Norm’s response to Howard Cooper

Umberto Eco gets it

This piece, by Daniel Estrin, is from AP and the Washington Post, via Normblog.

JERUSALEM — Renowned Italian writer Umberto Eco said at an Israeli book fair Wednesday that boycotting scholars for their governments’ policies is akin to racism.

It was his response to British writers who called on prominent British novelist Ian McEwan to reject an Israeli literary prize this week as a way of protesting Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

McEwan, who wrote the celebrated 2001 novel “Atonement,” accepted the Jerusalem Prize at the book fair’s opening ceremony earlier this week but peppered his acceptance speech with tough criticism of Israeli policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Eco told reporters that unlike McEwan, he faced no pressure from colleagues to stay away from the Israeli book fair, and he does not support boycotts.

“I consider it absolutely crazy” and “fundamentally racist to identify a scholar, a private citizen, with the politics of his government,” Eco said.

Eco, 79, is the author of best-selling books including “The Name of the Rose” and “Foucault’s Pendulum.” He is one of Italy’s most widely read novelists.

Eco has stirred controversy in the past. The Chief Rabbi of Rome criticized his latest book, “The Cemetery of Prague,” a work of historical fiction about a 19th century document forger who writes the fake, anti-Semitic tract “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The Chief Rabbi said the book could ignite anti-Semitism among readers.

Eco countered that the fictional character is purposely depicted in a negative light.

The author said he has a “very Talmudic mind” and once suspected he was of Jewish heritage. He said his fascination with Jewish culture is evident in his books.

Gingerly answering questions about his opinion of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, Eco joked, “I have so much to say against the Italian government that I have no time to speak about the Israeli government.”

Still, Eco acknowledged the political complexities of the city he is visiting. Jerusalem is “obliged to be the city of three religions” and “the grandeur of Jerusalem is also … its problem,” he said.

“Jerusalem is not yours,” Eco told the local audience. “It’s something that belongs to mankind.”

This piece, by Daniel Estrin, is from AP and the Washington Post, via Normblog.

UCU Elections 2011, by noon on Friday 4th March

Here is the UCU Independent Broad Left slate, where you can find information about candidates who will work for a more inclusive University and College Union.

Make sure your ballot papers are received by noon on Friday 4th March – and note that the pre-paid envelope is 2nd class postage.

Alan Dershowitz on Free Speech

Smoke-filled Rooms, Antisemitism and The Greens

Modernity has the latest on the Greens and antisemitism.  You can read the original article here.

Years back students of history or politics will remember how the term, smoke-filled rooms was coined.

It meant how political decision-making was conducted behind closed doors, where Joe (or Josephine) Public were excluded, whilst political wheelers and dealers decided things.

It is something that newer political parties try to argue that they are against.

They try to argue that they represent a new form of politics, more transparent, more open, involving people, ordinary people, not just politicos in (non-smoke-filled) rooms deciding what is what, or as one political leader put it:

“[We have] promoted a new style of politics emphasising transparency,accountability and consensual ways of working…”

That’s what such parties would have you believe, but the reality is more prosaic. This is ably illustrated by the Green Party’s discussions on antisemitism.

Within the past few weeks a Green Party decision-making committee has decided that there should be no Green Party policy on antisemitism.

That is despite a Green Party conference decision to implement one.

A policy paper was even drawn up, it was not perfect, but a good start and it at least showed that the Green Party was serious about antisemitism.

Then, it was withdrawn for “corrections”, or some such nonsense.

Whilst in the background those opposed, to any firm Green party policy on antisemitism, worked their manoeuvres emulating those smoke-filled rooms of old.

Low and behold in January 2011, when the topic came up again it was decided to shelve any concrete policy on antisemitism by the Greens.

Which I suppose shows that politics rarely ever changes, in spite of all the fine words.

It also means that the Greens will have to work very hard to convince non-members that they are serious about anti-racism and their opposition to antisemitism.

We’ve been here before. Hugh Muir was right first time out.

Update 1: The issue of antisemitism has some history in and around the Green party so it’s helpful to remember some of the previous posts:

The Green Party and antisemitism – Eve Garrard

Isca Stieglitz: Green Party and anti-semitism?

On the connection between anti-Israel sentiment and antisemitism

Johann Hari: “servile” British governments

Mark Gardener over at the CST blog writes:

Writing in The Independent on Friday 4th February, Johann Hari provided the latest example of grotesquely overblown claims in mainstream media about the strength of the pro-Israel lobby.

…we are so servile to the demands of the country’s [Israel’s] self-harming government, and to its loudest and angriest lobbyists here, that our governments obey.

The myth of Jewish power dominates antisemitism. If Jewish power tricks others to go to war, or imposes tyranny on its behalf, then for the good of society, surely Jews must be exposed and routed. (Hitler had a more Final Solution to this same problem.)

Hari does not, of course, go this far. He makes no mention of Jews: as either being the lobbyists, or not being the lobbyists. Rather, he simply says “its loudest and angriest lobbyists here”. What will his readers take him to mean? And who will they think he’s talking about?

The plural, “our governments obey”, is also very important. It is not just this Government, or a particular previous Government. Rather, it is “our governments”that “obey”. Deliberately or not, the plural adds a conspiratorial punch. It is every government that is “servile” (here…and perhaps overseas? In America too?)

So, Hari effectively leaves it all to the reader’s imagination

  • Who are these lobbyists? How can we recognise them?
  • Are they actually British? Are they Zionists? Can pro-Israelis be British, or will they always be a fifth-column?
  • What else do “our governments obey” them on? What can we, (authentic) people, do about this?

The real head-shaker in all of this is that Johann Hari and his editors have sternlyopposed antisemitism in the past and no doubt remain sincerely and utterly opposed to it.

I say that Hari and The Independent hate antisemitism, not for legal reasons, nor to heap sarcasm or scorn: but because I firmly believe that they do hate antisemitism. And yet, it fits their worldview to write and publish such risky nonsense, typifying in miniature, how large sections of the liberal-left commentariat

  • Grotesquely over-exaggerate the influence of a non-defined and amorphous pro-Israel lobby, that is more conspiracy myth than it is tangible reality
  • Are either ignorant about the enduring motifs and dangers of antisemitism; or simply dismiss those risks in their urgent mission to expose and combat the machinations of the all-powerful lobby
  • Utilise the kind of loose, dangerous, over-hyped language that they would recognise and condemn in other contexts, particularly if they were directed against Muslims, Blacks or homosexuals.

Of course, both the detail and context of Hari’s accusation about our servile governments obeying is greatly important. If the accusation is true, then both author and publisher have performed a public service and should be applauded.

Hari was actually writing about the upheavals in Egypt. His column was entitled “We helped to suppress the Egyptians”. It notes how, “very few British people would praise a murderer and sell him weapons…British foreign policy does not follow the everyday moral principles of the British people, because its not formulated by us”

Hari then wrote how former MP Lorna Fitzsimons had assured “a conference for Israel’s leaders” that they could ignore British popular opinion as UK foreign policy“is an elite issue”. He says this is “repellent but right. It is formulated in the interests of big business…access to resources, and influential sectional interest groups.”

Hari’s mention of the Israeli leaders’ conference suggests where he’s leading, and“influential sectional interest groups” hints at the same destination: but, he’s not quite there yet, because he then explains that “our governments” give “three reasons” for their Middle East behaviour. Hs article covers each in turn, Oil…Israel and the ‘peace process’…Strongmen suppress jihadism”.)

It is whilst covering the second of these three “reasons”, that Hari actually spits it out

…we are so servile to the demands of the country’s [Israel’s] self-harming government, and to its loudest and angriest lobbyists here, that our governments obey.

There are many reasons for the centrality of Egypt to the Middle Eastern peace process; and for Britain’s failure to oppose years of Egyptian eagerness to physically and politically seal Gaza. It is preposterous to simply lay this at the door of British governments’ servility to pro-Israel lobbyists (and American financial aid to Egypt).

You need firm proof to start playing fast and loose with antisemitic conspiracy themes, particularly in an article that premises itself upon the notion of British democracy being betrayed on foreign policy issues. Britain plays a smallish role in Egyptian and Gazan affairs, but it is plain wrong to say that this is all anti-Palestinian, never mind that it is due to successive governments being servile to pro-Israeli lobbying.

Personally, however, I cannot think of any aspect of British government policy that would justify the extent of Hari’s accusation. Neither can I see how it fits with all manner of previous criticisms, explicit and implicit, that British governments, ministers, party leaders and prime ministers have made of Israeli policy. (Unless these are all simply smoke and mirrors.)

Still, who knows? Perhaps this servility is why Israel beat England & Wales to host the forthcoming European Under 21 football championships. Or, perhaps the servility is only employed for the really serious things in life: like wars, blockades and propping up the leadership of the Arab world’s leading country.

The word “servile”, according to the Collins English Dictionary –

servile [ˈsɜːvaɪl]

adj

1. obsequious or fawning in attitude or behaviour; submissive

2. of or suitable for a slave

3. existing in or relating to a state of slavery

4. (when postpositive, foll by to) submitting or obedient

[from Latin servīlis, from servus slave]

There is simply no justification for an anti-racist journalist to use such absolutist rhetoric in an anti-racist mainstream daily newspaper. British governments do not behave like slaves to Israeli politicians and their UK based minions. It is ignorant, divisive and dangerous to say, or imply, otherwise.

It is worth noting that only last month CST had a similar (but not identical) complaint against The Guardian’s Comment is Free website, where an author accused America of

slavish subservience to Israel

The Guardian’s Readers Editor responded seriously to CST’s concerns. After proper discussion, they regrettably opted to keep the word “subservience”, but the word“slavish” was removed, as was a reference to

Israeli-American global domination

Of course, British policy in Egypt and Gaza does not amount to “global domination”,but surely that is what the British end of this would either be, or would aim to be: just a junior part in a bigger, global conspiracy.

Hear Shlomo Sand at the RSA, Thursday 10th February, 12:00pm

Shlomo Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish People was an attempt to undermine the ideology of the religious Zionists of the settler movement by questioning Jewish national identity.

Scholar of nation states Anita Shapira ended her review of the book:

“The assertion that there is no Jewish people is shared by many groups: Jews who would like to appropriate a different national identity or challenge every national framework whatsoever; people looking for reasons of every sort and type to question the links between the different Jewish communities; those who object both to the bond between the Jewish people and the land of Israel and to that people’s right to a state of its own. To deny the existence of the Jewish people sometimes stems from a search for universalism, sometimes from considerations of a rival nationalism, sometimes from mere hatred of Jews, and sometimes from intolerance of an entity that does not fit into the neat definitions of nation and religion. Sand would like to promote a new Israeli agenda, striving for harmony between Jews and Arabs, to be based on the remodeling of Jewish identity. However positive the goals he is targeting may be in their own right, there is something warped and objectionable in the assumption that for Jews to integrate into the Middle East, they, and they alone of all the peoples in the region, must shed their national identity and historical memories and reconstruct themselves in a way that may (perhaps) find favor with Israeli-Palestinians.”

Evan Goldstein in the WSJ:

“I recently called Mr. Sand in Paris, where he is on sabbatical, to ask if he is concerned that “The Invention of the Jewish People” will be exploited for pernicious ends. “I don’t care if crazy anti-Semites in the United States use my book,” he said in Israeli-accented English. “Anti-Semitism in the West, for the moment, is not a problem.” Still, he is worried about how the forthcoming Arabic translation might be received in the Muslim world, where, he says, anti-Semitism is growing. I ask if the confident tenor of his book might exacerbate the problem. He falls quiet for a moment. “Maybe my tone was too affirmative on the question of the Khazars,” he reluctantly concedes. “If I were to write it today I would be much more careful.” Such an admission, however, is unlikely to sway the sinister conspiracists who find the Khazar theory a useful invention.”

The book’s particular line of argument found favour with antisemitic interests such as Gilad Atzmon, whose response to it was reproduced without commentary on the book’s official site.

You can see Shlomo Sand speak at the RSA in Charing Cross on Thursday 10th February at 12:00 – the event is free but booking is necessary. A recording will be freely available after the event.

Update: the event is now fully booked, but you can watch it webcast live.

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