Lobbies” Facebook group, which continues to feature material shared from neo-Nazi sources such as one known as “Alice.F”.
  6. On 1st June 2020, Ms Al-Faifi tweeted in response to the racist killing of George Floyd by a US police officer: “If you wonder where did these American cops trained [sic], look no further than #Israel. Oppression is one and the struggle is transitional. We stand with Palestinians & with #GeorgeFloyd #BlackLivesMatter we are ONE!” The tweet was accompanied by images purporting to show Israeli soldiers and police officers restraining individuals by kneeling on their necks.

Analysis

Campaign Against Antisemitism’s analysis is that Ms Al-Faifi’s actions and statements amount to breaches of the International Definition of Antisemitism and qualify as antisemitic discourse according to our methodology.

 By sharing an uncontextualised verse of scripture claiming that Jews “cause corruption on the earth” [1]; by citing one of many conspiracy theories about the Rothschild family, which promote the trope that a Jewish family dynasty secretly controls governments and banks [2]; by claiming that “pro-Zionists” were responsible for a terrorist attack perpetrated by Islamic jihadists [4]; and by claiming that Israel was responsible for American police brutality [6], Ms Al-Faifi was “making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”

By suggesting that Jewish students concerned about the newly elected President of the NUS’s record of antisemitic discourse were “supremacists [and] Islamophobes” [3], she was deploying the so-called ‘Livingstone Formulation’, by accusing Jews who cite evidence of antisemitism of lying, conspiring or having deceitful motives in doing so, when there is clear evidence that there have been breaches of the International Definition of Antisemitism. This further constitutes “making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews…” under the definition.

By sharing a post which claimed that Israel had “learnt” from the Nazis, and compared the suffering of Palestinians to that of Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany [5], she was disseminating material which was “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

We further note that the report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) following its statutory investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party, in which Campaign Against Antisemitism was the complainant, includes a section entitled “Types of antisemitic conduct that amounted to unlawful harassment” with a subsection entitled “Suggesting that complaints of antisemitism are fake or smears”. This subsection states that: “Labour Party agents denied antisemitism in the Party and made comments dismissing complaints as ‘smears’ and ‘fake’. This conduct may target Jewish members as deliberately making up antisemitism complaints to undermine the Labour Party, and ignores legitimate and genuine complaints of antisemitism in the Party. These comments went beyond simply describing the agents’ own personal experience of antisemitism in the Party.”
Additionally, in its report, the Commission made clear that its judgements apply to all political parties and emphasised that the European Convention on Human Rights does not protect racist speech, which may include antisemitic speech.

On this basis, the EHRC found that denying antisemitism in the Labour Party and making comments dismissing complaints as “smears” or “fake” — such as allegations  that complaints of antisemitism are “part of a smear campaign by ‘the Israel lobby’ to stigmatise critics of Israel as antisemitic, and … intended to undermine and disrupt the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn MP” — are not protected by the fundamental right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In other words, such comments are not protected as freedom of speech at all, but amount to unlawful harassment of Jewish people.

Additionally, the EHRC specified certain examples of antisemitic conduct which would be unlawful on the same basis within the relevant context.

Ms Al-Faifi’s comments in which she deploys the so-called ‘Livingstone Formulation’ as described above [3]; her referencing a conspiracy theory about the Rothschild family [2] and her dissemination of a post which compared the actions of Israel to those of the Nazis [5] appear, under our analysis, to be captured within the examples given in the EHRC’s report.

Outcome

On 14th November 2019, Ms Al-Faifi was featured prominently in the Plaid Cymru election broadcast video.

On 17th November 2019, it was reported that Plaid Cymru had suspended Ms Al-Faifi following accusations of antisemitism. The Party reportedly said: “Plaid Cymru will not tolerate anti-Semitism [sic], racism or intolerance in any form. That includes the appalling abuse the individual has been subject to. It is not a part of the Wales we want to build.”

On 18th November 2019, Ms Al-Faifi tweeted a statement in which she wrote: “Several years ago, I made a handful of social media posts that I deeply regret as they crossed the boundary of criticism of Israel into anti-Semitism [sic]. I deleted the tweets more than five years ago and issued an apology to Jewish organisations and others. I have also undertaken anti-Semitism [sic] training, both formally through the Board of Deputies and informally with Jewish colleagues to ensure I never repeat the same mistakes.”

It was also reported that Helen Mary Jones, Plaid Cymru Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales, had told BBC Radio Wales’ Breakfast programme that a disciplinary panel would look at the case. She reportedly said: “We felt we had no choice but to suspend her because we have to send a clear message to the Jewish community that we won’t tolerate antisemitism, just as we need to send clear messages to the Islamic community that we won’t tolerate Islamophobia, and indeed to women that we won’t tolerate the kind of misogyny that infects public life in Wales. We have to take a stand.”

On 19th November 2019, it was reported that the Board of Deputies had issued a clarification regarding its interaction with Ms Al-Faifi over her social media posts. A spokesperson reportedly said: “We met Sahar Al-Faifi to confront her over concerns we had over antisemitic social media postings. Ms Al-Faifi apologised to us and made some amendments to her social media output. However, we were clear that the situation still remained unsatisfactory.” It was further noted that the Board of Deputies had asked her to edit or delete some of her social media posts from 2012 and 2017, including [4], but that the amendments had not been made.

On 27th February 2020, it was reported that Ms Al-Faifi had been reinstated by the Party and would be putting herself forward for selection as a candidate to stand for the Welsh Assembly. It was noted that Ms Al-Faifi had finally deleted two social media posts, as she had been asked to do eighteen months previously. It was further reported that, in a statement released on Twitter the previous week, Ms Al-Faifi had said that a Party panel had decided on 8th January that there was no need for sanctions against her and that her membership had since been reinstated in full, adding that she was “more committed than ever before to creating a more just, inclusive and welcoming Wales.” She also reportedly shared a quote from an article on her reinstatement by the organisation Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND), which stated: “While antisemitism must never be tolerated and should be challenged wherever it is found, the use of the term as a political tool for shutting down criticism of the Israeli government devalues the experiences of those who face antisemitic abuse on a daily basis.”

On 5th March 2020, it was reported that Welsh Jewish community leaders had issued a joint statement calling on Plaid Cymru to reconsider their reinstatement of Ms Al-Faifi, citing what they described as her “unrepentant attitude”. They wrote that Ms Al-Faifi “clearly still believes that it is acceptable to make antisemitic statements and comments, apologise and then blame her comments on the Middle East conflict. She takes any challenge to her bigoted, hateful views to be an attack on her right to speak out on events in the Middle East, when in fact, she has been saying hateful things about Jews worldwide. Coming from someone who purports to be an activist for human rights, freedom and tolerance, this is very regrettable. In light of Ms Al-Faifi’s comments and her unrepentant attitude to the whole affair and investigation, we call upon Plaid Cymru to reconsider their decision.”

On 26th June 2020, it was reported that Plaid Cymru was facing calls to take action against Ms Al-Faifi from one of its own candidates for the Welsh Assembly, William Rees, in response to her tweet in [6]. Mr Rees reportedly said that he would raise concerns internally and that “anti-Semitism [sic] should not have a home in Plaid Cymru. Plaid Cymru adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism [sic] at our National Council. Having already expressed concerns internally regarding Sahar Al-Faifi last year, I shall do so again tomorrow following further posts. This saga has gone on for far too long, and I hope Adam Price and our NEC show leadership on this issue. As Plaid Cymru’s candidate in Cardiff Central I believe when senior members of the Jewish community in Cardiff express their concerns, we should listen to them.”

On 30th June, it was reported that a Jewish leadership organisation had called for Ms Al-Faifi to be “excluded permanently” from Plaid Cymru, writing: “The attempt to blame Israel for terrible situations in other countries is regarded by many in the Jewish community as anti-Semitic [sic]. We would urge you, as the leader of Plaid Cymru, to show that you are serious about anti-Semitism [sic] and Ms Al-Faifi in particular by permanently excluding her from the party. She has had too many chances already and it is clear that she will not change. By allowing her to again get away with it, Plaid Cymru would be sending a very negative message to the UK’s Jewish community.”

It was further reported that Ms Al-Faifi had said: “My tweet on 1st of June 2020 was based on [an] Amnesty USA report from 2016 titled: ‘Where do many police departments train? In Israel’. Amnesty made a clarification, four years after the report, on 25th of June 2020, stating that the Israeli state is one of the countries where American policemen trained. Subsequently, my tweet was deleted. I understand the fear of [the] Jewish community and I would like to assure them that I stand firmly with them against anti-Semitism [sic] as I am committed to work with them for more just, welcoming and inclusive Wales for all.”

It should be noted, however, that the clarification issued by Amnesty International explicitly stated that its report had not documented any evidence of the technique of kneeling on necks — or any other specific tactics — having been taught by Israeli secret services to US police officers.

On 8th October 2020, it was reported that Plaid Cymru had decided not to take any further action against Ms Al-Faifi. She was reported as having responded to the decision by saying: “I understand the concern of the Jewish community and I will always continue to work with Jewish members in Cardiff to make a more safe and open society for all. I presented all evidence required in response to the anti-Semitism [sic] allegation to the Plaid Cymru hearing panel who made the decision to exonerate me. I and Plaid Cymru pride ourselves on being open and inclusive as a party and members. We reject all forms of discrimination and prejudice and challenge it wherever and whenever it may arise.”

Plaid Cymru was reported to have said: “The disciplinary process has finished and no further action is being taken in this case. Plaid Cymru respects the views of the Board of Deputies and will continue to have constructive discussions. The party has a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism [sic] and all forms of prejudice and discrimination.”

On 30th October 2020, it was reported that Ms Al-Faifi had been selected as a Plaid Cymru candidate for the Welsh Assembly.

In December 2020, Campaign Against Antisemitism put this matter to both Ms Al-Faifi and Plaid Cymru. Ms Al-Faifi did not respond, but a Plaid Cymru spokesperson said: “Plaid Cymru is committed to building a Wales where all members of society feel safe and valued, and we are completely opposed to any form of discrimination.”

On 14th January 2021, it was reported that Plaid Cymru was again facing calls to expel Ms All Faifi after she claimed on Twitter that the Israeli government was attempting to hack her emails.

 

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