Some unacknowledged assumptions of standard left and liberal opinion are worth acknowledging – David Hirsh

1. Israel is so powerful that it could, if it chose, simply by an act of the will, make peace or defend itself without hurting anybody. That it doesn’t do it is an indication only of the malice and stupidity of its leaders.

2. America is so powerful that bad things happen in the world only if America wills them, or if America is so utterly negligent as to allow them.

3. Yet America is not sufficiently powerful to act for the good or in the spirit of its stated values and norms.

4. These are fundamentally the assumptions of conspiracy theory. We’d rather believe that the bad people were flying the plane, in their own bad interests, then that nobody is at the controls.

5. It is self-infantilization dressed up as skeptical and mature wisdom. We put ourselves in the position of children, powerless next to the grownups. We relieve ourselves of our share of responsibility for what happens in the world by positioning ourselves as victims of the adults. We oppose, we rebel, we speak truth to power, we have tantrums, we declare “not in my name”, but we never take responsibility.

6. Our only anger is with our own adults, who are responsible for everything bad; we have no anger for others, who are fundamentally driven by passion, incapable of reason, victims of circumstance and who are successful in frightening the grown ups more than we can manage; this gives us a frisson of excitement.

7. Sometimes when things go badly it is appropriate to be angry with those responsible, to denounce them and to demonize them; othertimes when things go badly it is appropriate to empathize with perpetrators and to understand why really our own “grownups” are responsible. Which of these two responses is required depends on whether we wish to punish our enemies or whether we wish to infantilize them and find somebody else responsible.

8. If you want to unsettle the grown ups, be nasty to the Jews.  Jews are “us”, “our grownups”, but not quite “us”.  They’re a bit “other” too.

9. There is no legal, moral or political distinction between intentional killing and other sorts of deaths which are deemed to be avoidable. This is also conspiracy theory; if our grownups willed it, deaths by smoking, sugary drinks, poverty, AIDS, war, disease would all be stopped. Our grownups profit for these deaths and so decide not to stop them. This is the same as murder, genocide, crucifixion and ethnic cleansing.

At the demonstration for the Yazidis at the weekend in London there were about 300 people. There was a chant: “Who are the terrorists?”.

Normally, this question is understood as “Who are the REAL terrorists?”. The answer is Israel or America.

At this demonstration, the answer was “ISIS”.

Q. “Who are the Terrorists?”
A. “The Terrorists are the Terrorists”.

A radical subversion of the dominant paradigm.

David Hirsh

Goldsmiths Sociology

COSATU’s threatening response to the South African Jewish Board of Deputies

 The leader of COSATU in the Western Cape, Tony Ehrenreich, has issued a chilling threat directed against South Africa’s Jewish community. Readers may be reminded of another COSATU official, Bongani Masuku, hosted by BRICUP and UCU back in 2009, despite being deemed guilty of hate speech by the South African Human Rights Commission.

If the Jewish Board of Deputies wants to advance a Zionist agenda, they should leave South Africa and go advance their agenda elsewhere. To let these funders of a war against a defenceless people act with impunity in South Africa, is against South Africa’s commitment to the people of Palestine. The Jewish Board of Deputies must be advised in no uncertain terms that if they are not part of the solution then they are part of the problem.

The Jewish Board of Deputies are given until the 07 August 2014 to stop their Zionist propaganda in Cape Town, failing which we will boycott and call strikes at all of their member – and supporting companies and organisations. The Jewish Board of Deputies should know that just because Premier Zille supports them, it does not mean that they can act with impunity against the will of the majority of South Africans.

R. W. Johnson has responded here. He notes the echoes of earlier antisemitic slurs

The constitution guarantees freedom of speech and of the press but in effect Mr Ehrenreich is trying to insist that these rights do not apply to Jews. Secondly, like anti-Semites through the ages he is attempting to insist that the natural loyalty of Jewish people towards the wider Jewish community means that they thereby disqualify themselves from properly belonging to any country. This was the slur that Stalin cast with his talk of “rootless cosmopolitans” during the so-called “Jewish doctors’ plot”. 

and then goes on to identify the inconsistency of Ehrenreich’s approach which singles out Jews for having (perceived) divided loyalties, when similar logic could be applied to Catholics or Muslims:

Yet this weapon is used selectively. After all, it makes just as much sense to attack Catholics for having a supra-national loyalty to the Pope in Rome or Muslims for their loyalty to an international creed centred on Mecca. Logically, Mr Ehrenreich ought to be telling these groups too that they have forfeited their right to belong to the national community and that they too should leave the country. But he doesn’t. He wishes to single out the Jews.

Johnson could have pressed this point further in order to demonstrate the racism inherent in Ehrenreich’s focus on the SAJBD. For supporting Israel’s actions, or at least not wishing to condemn them, is actually very different from professing loyalty to the Pope or holding Mecca in special veneration. The latter two positions are associated exclusively with Catholics and Muslims, whereas many non-Jews have some degree of support or sympathy for Israel. However they will probably not be aligned with a communal organisation such as SABJD, and are most unlikely (unless extremely vocal) to be affected in any way by COSATU’s stand. It is often asserted by Israel’s more zealous critics that the problem is not Jews, but Zionists. However Ehrenreich’s decision to target the SABJD calls that into question, just as did Masuku’s decision to hold an aggressive demonstration outside a Jewish community centre and synagogue back in 2009.

 

 

Challenging antisemitism on Gaza demonstrations: Reposted from the Workers’ Liberty Website.

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Daniel Randall from Workers’ Liberty has written the following which is re-posted from the Workers’ Liberty website.  You can read the original article here.

On the 26 July London demonstration against Israel’s assault on Gaza, I confronted a man who was carrying a placard which read “Research: The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion”, with an image of a Star of David, dripping blood, with “666” in the centre.

The Protocols are an anti-Semitic forgery dating from Tsarist Russia, which purport to expose a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world. They were used in their time, and have been used since, to whip up racist hatred, often violent, against Jews.

I told the man that racism had no place on the demonstration, that his presence harmed the Palestinian cause, and that the document he was promoting was a racist hoax. In the course of what was probably a not very coherent tirade from me, I mentioned that I was Jewish.

“Well, you’re blinded by your bias because you’re a Jew”, he said. “Only Jews make the arguments you’re making.”

Thereafter the “discussion” became more heated, and several onlookers were drawn in. Several people backed me up, but several defended him.

Their defences ranged from, “he’s opposing Zionists, not Jews”, to “he’s not racist, Zionism is racist!”, to the perhaps more honest “Jews are the problem. If you’re a Jew, you’re racist, you’re what we’re demonstrating against.” One man, topless, but wearing a balaclava, said “fuck off, unless you want your fucking head kicked in.”

I walked away, angry and upset. I returned a short while later to find the placard-holder embracing two young men, before leaving. When me and some comrades challenged them, they told us he wasn’t anti-Semitic, merely anti-Zionist. “Look, it says ‘Zion’”, not ‘Jews’. ‘Zion’ means Zionists”, one helpfully informed us.

Explicit anti-Jewish racism of the kind displayed on the man’s placard has been relatively rare on Palestine solidarity demonstrations in Britain. But the fact that it was present at all, and that it could find even a handful of defenders in a crowd of other demonstrators, is deeply worrying. Pointing to its rarity, and dismissing the problem as restricted solely to fringe elements, would bury one’s head in the sand. As recent events in France and Germany have shown, it is an undeniable fact that there are anti-Semites in the global Palestine solidarity movement, and ones prepared to violently express their anti-Semitism. That must not be allowed to infect the movement in Britain.

I don’t know how easy a ride the man and his placard had on the demonstration before myself and others confronted him. Had official stewards of the march seen the placard, and challenged him? Perhaps he’d spent all day under attack from other demonstrators; I hope so. But when I found him, he was perfectly at his ease, and, as it turned out, surrounded by friends. That is a disappointment. If people with such politics want to attend solidarity demonstrations to peddle them, they should find themselves isolated, and face constant harangue. They shouldn’t be entitled to a moment’s peace.

While outward displays of “classical” anti-Semitism are rare, subtler themes are more common. Placards and banners comparing the Israeli state to Nazism, and its occupation of Palestine to the Holocaust, and images melding or replacing the Star of David with swastikas, are, while far from universal, relatively commonplace. The politics of this imagery, too, has an anti-Semitic logic.

Nazism and the Holocaust – an experience of attempted industrialised genocide, just two generations distant – left deep scars on Jewish identity and collective cultural memory and consciousness, wounds that will take a long time to heal. As others have written recently, no other ethno-cultural group has the most traumatic experience in its history exploited in this way. “Zionism = Nazism”, “Star of David = Swastika”, and “The Occupation = The Holocaust” all use collective cultural trauma as a weapon to attack Jews. The fact that those who take such placards on demonstrations intend only to target the Israeli government, and not Jews in general, is no defence or excuse. The barbarism of Israeli state policy does not make the Jewishness of its government fair game, any more than Barack Obama’s imperialism excuses racist attacks on him.

To describe the Palestinian solidarity movement, as such, as “anti-Semitic” would be a calumny. Cynics and right-wingers have attempted to use incidents of anti-Semitism to extrapolate conclusions about the politics of all marchers, or to imply that any support for the Palestinians at all is somehow anti-Semitic. Such cynical extrapolations are not my intention with this article. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of marchers attended because they want to oppose Israel’s current assault on Gaza. The movement includes many Jews (and not just the theocratic reactionaries of Neturei Karta, but secular-progressive Jews too), and many sincere anti-racists. But a situation where anyone thinks it appropriate to carry such a placard, where he can find supporters, and where such people can openly racially abuse Jewish demonstrators who challenge them, is not tolerable and must be addressed.

Right-wingers in the Jewish community will use instances of anti-Semitism to discredit the Palestinian cause, and dissuade Jews from acting to support it. On this, instrumental, level, anti-Semitism harms the Palestinians. But racism should have no place in any solidarity movement, not because it’s bad PR, but because the politics of solidarity should be anathema to any form of racism.

It is now common in the left-wing blogosphere for articles which contain potentially traumatic content to carry “trigger warnings”, alerting those who have experienced particular traumas that something in the article might trigger painful memories of their experience. To attend a demonstration where Nazism and the Holocaust, the worst and most traumatic of Jewish collective experience, is used as a cheap propaganda tool, and openly anti-Semitic placards are carried and defended, while those challenging them are racially abused, must surely be “triggering” for many Jews. But we can’t put trigger warnings on demonstrations, or on life. All we can do is work to win hegemony for a political culture where such things are confronted and stamped out.

Finally, a “historical” note on placards on Palestine solidarity demonstrations. In 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, some Workers’ Liberty members in Sheffield (three of us, incidentally, Jewish) took placards on a demonstration against the assault which, amongst other things, said “No to IDF, no to Hamas.” As it happens, I now think, for various reasons, that our slogan was misjudged. But no-one attempted to engage us in debate or discussion about it; we were simply screamed at, called (variously) “scabs” and “Zionists”, and told we must immediately leave the demo (we didn’t). Our placards were ripped out of our hands and torn to pieces.

As I say, I don’t know how many people had challenged the racist placard on the 2014 London demonstration before me; several, I hope. But the political atmosphere on the demo was evidently not such that the man carrying it felt unwelcome – and, indeed, when he was challenged, many people leapt to his defence.

I don’t make the comparison in order to express a wish that what happened to us in 2009 had happened to him in 2014. I wouldn’t particularly advocate physically destroying the man’s placard, or attempting to physically drive him and his supporters off the demonstration. But a movement in which “no to IDF, no to Hamas” is considered beyond the pale even for debate and discussion, and must be violently confronted, but a placard promoting The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion can be carried without challenge, even for a moment, and its carrier find numerous defenders, needs to change its political culture.

Yachad: strong on peace but quiet on Jewish self-defence – David Hirsh

I think there is nothing in the Yachad statement that is wrong and I think that re-stating our clear committment to peace, to a two state solution, is important; but I suspect there is more which may be said and which Yachad is reluctant to say.
We need to consider the consequences of the possibility that we may be defeated in our efforts to work towards a peace agreement.  This would have important repurcussions both for Israel and for diaspora Jews.

Yachad may be right, that this particular war against Hamas is not forced, and that the Israeli Government should be pressing on towards a peace rather than fighting this war.  We should never stop arguing for a two state solution because there is no other possible peace.  Israel could do better in fighting for peace and it should do better in positiong itself in the public imagination as wanting peace.  But it may still be true that efforts for peace could be defeated.  Hamas was created in order to prevent a peace agreement, its constitution explicitly characterises peace negotiations as “un-Islamic”.  Fatah has been offered a Palestinian state a number of times and has said ‘no’ each time.  We hope that those Palestinians who are for peace will be successful in their struggle against the rejectionists, but we have to think about the possibility of them continuing to be unsuccessful.

Perhaps this war is not necessary, but one day Israel may have to defend itself against Hamas and Hezbollah, maybe ISIS too, maybe the Iranian state, maybe Syria and Iraq.  If Israel has to fight in Gaza or in the cities of the West Bank, many civilians will, unavoidably, die in the fight.

We need to be absolutely clear on the moral, political and legal distinction between the deliberate killing of civilians on one hand and between collateral damage in war, on the other.  Israel does not murder civilians, Israel is not a child-killing state.

Israel takes precautions to avoid civillian casualties.  I believe it should take greater precautions than it already does.  But compared to British and American actions in Syria, Libya and Iraq, the rate of collateral damage caused by Israel is low.  Compared to current struggles in Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, Congo, Libya, Egypt, the absolute numbers, as well as the proportions, of civilians killed is low.    And of course for Hamas and ISIS, killing civilians is not something to be minimized, but on the contrary, terror is the key war-aim.

The danger of antisemitism in the diaspora is significant.  We have seen antisemitic ways of thinking becoming more and more common in certain elite strands of western public opinion – Israel thought of as essentially evil, as illegitimate, as wanting to murder children, as being a key global barrier to peace, as being a keystone of global imperailism etc etc.  This discursive antisemitism is manifesting itself, in small but significant ways on the streets; the CST reports spikes in antisemitic attacks which correlate with conflict in the Middle East; synagogues have been attacked in Paris, Belfast and other cities; there were murderous attacks in Brussels and Toulouse.

Antisemitism isn’t just a natural response to Israeli crimes and neither is it just a few hotheads.  Hamas is explicitly an antisemitic organisation; it embraces the Protocols in its founding document and it says it wants to kill the Jews.  Antisemitism is important in wider Middle Eastern politics.  The Iranian state says the Holocaust was invented by the Zionists in order to provide a justification for Israeli crimes.  Yachad rightly say that there are partners for peace in the Middle East; the corollary of this is that there are also Jew-hating political formations which fight for their perspectives.  We must avoid infantilizing people in the Middle East by assuming that embracing racist politics is anything other than a political choice.  And while we may understand how people in Palestine stumble into antisemitic politics, there is less justification for people in safe London and on our campuses.

What is missing from the Yachad statement is an awareness that Israel, and also Jews in the diaspora, may need to defend themselves.  Yachad does not seem to be capable of playing a positive role in such a defence.

David Hirsh

Sociology Lecturer, Goldsmiths, University of London

‘Civility’ in contemporary debates about antisemitism – David Hirsh

David Hirsh

David Hirsh

This piece, by David Hirsh, is one of three responses in Jewish Quarterley – Spring 2014 to Keith Kahn-Harris’s book Uncivil War: The Israel Conflict in the Jewish Community.  The other two are by Jonathan Cummings and Stephen Frosh.  

“The phenomenon which most definitely closes off the possibility of civilized discourse is the claim that Jews raise the issue of antisemitism, knowing that they’re lying, in order to stifle free speech and criticism.”

There is a war of words between the diverse majority of the Jewish community and its tiny but influential antizionist fringe. Many Jews are worried that hostility to Israel is sometimes antisemitic, sometimes mirrors antisemitic forms, sometimes brings with it antisemitic exclusions or ways of thinking. The antizionists tend to dismiss this worry about antisemitism as an illegitimate attempt to silence criticism of Israel. Of course we may civilly disagree about what is antisemitic and what isn’t; and we may argue, present evidence and discuss. But the space for rational discussion is often closed off in advance by an accusation of bad faith. It isn’t said that Jews are mistaken when they think something is antisemitic, it is said that they’ve invented it, disgracefully, for short-term, tribal, or nationalist, reasons; that they are crying wolf.

This struggle happens in public and it is influential upon wider non-Jewish civil society. Blanket denial of antisemitism becomes an enabler of antisemitic discourse, boycotts and ways of thinking. Antizionist Jews play a key role in licensing, leading and encouraging movements which single out Israel as a unique evil on the planet.

A South African trade unionist declares that he intends to make life hell for ‘Zionists’, Zionists are like Hitler and they should leave South Africa on an El Al plane. The Jewish antizionist fringe insists that this is only to be understood as a vulgar way of carrying on a debate about Israel and Palestine. Antizionism tends to treat talk of antisemitism as a dirty tactic in the Israel/Palestine debate.

People get angry and upset because they are afraid that the actions of a small minority of Jews are influential in bringing antisemitism down on the heads of their fellow Jews while others get equally angry and upset because they are convinced that their fellow Jews are trying to silence criticism of Israel with a dishonest accusation of antisemitism.

There is no nice way to accuse you of being soft on antisemitism; there is no nice way to accuse you of raising the issue of antisemitism in bad faith. It is the content of the claims not their form which is hurtful. Re-framing the issue to make us all right will not do.

The Livingstone Formulation, the response to an accusation of antisemitism which declares that the accuser speaks in bad faith, makes debate impossible. If you say that somebody who raises the issue of antisemitism is just a liar then there is no discussion which can bring us towards agreement. It silences Jewish fears and portrays them as disgraceful tactics.

Because Nazism had already been defeated when we were formed politically, it was easy for us all to recognise it as the enemy. Because colonialism and racism had been discredited, we could all understand dockers who marched with Enoch Powell and racist Afrikaners as throwbacks to a disappearing age. But caricature might have been the price we paid for unanimity.

Whereas we thought of Nazism as representing the culmination of antisemitism, it was actually an exceptional form. We were tempted to ‘other’ antisemitism, to construct it as being something which could only exist outside of our own, civilized sphere. But in fact, antisemitism had always existed very much within our own spheres; within Europe, within the left, within radical philosophy, even amongst Jews.

Antisemitism has often taken political forms, it has attracted ‘people like us’, it has not always been easy to recognise; it has melded with criticism of capitalism and banking, nationalism modernity and imperialism. There have always been some Jews who have succumbed to its logic. Nazism itself grew partly out of radical antihegemonic political traditions and was attractive to some within ‘our world’. But it was comfortable, afterwards, for us to imagine antisemitism only as appearing with a silly moustache and a fascist uniform; and as being permanently discredited.

The defeat of colonialism was not so straightforward either. It was defeated by nationalist movements which had a tendency to succumb to the most ethnically based forms of nationalism and they tended to create regimes which mirrored some of the worst race-thinking and kleptocracy of the old empires. The Soviet Cold War common sense of a world divided into imperialism and anti-imperialism gave the gloss of the ‘progressive’ to some of the most despotic regimes. The notion of ‘progressiveness’ attached itself to peoples and nations rather than to political movements or to ideas. The violence of this black/white binary is illustrated by the fate of those who fell between the two camps: Tutsis, Tamils, African Asians, Jews, Armenians, Bosniaks, Tibetans, Kurds.

The colonialists who ran the great cosmopolitan cities of the Middle East were replaced by movements which tended towards ethnic nationalism in Cairo, Alexandria, Baghdad; Beirut, Tehran, Damascus, not only in Jerusalem.

We thought anti-Nazism was enough when we should have understood the complexities of antisemitism and we thought anti-colonialism and anti-racism were enough when we should have made more effort to forge a positive cosmopolitan politics.

Now we find ourselves in a world we have trouble understanding. Jews are thought of as white, and therefore never potential victims of racism; nobody looks like the Nazis so how can there be antisemitism? Israel, the refuge of the un-dead of Europe, is thought of as colonialist or apartheid. Jews, except for those who disavow, are conceived of as ‘Zionists’ which has become another word for racists or oppressors.

The conflict between Jews in the Middle East and their neighbours tends to be mystified into ready-made ways of thinking; either Jews are simply victims of the hostile antisemites around them or Arabs are victims of the Israeli white settler-colonialists. Israelis and Palestinians tend to attain a symbolic importance which is out of proportion to their actual weight in the world; they become an empty vessel into which everybody pours their own issues, a template by which people recognise themselves, a language in which they discuss their own angst.

There is an antisemitic threat in our world. Antisemitism is objective and external, recognizable through a set of clearly established characteristics. The French comedian Dieudonné makes Holocaust denial funny as he constructs a worldview where anti-imperialist thought and the right to Sieg Heil are curtailed by overwhelming Zionist power. Mainstream British and American academic organisations host campaigns to exclude Israelis, and only Israelis, from the global academic community. Open antisemitism is commonplace amongst Islamist and Arab nationalist movements which are considered by some to be part of the global left. The idea that Zionism is the key form of racism on the planet is common in radical circles. The assumption that Jews who fight against antisemitism are actually fighting for Jewish privilege lurks below the surface of much public debate. The possibility that the Israel lobby is responsible for war is taken seriously. The impulse to boycott Israel is thought to be respectable; anybody who says it’s antisemitic is thought to be vulgar and tribal.

There is a tiny minority of Jews which leads the movement to exclude Israelis from the global community, which insists that Israel is uniquely and essentially racist, which educates people to recognise anybody who worries about antisemitism as dishonest apologists for Zionism. Hardly any Jews are antizionist, but many antizionists are Jews.

This minority often mobilizes its Jewish identity, speaking loudly ‘as a Jew’. In doing so, it seeks to erode and undermine the influence of ordinary Jews in the name of an authentic, radical, diasporic and ethical Judaism.

Jews who worry about antisemitism are written off as tribal and self-interested; they are constructed as ‘Zionists’ and hence not as antiracists, intellectuals or legitimate members of the left. This hostile, external construction of Jews is in sharp contrast to the eager self-definition of the ‘as-a-Jew’ critics, who parade their Jewishness in order to discredit, in the eyes of the onlooking world, the fears of their fellow Jews.

The ‘as a Jew’ preface is directed at non-Jews. It tempts non-Jews to suspend their own political judgment as to what is, and what is not, antisemitic. The force of the ‘as a Jew’ preface is to bear witness against the other Jews. It is based on the assumption that being Jewish gives you some kind of privileged insight into what is antisemitic and what is not; the claim to authority through identity substitutes for civil, rational debate. Anti-Zionist Jews do not simply make their arguments and adduce evidence; they mobilize their Jewishness to give themselves influence. They pose as courageous dissidents who stand up against the fearsome threat of mainstream Zionist power.
Ironically, this positioning by the tiny minority tends to set the boundaries of civil discourse in such a way as to exclude and silence the legitimate concerns of the majority. It characterizes antisemitism as a right-wing issue and it teaches antiracists to recognise talk of antisemitism as an indicator of racist apologetics.

We need to agree that antisemitism is serious and that it is real; it is not only a threat to Jews but it is also a threat to the labour movement, to intellectual culture and to wider society. Of course we need then to be able to present and discuss arguments and evidence as to what is antisemitic and what isn’t; how we define it and how we recognise it are rightfully up for democratic discussion. The phenomenon which most definitely closes off the possibility of civilized discourse is the claim that Jews raise the issue of antisemitism, knowing that they’re lying, in order to stifle free speech and criticism.

David Hirsh

Lectuer, Goldsmiths, University of London

The UCU re-doubles its efforts to make Ronnie Fraser pay

In the Autumn of 2012, Ronnie Fraser took a case to the Employment Tribunal against the University and College Union under the Equality Act 2010.  He alleged that the union had allowed the campaign to boycott Israel to import antisemitism into the union; that there had developed a culture of institutional antisemitism within the union and that this had constituted harassment of him, as a Jewish member.  There was, he said, a course of action followed by the union, including union officers, union structures and union branches.  34 witnsesses, including academics,a writer, trade unionists, Jewish community workers and Members of Parliament gave witness statements testifying to the “thickening toxicity” of the antisemitism which they witnessed within the union and there were a number of specific examples of antisemitism described to the Tribunal, chaired by Judge Snelson.

Judge Snelson’s formal written judgment found that what Ronnie Fraser experienced as antisemitism was in fact entirely appropriate treatment of him within the union.  There was no antisemitism at all.  Snelson’s tribunal found that Fraser’s case was “an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means”.  There is an account of the case and the Snelson judgment here.

In November 2013, the University and College Union pursued an action against Ronnie Fraser and his lawyers for £580,000 in costs.  The Snelson tribunal, however, conceded that it had made statements in its judgment which could be thought to prejudice a costs hearing.  It recused itself from hearing the costs case, as described here.

Today, the UCU continued its bid to make Ronnie Fraser and his lawyers pay.  It insisted that a new tribunal be convened and today was about whether or not a costs hearing should go ahead.  It was heard by a new tribunal judge, Judge Joanna Wade, not involved so far in the case or in the writing of the Snelson judgment.

The Employment Tribunal was set up to enable individuals to take large institutions, usually their employers, to court.  For this reason its rules make it very difficult for costs to be awarded against a claimant; if people thought they could be stung for hundreds of thousands of pounds in costs it would deter them from going to the tribunal.  It is possible for costs to be awarded against a claimant, but there are stringent conditions.  Firstly, the claimant must not only be wrong, his action must be “misconceived or otherwise unreasonable”.  And secondly the hearing for costs must be capable of being heard promptly and quickly, in summary form.

Lawyers for the UCU argued that both of these conditions could be satisfied.  They said that the new tribunal could have one day’s reading preparation for a costs hearing and the hearing itself would be heard in another day; the decision on costs could be based on the material already in the Snelson judgment.

Barristers for Ronnie Fraser and his original lawyers did not agree.  They argued that the pursuit of costs had already violated the requirement for promptness since this was the third hearing in over a year and since any costs hearing would have to look far beyond the Snelson judgment for evidence.  Proving that the case was “misconceived or otherwise unreasonable” would require a long and complex case.

The Snelson judgment had made findings of fact on the substantive issues: were the charges made by Fraser proven?

But now the new tribunal was being asked a set of new questions: were the charges made by Fraser “misconceived or otherwise unreasonable”?

Normally, a tribunal which had already decided upon substantive issues could apply the new, more stringent test, for costs, to the same body of evidence and argument.  But in this case there was a new tribunal.  The Snelson tribunal’s determinations as to the substantive issues would be accepted, but the Snelson tribunal’s determinations as to whether the case was “misconceived or otherwise unreasonable” could already be seen, by Snelson’s own admission, to appear prejudicial to a costs hearing.

Where the Snelson tribunal did what it was supposed to do, that is, judge the substantive case, it would be accepted.

But where the Snelson judgment over-reached itself, in a consideration of whether the case was “misconceived or otherwise unreasonable”, Fraser’s barristers argued, its findings could not be relied upon in the costs hearing.  This would mean that the costs hearing would have to make new judgments as to whether elements of the case were “misconceived or otherwise unreasonable”.  This couldn’t be done by a quick one day trial but would require a re-examination of evidence, the presentation of new evidence and perhaps new cross-examinations.

The new Judge will decide if a fair hearing on costs is possible, and whether it would be within the rules of the Employment Tribunal.

Karl Pfeifer at the European Parliament

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Robert Fine debates the boycotters in Leeds

“This house believes that UK academics should boycott Israeli academic institutions until Israel ends the occupation and abides

Robert Fine

Robert Fine

by international law”

Robert Fine speaking in opposition to this motion.

Leeds University, March 2014

This is not the first time I have been embroiled in a boycott debate. In the 1980s I was involved in solidarity work with the fledgling independent trade unions in South Africa. They were a living expression of non-racial democracy across so-called national lines. Solidarity included establishing direct links between South African and British unions at official and rank and file levels. As a result of our solidarity activities we were pilloried by leading figures in anti-apartheid, the ANC and the South African Communist Party for breaking the boycott! When we invited a South African academic, a leading advocate of the new unions and anti-apartheid scholar, to speak at our Comparative Labour Studies programme at Warwick University, a demonstration was organised by a couple of SACP stalwarts to prevent him from speaking. When we wrote a trade union solidarity pamphlet, we were told that unions could only be legal in South Africa if they collaborated with the regime and that we were in effect collaborationists.

Beneath the argument about boycott what was also going on was a political battle between a progressive socialist politics and a quite reactionary nationalist politics. It is a battle that has not stopped and is rising to the surface in contemporary South Africa. I grant there is no direct analogy between the boycott of apartheid South Africa and that of Israeli academic institutions, but I contend that a similar political battle is taking place. It is a battle over the future of our own political life.

The normal practice of international solidarity is to make contact with and support individuals and associations that are critical of an oppressive power. Depending on the circumstances, I am thinking of trade unions, women’s movements, community organisations, peasant associations, some religious institutions, human rights activists, individual writers and academics – all who find themselves oppressed by and / or in struggle against oppressive powers. As far as Israeli and Palestinian academics are concerned, we should find ways of speaking to one another more, not less. We can do this in the normal way: by establishing links between our professional and union organisations, supporting campaigns for decent conditions, defending academic freedom and freedom of movement, by facilitating academic links across the national divide, and so forth. A boycott directed at Israeli academic institutions and Israeli academic institutions alone shifts our focus away from international solidarity and toward a refusal to have anything to do with one nationally defined section of our fellow academics.

The academic boycott fails to make a distinction crucial to all radical political thought: that between civil society and the state. The academic boycott punishes a segment of civil society, in this case Israeli universities and their members, for the deeds and misdeeds of the state. The occupation of Palestine and the human rights abuses that flow from the occupation are to my mind simply wrong, but there is something very troubling in holding Israeli universities and academics responsible for this wrong. Israeli academics doubtless hold many different political views, just as we academics do in the UK, but the principle of collective responsibility applied to Israeli academe as a whole sends us down a slippery path. The motion calls for Israel – and I would hope all other parties to conflict in the Middle East – to abide by international law, but the essential point of international law is to get away from categories of collective guilt and affix personal and political responsibility where it is merited. It is wrong to hold academic institutions and academics responsible for the actions of the Israeli state – even if many of the universities in question are, like most British academic institutions, rather lacking in political bottle.

It is as discriminatory to boycott any academic institutions or any academics on the basis of nationality, as it would be to boycott on the basis of race, religion or gender. This would be true not only of Israel but of any other country. It is wrong to penalise academics because of the nation to which they or their universities belong. It is also discriminatory to impose a political test that academics of one particular nation must pass in order to be allowed to speak and work with us – as if we are arbiters of all that is allowed to pass muster. Worst of all, I am sure we would agree, would be to base a decision to boycott or not to boycott Israeli academics on whether they are deemed Jewish, Arab or Muslim, but the cases I know of actualboycott have been directed against Jewish Israeli academics.

 A selective academic boycott aimed only at Israeli academic institutions and not at universities and research institutes belonging to other countries with equally bad or far worse records of human rights abuse, is also discriminatory. I admit that the wrongs done by ‘my own people’, in this case fellow Jews, grieve me more than the wrongs done by other peoples, but this is a confession, not a principle of political action. An academic boycott directed exclusively at Israeli academic institutions generates a quite realistic sense that Israel is being picked on – not because it is different from other countries but because it is the same. Given the slaughter currently occurring in Syria, including that of Palestinian refugees, given the repression currently imposed by the military government in Egypt, given the slave-like conditions currently endured by migrant workers in Qatar, it is increasingly eccentric to select Israel alone for boycott. This is not to say that the Israeli occupation should be normalised, certainly not, but it is all too easy to hold some other category of people, the larger and the further away the better, as the embodiment of absolute culpability.

The absence of good reasons to boycott Israeli academic institutions has led to ever more wild and hyperbolic depictions of Israel itself. Pascal once said: if first you kneel, then you will pray. Marx translated this aphorism into the notion that being determines consciousness. In this case, those who call for an academic boycott of Israel end up offering increasingly Manichaean images of Israel’s evil essence in order to justify their practice. We are told that Israel is just like the apartheid state in South Africa, that Israel treats Palestinians just like Nazis treated Jews, that Gaza is just like the Warsaw ghetto, that the Israel lobby controls American foreign policy just like antisemites used to say that the Jewish lobby controlled the nations of Europe, that Zionism is responsible for all that is wrong in Palestine or the Middle East or the world. The existence of these projections of course preceded the boycott, but the boycott encourages us to search everywhere for evidence of Israel’s criminality that will then justify the boycott itself.

Let us turn to the controversial antisemitism question. We should be able to agree that antisemitism is like any other racism something that progressive movements must be against. In my union, UCU, proponents of an academic boycott of Israel always couple their calls with more or less categorical declarations that criticism of Israel is not or not ‘as such’ antisemitic. Supporters of BDS in the States declare categorically that the charge of ‘antisemitism’, when levelled against them or other critics of Israel, is not only mistaken but also raised for dishonest reasons. I have often heard it said – look for example at Alain Badiou’s recent polemics on antisemitism – that while antisemitism was a real problem in the past, it is no longer a problem of the present and has now been converted into a mere ideology of Zionism. What I see is a disturbing reluctance on the part of proponents of boycott to take seriously the problem of antisemitism. To reduce concern over antisemitism to a way of censoring critical thought about Israel is insulting to those of us who are concerned about antisemitism and have no wish to censor critical thought. We should surely understand by now that it is racism and antisemitism, not opposition to racism and antisemitism, which constitute the restriction of free speech.

Criticism of any country can be racist – whether it is criticism of Zimbabwe on the grounds that Africans cannot rule themselves, or criticism of India on the grounds that Asian values are essentially authoritarian, or criticism of the Arab Spring on the grounds that democracy and human rights are foreign to the Arab mindset, or criticism of Ireland on the grounds that the Irish are not intelligent, or even criticism of apartheid South Africa on the grounds that whites are genetically primed to infantilise Blacks. Criticism of Israel is no exception. It can be antisemitic and it is a moral obligation we ought to honour post-MacPherson to take very seriously the fear that the academic boycott encourages antisemitism because its effect is to exclude Jews and only Jews from the global community of academe.

I am not against all boycotts, but I am against an academic boycott linked to a political doctrine that treats Zionism as a dirty word. Zionism is a kind of nationalism. Like other nationalisms it has many faces – at times socialist, emancipatory, in search of refuge from horror; at other times narrow, chauvinistic, exclusive and terroristic. It depends which face we touch. For most Jews, Zionism simply means commitment to the existence of a Jewish state and is compatible with a plurality of political views. Zionism is not fundamentally different in this respect from other national movements born out of opposition to colonial and racial forms of domination. Most show the same Janus-face. Consider, for example, the ANC’s African nationalism: on the one hand, it has overthrown apartheid and achieved constitutional revolution; on the other, it reveals its own proclivity to authoritarianism, corruption, violence and class politics. The murder of 34 mineworkers at Marikana was only the most visible sign of a new order in which profits are still put before people. What I object to is heaping onto ‘Zionism’ all the wrongs of nationalism in general, as if this nationalism were all bad while other nationalisms are off our critical hook. It is deeply regressive to turn ‘Zionism’ into an abstraction — abstracted from history (the Holocaust in Europe), abstracted from politics (conflict over land with Arab countries and Palestinians), abstracted from society (including the exclusion of most Jews from Middle East and Maghreb societies). It seems to me that there is some line of continuity between the abstraction of ‘Zionism’ today and the abstraction of ‘the Jews’ in the past.

The argument is put forward that Palestinian civil society has called for a blanket boycott of Israeli academic institutions. There is an empirical question concerning how true this is – to the chagrin of BDS this call is not supported by Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority – but the more fundamental problem is present in the idea that Palestinian civil society is one homogenous bloc with one opinion. To work on this assumption is to diminish the subjectivity of Palestinians, to deny plurality within the Palestinian people, to attribute to Palestinians a single voice that is in fact an echo of your own voice. Palestinians are certainly victims of Israel but they are not only victims and they are not only victims of Israel. Racism is a versatile beast and I would contend that most Palestinians have no more interest in antisemitism than do Jews. Usually it is fellow Palestinians, not Jews, who are the first and main victims of antisemitic political forces within Palestinian society. The academic boycott offers little tangible support for Palestinian academics.

 Israel has a definite political responsibility that goes with its current power, and like many other Jews in Israel and the diaspora I feel a frustrated yearning for Israel to fulfil its responsibilities. However, Israel’s power is relative, not absolute. It looks like Goliath when compared with the Palestinian David, but it looks more like David when compared with other state powers. There is something very disturbing in the totalising images of Zionist power associated with the boycott movement and in the innocent vision of peace and harmony that will prevail once this power is broken. Closer to home this self-same image of Zionist power manifests itself in the repeated refrain of resisting ‘intimidation’ we hear from advocates of the boycott.

Solidarity with Israeli and Palestinian academics should have as its aim the building of trust, the surrender of the occupied territories, the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside the Jewish and other Arab states, and above all the humanisation of all parties. In this spirit I would offer our solidarity to the 165 Israeli academics who support a boycott of Ariel University in the occupied territories and the 11 academic institutions that have publicly condemned giving Ariel university status. The problem with ‘the academic boycott’, however, is that it blocks our ears to points of view we don’t want to hear, or don’t want to admit might exist, or indeed to anything that questions our own self-certainty. It grants us licence to invent what we assume others think, in this case Israeli academics, rather than hear what they actually say. The principle of academic freedom is not absolute but it is something. It contains norms of openness, understanding, inquiry, criticism, self-criticism and dialogue, which we abandon at our peril. In any event, we in Europe must face up to our particular responsibility not to project onto one side or the other all the sins of racism, imperialism, ethnic cleansing and genocide of which Europe itself has been so very guilty. The boycott of Israeli academic institutions is by contrast the tip of a reactive and regressive political turn. 

Robert Fine

Professor Emeritus, Sociology, Warwick University

The Third Narrative Academic Advisory Council – new pro peace, anti academic boycott network based in the US

This new network is for peace between Israel and Palestine, is against racism and antisemitism and argues that the academic boycott and other bans against scholars are counterproductive.  Its founding statement is as follows:

Introduction

We are progressive scholars and academics who reject the notion that one has to be either pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. We believe that empathy for the suffering and aspirations of both peoples, and respect for their national narratives, is essential if there is to be a peaceful solution. Scholars and academics should play a positive role in asking difficult questions, and promoting critical thinking, about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. To achieve this goal we insist on the importance of academic freedom and open intellectual exchange, and so reject calls for academic boycotts and blacklists, as well as efforts to punish academics for their political speech, including even those who support the academic boycotts that we oppose.

Statement of Principles

We are committed to the following principles:

a)    We respect the humanity of Israelis and Palestinians alike, and believe that all political analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be grounded in empathy for both peoples.

b)    We believe in two states as the only way to avoid perpetual conflict, and recognize that since both peoples require national self-expression, the struggle will continue until this is achieved.

c)    We believe the Israeli occupation of the West Bank not only deprives Palestinians of their fundamental rights, but is also corrosive to Israeli society and is incompatible with the democratic principles upon which the State of Israel was founded.

d)    We accept the obligation to actively oppose violations of human rights, but cannot condone the use of violence targeting civilians as a tool to address grievances, or to promote strategies that would undermine the future viability of each nation.

e)    We strongly oppose the rhetoric used by both sides which demonizes and dehumanizes the other, or distorts the history and national aspirations of each people, to promote violence and hatred.

f)    We reject the all-too-common binary approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict that seeks to justify one side or the other as all right or all wrong, and sets out to marshal supposed evidence to prove a case of complete guilt or total exoneration. Scholarship and fairness require a more difficult and thoughtful approach.  As academics we recognize the subjective perspectives of individuals and peoples, but strive to apply rigorous standards to research and analysis rather than to subsume academic discipline to political expediency.

g)    We reject all attempts to undermine or diminish academic freedom and open intellectual exchange, including those cases associated with the Israel-Palestine debate. Academic boycotts and blacklists are discriminatory per se and undercut the purpose of the academy: the pursuit of knowledge. Likewise, we are against legislative and other efforts by domestic or foreign interests that seek to diminish the academic freedom of those scholars who might propose, endorse, or promote academic boycotts, even if we strongly disagree with these tactics.

Structure

The Council will function as an advisory body to The Third Narrative (TTN), facilitated by Ameinu.  The Council will seek to create a unique, middle ground, organizing space at TTN for progressive academics and will engage academics from across North America to undertake the following activities:

  • Oversee the preparation of written materials on issues related to academic freedom and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict;
  • Coordinate the sharing of information on efforts to promote anti-Israel boycotts and blacklists among academic associations, and efforts to punish academics for their political speech about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the speech of those who support the academic boycotts that we oppose;
  • Promote the values of academic freedom and open intellectual exchange, as well as the perspectives of the Council, through traditional and social media;
  • Organize advocacy campaigns on specific academic freedom issues;
  • Develop proactive outreach plans to promote the values of academic freedom, and more generally the free expression and exchange of ideas, particularly as they relate to the Middle East, in academic institutions and associations;
  • Provide speakers and other resources to individual campuses where academic freedom is threatened; and
  • Create opportunities for progressive faculty to collaborate with like-minded undergraduate and graduate students on individual campuses to work together for academic freedom and open intellectual exchange.

Endorsing the Statement of Principles:

Eric Alterman, CUNY Distinguished Professor of English and Journalism, Brooklyn College

Yael Aronoff, Associate Professor of International Relations and Associate Director of Jewish Studies, James Madison College and Jewish Studies, Michigan State University

Peter Beinart, Associate Professor of Journalism and Political Science, City University of NY

Michael Bérubé, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Literature and Director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities

David Biale, Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor of Jewish History, University of California, Davis

Steven M. Cohen, Research Professor of Jewish Social Policy, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

Hasia Diner, Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History, New York University

Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, Distinguished Professor, Graduate Center, City University of NY

Sara Evans, Regents Professor Emerita, Department of History, University of Minnesota

Claude S. Fischer, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley

Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Joseph S. Atha Professor of Humanities; Professor of English, and Director of American Studies, Stanford University

Sam Fleischacker, Professor of Philosophy, University of Illinois-Chicago; Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford (2013-14)

Todd Gitlin, Professor of Journalism and Sociology; Chair, Ph. D. Program in Communications, Columbia University

Chad Alan Goldberg, Professor of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Peter E. Gordon, Amabel B. James Professor of History, Harvard University

David Greenberg, Associate Professor of History and of Journalism and Media Studies, Rutgers University

Harold Hellenbrand, Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs, California State University, Northridge

Susannah Heschel, Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies, Dartmouth College

Carole Joffe, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, University of California, Davis

Ira Katznelson, Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History, Columbia University

Michael Kazin, Professor of History, Georgetown University

Ari Y. Kelman, Jim Joseph Chair in Education and Jewish Studies, Associate Professor of Education, Stanford University

Alice Kessler-Harris, R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of History, Columbia University

Rebecca Kobrin, Russell and Bettina Knapp Assistant Professor of American Jewish History, Columbia University

Nicholas Lemann, Professor of Journalism and Dean Emeritus, Columbia University School of Journalism

Steven Lubet, Williams Memorial Professor of Law, Northwestern University School of Law

Jeffry Mallow, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Loyola University, Chicago

Maud Mandel, Associate Professor of Judaic Studies and History, Brown University

Elaine Tyler May, Regents Professor, Departments of American Studies and History, University of Minnesota

Deborah Dash Moore, Director of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and Frederick G.L. Huetwell Professor of History, University of Michigan

Leslie Morris, Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor of German, University of Minnesota

José C. Moya, Professor of History and Director, Forum on Migration, Barnard College; Director, Institute of Latin American Studies, Columbia University

Samuel Moyn, James Bryce Professor of European Legal History, Columbia University

Sharon Ann Musher, Associate Professor of History and Director of M.A. in American Studies, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

Cary Nelson, Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Derek J. Penslar, Samuel Zacks Professor of Jewish History, University of Toronto

Riv-Ellen Prell, Professor of American Studies and Director of Center for Jewish Studies, University of Minnesota.

Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, Merle Curti Associate Professor of History, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Brent Sasley, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Texas at Arlington

Gershon Shafir, Professor of Sociology, University of California, San Diego

Judith Shulevitz, Adjunct Assistant Professor of English, Barnard College

Catherine Bodard Silver, Professor Emerita (Sociology), Brooklyn College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Seymour Spilerman, Julian C. Levi Professor of Sociology, Columbia University

Mira Sucharov, Associate Professor of Political Science, Carleton University, Ottawa 

Ann Swidler, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley

Siva Vaidhyanathan, Robertson Professor; Chair, Department of Media Studies, The University of Virginia

Kenneth Waltzer, Professor of History, James Madison College; Director of Jewish Studies, Michigan State University

Judith B. Walzer, Former Provost and Professor of Literature, New School, NY

Michael Walzer, Professor Emeritus, Institute for Advanced Studies

Dov Waxman, Associate Professor of Political Science, Baruch College and Graduate Center, City University of New York; Co-Director of the Middle East Center for Peace, Culture, and Development, Northeastern University

Beth C. Weitzman, Vice Dean; Professor, Health and Public Policy, NYU Steinhardt

Beth S. Wenger, Professor of History; Chair, History Department, University of Pennsylvania

Jeff Weintraub, Social & Political Theorist and Political Sociologist, Most recently at the University of Pennsylvania and Bryn Mawr College

Kate Wittenstein, Professor in History and Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies,  Adolfus College

Steven Zipperstein, Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History, Stanford University

This new network is for peace between Israel and Palestine, is against racism and antisemitism and argues that the academic boycott and other bans against scholars are counterproductive.

Five match ban for Anelka

Nicolas Anelka was charged by the Fooball Association as follows:FOOTBALL : West Ham United vs West Bromwich Albion - Barclays Premier League - 28/12/2013

1. In or around the 40th minute of the match he made a gesture (known as the ‘quenelle’) which was abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper, contrary to FA Rule E3(1); and

2. That the misconduct was an “Aggravated Breach” as defined by FA Rule E3(2) in that it included a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief.

The Independent Regulatory Commission found charge 1 proved.

It found charge 2 proved also; but then it went on to say: “We did not find that Nicolas Anelka is an Anti-Semite or that he intended to express or promote Anti-Semitism by his use of the quenelle.”

So on the question of antisemitism: it was found that his gesture was aggravated by a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief, but it did not find that Anelka was himself “an antisemite” or that he had an antisemitic intent.

It is the FA’s position that Anelka performed an antisemitic gesture but without intent to promote antisemitism or without being, himself, an antisemite.

Originally Anelka had said that the gesture was only performed in solidarity with his friend Dieudonné.

It seems to be the FA’s position that Anelka did not know that the gesture, or that Dieudonné who invented it, were antisemitic.  This is difficult to believe, particularly given that he described Dieudonné as his friend.

Dieudonné has been found guilty six times in France of antisemitism; he is a well known Holocaust denier; Anelka is French, and so, it is to be assumed, is more familiar with these issues than most people in the UK, at least before he decided to import them there.  The match was screened live in France.

They said what he did was antisemitic (aggravated by race etc) but they accepted his claim that he was stupid, and didn’t know what he was doing.  I’m not convinced he’s so stupid.

To understand the quenelle, its origins and how it works, see this piece by David Hirsh.

For the FA finding see here.

Click here for images of the quenelle being performed in explicitly antisemitic contexts.

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