Writing on Comment Is Free, Andy Newman warns well-meaning people against the antisemites stalking the pro-Palestinian movement.
Writing on Comment Is Free, Andy Newman warns well-meaning people against the antisemites stalking the pro-Palestinian movement.
Paul Donnachie and his friend, students at St Andrews University, turned up at Chanan Reitblat’s flat in a university hall of residence in the small hours of 12th March to check up on their friend, Reitblat’s flatmate. Donnachie saw an Israeli flag above Reitblat’s bed and flew into a rage. There followed a court case which saw Donnachie found guilty of racially aggravated breach of the peace (i.e. that he acted a manner which was racially aggravated and which caused, or was intended to cause, a person alarm or distress), sentenced to community service and fined. Through his tears Donnachie protested in all sincerity that he was an anti-racist. St Andrews was unimpressed and expelled him.
“Sentencing Donnachie, a history student and member of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, sheriff Charlie Macnair said: “This flag was his personal property. I consider that your behaviour did evince malice towards Mr Reitblat because of his presumed membership of Israel.
“I’m satisfied that you said Israel was a terrorist state and the flag was a terrorist symbol and I also hold that you said that Mr Reitblat was a terrorist.””
An account of the incident and its aftermath, with particular focus on the vindictive fury of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the anti-Israel fellowship, by Stan Crooke at the AWL.
… Being on the left has always been about supporting the downtrodden, and since anti-Semitism is and always was about accusing Jews of being insufficiently downtrodden, there are only these rare moments when the obvious left-wing position is to get worked up about anti-Semitism – moments when anti-Semitism’s on-the-ground influence is so great (think the Dreyfus Affair, the Holocaust) that thinking of Jews as victims becomes uncontroversial.
Where does Israel fit into this? The idea that Zionism was and continues to be the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, a flawed movement but a legitimate liberation movement akin to the postcolonial ones all the same, this gets lost because Israel is a wealthy enough country with a white-ish population. The fact that Israel was founded by those Europe had rejected on account of their “Oriental” “race” and told to “go back to Palestine” gets lost and replaced by the idea that Israel’s a country dominated by a bunch of white Europeans – with all the global privilege that entails – who have no place in the Middle East. But the issue isn’t really Israel, or even the fact that the Palestinians are indisputably suffering, somewhat more disputably the non-white party in the conflict (disputably because, Ohad Knoller aside, Jewish Israeli’s aren’t all that white) – it’s about how Jews are perceived at home. I suspect that many in America picture Israel as basically a wealthy American suburb, a great big West End Avenue by the sea….
… The extensive and intensive spread of such global conspiratorial thought was dramatically revealed recently by the Egyptian television series Horseman without a Horse, which made use of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a historical source, and the spread in the Arab media of medieval Christian blood libel charges — that Jews kill non-Jewish children in order to use their blood for ritual purposes.
This development should be taken seriously. It should neither be treated as a somewhat exaggerated manifestation of an understandable reaction to Israeli and American policies, nor should it be bracketed as a result of the dualistically grounded fear that focusing on it can only further Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Grasping its political significance, however, requires understanding modern anti-Semitism. On the one hand, modern anti-Semitism is a form of
essentializing discourse that, like all such forms, understands social and historical phenomena in biologistic or culturalistic terms. On the other hand, anti-Semitism can be distinguished from other essentializing forms, such as most forms of racism, by its populist and apparently antihegemonic, antiglobal character. Whereas most forms of race thinking commonly impute concrete bodily and sexual power to the Other, modern anti-Semitism attributes enormous power to Jews, which is abstract, universal, global, and intangible. At the heart of modern anti-Semitism is a notion of the Jews as an immensely powerful, secret international conspiracy.
I have argued elsewhere that the modern anti-Semitic worldview understands the abstract domination of capital — which subjects people to the compulsion of mysterious forces they cannot perceive — as the domination of International Jewry.
Anti-Semitism, consequently, can appear to be antihegemonic. This is the reason why a century ago August Bebel, the German Social Democratic leader, characterized it as the socialism of fools. Given its subsequent development, it could also have been called the anti-imperialism of fools. As a fetishized form of oppositional consciousness, it is particularly dangerous because it appears to be antihegemonic, the expression of a movement of the little people against an intangible, global form of domination. It is as a fetishized, profoundly reactionary form of anti-capitalism that I would like to begin discussing the recent surge of modern anti-Semitism in the Arab World….
Ronnie Fraser, a Jewish UCU member who has been bullied, scorned, ridiculed and treated as though he was a supporter of racism and apartheid for ten years, is going to sue the UCU. His letter to Sally Hunt, written by Anthony Julius, says that UCU has breached ss. 26 and 57 (3) of the Equality Act 2010:
That is to say, the UCU has “harassed” him by “engaging in unwanted conduct” relating to his Jewish identity (a “relevant protected characteristic”), the “purpose and/or effect” of which has been, and continues to be, to “violate his dignity” and/or create “an intimidating, hostile, degrading humiliating” and/or “offensive environment” for him.
The letter alleges a course of action by the union which amounts to institutional antisemitism and it gives examples: annual boycott resolutions against only Israel; the conduct of these debates; the moderating of the activist list and the penalising of anti-boycott activists; the failure to engage with people who raised concerns; the failure to address resignations; the refusal to meet the OSCE’s special represenative on antisemitism; the hosting of Bongani Masuku; the repudiation of the EUMC working definition of antisemitism.
The Equality Act 2010 codifies our society’s rejection of racism even in its subtle and unconscious forms; it is one of the most important victories of the trade union movement and of antiracist struggle. The Equality Act is our Act, passed by a Labour government, a weapon designed to help antiracist trade unionists to defend workers who are subjected to racism.
How is it that a union is itself charged with its violation? The story begins with the campaign to boycott Israeli academia. It began to take root in the predecessor unions AUT and Natfhe after the collapse of the peace process between Israel and Palestine. By 2005, AUT Congress passed motions to boycott Haifa and Bar Ilan Universities on spurious grounds. There was a mass membership revolt in the union, an unprecedented recall conference was called, there was a whole day of debate, following debates on campuses up and down the country and the boycott movement was democratically defeated. But then Congress shrunk back to its usual size, the hard core activists reasserted their control and the mood to single out Israelis for punishment gained ground on the British left more generally.
There has been an unhappy and unstable stalemate in the union since. UCU Congress passes resolutions to support boycotts of Israel and only Israel; the boycotters and the Socialist Worker Party are allowed their demagogy, but they know that the leadership of UCU won’t ever implement a boycott because they all know that it would violate antiracist law in the UK. The rhetoric ratchets up, the Jews are bullied out and the union does nothing at all to help Israelis or Palestinians.
With the boycott campaign, which is antisemitic in its effect though not in its intent, comes an antisemitic poltical culture. Anyone who opposes the boycott is accused of being an apologist for Israeli human rights abuses; Jews who do not define themselves as antizionists are suspected of being Zionists; Zionists are denounced as supporters of racism, oppression, war, apartheid. Nazism and imperialism. People who are concerned about antisemitism are routinely accused of raising the issue in bad faith in order to try to de-legitimise what is always called “criticism of Israel”.
Now we have reached a tipping point. The government has found UCU’s weak spot, its institutional racism, and it has begun targetting it.
What will UCU do? There are two factions inside the decision making structures of the union. There are the hard core antizionists and then there are the grownups.
The antizionists will storm with anger that UCU is being sued. They will say that it is a matter of principle that UCU should defend its independence from the courts and that it should defend its own democratic structures and its right to make whatever policy it chooses. They will say that the Israel lobby is conspiring against the union, that it is hugely powerful, that it is in cahoots with those who want to privatise education, that it is playing the antisemitism card in bad faith and that it is putting trade union solidarity at risk. They will say that there is no question of antisemitism in the union and they will at all times try to construct the question as a debate about Israel and Palestine. The antizionists will be tempted to treat their right to demonize Israel as more important than building a united defence of education. They will say that the fight against the Zionists is the same fight as the fight against the education cuts.
The grownups in the union, including the trustees, and including the lawyers who will advise the leadership, will want to settle this court action and to make it go away. They will be worried about the immense cost to the union of defending its antisemtic record in front of a tribunal, both in terms of money and also in terms of humiliating publicity. They will be worried about the rules of disclosure. They will wonder what the emails between Tom Hickey and Matt Waddup and Sally Hunt and Mike Cushman might reveal if they were made available to Ronnie Fraser. They will remember that the union’s legal advice was withheld even from the National Executive Committee. They will remember that internal complaints by members of the UCU regarding institutional antisemtism were passed to a committee chaired by Tom Hickey, one of the central people responsible for the antisemitic culture in the union.
But what are Ronnie’s terms? The reinstatement of the EUMC definition; an apology from the union for its record of institutional antisemitism; a new code of conduct concerning Jewish members; an ongoing campaign of education within the union about the relationship between antisemitism and antizionism.
It would appear that Ronnie is ready to go to a tribunal. He must know that it will be difficult for the leadership of the union to agree to these terms. Evidently he wants his day in court and he wants to prove his case.
The antizionists will also believe they can win in court. And they will believe that they can blame the Zionists for the huge cost of defending their antisemitic record and for the disruption to UCU unity which will become even worse than it is now. They will think that it is enough to parade a couple of dozen Jewish antizionist academics before the tribunal who will say that the union has an unblemished record on the question of antisemitism.
The grownups will not believe that they can successfully defend UCU’s record on antisemitism before a tribunal and they will know that there is a good chance that UCU will be found by an antiracist tribunal to have breached our own hard-won equality legislation. They will imagine how the antizionist Jews will cope with unrelenting and forensic cross-examination as to the relationship between criticism of Israel, demonization and antisemitism. They will understand that the usual demagogy will fail to impress a tribunal.
The leadership of the union is now between a rock and a hard place.
Will UCU allow itself to be led into a train-wreck in court by the antizionists? Or will the grownups be allowed to open negotiations over how they will recognize, apologze for, and deal with UCU’s problem of institutional antisemitism? But this course of action would be greeted by antisemitic howls from the conspiracy theorists, who would say that Zionist power has forced the union to admit to that of which it is not guilty. Who in the union has either the power or the authority to lead UCU out of this predicament?
Is the British labour movement ‘institutionally anti-semitic’?
Robert Fine and Eric Lee are speaking at the AWL’s ‘Ideas for Freedom’ event on Saturday 9 July.
“On Friday evening, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek gave a lecture in a bookstore in Central Tel Aviv teeming with familiar faces of leftwing activists. It was hosted by Udi Aloni, an Israeli-American artist and BDS activist, who just completed a book entitled What Does a Jew Want, which is edited by Zizek.
Many seem to have come with the expectation to hear Zizek rip into Israel and use his wry wit and charisma in such a bourgeoises Tel Aviv setting to endorse the BDS Movement. Indeed when Udi Aloni introduced Zizek, he identified himself as an activist on behalf of BDS and said he chose the bookstore as a venue in order to not cooperate with any formal Israeli institution.
However, Zizek did not officially endorse or even talk much about BDS – and when he did it was because he was prompted to during Q&A. His two clear statements about BDS were that a) he is not 100% behind it and b)he supports a movement that is initiated jointly by Palestinians and Israeli here in the region.
Rather, Zizek spent almost two hours with the crowd’s undivided attention talking about antisemitism, capitalism and the place of the Jew in the world. He warned that antisemitism is “alive and kicking” in Europe and America and asserted that the State of Israel should worry more about Christian right antisemitism rather than wasting its energy on self-proclaimed Jewish anti-Zionists. He said that the Christian Zionists in America are inherently antisemitic and that Israel’s willingness to embrace their support is baffling.
After establishing the deep-rooted vitality of antisemitism, he mentioned that he has no patience for those who excuse Arab antisemitism; that even the most oppressed and poor Palestinian should not be tolerated for being antisemitic. He also spoke about his well-known argument regarding Zionist antisemitism, whereby Zionists use antisemitic language towards fellows Jews in accusing them of not being Zionist enough. This was his main critique of Israel – its witch hunt against those Jews it finds not “Zionist enough.”
Raincoat Optimist comments:
“What to some might appear like Zizek withholding sympathy for Palestinians, is in actual fact highlighting the paternalism and snobbery of some pro-Palestinians, who believe those who are lesser off than them should be pitied, left to their own devices, and if they express antisemitic views, well, who can blame them, ‘eh, after all they don’t know any better do they, they’re poor – and as all people know poor people are stupid and don’t deserve to be told they’re wrong to blame the Jews for their plight.”
In response to the University and College Union’s Congress Motion 70 to banish the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism, Ben Gidley, an academic who studies racism, has a piece in the Dissent blog Arguing the World, titled ‘The Politics of Defining Racism: The Case of Anti-Semitism in the University and College Union‘, which we have permission to reproduce in full.
My trade union, the University and College Union (UCU, representing professionals in further and higher education in the United Kingdom), has its annual congress this weekend, and, under the title “Campaigning for equality,” will be debating a number of motions on racism and discrimination, including one on how anti-Semitism should be defined.
Unions need policies on such things, because union case work, on relations between employees and management and among colleagues, often involves discrimination and harassment that may be racist. At times like now, when there are huge cuts in higher education and academics are being placed under ever more performance pressure by management, harassment and workplace tensions can increase, and these issues become even more important.
But there are many difficulties in addressing racism.
Racism is mercurial. It mutates over time. Pseudoscientific racial theories are now spouted only by marginal cranks. Notions that different races are different species have come and gone; eugenics has come and gone; words like “Aryan” and “Semitic” are starting to sound quaint. The period since the 1980s has seen the rise of cultural racism, or racism that focuses on cultural differences rather than biological ones.
Racism is promiscuous. It will use whatever materials it has at hand. In the age when the Church dominated European ways of thinking, racism used a Biblical language; Jews were attacked as Christ-killers, black people were condemned as under the curse of Ham. With the modern rise of scientific disciplines, racism had access to a whole new language. When that language was discredited by the Nazi genocide, new forms of expression were found—those others don’t share our way of life, they cook food that smells, they control the media, or they have a culture of criminality.
Racism proceeds through euphemism and code. At various points, “aliens,” “cosmopolitan,” “Zionist,” and “finance capital” have served as euphemisms for Jews; while the Nazis spoke about sub-humans, today’s anti-Semites mutter about Lehman Brothers or Goldman Sachs. Sometimes it is impossible to distinguish the code from what’s behind it—are Muslims hated by racists in Western Europe because of their perceived color and culture, or are North Africans and South Asians hated because they are Muslim?
Some racists wear Ku Klux Klan uniforms, or shave their heads and perform Nazi salutes. But others wear suits and ties and talk about “free speech” or the “rights of the indigenous people.” We’re not against black people, says the British National Party, we’re just for white people. We’re not fascists, says the rebranded National Front in France, we even have a black candidate.
Libraries full of books and journals full of articles are devoted to debating, dissecting, and defining racism in general, and tracking its specific mutations. For every definition or classification proposed, there are qualifications, exceptions, counterexamples, refutations. No one-page definition would be universally accepted by scholars.
But in the streets, in the workplace, and in the courts of law, you need something more straightforward. When a grassroots civil society organization monitors racist incidents, when a union is asked to represent a colleague that has been the victim of racist bullying, when a lawyer prosecutes a racially aggravated crime, when an editorial assistant has to moderate an op-ed comment thread where temperatures have been raised—you might need some kind of working definition to rule the incident in or out. If all racists looked like booted boneheads or evil Nazis, these people would have an easy job.
A few principles have emerged from the anti-racist movement to help decide a case. Three are particularly relevant. First, the victims of racism should have at least some say in defining racism. This principle is reflected, for example, in British law. Following the racist murder and failure to prosecute the killers of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager, in London, there was a thorough review of the case that profoundly changed how the criminal justice system in the United Kingdom addresses these issues, presided over by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny.
The ensuing Macpherson Report in 1999 recommended that a racist incident be defined as “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person,” and reported, recorded, and investigated as such. Of course, the offense taken by someone who sees him or herself as a victim can never be a sufficient criterion for ruling and convicting someone of a racially motivated or aggravated crime, but the victim’s voice should be heard and constitutes at least prima facie grounds for taking the allegation seriously. And this principle also means, for instance, that black people should have a role in defining anti-black racism, that Jews should have a role in defining anti-Semitism, and so on.
Second, racist intent is not necessary for a statement or action to be racist. Acting in good faith, believing oneself not to be racist, and being ignorant of what constitutes racism do not exempt us. In fact, anti-racists have long argued that racism is so pervasive that we are all often unconsciously racist. We are not aware of the implications of our words and actions, of the connotations they have, of the harm they might cause. The issue that matters, in other words, is racist deeds and words, not racist people. Combating racism does not require an inquisition into our souls; it requires attention to the impact of our actions. This principle is taken further in the concept of “institutional racism,” defined initially by Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael, whose words were drawn on in the Macpherson report, which defined it as the
collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.
The key word here is “unwitting”: it is not racist intent that matters, but the harm done. Saying “some of my best friends are black” doesn’t let you off the hook.
Third, context matters. A word might be racist in one context but not another. This principle is well established in British case law around racially aggravated crimes. For instance, in the case Director of Public Prosecutions v M 2004, the Divisional Court held that the phrase “‘bloody foreigners’ could, depending on the context, demonstrate hostility to a racial group.” This was cited in Rogers v Regina 2007, when one of the judges, Baroness Hale, said, “The context will illuminate what the conduct shows.” For example, the word “Zionist” means something very different in the name of the Zionist Federation than it would if a BNP member were to walk into a synagogue and shout, “Kill the Zionists.”
DEFINING ANTI-SEMITISM has become one of the most difficult instances of defining racism. This is partly because of the particularly strange mutation of anti-Semitism in recent years, including the emergence of what has contentiously been called “the new anti-Semitism.”
Far-right anti-Semitic movements increasingly borrow the language of anti-Zionism as a cover for their racism, and far-right anti-Semitic ideas have in turn increasingly gained traction among anti-Zionists. For example, anti-Zionists have taken up the old Christian anti-Semitic “blood libel” myth, while neo-Nazis have taken up ideas from the anti-Zionist movement, such as the idea of an all-powerful “Israel lobby.” So, while the British Chief Rabbi’s claim that we are experiencing a “tsunami of anti-Semitism” is almost certainly exaggerated, it is certainly the case that there has been a surge in the last decade.
This surge has mainly been seen in different sorts of places than where anti-Semitism has traditionally been encountered. In fact, it is often expressed by the intelligent, thoughtful, anti-racist academics who make up UCU’s rank and file.
In 2008, for example, a union activist circulated an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory taken from the website of the Ku Klux Klan’s David Duke to hundreds of union members on its activist list. When this was mentioned on a blog, rather than apologizing, she took the advice of a senior union member and threatened legal action, getting the blog closed down. To my knowledge, this activist was never censured within the union. (In contrast, leading campaigners against an academic boycott of Israel were excluded from the same email list for minor infringements of etiquette.) Several Jewish academics resigned in what they saw as the rise of a culture of institutional anti-Semitism.
The following year, a senior union member posted an article to a website circulating another anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, complaining that Jews are overrepresented in Parliament and that Tony Blair’s New Labour project is in thrall to Zionist money distributed by suspicious “shape-shifting” financiers. A couple of months later, a UCU branch secretary, speaking at a UCU congress fringe meeting, promoted yet another anti-Semitic conspiracy theory: lawyers ruling on union boycott policy have “bank balances from Lehman Brothers that can’t be tracked down.” Again, no censure from the union. The same year, UCU hosted South African trade unionist Bongani Masuku, allowing him to address UCU members on boycotting Israel, despite the fact that the South African Human Rights Commission (HRC) had found Masuku guilty of hate speech against Jews.
These incidents might suggest that there is a need for action and robust guidance on anti-Semitism within the union. Instead, the leadership has insisted on seeing all these instances as nothing other than legitimate criticisms of Israel. In 2006, the union executive published a formal statement denying that “criticism of the Israeli government is in itself anti-Semitic” and claiming that “defenders of the Israeli government’s actions have used a charge of anti-Semitism as a tactic in order to smother democratic debate, and in the context of Higher Education, to restrict academic freedom.” This was formalized as union policy at its 2007 congress, which resolved that “criticism of Israel cannot [emphasis added] be construed as anti-semitic”—a motion that seems to me to deny the obvious reality that some criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. The following year, another policy passed, clarifying it: “Criticism of Israel or Israeli policy are [sic] not, as such, anti-semitic.” Again, the resolution did not acknowledge that some criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.
By 2009, there had been so many resignations from the union because of this sort of thing that a motion was put to the congress noting the resignations and mandating that the national executive investigate the causes. This was rejected by a large majority.
When it was pointed out to UCU that its guest Bongani Masuku had been criticized by the HRC, rather than taking this institution and its findings seriously, the UCU dismissed this as “stuff doing the rounds on the internet”—shocking ignorance of post-apartheid South Africa for a union whose leaders regularly use the apartheid analogy to describe Israel, but also an a priori refusal to take racism against Jews as seriously as other racisms. A motion to UCU congress noting the HRC’s findings and disassociating congress from Masuku’s anti-Semitic views was formally rejected by an overwhelming show of hands. This near-unanimity in rejecting criticism of anti-Semitism led to a number of resignations from the union, from Jewish colleagues who took it as a sign that anti-Semitism was thoroughly institutionalized in it.
The culture in the UCU has been to dismiss in advance any criticism of racism against Jews, seeing it as merely a tactic to smother debate and criticism. While a handful of anti-Zionist Jews have applauded this, many academics from the Jewish community have felt increasingly isolated, their own understanding of racism not taken seriously, violating the principle that the victims of racism should have some voice in its definition. The a priori dismissal of allegations of anti-Semitism follows what David Hirsh has called “the Livingstone formulation”—the claim that allegations of anti-Semitism are made in bad faith to stifle debate. By alleging that Jews are merely crying anti-Semitism to stop people talking about Israel, the UCU leadership cries Israel to stop people talking about anti-Semitism.
WHICH BRINGS us up to the present, and the latest motion on anti-Semitism. This motion notes “with concern [that] the so-called ‘EUMC working definition of anti-Semitism,’ while not adopted by the EU or the UK government and having no official status,” is being used by student unions in relation to campus activities. It states a belief that “the EUMC definition confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine anti-Semitism, and is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus.” Then it resolves that the union do three things: not make use of the definition (“e.g. in educating members or dealing with internal complaints”), disassociate itself from the definition in anypublic discussion on the matter in which the UCU is involved, and “campaign for an open debate on campus concerning Israel’s past history and current policy, while continuing to combat all forms of racial or religious discrimination.”
Every clause of the motion is deeply problematic. What is this “so-called” EUMC working definition? The EUMC was the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, an agency of the European Union. It was itself preceded by the Commission on Racism and Xenophobia (CRX), established in 1994, known as the Kahn Commission. The CRX became the EUMC in 1998 with an official mandate from the European Commission. Among other things, the EUMC published one of the most important studies of Islamophobia in Europe, in 2002, summarizing several separate reports on specific aspects of Islamophobia from the member states of the EU. In 2007 the EUMC became the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA). The FRA has continued the important work of the EUMC in documenting anti-Roma racism and homophobia across Europe.
It reports annually on discrimination and fundamental rights in the EU, and therefore reports on anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic incidents. It is only natural that it should seek a standard, usable, operational definition of anti-Semitism, just as its massive Islamophobia report set out a working definition of that form of racism. To this end, it published a one-page working definition in 2005. This has been adopted by the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Enquiry into Anti-Semitism in 2006, by several branches of the National Union of Students (NUS), and more recently by the NUS itself.
The text defined anti-Semitism thus: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” In the fifth line, it continued: “In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” Note, not “do” but “could,” and not Israel as such but Israel “conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” It proceeds to give examples of what anti-Semitic incidents might look like. These include stereotyping Jews, including the myth of a “world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media,” as well as holding all Jews responsible for the actions of some Jews.
Then, it gives examples of how anti-Semitism might manifest itself with regard to Israel, which David Hirsh summarizes concisely:
It may, in some contexts, be anti-Semitic to accuse Jews of being more loyal to Israel than to their union; to say Israel is a racist endeavour; to apply double standards; to boycott Israelis but not others for the same violations; to say that Israeli policy is like Nazi policy; to hold Jews collectively responsible for the actions of Israel.
And here too there is a caveat in the working definition: these might be anti-Semitic, “taking into account the overall context.” In other words, talking about hidden Lehman Brothers bank accounts might be completely legitimate in the context of analyzing the subprime collapse, but not when talking about the politics of people who just happen to be Jews and have no connection to the bank, at a time when conspiracy theories about it are circulating on the Internet.
After the list of examples, the report insists, “However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled at any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.” This sentence is important, and its existence refutes the second clause of the UCU motion, that “the EUMC definition confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine anti-Semitism, and is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus.” Not only does the motion name no instances when this has happened (because it is highly unlikely any such instances have ever occurred), but the working definition itself explicitly avoids the claim that criticism of Israel “in itself” is to be regarded as anti-Semitic.
FOR ALL the reasons I’ve made clear in this article, any definition of any racism is bound to be imperfect, and the EUMC working definition is no exception. I would not want it to be included without amendment in employment law, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for it to be adopted by the UK government—and, indeed, I’ve not heard of any of the working definition’s advocates arguing it should be. (In fact, it would be bizarre if the British state did adopt it formally, as the government has affirmedthat it includes anti-Semitism among the racisms covered by the Macpherson definition of a racist incident discussed above—an incident “perceived to be racist by the victim.” That definition is significantly broader than the EUMC’s.)
But the EUMC definition is a guide, a working definition, and this makes it useful in deciding when, for example, to take seriously and investigate an internal complaint. The working definition could never be used to definitively rule an incident in or out. Its uses of “could” and “context” make this clear. The specific context of an internal complaint would always have to be the determining factor. To resolve to make no use of the document in such circumstances is therefore ridiculous. Similarly, it might be useful in an education setting as a heuristic device for examining different manifestations of racism—also perversely ruled out by the motion.
For the union to disassociate itself from the working definition in any public discussion of anti-Semitism is beyond ridiculous. It means insisting that all of the organizations that do take the working definition seriously—the Community Security Trust (CST), which monitors anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom; the NUS; the Union of Jewish Students; the Fundamental Rights Agency; the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe—are dismissed in advance. It undermines their work on anti-Semitism, and it undermines their vital work on anti-Roma racism, Islamophobia, and other racisms.
In the workplace, as the CST’s director writes, this “will serve to (even) further alienate Jews from the union; and it will make it (even) harder for anti-Semitism to be raised there as a matter of concern….[I]t carries the implication that people who complain about anti-Semitism in any Israel-related context are likely to be a bunch of liars, dancing to a pre-ordained tune.”
As an academic who studies racism, I find it bizarre that my union cannot accept that there is even the faintest possibility that institutional racism might exist in our own ranks, even after a series of clearly documented incidents and a shocking number of resignations by Jewish members who perceive it as such. This motion, if passed, will in fact legitimate racism in the union and stop any allegation of anti-Semitism—in debates or in the workplace—from being taken seriously. That the motion will be tabled in a session entitled “Campaigning for equality” is ironic, but the irony tastes bitter indeed.
Gahda Karmi had already said she was pulling out. She’s the one who thought that “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s UN speech on 21 April struck many as obnoxious, but in terms of understanding the 1948 roots of the Middle East conflict he was spot on.” She also thought that after ‘the Holocaust and all this business’, as she put it, masses of ‘alien’ Jews started to pour in to Palestine. These Jews were nothing like the Jews they were used to: these new Jews were pale and blue-eyed, but most of all they were ‘complicated’, ‘very difficult to deal with’, and they were bringing ‘their miserable lives’ with them.
John Rose had also said he was pulling out. Remember John Rose, brought up in a “Zionist home”?
Alan (“some of my best friends are Jewish“) Hart was also billed to speak.
The event had been promoted by groups including the Stop the War Coalition, the white nationalist Stormfront movement, and the Real IRA, according to the Jewish Chronicle report here.
This piece by David Hirsh is published in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian.
The campaign to boycott Israel has won a victory by persuading the University of Johannesburg to end its scientific collaboration with Ben Gurion University (BGU). In Britain, the campaign has made headway among some trade union activists but no university anywhere has considered actually refusing to work with people based at Israeli institutions. Such a policy would break anti-racist law in Britain and violate the norm that the work of scholars is what counts, not their national origin.
South African support is priceless for the boycotters because they make their case worldwide by saying that a boycott of Israel would be similar to the ANC’s boycott of apartheid. Heroes of the anti-apartheid movement back the campaign and anti-Zionist Jews try to indemnify it against the whiff of anti-Semitism that lingers around it. People assume that if South Africans say Israel is apartheid and if some Jews say that the boycott is legitimate, then they are probably right.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel, says that UJ’s decision “is a commendable step in the direction of ending relations with Israeli institutions” and it adds, breathlessly. “This decision is guaranteed to resound around the globe!” So it is surprising that Ihron Rensburg, the principal of UJ, says that UJ does not “subscribe to an academic boycott of Israel”. David Newman, a dean at BGU, sees it differently: “ostensibly, UJ objects to the policies practiced by BGU … but in reality, it’s the first institutional boycott of an Israeli university.”
Rensburg’s attempt to spin the decision is disappointing. It relies on a spurious distinction between “institutional links” and “individual engagements”. But universities are self-managed collectives of academics who research and teach. Scholars are supported, and their academic freedom is underwritten, by their institutions. You cannot have a victimless boycott against universities without boycotting individuals. BGU, in the desert, is renowned for its work on water systems in arid conditions. Some of its scientists were helping to develop, with UJ colleagues, ways of bringing fresh, clean water to more South Africans. UJ has decided, for political reasons, to end this collaboration.
UJ scholars should be able to recognise an apartheid institution. The Rand Afrikaans University, from which it is descended, was set up as an apartheid project. Even its buildings were symbolically laid out in the shape that the wagons formed when under attack during the Great Trek.
Israeli universities are not part of a racist project; they are autonomous academic institutions like others across the democratic world. BGU does not support the occupation of the Palestinian territories. It has stood up against those on the Israeli right who seek to interfere with its academic norms and antiracist practices. It defends its own critical scholars, even those who go round the world calling on people to boycott their colleagues. Twenty percent of BGU students are Arabs and scholars at the university are involved in many joint projects with Palestinian colleagues.
Israel is not an apartheid state. Jews were forced out of European and Middle Eastern countries by racist boycotts and violence, including exclusions from universities. They went to Israel as refugees not imperialists. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians was never inevitable and neither nation is free from responsibility for the oppression and the bloodshed. If the conflict is to be ended, it will be through the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Israel and Palestine are not, like South Africa, a single but divided nation. Compare the ANC charter, which guaranteed in advance rights for minorities in a democratic state, to the Hamas charter, which calls for the killing of Israelis and the creation of an Islamist state.
Umberto Eco, the Italian intellectual, considers it “fundamentally racist to identify a scholar, a private citizen, with the politics of his government”. No wonder then, that UJ pretends this is not what it is doing.
The boycott campaign is not motivated by anti-Semitism, but wherever it goes, anti-Semitism follows. One of its leaders, Bongani Masuku, a Cosatu official, has been found guilty by the South African Human Rights Commission of hate speech. Jews around the world are routinely treated as supporters of apartheid if they dare to oppose the boycott campaign.
When you educate people to boycott only Israel, when you tell them that all Israelis are responsible for human-rights abuses, when you mobilise a global campaign to say that Israel is uniquely racist, and when this campaign becomes central to progressive politics globally, you are, whether you know it or not, incubating anti-Semitic ways of thinking. When ears are closed to concern about anti-Semitism on the basis that such concern is a marker of secret support for Israeli human rights abuses, then you know there is a problem.
UJ has chosen to boost the international campaign to exclude Israelis, and nobody else, from the global academic community. It is legitimising an anti-Semitic boycott, it is distorting the memory of the anti-apartheid struggle and it is depriving South Africans of clean-water technology.
Dr David Hirsh is lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. Hirsh is also the founding editor of http://www.engageonline.org.uk
A guest post by Lewisham Councillor Michael Harris on Bob From Brockley relates how, on Holocaust Memorial Day, John Hamilton of Lewisham People Before Profit heckled a rabbi to include Gaza in a list of genocides he was commemorating. Comparing what is endured by Gazans to the systematic attempt to kill off an entire people is blatantly wrong. And, as Bob From Brockley comments, we can “seriously doubt Hamilton would shout out “Gaza” if the speaker had been an Imam talking about genocides”. It is an appalling thing to have suggested, intolerable on Holocaust memorial day.
And if this was simply inept advocacy for Palestinians, it’s also an indication of how far the prejudiced idea that Jews in general are culpable for the circumstances of Palestinians has infused this good cause with antisemitism.