Laura Marks – Smears and misinformation about Zionist interfaith efforts
A prominent British Zionist active in the ‘interfaith’ world has claimed that journalistic investigations of interfaith groups and their connections to the Zionist movement are “bullying”, “aggressive” and “vicious”. In reality, these allegations are false.
Laura Marks was formerly a senior figure at the pro-“Israel” Board of Deputies of British Jews (2012-15), an organisation that boasts in its 2020 annual report of a "close working relationship with the Israeli embassy and strengthened links with the Israeli military and Ministry of Strategic Affairs." She has been centrally involved in Zionist attempts to penetrate British Muslim communities via so called “interfaith” activities in order to normalise Zionism.
Marks has been a Zionist almost all of her life. She was a member of the Zionist Habonim Dror in her youth, a group also attended by her husband, the TV producer Dan Patterson, by his father before him, and also by the couple’s children. So three generations of the family have gone through the indoctrination process in which the group specializes. Marks claims the group taught her “leadership skills and independence”. She doesn’t mention the racist doctrine of Zionism with which the group grooms Jewish young people. In recent years, Marks has been in the leadership of the pro-"Israel" Jewish Leadership Council and has been involved in several interfaith groups dedicated to penetrating the Muslim community and normalising Zionism, such as Mitzvah Day and Nisa-Nashim.
Smearing critics of Zionist interfaith work
According to Marks there is a side to the debate on interfaith that is “bullying, personal and vicious” and this explains why Nisa-Nashim was “targeted so aggressively” by an edition of Palestine Declassified, a programme on which I am the Producer. She refers to an “undercover ‘documentary’” in which one of our journalists attended a Nisa-Nashim meeting. This was discussed, she says, by an “all male” panel. But she doesn’t make clear that the undercover filming was accomplished by a young woman, the British Palestinian journalist, Latifa Abouchakra. She bravely infiltrated the Nisa-Nashim meeting highlighted the “incubation” of the group by the Board of Deputies and the connections of the meeting host to British intelligence. I say “brave”, since engaging critically with organisations connected to Prevent, the Islamophobic British counter-terror policy, is a material risk to all Muslims in the UK. Marks appears to airbrush the Palestinians from the story, just as the Zionist entity has tried to do in reality.
According to Marks our reporting amounted to a “well-worn, deliberately misconstrued, and sinister narrative”. Typically, she does not explain which bits were misconstrued or sinister. We did not, as she claims, explain that the “founders, trustees and funders are ‘ardent Zionists’” In fact, we were directly quoting one of the directors of the charity Denise Joseph who describes herself in those terms. Nor did we refer to those Muslims who unfortunately work with Marks as “Muslim counter-terrorists, funded by the secret propaganda department of the Home Office and controlled by British intelligence agencies.” We did, however, point to the factual relationships between her organisation and the world of counter-terrorism on the other, including with the secretive Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU) of the Home Office – which we discuss more fully below.
“Jewish” or “Zionist” groups?
Marks says of reporting of an earlier project with her Mitzvah Day charity, that “Each of the Jewish organisations involved was linked (negatively) to Israel including a claim … that BBYO served to ‘legitimise Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.’” Marks smears both the website Middle East Eye and the activist group Prevent Watch saying they are “peddling conspiracy theories about Jews. [This] encourages and fuels antisemitism by deliberately conflating Jews with hateful narratives about Israel.” This is simply false.
The B’nai B’rith Youth Organisation – part of the Zionist movement
What is BBYO? It stands for B’nai B’rith Youth Organisation. It is a transnational organisation claiming more than 40,000 members. The UK branch has groups in Manchester and London. It states plainly that it is a Zionist organisation: “We share a commitment to the expression of Jewish peoplehood in the modern-day State of Israel.” It also refers to the “National Jewish identity” of its members, a racist phrase, referring to “Israel” and legitimising the occupation of Palestine. Naturally being a Zionist organisation, BBYO UK is a member of the British Zionist Federation and therefore affiliated with the World Zionist Organisation. In addition, Middle East Eye has reported factually that BBYO engages in the racist so called “birth-right” programme, taking young Jews on propaganda tours of “Israel”. However, young British Jews have no “birth-right” to live in Palestine and never had. BBYO even helps to radicalise young people by channelling them towards direct engagement with the Zionist military occupation forces.
So, in reality, the groups criticised by Marks had the temerity to link Zionist groups to Zionism. What is hateful about saying truthfully that Zionist groups legitimise the occupation of Palestine? The use of the word “hateful” is a disgraceful smear.
The “Muslim antisemitism” trope
What we see here is an attempt to use the well-worn Zionist trope - the notion of a specific form of “Muslim antisemitism” which, as I have shown elsewhere, has been carefully developed by the Zionist regime through the regular meetings of the Global Forum for Combatting Antisemitism run by the regime for nearly two decades now.
Marks complains that “most Jewish people do have an emotional tie to Israel, but it does not follow that all Jews engaged in interfaith are intent on harming the Palestinian cause.” But no one has suggested that all interfaith work done by “Jews” is problematic. What is being suggested is that specific Zionist attempts to engage in interfaith are about penetrating and subverting Muslim communities to normalise Zionism. Tellingly, Marks has no answer to this charge.
Relations with British intelligence
Marks admits that many interfaith organisations have a “relationship” with government, but complains that this “does not make interfaith activists instruments of a secret Home Office plot.” A “relationship” is a gloriously euphemistic way to put it. What exactly is the relationship between interfaith groups and the government?
Marks closes with what she presumably imagines is a flourish by referring to “Hifsa, Nisa-Nashim’s chair of trustees”, who “presented her deep-fried charoset filled samosas” at a recent meeting. She had “masterfully shared rituals with respect, understanding and with tongue firmly in cheek, the approach of a true friend. We won’t let the conspiracy theorists tear us apart.” Marks seems curiously bashful about “Hifsa”, using only her first name. In fact, this is Hifsa Haroon-Iqbal who since 2013 has been West Midlands Regional Prevent Lead (in Higher & Further Education) employed by the Department for Education. The racist Prevent counter-terrorism programme is overseen and directed by the Homeland Security Group in the Home Office, a British intelligence agency. Prevent “Leads”, are, therefore, “agents” of British intelligence. The term is used by the British domestic intelligence agency MI5 to describe individuals who are ‘not formally employed by MI5’, as compared to its staff, who are ‘officers’. This is only one of multiple links between Nisa-Nashim and British intelligence which Marks passes over in silence.
Funding by the British state
Mitzvah Day received some £69,000 from the Department for Communities and Local Government between 2010 and 2017; Nisa-Nashim received £30,000 the next year. Both groups received funding from the Home Office “Building a Stronger Britain Together” programme in around 2018/19 though the amounts have not been disclosed. The BSBT is run by the Office for Counter Extremism in the Home Office, which is not directly part of the British intelligence apparatus. However, at least three of its staff (including the Director, 2016-17, the Head of Counter Extremism Analysis, and the Director of BSBT itself, have formerly - at least - been British intelligence officers)
Maybe Laura Marks and her collaborators were unaware that they were acting as assets of British intelligence? If so, the obvious action is to confess, apologise and state plainly that they will withdraw from working with British intelligence. They should remove Hifsa Haroon-Iqbal from Nisa-Nashim and cease collaboration with front groups for British intelligence, meaning all that receive support from the Homeland Security Group (via its propaganda arm RICU and/or its PR agency). They should also declare their opposition to the racist Prevent programme and cease to collaborate with it.
If Marks and others involved in interfaith work are not doing it for “Zionist” reasons, then they should also disavow Zionism, sever connections with all Zionist groups, and welcome anti-Zionist Jews and Muslims into their organisations. Even to pose these demands is to show the impossibility of this from the Zionist point of view.
If not, then it will be necessary to dismantle all Zionist-influenced interfaith groupings, such as those run by Laura Marks and her collaborators.