A council worker suspended from his job for criticising Israel has been reinstated after a campaign was launched to defend him.
Paul Jonson, an anti-social behaviour officer at Dudley council, was suspended from work earlier this year after calling Israel a “racist endeavour” on Facebook. He faced accusations that his post was antisemitic.
But now he has been told he has no case to answer, and that he has the right to campaign in solidarity with Palestinians. More than 800 people signed a statement defending Paul and the right to speak out against Israel.
It comes as the right to criticise Israel is coming under attack at councils across Britain.
Rob Ferguson, who helped to organise Paul’s defence campaign, told Socialist Worker the victory “is a very significant blow against the attempt to stifle and intimidate free speech on Israel and the Palestinian struggle.”
Supporters of Israel complained that Paul’s post breached the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.
An example associated with the definition says it could be considered antisemitic to describe the existence of Israel as a “racist endeavour”.
This can make it harder to describe Israel’s systematic discrimination against Arabs as racist, or its attempts to expel Palestinians as ethnic cleansing.
Yet the state has racism at its core.
Some 850,000 Palestinians were forced out of Palestine when Israel was created in 1948. Its founders wanted to ensure the state had a Jewish ethnic majority.
Today Israel refuses to allow Palestinians to return because it says their presence would undermine Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. Earlier this year the Israeli government passed a law that says only Jewish people have the right to self-determination there.
Yet supporters of Israel want to clamp down on those who call Israel—or its founding ideology Zionism, which justified Palestinians’ expulsion—racist.
The Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) demanded that Paul was sacked after his Facebook post, which also advertised a lobby outside Labour MP Ian Austin’s surgery in October.
The CAA considers anti-Zionism to be antisemitic, has described the Palestine Solidarity Campaign as being fuelled by antisemitism, and has organised protests where Labour was compared to the Nazi Party.
Austin is listed as one of the CAA’s honorary patrons. He had previously recognised Paul as a council employee and confronted him at a protest in July.
The CAA apparently complained to Dudley council about Paul after the lobby of Austin’s surgery in October.
In a local newspaper article that broke the news of Paul’s suspension, CAA director Stephen Silverman said Paul was “Utterly unfit to hold the office of Anti-Social Behaviour Officer for Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council.
“We are glad that the council has suspended him following our complaint.”
And in November a CAA spokesperson demanded to know why Paul “has still not yet been dismissed as a council employee.”
Yet Paul was finally told by council bosses on Wednesday that the accusation of antisemitism “will not be recorded against him,” and that he has the right to campaign for Palestine outside of work.
The campaign to reinstate him won widespread support. Defending the right to criticise Israel was at the heart of it.
As well as collecting signatures in his defence, Paul spoke at meetings of the local trades council, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign meetings, the Stop the War coalition and the Quakers.
The Dudley trades council also released a statement in his support.
The campaign is an example of how to resist attempts to clamp down on solidarity with Palestine in other workplaces.
Labour-controlled Waltham Forest council adopted the IHRA definition last week and incorporated it into its code of conduct for employees.
Rob said, “We need to learn from Paul’s victory and mount opposition to the IHRA definition across the entire trade union movement.”