“Friends of Palestine in UKIP” hijacked by extremists
Over recent days, it has become increasingly clear that “Friends of Palestine in UKIP” (FOP-in-UKIP) has experienced an opportunistic coup by anti-Israel extremists. Although founded to promote a “peaceful, two-state solution” and “self-determination” for the Palestinian people, the power vacuum created by the resignation of its founding Chairman, Olly Neville, appears to have given rise to a new leadership with an altogether more toxic agenda.
According to its official Facebook page, FOP-in-UKIP’s new Chairman as of 22 February 2013 is Gareth Shanks. Despite having been relatively quiescent on the issues surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict prior to his appointment, Mr Shanks’ pronouncements in his official capacity as Chairman have raised serious concerns about the new direction FOP-in-UKIP is taking under his leadership.
On 25 February, The Commentator reported that FOP-in-UKIP had issued a statement on its official Facebook page in which it asserted that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is “no different to the genocide of the Jewish people by Nazi Germany.” The same report also noted a previous statement, also on the FOP-in-UKIP Facebook page, in which the group claimed that there is “no difference between the state sponsored terrorism of the Israeli regime to [sic] the terrorism of Hamas.”
During the ensuing controversy, Mr Shanks admitted to being the author of the former comment, and added, “I stand by it.”
It should be noted that the remark in question clearly falls foul of the EU Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, which includes “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” amongst its list of “examples of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself.”
As Chairman, Mr Shanks also runs the FOP-in-UKIP Twitter account (“@FOPinUKIP”). Despite having published just 38 tweets at the time of writing, thus suggesting a degree of selectivity, two of these are retweets from “@SamerIssawi1” and “@Tweet_Palestine”.
“@SamerIssawi1” is the official Twitter account of the “Free Samer Issawi Campaign”, which campaigns on behalf of gaoled Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist Samer Issawi. One of the group’s tweets, which FOP-in-UKIP chose to retweet, reads: “In 1948 the UN give [sic] birth to a monster called Israel that is murdering Palestinians.” Although retweets do not necessarily constitute endorsement, in this case it does seem that FOP-in-UKIP is endorsing the idea that Israel ought never to have been permitted to exist. This is blatantly contrary to FOP-in-UKIP’s supposed (and constitutionally mandated) commitment to the self-determination of all peoples and a two-state solution.
“@Tweet_Palestine” belongs to a Palestinian activist who, on his website, refers to the perpetrators of the 1975 Savoy Hotel Attack, in which 11 Israelis were killed, as “martyrs … [who] died for their believe [sic] in armed resistance and their right to fight Israel in what ever [sic] means was [sic] available to them.” He then goes on to ask rhetorically, “what will [sic] they think of [the] Hamas that is now stopping militants from firing rockets at Israel![?]”
All of this – the retweets, the Facebook posts, the controversy – has occurred in the last week, since Gareth Shanks’ appointment as Chairman of FOP-in-UKIP. Mr Shanks has already been criticised by his predecessor, Olly Neville, who said of FOP-in-UKIP’s Holocaust analogy: “When I formed UKIP Friends of Palestine [sic] it was as a group to push alternate [sic] ideas of non-interventionism and a peaceful two state solution, things I wrote into the constitution. I disagree completely with the sentiments expressed in these recent Facebook update.”
No UKIP official has yet made a statement on Mr Shanks’ anti-Semitic remarks, although Jacob Campbell, Press Officer for Friends of Israel in UKIP, has insisted that “heads must roll.”