Engage, the group for which this web site is a focal point, was created to arm people with arguments and facts that they could use to counter the propaganda of the boycott campaign within the Association of University Teachers. Engage grew from a being a resource for that particular campaign into being a resource that aims to help people counter the boycott Israel campaign in general, as well as the the assumptions and misrepresentations that lie behind it.
Engage is a left wing campaign. We “support” neither Israel nor Palestine; we support a cosmopolitan or internationalist politics that supports those who fight for peace and against racism within both nations. We are not a “Jewish” campaign, whatever that might mean. We do not speak “as Jews” but as socialists, liberals, trade unionists or academics. A number of the people centrally involved in Engage are not Jewish.
There are plenty of people in the world who fly the Israeli flag, defend whatever Israel does, and regard Palestinians as being incurable rejectionists, terrorists or fundamentalists. There are plenty of others that fly the Palestinian flag and regard Israel as being an “oppressor” state, an essentially, unchangably racist, illegitimate, imperialist or apartheid state.
Engage comes out of a socialist tradition that maintains a skeptical view of nationalism. We do not see nationalism as necessarily racist or evil, but neither is it our own tradition; we are not nationalists. To the extent that nationalism defines community, and as far as nationalism represents a collective response to oppression, or a means of self-defence, we recognise that nationalism sometimes plays a positive role. Yet nationalism always also has potential to exclude those who are not thought of as being part of the nation and it has the potential to set one nation against another. This does not mean that we hope that nationalism (or particular nations) can be wished away or artificially destroyed. It means that our perspective is not one that puts any particular nation first, but one that aspires to a world in which people can enjoy guaranteed rights irrespective of national identity.
Engage is a single issue campaign. It focuses on one issue, antisemitism, and is therefore concerned also about the demonization of Israel, and of Jews who don’t think of themselves as anti-Zionists. We believe that a new commonsense is emerging that holds Israel to be a central and fundamental evil in the world. We disagree with this notion and we think that it is dangerous. The danger is that this kind of thinking may well lead to, and license, the emergence of a movement that is racist against Jews in general.
Our focus is on this issue but our view of the world is one that opposes all racism equally. We oppose racism against black people or Muslims as strongly as we oppose racism against Jews. We oppose commonsense notions that demonize lesbians and gays as strongly as we oppose those that demonize Israel. We oppose damaging and dangerous myths about women as strongly as we oppose those about Jews. We oppose exclusions of Palestinians as strongly as we oppose those of Jews.
So our politics is consistent, cosmopolitan, internationalist, even if our campaign focuses on one issue. We are not primarily concerned with the Israel/Palestine conflict. Engage was not born in Israel or in Palestine, but in Britain, to fight against an exclusion that was supported by our own trade union – an exclusion of Israeli Jews and of nobody else.
Our campaign against antisemitism and the demonization of Israel is intended to strengthen not weaken other campaigns for peace in the Middle East. We believe that the central reason that so called “Palestine Solidarity” is such a weak and fringe campaign in Britain is that most decent people don’t want to be involved with something that smells of antisemitism. We support those who campaign for Palestinian rights and we believe that what we have to say would strengthen, not weakens, their campaigns. We also support the Israeli peace movement, weak and disorientated as it may be. We believe that the demonization of Israel weakens the Israeli peace movement and pushes Israelis who are for peace into the arms of the Israeli right. It is obvious that a boycott of Israeli Jews, and only Israeli Jews, will be understood by Israelis as a racist attack on them – and boycotts therefore strengthen Israeli hawks at the expense of the peace movement.
But Engage is not centrally concerned with the Middle East. We are concerned with the ways that people on the left, people who consider themselves to be liberals and anti-racists, trade unionists, are thinking about “Zionism” and Jews. We believe that our union took a position that was in effect racist, even if it was not motivated by racism, when it decided to try to exclude Israeli Jews from our campuses, our journals and our academic conferences. Engage’s primary business is to combat anti-Jewish racism in the left and liberal public sphere. It goes without saying that we also oppose more traditional right wing antisemitism but that is not our focus. It is also the case that increasingly, even right wing antisemitism, either Nazi or conservative, is being expressed in “anti-Zionist” terms, with rhetoric largely borrowed from left or Islamist anti-Zionism.
We hope that we can help people who want to fight against the boycott-Israel campaign and against the demonization of Israel. We offer our arguments and our knowledge as a resource. People, of course, are free to make their own arguments. But we hope that we might be of some help in arming people to oppose the “anti-imperialism of idiots” – contemporary antisemitism.