The UCU boycott campaign is about fuelling hatred against Israel – John Strawson

John Strawson

John Strawson

The latest installment of the UCU saga reveals, yet again, the obsessive character of the boycotters.

In the week after the end of the Gaza war 1300 Sri Lankan civilians were killed yet this is not an issue for the Israel boycotters.  Nor is the fact that since, this number has multiplied many times – with reliable reports of schools, hospitals and “safe areas” attacked, sometimes with hundreds killed in one incident.

The boycotters appear unconcerned about the way in which Singhalese nationalism has been nourished within some sectors of Sri Lankan higher education.  It could be argued that the production and circulation of such nationalism which sets out to exclude the Tamils creates the atmosphere which legitimizes the Sri Lankan military attacks on Tamil civilians. Those who have intellectually sustained Singhalese nationalism through writing books, teaching courses, and working on strategic research could be seen a complicit with the Sri Lankan military – a situation which has existed for at least 30 years.  I think this is the kind of argument that the motion is using about Israel, is it not?  However, over the three decades of the Sri Lankan civil war – which has been marked by systematic attacks on civilians, racist thuggery, dispossession, targeted assassinations and national exclusion – our boycotters have never raised the idea of an academic boycott of Sri Lanka.

The resolution itself is factually inaccurate and erroneous on international law. First Israel did not set out to remove an elected government.  It is a myth that the Hamas was the elected government of Gaza.  After the Hamas-led front won the Palestinian Authority elections in 2006,  the organization attempted a coup against the elected President (Abbas) of the authority in 2007, and was constitutionally removed from office.  It then retreated to Gaza – not as the elected representatives of the people but as failed coup-plotters.

Nor is it legally tenable than Israel’s war (which I absolutely opposed) was “aggression”.  Even the rather pathetic Arab League’s report “No Safe Place” concludes “due to the uncertain meaning of ‘aggression’ it could make no finding on the question of whether Israel’s offensive constituted aggression” (16:2).  The UCU boycotters are clearly legal experts in a very special sense.

The truth is that the obsessive and irrational character of the boycotters means that for them the actual adoption of any resolution is neither here nor there.  What they want is the opportunity to continue to circulate crude anti-Zionist propaganda at every opportunity.  Attacking Israel and normalizing historical and political falsities is their aim. It is not the boycott but the continual fueling of hate against Israel, Israelis and Jews whose national identity is shaped by Israel that is the purpose. In this sense the twisted logical of debating a motion that cannot be legally adopted becomes a clear political campaign.

John Strawson

UEL UCU

26 Responses to “The UCU boycott campaign is about fuelling hatred against Israel – John Strawson”

  1. zkharya Says:

    “the organization attempted a coup against the elected President (Abbas) of the authority in 2007″

    Did it? Can anyone provide a link?

  2. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    John S. notes that:
    “Nor is it legally tenable than Israel’s war (which I absolutely opposed) was “aggression”. Even the rather pathetic Arab League’s report “No Safe Place” concludes “due to the uncertain meaning of ‘aggression’ it could make no finding on the question of whether Israel’s offensive constituted aggression” (16:2). The UCU boycotters are clearly legal experts in a very special sense.”

    Thus, while many (most?/all?) of us here would wish that Israel had found another way to cope with the problem on its south-west border last December, the path that it actually took, while politically extremely ill-advised, was not illegal under international law. Even the Arab League is forced to acknowledge this.

    It would be interesting if any practicing lawyers out there (including experts in the universities) could actually provide an opinion to the contrary, fully sourced, of course. It would be nice to have a boycotter (or their legal advisor) actually providing chapter and verse for a change. We might actually develop a proper debate for once.

  3. David Hirsh Says:

    Brian, err, John Strawson is an expert in international law in a university.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      David, sorry not to write with full clarity. I am aware of John’s professional qualifications. I was attempting to direct the question at boycott _supporters_, not opponents, as John is. I fully expect the answer to my question to be in the negative: that there aren’t any pro-boycott lawyers out there who could provide a fully sourced case for Israel’s action against Gaza being in breach of international law (leaving aside any question of war crimes/crimes against humanity during the execution of the operation). And ditto for the boycott wanted by the UCU activists _not_ being in breach of UK law.

      Is that clearer?

      I wrote:
      “It would be interesting if any practicing lawyers out there (including experts in the universities) could actually provide an opinion to the contrary, fully sourced, of course. It would be nice to have a boycotter (or their legal advisor) actually providing chapter and verse for a change. We might actually develop a proper debate for once.” the contrary in this case being that Israel’s prosecution of Operation Cast Lead being, per se, in breach of international law.

      (sorry to be such an archetypical academic about this!

  4. Alex Hogg Says:

    Strawson states that; “First Israel did not set out to remove an elected government. It is a myth that the Hamas was the elected government of Gaza. After the Hamas-led front won the Palestinian Authority elections in 2006, the organization attempted a coup against the elected President (Abbas) of the authority in 2007, and was constitutionally removed from office.”
    Could he then explain the events detailed in David Rose’s article ‘The Gaza Bombshell’ in Vanity Fair;
    http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/04/gaza200804

  5. john Strawson Says:

    Brian will find several academics who will argue that Israel committed aggression in the Gaza war. Indeed a letter to the Sunday Times (January 11 2009) signed by myself – and many other international lawyers – had this position in its last paragraph. The section was added to the letter after I had signed a different draft and published without my permission. The reason that Israel could not commit aggression is simple. No state can commit aggression because there is no agreement on what the definition of the crime is. The State Parties to the Statute of the International criminal Court have been attempting to define the crime since 2003 but have so far failed. The reason that “aggression” is so frequently used in connection to Israel’s military activity rarely has anything to with the merits of the situation but is part of long term ideological campaign to brand the creation of Israel itself as an act aggression – the term used by the Arab League in 1948. This was an outrageous claim given the illegal use of force by the states of the Arab League to attempt to suppress the creation of the Jewish state – in defiance of article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter and customary international law.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      John, it would be interesting to know how many of your fellow signatories similarly signed an earlier draft. However, I guess that, at this stage, the query is moot.

      Thank you for your clarification. It’s interesting to note that such people (ie, those who signed the letter actually published with full knowledge of its final contents) rarely if ever seem to appear here with fully worked out arguments, including sources.

  6. john Strawson Says:

    Alex, David Rose writes in that article that Gaza was completely controlled by Hamas “where it siezed power in a bloody coup d’etat in June 2007.” I think that is quite consistent with my position. Hamas gave up its democratic mandate turned its guns on the elected President and settled for a violent fiefedoom instead.

  7. fred Says:

    John Strawson: true Rose says that, but what do you think of the Wurmser quote below, & the US’ covert initiative to provoke civil war? from Rose:

    Vanity Fair has obtained confidential documents, since corroborated by sources in the U.S. and Palestine, which lay bare a covert initiative, approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by Dahlan, and armed with new weapons supplied at America’s behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power. (The State Department declined to comment.)
    [...]

    Within the Bush administration, the Palestinian policy set off a furious debate. One of its critics is David Wurmser, the avowed neoconservative, who resigned as Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief Middle East adviser in July 2007, a month after the Gaza coup.

    Wurmser accuses the Bush administration of “engaging in a dirty war in an effort to provide a corrupt dictatorship [led by Abbas] with victory.” He believes that Hamas had no intention of taking Gaza until Fatah forced its hand. “It looks to me that what happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen,” Wurmser says.

    The botched plan has rendered the dream of Middle East peace more remote than ever, but what really galls neocons such as Wurmser is the hypocrisy it exposed. “There is a stunning disconnect between the president’s call for Middle East democracy and this policy,” he says. “It directly contradicts it.”

  8. john Strawson Says:

    Fred, Vanity Fair is rarely a reliable source of information on the Middle East. However, assuming that this story were correct and it was the US that removed the Hamas-led government in June 2007, then the UCU resolution must be wrong in accusing Israel of attempting to do so in December 2008. You can’t have it both ways. In any event the point is that Hamas’s control of Gaza did not come about because of elections in Gaza – the impression given by the UCU resolution, and in much press coverage. That does not mean, however, that Hamas should be shunned. It is programmatically anti-Semitic, has a record of terrible violence against Israeli and Palestinian civilians, and has appalling policies on many questions especially toward women. However, it is a major player in the conflict, and as the Gaza war showed, cannot be removed by military means. It must be engaged with. I have always favored talking to Hamas before and after the 2006 elections – without conditions.

  9. Lbnaz Says:

    fred wrote (or quoted): “(The State Department declined to comment)

    This isn’t true.
    See: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/news/2008/03/mil-080304-voa08.htm

    US Denies Plotting Hamas Overthrow
    By David Gollust
    State Department
    04 March 2008

    The Bush administration Tuesday denied a published report that it covertly sought to oust Hamas from power after the radical group won Palestinian elections in 2006, triggering a Palestinian civil conflict a year later. The State Department says Hamas itself provoked the fighting that left it in control of Gaza. VOA’s David Gollust reports from the State Department.

    Officials here are rejecting, in unusually strong terms, a U.S. magazine report claiming the Bush administration tried to organize the armed overthrow of Hamas, after the militant Islamic group took over the Palestinian government after 2006 elections.

    The magazine Vanity Fair, in the article released Tuesday, said key administration officials including President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice decided after the election to arm Palestinian forces of the mainstream Fatah movement in order to drive Hamas from power.

    Vanity Fair, which said its information came from confidential documents and former administration officials, said the plan backfired when the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters “inadvertently provoked” Hamas to seize total control of Gaza.

    At a news briefing, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said U.S. policy after the Hamas election win was to help build up Palestinian institutions including security forces that remained under control of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah.

    Casey said the United States refused any contact with Hamas because it, unlike President Abbas, refused to accept the international Middle East Quartet’s terms for dialogue, notably acceptance of Israel’s right to exist and renouncing terrorism.

    The spokesman, who noted the administration was forbidden by law from furnishing lethal arms to the Abbas forces, said the suggestion the United States was advocating an attack on Hamas by Fatah forces is completely untrue:

    “The story alleges that there was some kind of secret plot on the part of the U.S. government to create an internal conflict within the Palestinians, specifically an armed conflict. That’s absurd. That’s ridiculous. I said this morning that I think Vanity Fair should stick to arty photos of celebrities since clearly, at least in this instance, their efforts at serious journalism leaves something lacking.”

    Secretary of State Rice, in the Middle East trying to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, said in Ramallah the United States had been very clear in its desire to boost the security capabilities of the Palestinian Authority.

    The Bush administration has not denied pressing moderate Arab states to provide arms to Palestinian Authority units in Gaza, before Hamas seized control there in June 2007.

    But spokesman Casey insisted that Hamas instigated what he termed an “illegal armed takeover” of the Gaza Strip, and that the threat at the time had come from Hamas and not U.S. efforts to help build Palestinian institutions.

  10. fred Says:

    john – see also alastair crooke in LRB, july 5, 2007

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n13/print/croo01_.html

  11. Lbnaz Says:

    fred’s LRB link includes alistair crooke misrepresenting the Hamas election victory as “overwhelming”, which it wasn’t, citing Azzam Tamimi as a reliable source and referring to Hamas as “Islamism’s moderates in the political process”. And all this within the first four paragraphs of the opinion piece. Hamas apologists, racist, misogynist and illiberal and intolerant enablers like the LRB, fred and alistaire crooke deserve each other.

  12. john Strawson Says:

    Crooke was in Briish Intelligence and has now changed sides – see his” Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution” (Pluto Press 2009) where he argues that Islamism is a a justified religious reaction to the secular west. The LRB piece was baleful. The Hamas-led front won about 46% of the vote to Fatah’s 43%. I just reiterate that the resolution is inaccurate in suggesting that Israel removed a democratrically elected Hamas government in December 2008. It had ceased to exist eighteen months before.

    Historical inaccraucies play a major part in the ideology of anti-Zionism. It is important to challenge them before they become “common sense knowledge.

  13. fred Says:

    ok, i agree “democratically elected Hamas government ” in Gaza in 2008 is misleading.

  14. fred Says:

    “Hamas apologists, racist, misogynist and illiberal and intolerant enablers like the LRB, fred”

    you are showing great tolerance towards me. I had the cheek to ask John Strawson, someone whose expertise i respect, to explain documents and events i’ve had questions about for some time. for this i deserve such epithets?

  15. john Strawson Says:

    Fred, there can be much debate about what occured between January 2006 and June 2007 in the Palestinian territories. Those who argue that there was US meddling do so mainly on the basis of speculation. Like many issues we will have to wait for some time for release of doumentary evidence. I have to say the ability of the US to provoke either Fatah or Hamas during this period would be dubious. It is also the case that Vanity Fair and Crooke are wrong about any significant support to the Fatah armed forces during this period. It was only after the coup in JUne 2007 that US (and other) significant support for the Fatah military began – especially via a US-Jordanian plan. Some of the subseqent improvements in security for Palestinians in Jenin and Hebron have been the result. It would have been unlikely that the US (or anyone else) would have seriously armed Fatah between January 2006-7 for fear that such arms would fall into the hands of Hamas.

  16. fred Says:

    John, thank you for your thoughtful & informative reply.

  17. Inna Says:

    Hamas coup:

    As Fatah’s last security command centers fell after four days of fighting, Hamas military men in black masks moved unchallenged across Gaza City, hunting down foes, blowing up homes and dragging the body of a top Fatah militant through the streets.

    Hamas men marched humiliated agents of the once-feared Preventive Security Service out of their headquarters in handcuffs and stripped to the waist. The Islamic movement finished its rout by taking the Presidential Guard headquarters without a fight as its defenders fled by boat toward Egypt.

    http://articles.latimes.com/2007/jun/15/world/fg-gaza15

    Regards,

    Inna

  18. An Stern Says:

    Nor is it legally tenable than Israel’s war was “aggression”.

    The assault on Palestinians was not aggression because there is no ‘law’ that says it was aggression?

    Aggression denial?

    One may be an ‘expert in international law’, it doesn’t necessarily follow that one possesses the sense that god gave a blue-assed fly.

  19. john Strawson Says:

    An Stern, my comment was in the context of a legal report for the Arab League where the report agreed that aggression was inappropriate. That was of course in the context that aggression has not been defined since 1945. If you have such a definition the Assembly of State parties of the International Criminal Court Coirt may be interested. If on the othe hand, your take is political then I would be interested to know what your definition of aggression is.

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