To Sally Hunt regarding UCU’s Holocaust Memorial Day film

An email to Sally Hunt from UCU member Vanessa Freedman. She sent it on 12th December last year and has yet to receive a reply. Meanwhile she posts it here.

Dear Sally

Thank you for your invitation to take part in the Holocaust Memorial Day film. I have no testimony to share as none of my family was directly affected by the Holocaust. In any case I have grave reservations about this project, which seems like mere window dressing given the UCU leadership’s continued refusal to address the issue of institutional antisemitism within the union – to the extent that one Jewish member has been driven to take legal action.

The Congress motion on antisemitism in 2009 that instructed  the NEC to organise events on Holocaust Memorial Day failed to mention antisemitism within the union; an amendment proposed by my branch – instructing the NEC also to investigate the reasons for resignations from UCU members apparently in connection with perceptions of institutional antisemitism – was defeated at Congress. Such an amendment should have been unnecessary: when letters to you include statements such as ‘I, like many others, can no longer bear the shame and embarrassment of belonging to an institution which is willing to discriminate against Jews, and whose readiness to do so is supported by leading members of its Executive Committee’ (Eve Garrard, 1 July 2008), and ‘this is the only organization with which I have been involved in which I have been made to feel uncomfortable as a Jew’ (Dov Stekel, 2008) you and the NEC should have taken these seriously.

Other instances of concern to Jewish and other members include UCU’s invitation to Bongani Masuku to speak at a seminar to discuss a boycott of Israel, even though the South African Human Rights Commission had deemed that Masuku’s statements amounted to hate speech against the country’s Jewish community; and Congress’s rejection of the EUMC definition of antisemitism, which has led to more resignations and statements like ‘whether intentionally or otherwise, this has made UCU an even more uncomfortable place for Jewish members than it was previously … your repeated claim that UCU abhors anti-Semitism is not borne out by the evidence; rather, the evidence points overwhelmingly in the other direction … I sent you three emails on related issues in 2008 … I think you would agree that a trade union which abhorred anti-Semitism would take such emails from an ordinary member seriously. Regrettably, I never received a reply to any of them … I no longer wish to contribute my money to an organisation which has a problem with institutionalised anti-Semitism’ (James Mendelson, 14 July 2011).

Unless you and the NEC are prepared to take these concerns seriously, initiatives to mark Holocaust Memorial Day are an empty, even cynical, exercise.

Regards

Vanessa Freedman

When I say Israelis I don’t mean Jews; and when I say Jews I mean Israelis.

Mark Gardner over at the CST blog writes about the recent exchange of views on Caryl Churchill’s antisemitic play “Seven Jewish Children”. The original article is here.

From Kosher Conspiracy to Seven Jewish Children

By Mark Gardner.

Contemplation of the high (or low) points of contemporary British antisemitic discourse in recent years brings four episodes to mind, all of which are emblematic of the collapse in left-liberal elite sensitivities to antisemitism:

1.   January 2002. The New Statesman cover reading “A Kosher Conspiracy?” and showing a golden Star of David piercing a supine Union Jack. This has been widely quoted (by CST and others) as evidence that the left intelligentsia no longer recognised or cared about modern day antisemitism, even when it hit them in the face. The New Statesman belatedly – sort of – apologised.

2.   May 2003. The assertion by (then) ‘Father of the House’, Tam Dalyell MP, that “a cabal of Jewish advisors” surounded Prime Minister Tony Blair. Dalyell was criticised for this, but the criticism was by no means universal and he and his supporters denied that the outburst was antisemitic.

3. January 2009. The explosion of Israel equals Nazi Germany comparisons at the time of the Gaza conflict. For many Jews and others, this confirmed that the demonisation of Israel had become both limitless and detached from reality. The fear was concretised by the unprecedented outbursts of antisemitic race hate crimes at this time.

4. February 2009. The first performance of Seven Jewish Children, by esteemed playwright Caryl Churchill and carried on the Guardian website.

(Of course, there are hundreds of other examples that one can alight upon, but these stick in the forefront of my mind.)

Reflecting upon these four events, I cannot recall or see where either the New Satesman or Tam Dalyell suffered any serious reputational damage within their own circles: and this is surely not unconnected to the enthusiastic and urgent reception subsequently afforded to Walt and Mearsheimer’s book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy (2006). Basically, so long as you stuck to Israel, pro-Israel or Zionist, rather than Jew, you were (and remain) bang on trend.

The malaise and the conceit burrrowed so deep, that the Guardian could run aneditorial (24 July 2008) stating

When a presumptive US presidential candidate arrives in Jerusalem, he willingly dons a jacket designed by Israeli tailors.

Similarly, the profusion of Israel equals Nazi Germany comparisons never really impacted upon those who had made the equation, nor upon those who silently stood by. Besides, similar things had been said with depressing regularity by politicians and journalists since at least 2002, and none of them had really suffered for it either.

When Conservative Party-linked East European politicians try to relativise the Holocaust by comparing it to the suffering of their non-Jewish populations under Communism, then of course the intelligentsia hits top gear…but properly and consistently criticise people here in Britain for comparing Israeli Jews with Nazis, no way! Besides, this is Israel that’s being condemned and that’s not the same as Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

Seven Jewish Children, however, does not fit these patterns. It is not about a Jewish conspiracy that can be entirely kosherised so long as you remember to call it a pro-Israeli conspiracy. Neither is it about granting permission to relatavise the Holocaust, so long as you do it with Israel as the target. Instead, Caryl Churchill completes the circle, by writing a play about Israel and Israelis that is entirely referenced to Jews, Jewish history and Jewish emotions.

There is at least a certain honesty in this. The play, far more than most anti-Israel propaganda, at least acknowledges (both implicitly and explicitly) the centrality of Jews, Jewish history and Jewish emotions to everything concerning Israel. Nevertheless, the antisemitic resonance of the play (primarily the extent and meaning of its concentration upon the blood of the children who are the Jews’ victims) has seen it become a celebrated fault-line in the superheated arguments regarding what is and is not antisemitic in regard to Israel.

The fault-line has been spewing once more this week, in the Guardian letters page with Caryl Churchill taking exception to Jonathan Freedland’s citation (in the Guardian) of Anthony Julius’s deconstruction of the play. (Extracted from Julius’s brilliant analysis of British literary antisemitism, contained in his book, Trials of the Diaspora. Of course, the book itself has become another fault-line in the battle.)

Freedland’s excellent piece (analysed here on CST Blog) was published in the Guardian on 3 March. Churchill replied in the letters page the following day, saying (in part)

Jonathan Freedland (G2, March 3) denies that criticism of Israel is often wrongly called antisemitism. His point isn’t helped by quoting Anthony Julius’s allegation that my play Seven Jewish Children “tap[s] into the ‘blood libel’”. The line he is referring to is “tell her there’s dead babies, did she see babies?” It refers to babies killed in the attack on Gaza in 2009 and shown on TV. When people hear of babies killed in a war, they don’t usually think of medieval accusations of Jews consuming Christian children’s blood, but of babies killed in a war…

This prompted Julius to reply (in part)

…In this play, Jews confess to lying to their own children and killing Palestinian children. They also confess to something close to a project of genocide. And they freely acknowledge the source of their misanthropy to be Judaism itself.

None of this seems to bother Churchill – nor, indeed, the Guardian. As she correctly notes, the play is available on your website.

Next, Churchill replied to Julius

…What he doesn’t seem to realise is that these lines are not spoken as he suggests by “Jews” in general but by individual Israelis, desperate to protect their own child, during an attack of disproportionate violence on Gaza…It should be possible to pillory the defensive self-righteousness and racism of some – not all – Israelis without being called antisemitic.

For now (at any rate) the Guardian Letters page appears to have called time on its hosting of this particular debate. The arguments will, of course, continue, but there are two things that need saying right now.

Firstly, Normblog has this to say on Churchill’s “individual Israelis” argument

Her play wasn’t anti-Semitic because it featured individuals, rather than Jews as a category…

…And this is a playwright, with some knowledge of cultural matters! One is bound to wonder why anyone ever had a worry about Shylock in The Merchant of Venice…

Secondly, there is the point that my colleague Dave Rich and I made in our Comment is Free article, at the time of the Guardian’s own production of Seven Jewish Children

It is Jewish thought and behaviour that links the play together, not Israel. The words Israel, Israelis, Zionism and Zionist are not mentioned once in the play, while Jews are mentioned in the title and in the text itself. We are often told that when people talk about Israel or Zionists, it is mischievous to accuse them of meaning Jews. Now, we are expected to imagine that a play that talks only of Jews, in fact, means Israelis.

The play is only eight minutes long. We wrote the above almost two years ago. One does not need to be an anti-racist theoretician, a leading playwright, nor a literary critic to get the absurdity of saying

When I say Israelis I don’t mean Jews; and when I say Jews I mean Israelis

Then again, isn’t that the same absurdity that lay, back in the day, behind the New Statesman and Tam Dalyell getting let off the anti-racist hook?

Public meeting – no zionists, no undesirables allowed

Further to a JC article describing how senior figures in the Manchester Jewish community were ordered out of a meeting hosting Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, Manchester PSC Chair Linda Clair has had the following letter published in the Jewish Chronicle :

When are you going to start telling the truth and not a completely distorted version of the facts? I was the chair of the Gideon Levy meeting you report (JC August 27). Michael Samuels and his two companions did not actually enter the meeting to start with. They were outside the room when I asked Mr Samuels his name and where he came from. He replied and said he came from Manchester. I told him and his companions that they would not be allowed in – that Zionists were not wanted in that meeting. Mr Levy, who was already in the meeting room, and was standing behind me, asked me to let them in, which I did, only at his request. This was before he spoke to them. Whatever they said to him certainly did not influence my decision to allow them in, I had legal advice that although it was a public meeting, it was on private property and so we were well within our rights to exclude any undesirables. In case you want to label me antisemitic, I am not, I am an anti-Zionist Jew, and I know the difference between the two, even if you choose not to.

Linda Clair

I won’t comment on the letter because it speaks for itself (I should however point out that Manchester JFJFP’s promotion of the meeting was simply to send an email with details of the meeting and they were not involved in organising the meeting itself).


Johnny Rotten to play in Israel despite receiving hate mail.

An Engage reader emails :

I just heard an interesting interview with Johnny Rotten (original Sex Pistols front man) on BBC 6 music website where he discusses his band PIL’s upcoming concert in Israel. Mentions some interesting things about the hate mail he has been getting trying to get him to cancel. He dismisses the idea of boycotting Israel in an interesting way. Says he will be making his usual anti-all governments stance clear when there, but that it is ignorant to suggest boycotting fans and that he will be making his trouble musically:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/6music/news/20100712_johnlydon2.shtml?

Looking elsewhere, it seems like he is coming under a lot of pressure. Bristol PSC are planning to picket his gig in Bristol next week for example:

http://www.bristol.indymedia.org.uk/article/692716?show_preferences=true

Hat-tip to A.S.

Vienna is different

This is a guest post by Karl Pfeifer

The city of Vienna made a promotional campaign with the slogan “Wien ist anders”, Vienna is different. And Vienna after the Second World War was different insofar as it did not call back its former Jewish citizens and it also tolerated anti-Semitism in politics and the media for several decades.

After the publication of Carl Schorske’s book “Fin de siècle in Vienna” the city of Vienna discovered that the world wanted to know more about the blooming of culture in Vienna and about those Jews who contributed to it. Since then the city of Vienna has a Jewish Museum and Michael Häupl, the Social democratic mayor of Vienna condemned the anti-Semitic election campaign in 2001 by the FPÖ of Jörg Haider.

Therefore it was a surprise to the Jewish community when the Vienna City Council (Wiener Gemeinderat) voted unanimously on an anti-Israeli resolution initiated by Omar al Rawi, a Social democratic member of city council.

Erwin Javor and Peter Menasse of the Jewish periodical “Nu” sent three letters to Godwin Schuster, the Social democratic President of the Council. They received no answer.

The first letter:

We call upon the Vienna city council in continuation of its foreign policy activities and in line with its unanimous Resolution of May 31, 2010 condemning Israel to consider the following resolution:
“The world has learnt with shock and horror about the massacre of the Uzbek Minority in Kyrgyzstan where at least 124 victims lost their life. The Viennese city council condemns this brutal behaviour against peaceful people.”
Kindly transmit this demand to the members of Vienna city council
With best regards
Erwin Javor, Publisher NU
Peter Menasse, editor NU

Second letter:

Regarding the new foreign policy engagement of the Viennese City Council we propose the following resolution:
“The world has learnt with shock and horror the news of the execution of the Sunnite leader Abdolmalek Rigi in an Iranian jail. The City Council of Vienna condemns this brutal behaviour against dissenters.”
We take note of the fact that our draft resolution sent to you several days ago concerning the massacre of the Uzbek Minority in Kyrgyzstan has apparently not been dealt with.
However we hope that the foreign policy engagement of the City Council of Vienna will not be restricted exclusively to the condemnation of the State of Israel. If so, we would be interested to know the reasons.
Hoping for an answer now.

The third letter:

Today we send a further proposal for a resolution by the City Council of Vienna. Concerning recent foreign policy engagement of this board we propose the following resolution:
“According to the umbrella organization of Kurdish Associations in Austria Kurds are terrorised in Turkey by its Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said that Kurds would ‘drown in their own blood’. The City Council of Vienna expresses its consternation and calls upon the Turkish government to grant the Kurdish population full minority rights.”
We would like remind you that we still have received no answer to our two previous suggestions for foreign policy resolutions. Is only Israel attracting the attention of Vienna City council? How does it come to this peculiar and so far unique distinction by the City council?
Still waiting for your answer
With best regards etc.

Foreign people should consider the slogan “Vienna is different” as a dangerous threat. And you can inform the president of Vienna City Council G. Schuster : godwin.schuster@spw.at that anti-Semitism manifests itself by applying one standard to the State of Israel and another to the behaviour of any other nation.

Anti-Semitism – an issue for everyone

David Hirsh’s letter in the Jerusalem Post in response to this article.

Anti-Semitism – an issue for everyone

Sir, – David Newman expresses one facet of a complex reality (“Smoke screen strategies,” December 15) when he says that sometimes right-wing Jewish voices portray criticism as though it were anti-Semitism. Rabbi Eliezer Melamed’s blood libel accusation against Defense Minister Ehud Barak is a case in point.

But by failing to take seriously the anti-Semitic potentiality of the contemporary anti-Zionist movements, Newman does little to untangle the knotted relationship between anger with Israel and hostility toward Jews. We have seen how the campaign to exclude Israelis, and only Israelis, from the global academic, cultural and economic community brings anti-Semitic ways of thinking wherever it goes. We have seen activists accusing anti-boycott lawyers of being financed by stolen Lehman Brothers money. We have seen a man found guilty of hate speech in South Africa being hosted by trade unions in the UK. We have seen “critics of Israel” drawing on far-Right conspiracy theory. We have seen any attempt to raise the issue of anti-Semitism routinely howled down by the cry, “Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic!”

The threat of contemporary anti-Semitism, including when it comes packaged in the language of Israel criticism, is real. There will be a significant stream of opinion at the Global Forum Against Anti-Semitism, which is critical of both anti-Semitism and Israeli human rights abuses. Anti-Semitism ought not to be allowed to appear as a right-wing issue.

Of course, it does not help the fight against anti-Jewish racism that this conference is hosted by Avigdor Lieberman, a man who has done nothing to demonstrate an understanding of how best to oppose racist ways of thinking.

DAVID HIRSH

Delegate to the Global Forum

London

In support of the Jerusalem Quartet performance

After reading Gene’s reminder “Equally, boycott opponents have a right, and a duty, to express themselves as well”, I just sent this (which I’ve tweaked a bit since sending) to BBC and Cadogan Hall addresses listed on PACBI’s ‘call to action against the Jerusalem Quartet’s Proms Appearance’. I hope the links make it through their spam filter.

***

info at cadoganhall dot com
proms at bbc dot co dot uk
and the Quartet.

Hello,

I understand you are coming under pressure from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel to cancel the performance of the Jerusalem Quartet on August 29th.

Hopefully cancellation is out of the question, but given the intensity of PACBI’s campaign, I thought I should contact you with some reasons to go ahead.

If you look at the boycott, divestment and sanction calls PACBI references, it is clear that PACBI and other boycott campaigners such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign are not interested in establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Rather, they are interested in eliminating Israel. This was made clear when PACBI successfully cancelled joint simultaneous peace concerts in Israel and the West Bank. PACBI and the PSC cannot tolerate peace work and move to sabotage it.

http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=1479
http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=1547

Some Israeli political groups and human rights and peace-making NGOs draw a distinction between boycotting the occupation on the one hand, which they view as appropriate, and boycotting Israel in its entirety on the other hand, which they recognise as eliminationist. PACBI and other groups pursue the latter – the entire social, cultural and economic exclusion of Israel. PACBI seeks, indiscriminately, to break links between medical institutions and cultural ones alike. Nothing less than the total pariahdom of Israel will suffice. PACBI is attempting to end Israel’s existence.

Unlike the boycott of South Africa, to which the boycott of Israel is frequently compared, hardly any Israelis call for a boycott. Those who oppose boycott include the Israeli socialist party Hadash and peace-making NGOs such as Gisha (legal centre for freedom of movement), the Abraham Fund for coexistence, and Peace Now (for an end to the occupation). The boycott is widely seen by peace-makers on the ground as counterproductive to peace. It is inarticulate, it causes more of the difference and division which are exascerbating the conflict, and it abandons Israeli peace activists.

http://links.org.au/node/968
http://www.peacenow.org.il/site/en/peace.asp?pi=69&docid=3303&pos=0
http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=1715
http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/07/09/a-cringe-making-boycott-letter/

Israeli authorities have attempted to disrupt Palestinian cultural and academic affairs; I and other anti-boycotters have spoken out against these politically-motivated acts, as I do here.

http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/05/26/protesting-the-israeli-security-forces-disruption-of-palfest/
http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=1940
http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=1029
http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/05/29/student-protester-arrested-on-israeli-campus/

Meanwhile even joint anti-war Jewish and Palestinian Israeli productions such as Plonter are prevented from staging performances in Israel’s neighbouring states; performances are held to ransom as if they could lever peace. And even joint Israeli and Palestinian Israeli relationships are the focus of PACBI’s ongoing attempts to drive a wedge into co-existence between Israel’s Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. Wafa Younis’s life was in danger after she took her youth orchestra, Strings of Freedom, to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day.

http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/03/11/pacbi-drives-a-wedge-into-coexistence-inside-israel/
http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/03/28/good-things/

This is the nature of the cultural boycott.

Israel is unlike South Africa in a crucial way: its neighbours have only recently formally accepted its existence, this acceptance cannot be taken for granted, and there are enduring armed movements which hope to eliminate Israel. In South Africa anti-apartheid activists sought majority rule. In Israel there is majority rule. Israel is the world’s sole Jewish state, which came into existence after the attempted genocide of the world’s Jews. Hamas, Hesbollah and other factions continually preach hatred of Jews, and call this resistance to Israel. Beyond Israel antisemitism is a regional norm.

A total boycott of Israel – the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions of which PACBI’s cultural boycott is part – assists Hamas and other eliminationists by posing an obstacle to peace-making. In short, Israel is not and never has been the sole aggressor in this conflict, nor does it act capriciously or sadistically, as you might think if you were to read only PACBI’s, or only the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s, narrative of the conflict. The settlers must leave the occupied land, reparations must be made to refugees, occupation must end, resources must be equitably distributed, infrastructure must not be used to control and subdue, and Israel’s neighbours must permit Israel to live in peace. In Israel and the occupied territories violence feeds on violence, extremism on extremism. The reason the conflict is intractable is because the causes endure, not because Israel is a brutal state.

Anti-Israel politics are frequently expressed as hostility to Jews. PACBI has been complicit in this, and seeks to diminish concerns about this.

http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/01/06/hamas-threatens-to-kill-jewish-children-anywhere-in-the-world/
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/04/gaza-jewish-community

Boycotters will insist otherwise, but hosting an Israeli orchestra does not amount to acceptance of the decisions and actions of the Israeli government. Nor does it amount to a solution to the conflict.

But societies in conflict are vulnerable to the prejudice, demonisation, dehumanisation and despair which haunts conflicts, and without cultural and social exchange there can be no coexistence. And yet cultural exchanges are under attack not from peace-makers but from those who wish to prolong division.

The last time the Jerusalem Quartet was targeted in the name of Palestine solidarity, the protesters were charged with a racially aggravated offence. Separately, protest leader Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign uses far right antisemitic materials in his arguments on behalf of Palestinians. He is part of a current of thinking that perceives anti-Jewish words and acts as a legitimate part of Palestine solidarity.

http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=1752

The attempt he led to disrupt the concert was met with boos from the large audience at the Queens Hall in Edinburgh.

http://www.edinburghguide.com/festival/2008/edinburghinternationalfestival/jerusalemquartet

I could think of many more reasons not to cancel the Jerusalem Quartet. Some of them would be to do with cultural exchange and some of them would be to do with art.  None of them would be to do with discrediting solidarity with Palestinians under occupation. Israel is engaged in a violent occupation and ongoing settlement of Palestinian lands beyond its own borders. Israel has demonstrated it is willing to turn large parts of Gaza to rubble and make security for ordinary Gazans meaningless in the name of protecting its own security. But the cultural boycott of Israel will not help end the occupation nor the violence – if anything it will exacerbate the division. Additionally I think (unlike boycotters) that the best way for international community to end the occupation is to learn about the conflict, represent it accurately, and demand and take action which addresses the causes of the conflict. The best way for artistic bodies in Britain to reach out to Palestinians living under occupation is to invite Palestinian artists and performers to this country and pursue their travel permits with the Israeli authorities. I would be more than happy to play a part here, should such an initiative arise.

Thanks for reading and best wishes,

Mira

PS.
http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/05/22/tali-shalom-ezer-won’t-do-ken-loach’s-work-for-him/
http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/05/05/msu-jewish-studies-welcomes-honour-to-tutu-but-calls-on-him-to-renounce-israel-boycott/
http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/05/01/boycotters-target-leonard-cohen-as-a-bhuddist-jonathan-freedland/

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