The Electronic Intifada / May 17, 2023
Palestinian author Ghada Karmi’s latest book launch was canceled last week after lobbying by pro-Israel group Yachad, The Electronic Intifada can reveal.
The Balfour Project, a charity registered in Scotland, had invited Karmi to speak to rapper and activist Lowkey about her new book One State: The Only Democratic Future for Palestine-Israel at an event scheduled for 11 May.
The project said in its publicity that Karmi would explain “what in her view is the only workable democratic future for Palestinians and Israelis.”
But only the evening before, the talk was canceled “due to circumstances beyond our control,” a Zoom message from 10 May shows.
The message gave no further explanation. The event had been publicized for about three weeks.
“With friends like this, you know, who needs enemies?” Karmi told The Electronic Intifada this week.
Yachad had rung the Balfour Project’s board of trustees, likely the vice-chairperson, former British consul-general in Jerusalem Vincent Fean, a source with inside knowledge told The Electronic Intifada.
The source said that Yachad had “threatened to break any affiliation” with the Balfour Project if they didn’t cancel the talk.
While the project doesn’t have any formal affiliation with Yachad, representatives of the Zionist group have spoken at some of their events in the past.
Yachad had especially objected to Lowkey, a campaigner for Palestinian liberation.
Karmi told The Electronic Intifada that the Balfour Project had offered her to speak again in the future, but only without Lowkey.
Karmi refused this condition as unacceptable.
In a statement sent to The Electronic Intifada, chairperson of the Balfour Project’s trustees Andrew Whitley confirmed that he had told Karmi that the event could only proceed “as scheduled with another co-speaker” aside from Lowkey.
He wrote that he had told Karmi they needed time to “look into allegations we had received against” Lowkey and “to conduct due diligence,” but did not specify what those allegations were or who made them.
Whitley denied that the Balfour Project had banned the activist from speaking at “a later date. I did not rule out the possibility of retaining Lowkey.”
Whitley seemed to put the blame on Karmi for the cancellation, saying that “she refused both options,” either postponement or proceeding without Lowkey.
Karmi denied she had been offered a postponement of the book launch with Lowkey, saying Whitley had only offered her “a future opportunity to expound on your views about the situation in Palestine today.”
According to Karmi, Whitley had also told her that he had wanted to investigate “the allegations” but that “after several unsuccessful attempts to get hold of Lowkey himself we simply ran out of time and did not feel we could proceed.”
Lowkey told The Electronic Intifada this was untrue, and he did not receive any communication from the Balfour Project at all, other than routine messages to help arrange the talk.
In his initial statement to The Electronic Intifada, Whitley did not deny that Yachad had threatened the Balfour Project.
However, when asked to explain why a group that claims to support equality for Palestinians gave a pro-Israel, Zionist group like Yachad a veto over its speakers, Whitley issued a second statement, in which he claimed that “Yachad did not, as stated, threaten to withdraw any association with the Balfour Project unless we canceled the event. That clearly implied conditionality in your question is incorrect.”
The Electronic Intifada understands that there is currently a division on the issue between the Balfour Project’s executive committee and its trustees.
“I keep hearing this phrase ‘due diligence,’” said one Balfour Project supporter. “Does that include seeking out the background on any possible Balfour Project contributor who Israel’s friends and agents might object to?”
Sources with inside knowledge told The Electronic Intifada that the cancellation was imposed by Fean, the former British consul-general.
Fean did not give any reason for his or Yachad’s opposition to Lowkey and did not present any evidence against him.
The executive committee is said to be “in the dark” as to the reasons.
Fean did not respond to a request for comment.
Project chairperson Andrew Whitley denied that Fean had made the decision to cancel alone, saying: “After consulting two other trustees, I decided that we had no choice but to postpone.”
Lowkey has been a major target for cancellation by anti-Palestinian racists in the last couple of years.
Israel lobbyists We Believe in Israel even launched a campaign to have his music deleted from Spotify last year. Their efforts were thwarted after high profile figures in the music industry signed a successful petition to the streaming giant backing the rapper.
Yachad’s support for Israeli crimes
Yachad is a Zionist group based in the UK. It describes itself as a “uniquely Jewish pro-Israel voice.”
It was founded in 2011, marketing itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” But it has always opposed Palestinian rights, especially the right of Palestinians expelled by Israel for not being Jewish to return to their homes.
It masks its endorsement of ethnic cleansing in deceptive language, claiming on its website that “being a supporter of Israel does not stand in opposition to being a supporter of Palestinian human rights” and vaguely states that it opposes “the occupation.”
But in an FAQ page recently deleted from their website, Yachad stated it “does not support BDS of any nature.” The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is the Palestinian-led global campaign seeking to end Israeli occupation.
The same deleted page explains that the people Yachad “work with” have included the former head of the Shin Bet, as well as former Israeli generals, both of whom Yachad say they have brought on visits to the UK. The Shin Bet is Israel’s domestic secret police agency, notorious for torture and assassination of Palestinians.
The deleted Yachad FAQ page also states that “we work with the Yesha Council.” The Yesha Council is the official Israeli body that pushes for the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, all of which are illegal under international law.
As my colleague Michael Brown has put it, the council “moves with the weight of the Israeli government behind it in violently clearing Palestinians from homes and land in the occupied West Bank.”
Among those on Yachad’s governing board are some notorious pro-Israel lobbyists, including Mike Katz, the chairperson of the Jewish Labour Movement, and Jack Lubner, a member of the national council of the Union of Jewish Students (which is funded by Israel).
Lubner was one of the pro-Israel lobbyists behind a successful smear campaign against Lowkey last year. Bowing to the pressure, a student society in Cambridge canceled a Palestine event with Lowkey “due to certain last minute unanticipated logistical challenges.”
Yachad has been funded by Israel lobby money man Trevor Pears.
A multi-millionaire landlord accused of using ruthless tactics against his tenants, Pears is also a Conservative Party donor.
Yachad did not respond to a request for comment.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London