Meet the group dedicated to bringing down BDS in the UK

Jewish Human Rights Watch have adopted some of the measures used by anti-Israel activists, who "don't like to be on the receiving end of their tactics".


Readers of the Daily Record in Scotland, leafing through their paper over the breakfast table or on their way to work last month, will have turned the page and seen an advert designed to make them sit up and take notice.

“Right now — in Scotland”, the graphic informed readers, “Jewish businesses are being harassed and intimidated”.

The advert called for “volunteer human rights observers” in Aberdeen and Glasgow, to be “trained and equipped to peacefully monitor, record, document and bear witness to Jew hate”. 

It also included a picture of Jew-hate from a different era — a row of Nazis, arms outstretched, preventing Jews from entering the University of Vienna in 1938.

Readers were informed that “In 2015 JHRW — Jewish Human Rights Watch was launched to fight the rising tide of Jew -hate across the UK.”

“It was December 2015,” says Jonathan Neumann, the director of JHRW, discussing the organisation’s beginnings.

“The original impetus was Leicester council passing a BDS motion, which really galvanised us into thinking that something needed to be done.”

He and others thought that, given the Jewish community’s “consensus on opposition to BDS, a more forthright position needed to be taken.

“We decided to fill that gap”, he says. “BDS has remained very much our focus since then, educating people about it and campaigning to end it.”

According to JHRW, part of the reason why the group has called for human rights observers in Scotland is because the situation there is more severe, with the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign described as “on a different level” to activists in other places in the UK. 

The observers will be deployed at events where JHRW believes there is a threat of antisemitic abuse occurring.

Mr Neumann explains: “The observers will be properly trained, they will have proper high-viz jackets, with ‘Human Rights Observers’ on. They will record and watch out for incidents for Jew-hate, anything that can be reported. 

Mr Neumann explains that the organisation has assisted British Jews living in “far-flung places” where “they don’t have the sort of communal infrastructure and support”.

JHRW is also actively working to try to end the anti-Israel boycott movement in Britain, with an emphasis on going after any group or organisations perceived to be promoting it. 

Leicester and other local councils which passed anti-Israel motions found themselves facing a discrimination case in the courts, brought by JHRW. 
Although the High Court ruled in favour of the councils last June, in October the government published new guidelines preventing local authorities from using pension funds or procurement money to boycott or divest from Israeli firms.

“JHRW put the council BDS issue on the map”, says Mr Neumann. “It’s no coincidence that when we started bringing these legal actions, this guidance and legislation started happening.”

Other groups, such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and charity War on Want — which promotes “Israel Apartheid Week” — have also been targeted by JHRW.

In late 2015 an official complaint was made to the Charity Commission regarding War on Want (WoW). However, JHRW is dissatisfied by the commission’s apparent inability to reach a decision on the charity and are, they say, considering other options. 

This aggressive strategy is an example, Mr Neumann says, of throwing some of the tactics used by anti-Israel activists back at them.

“Unfortunately the other side are very successful”, he says, “and to date the Jewish community and British Zionists have not used those kind of tactics effectively. We have now decided to adopt them.”

JHRW activists protested outside War on Want’s offices in London and Manchester last year.

Mr Neumann says: “This is a group [WoW] that loves to protest outside Jewish Israeli companies. This is the first time a Jewish group has gone to them and agitated outside their own headquarters and outside their own meetings. It was very unsettling to them. They didn’t like to be on the receiving end of their tactics.”

In terms of future plans, JHRW says that its “attention is increasingly turned to universities, particularly with Israel Apartheid Week, which we believe falls foul of the law.”

Mr Neumann also stresses JHRW does not consider itself to be right or left wing. “We’re not really interested in those labels. We have people who are Conservative Party supporters, Labour Party supporters, swing voters.

“We absolutely applaud this government for what it has achieved on combatting Jew-hate, and if it was a Labour government which had done it then we would applaud it all the same. 

“Our chief and only concern is to advance the cause of Jewish human rights, and whoever wants to assist or facilitate that, we will applaud them.”

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