On July 6-7 2019, the Palestine Expo conference and exhibition was held at the London Olympia convention center in the United Kingdom. The event was organized by Friends of Al-Aqsa (FOA) and supported by other radical political advocacy non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including Palestinian Return Centre, Interpal, MEMO, Amos Trust, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions UK, and others (see below).
Organizers of Palestine Expo billed the event as a “unique experience, which proudly celebrates Palestinian art, history and culture.” They further claimed that the expo “combines the use of traditional forms of education with cutting edge technology to raise awareness about Palestine” and “brings people together to celebrate Palestine like never before.”
Notwithstanding the ostensibly innocuous educational premise, the event served as a platform for organizers and participants to espouse anti-Israel rhetoric, antisemitism, and promote BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) as well as demonization and delegitimization campaigns. (In 2017, the Palestine Expo was nearly cancelled after concerns were raised by the UK Department for Communities and Local Government and then-Communities Secretary Sajid Javid about FOA’s connections and support of Hamas.)
In addition to concerns raised by UK government officials, FOA has a documented history of promoting boycotts against Israel and Western companies doing business with Israel, sending flotillas and convoys to Gaza, and delegitimizing Israel in Britain.
Participants included NGO officials and activists, journalists, and a number of parliamentarians from the around the world including the UK Labour Party, South Africa, and the European Union (EU). Many of the panel chairs and speakers have well-documented histories of support for antisemitism, Hamas, BDS, violence, and/or Holocaust denial. Examples include:
- Osama Abuirshaid, National Policy Director and board member of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP)
- AMP provides “advocacy training” including instruction on how to lobby politicians, and produces media and activism guidebooks, such as campus activism resources. These include fact-sheets, anti-normalization material, and Power Point presentations that parrot the Hamas narrative, claiming that “Palestinian resistance was born out of the occupation and the siege, plain and simple.”
- At the Palestine Expo, Abuirshaid spoke on three panels, “Jerusalem: Vanishing City,” “Global Justice Compromised,” and “From Balfour to Trump.”
- In 2015, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services deemed that Abuirshaid was “ineligible for naturalization” because he failed to properly disclose his connections with the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP). IAP had been previously found civilly liable in a federal district court for supporting Hamas in 2004.
- Ismail Patel, founder of Friends of Al Aqsa (FOA)
- Patel spoke on three panels: Palestine Expo’s “Opening Session,” “Al Aqsa: Religious & Political Importance,” and “Beyond PalExpo.”
- In 2009, Patel gave a speech praising Hamas, saying, “Hamas is no terrorist organisation. 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.”
- At the 2009 event, he also stated “…to the state of Israel: you no longer represent the Jewish people. You have no moral authority to speak for the Jewish people when thousands of Jews are against what you are doing. And finally, to the British Jewish Board of Deputies, shame on you, to work, to promote the genocide of the Palestinian people and the war crimes of the Israeli government. You do not speak for the British Jewry who today have signed in the Guardian against the Jewish government, what it is doing to the Palestinian people. Shame on the British Jewish Board of Deputies.”
- In addition to his work with FOA, Patel also serves as the spokesman for the NGO British Muslim Initiative (BMI). BMI staff includes senior Hamas activist Muhammad Sawalha, who was named by Hamas as a member of its political bureau following a high-profile trip to Russia. The group frequently utilizes antisemitic imagery and promotes anti-Israel rhetoric (as the 2013 image below demonstrates).
- Julie Ward, MEP (UK, Labour). Ward spoke on a panel titled “UK Parliament & Justice for Palestine?”
- Ward has a record of support for BDS and anti-Israel lobbying. In 2012, Ward initiated a petition calling on the EU to suspend trade agreements with Israel. The petition claimed that “Israel would not be able to carry out its brutal mass killings and maintain its repressive regime without the support by the EU and the United States.” In addition, joining a 2015 open letter, Ward called on EU officials to exclude an Israeli hi-tech firm from the Horizon 2020 R&D framework.
- Ilan Pappe, Professor of History at the University of Exeter. Pappe spoke on the panel “Gaza: The Great Return March.”
- Pappe is the author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. He is a supporter of BDS and has stated: “I support Hamas in its resistance against the Israeli occupation.” Pappe’s 2006 article “Genocide in Gaza” refers to the “Palestinian resistance” and accuses Israel of “imprisoning Gaza,” committing “massacres” and “ethnic cleansing,” and engaging in “genocide politics.” In a 2014 lecture, Pappe claimed that a two-state framework is “just a tool where [Israel] maintains control over the [Palestinians].” According to historian Benny Morris, Pappe is “one of the world’s sloppiest historians; at worst, one of the most dishonest.”
- Swee Ang, founder of British NGO Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and panel speaker on “Gaza: The Siege.”
- Swee Ang was one of the main authors of the “Open Letter for the People of Gaza,” published in The Lancet medical journal (July 23, 2014), which accused Israel of “war crimes” and carrying out a propaganda campaign that “justifies the creation of an emergency to masquerade a massacre.” The letter made numerous unsubstantiated allegations, including accusing Israel of utilizing illegal weaponry to deliberately kill civilians and engaging in a “military onslaught on civilians in Gaza under the guise of punishing terrorists.” Swee Ang also promoted a video made by American white supremacist David Duke, who was expelled from Italy for “allegedly trying to establish a pan-European neo-Nazi group.” The video is described on Duke’s YouTube page as “reveal[ing] how the Zionist Matrix of Power controls Media, Politics and Banking and how each Part of this Tribalist matrix supports and protects each other!”
- In addition to Julie Ward, a number of UK Labour party members, candidates, and MPs were also in attendance. Examples include:
- Andy Slaughter MP, Hammersmith and speaker on the panel “UK Parliament & Justice for Palestine?” In December 2017, Slaughter spoke at the “Hands Off Jerusalem” demonstration in London, where protestors chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” as well as “Jews, remember Khaybar the army of Muhammad is returning.” In 2015, Slaughter was reported by the Jewish Chronicle as saying that drone strikes showed the Israeli government would “take anybody out, young people, could be people who are just going about their ordinary business, and then… fabricate, invent a reason as to why you land a drone strike or you then shell, or what have you.”
- Huda Elmi, member of Labour’s National Executive Committee and chair of two panels at Palestine Expo, “One State: The Future” and “United Against Racism.” Elmi was part of a three-person Labour panel that controversially decided to readmit MP Chris Williamson who previously claimed Labour had been “too apologetic” over antisemitism In 2018, Elmi called for the Equality and Human Rights Commission to be shut down on the day it announced its preliminary investigation of antisemitism in Labour, saying it is “a failed experiment…we need to abolish it.” She also described the Labour Party’s decision, after considerable delay, to adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, as “incredibly disappointing.”
- Faiza Shaheen, Labour parliamentary candidate and chair of panel titled “Media: Honest Reporting?” In 2018, Shaheen stated that it was “not a fact” that terrorists who “hunt down and murder Jewish people for being Jewish people” is an antisemitism issue.
In addition to Friends of Al Aqsa, a number of other radical NGOs are listed as official supporters of Palestine Expo 2019. However, reflecting a lack of transparency, specific information related to finances and their sources were not provided.
- Palestinian Return Centre (PRC)
- PRC declared an “unlawful association” by Israeli authorities due to its alleged association with Hamas. According to the Israel Security Agency, PRC “is involved in initiating and organizing radical and violent activity against Israel in Europe, while de-legitimizing Israel’s status as a nation among the European community.” Additionally, a 2011 intelligence service report of the German Ministry of the Interior found that “Hamas does not operate openly in Europe. Instead it uses, for instance, the Palestinian Return Center in London as a forum.”
- Interpal has been implicated as an organization that funnels money to Hamas. Following the arrest of a Hamas activist in the UK in 2003 and a subsequent investigation by the US Treasury Department, Interpal’s US assets were frozen and the organization was declared a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist.” According to the Treasury Department, Interpal was part of a group of “charities that provide support to Hamas and form part of its funding network in Europe.” At the Expo, Interpal Chairman Ibrahim Hewitt ran two panels on behalf of Interpal, “Unliveable: The Future of Gaza post-2020” and “Why are Anti-Palestinian Groups Attacking Aid Work in Palestine?” Due to Interpal’s activities, Hewitt is barred from traveling to the US, Israel, Canada, and Australia.
- MEMO has been characterized as antisemitic, pro-Hamas, and pro-Muslim Brotherhood by a variety of organizations and journalists including the Community Security Trust, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Haaretz reporter Anshel Pfeffer, and Sunday Times correspondent Andrew Gilligan. In 2010, the Community Security Trust, a UK Jewish security organization, labelled MEMO as being antisemitic and promoting conspiracy theories about “Jews, Zionists, money and power. This has included a claim that MEMO had questioned the suitability of Matthew Gould for the post of UK ambassador to Israel simply because he was Jewish.”
- Amos Trust
- In addition to promoting a one-sided politicized view of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Amos Trust has supported the Kairos Palestine document, which calls for BDS against Israel; denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel in theological terms; and rationalizes, justifies, and trivializes terrorism, calling it “legal resistance.”
- Daphna Baram, Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) UK. Baram spoke on the panel “Settlements & House Demolitions.”
- Despite being shuttered in Israel due to a failure to comply with a court order, ICAHD maintains “chapters” in the US, UK, Finland, and Germany. In addition to being active in promoting BDS against Israel, ICAHD explicitly advocates for the end of the state of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, stating that “the only option for resolving the conflict [is] a one-state solution.” According to the ICAHD-Finland website, “In the year 2012, ICAHD became the first Israeli organisation that took a stand in favour of a one-state solution.”
While not being listed as official supporters, a number of other radical NGOs had representatives participating in panel discussions and had their materials and issues presented in exhibits. Examples include:
- Al-Haq external consultant Salma Karmi Ayyoub spoke on two panels, “Nation Law: Israeli Apartheid State” and “Deal or Disaster of the Century.” Al-Haq is a major supporter of anti-Israel “lawfare” and BDS campaigns. As a result of his PFLP ties, Al-Haq’s General Director Shawan Jabarin has been denied exit visas by Israel and Jordan. Moreover, in May 2018 Visa, Mastercard, and American Express shut down online credit card donations to Al-Haq due to the group’s apparent ties to the PFLP.
- Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)
- In 2018, MAP was criticized by the UK Charity Commission for utilizing its annual income for political propaganda rather than for its stated purpose of providing medical aid. Examples of complaints that led to the Charity Commission inquiry include inaccurate and misleading content on MAP’s website, including material promoting racist hatred, false claims regarding the medical situation in the Palestinian territories, and the promotion of the antisemitic play “Seven Jewish Children.”
Speakers led and participated in a variety of panels, whose topics included open calls for BDS; false accusations of Israeli apartheid, “decolonizing Palestine,” and Islamophobia; alleged Israeli aggression against Gaza; and Jewish resistance to Israel. These topics are presented in a vacuum, without context, in order to shock visitors and present the illusion that Israel discriminately brutalizes Palestinians. For example, event organizers did not provide the context of terrorism that necessitates the security barrier or explain that water allotment was mutually negotiated and agreed between Israel and the Palestinians.
As the titles of some of the panels suggest, speakers took extreme positions, with some making outright false claims. For instance:
- On his panel “Nation Law: Israeli Apartheid State,” Prof. Joseph Massad—in addition to falsely claiming that antisemitism began in the 1870s—claimed that Israel is an apartheid state and ethnocracy. Ironically, Massad made his claims while sitting next to Yousef Jabareen, an elected Arab member of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament).
- During one of her panels, Salma Karmi Ayyoub, an external consultant for the Palestinian NGO Al-Haq, claimed that economic woes affecting the Palestinian economy are entirely Israel’s fault. In addition to absolving the Palestinian Authority and Hamas of any wrongdoing and/or financial mismanagement, Ayyoub completely discounts the internationally mediated and negotiated agreements (e.g. Oslo I and II) reached between Israel and the Palestinians in regards to Area C and resources, such as water.
The expo also had a variety of interactive exhibits, many specifically designed for children such as “BDS bowling,” where children can “knock down apartheid” and learn about companies doing business with Israel. The expo also features an interactive exhibit where children can view a Palestinian child’s bedroom “after Israeli troops arrest them during a night raid.”
Reactions from British Politicians and Jewish Organizations
A number of UK groups – such as the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) parliamentary group, the Israel Britain Alliance, and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism – highlighted the blatantly politicized rhetoric and the demonizing content of the exhibitions. According to Jennifer Gerber, director of LFI, “Instead of celebrating Palestinian culture, history and arts, the Palestine Expo demonizes and delegitimizes the world’s only Jewish state.” Gerber added, “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.” Similarly, Michael McCann, director of the Israel Britain Alliance, 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.”
Independent MP Ian Austin, who left the Labour Party earlier this year over its failure to tackle antisemitism, summed up the event asking, “How does this help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Campaigns for boycotts and sanctions or ‘Israeli-apartheid’ campaigns just drive the two sides further and further apart.”
Indeed, not a single event or exhibit at Palestine Expo 2019 advocated for coexistence, dialogue and/or “two states” —despite the centrality of these concepts in UK foreign policy.