Meet the brilliant barrister battling lies about Israel

Natasha Hausdorff will be making the country’s case again in a discussion at Jewish Book Week


Natasha Hausdorff’s debut radio broadcast was during the Israel-Gaza conflict in 2014.

She’d been invited onto Nick Ferrari’s breakfast show on LBC to debate Israel’s military operation codenamed Protective Edge, and she left the London studio determined to go on air again.

“It was a turning point. I was only 24 and a trainee solicitor, but I was able to tell Nick things about the anti-Israel propaganda machine that he had clearly never heard before. It felt good. Right.”

This Sunday, the 33-year-old barrister and legal director of UK Lawyers for Israel will be making the country’s case again at Jewish Book Week.

Hausdorff, who clerked for the late President of the Israeli Supreme Court, Chief Justice Miriam Naor, is taking part in a roundtable discussion entitled, “Israel: A Fragile Democracy?” with JC columnist Jonathan Freedland, fellow lawyer Anthony Julius and historian Sir Simon Schama.

The exact remit of their conversation is still to be determined, she says, but its general departure point is the new Israeli government’s planned changes to the judicial system: a proposal Supreme Court president Esther Hayut has described as “a plan to crush the justice system”, that opposition leader Yair Lapid has said is a “struggle for the soul of the country” — and which saw 80,000 Israelis take to the streets in protest earlier this year.

Hausdorff, a specialist in international law, takes a more careful, nuanced view. “Look, the idea of reforming Israel’s judicial system shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone,” she says.

“The country doesn’t have the written constitution that was envisaged at its declaration of independence because immediately thereafter it had to fight a war of survival, and people have been talking about reforming the system for decades.

"When change is implemented, I hope it is with broad political input and general common sense. But right now, the opposition in Israel is encouraging protests and letters of concern from people around the world who are commenting on the situation from an uninformed position. And who, in some cases, have been very badly misinformed indeed."

Putting the “badly misinformed” right, correcting the swathes of untruths that surround the Jewish state, is a moral compulsion for Hausdorff. And she felt the urge from an early age.

“It was already plain to me in the first year of my secondary school that when it came to Israel, my teachers were desperately ignorant, yet highly opinionated. From the get-go I felt it was my duty to explain the context and provide the content they didn’t have.”

Context and content handed to her, you could say, from her family’s unusual biography.

“My dad was born in Tel Aviv and the Hausdorffs go back eight generations in Israel. Azriel Zelig Hausdorff was born in a village near Leipizig, in Germany, and arrived in Jerusalem, via London, in 1847.

“My mum met my dad in Israel and, like many postwar non-Jewish Germans, had always been fiercely Zionist.

"We went to Israel every year during my childhood, and when we weren’t there, I missed it terribly. In fact, growing up in the non-Jewish London borough of Kensington, I honestly felt there were three other Zionists in the whole of Britain: my mother, my father and my sister.”

But they were informed Zionists — “I was essentially growing up in an Israeli household in London, so closely did my family follow Israel’s news and developments” — and that gave her the confidence to fight back at school.

“In every other way, I was a very good girl at school, its rules were holy to me. But when it came to this one issue, I argued with my teachers robustly.”

Two decades on, she says she feels privileged to have a job that gives her the flexibility to fight for Israel on a pro bono basis.

“I love being a barrister, but I feel especially blessed to be able to engage in Israel advocacy. It gives me a sense of purpose, it’s energising. When I defend Israel I am not just defending Zionism, the most important part of my Jewishness, I am defending liberal democracy and the truth.

Moreover, someone needs to challenge what has become entrenched misinformation.

“Israel is now militarily secure. The most dangerous attacks are now political and in the media, and because the untruths are repeated so often, we have got to a point where they have become a received wisdom.

“People are so used to hearing the expression ‘illegal occupation’ in relation to Israel they don’t realise that in this context it’s a political term, masquerading as a legal one.

"They don’t know what international law says about the formation of a state’s borders at the moment of independence and how when it comes to the world’s sole Jewish state, that law is somehow disapplied.

“But I do and I can’t let untruths go unchallenged.”

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