karl Pfeifer: Interview with Prof. Colin Shindler, Emeritus Professor at SOAS University.

Interview with Prof. Colin Shindler, Emeritus Professor at SOAS University of London, UK.

In November, we will mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour opposition, said that this declaration was a mistake. How will he react this time?

It was in 2013 that he offered his opinion on the Balfour Declaration. It arises from his lack of understanding of both the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict and of Jewish history itself. He reduces everything to a very simplistic approach. He sees everything in terms of British colonialism and western imperialism. However, the conflict is far more complex than that. I hope that he will have understood this complexity by November.

Let us go back to 1940. You found leaflets of Trotskyists which, at a time when Britain was fighting alone, demanded that young Jews in Palestine should not join the British Army.

This was mainly the work of Brit Spartakus in the Yishuv in Mandatory Palestine. One of the leading lights in this campaign was Yigael Glückstein who came from the Zionist elite. He later became known in the UK as Tony Cliff who founded the Socialist Workers Party – perhaps the most influential Trotskyist group in the UK.  As a youth in Palestine, he flirted with Stalinism, and was an avid follower of HaHugim HaMarksistim of Left Poale Zion.

At the beginning of World War II, he was arrested by the British. By October 1940, he was a leading light of Brit Spartakus, which attempted to persuade young Jews not to enlist in the British Army. Like both Stalin and Trotsky, Gluckstein understood the conflict between Nazi Germany and Britain as one of rival imperialisms. Therefore neither should be endorsed.

By 1948 after 8 years of committed political activity, the Trotskyists in Mandatory Palestine amounted to 30 members – 23 Jews and 7 Arabs. By that time, Gluckstein had left. In September 1946 as tens of thousands of Jews from the DP camps were trying to illegally enter Palestine, Gluckstein was going in the opposite direction to Britain.

This is interesting since many years later Trotskyists accused the Zionists for not having done enough to save Jews. The Zionists at the time had no power; they had no army, no navy. Nevertheless, the Zionists did save many Jews. While the Trotskyists themselves did not save Jews, they repeatedly accuse Rudolf Kasztner of collaboration and not saving Hungarian Jewry – as if he could have. Now in Britain Paul Bogdanor has written a book which accuses Kasztner once again as being virtually a traitor.

I read the book and reviewed it for the Jerusalem Post. While Bogdanor has written a remarkably comprehensive, convincing book, it is still unclear to me what the role of Kasztner was. He was undoubtedly in an incredibly difficult position. He saved some of his family and friends from Cluj, but others were not included. The question that everyone has to ask him- or herself is “what would I have done if I had been in Kasztner’s shoes?” While there is no doubt that he made mistakes and that he was a flawed character, I still feel that he should not have been castigated in that way. Kasztner was killed in 1957 by members of the far Right group, Malkhut Yisrael, when these former members of Lehi shot him. It was cowardly and unworthy.

The supreme court of Israel denounced the accusation of collaboration against Kasztner – of which he had been earlier accused in 1955. Malkiel Gruenwald who was his primary accuser during the trial possessed a long criminal career from Hungary and was seemingly a CID informer in Israel.

Kasztner was also attacked for political reasons rather than for ones of justice. Herut, Menachem Begin’s party, attacked him prior to the 1955 election in order to make political capital out of this case. An election poster read: ‘Kasztner votes for Mapai, you vote for Herut’. Therefore I do not go along with those who condemn him wholeheartedly. Although there are clearly many people who hold him responsible including those who survived the Shoah. At the end of the day, it is still difficult for anyone who has not carried out detailed research for himself to come to a concrete opinion about the Kasztner saga. But there are undoubtedly double standards on the part of the Trotskyists who continually mention the case. Clearly they are bereft of a moral compass.

Your lecture at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna was on the subject of the rise of the Right in Israel. Israel has a rightwing government and it looks as if there will be no possibility of a change of government or indeed a change in the situation. How do you see that?

I think you are right. When there is violence in the Middle East, people move cosmically to the Right and will vote for the Likud and other right wing parties in elections. There is no space in either Israel or in Palestine to explore other options. When there is violence, views which bring the two sides together are marginalised. Instead the Right promotes polarisation in Israeli society and propagates the politics of stagnation.

There have been no meaningful political initiatives by Benjamin Netanyahu for the last 20 years. Netanyahu does not wish to put forward a political initiative today because he knows that the far Right members of his cabinet, such as Naftali Bennet and Avigdor Lieberman, would undoubtedly oppose it. His main objective is to assure the survival of his government so this rules out any meaningful peace plan.

Jenny Tonge’s outrageous response to CST report

Yesterday the CST  released their yearly report on antisemitic incidents in the UK.  The results are worrying. 1,309 cases were recorded, the highest ever total, and a 36% increase from last year.  The CST cites widely reported disputes over antisemitism in the Labour Party and the climate of increased racism and xenophobia following the EU referendum as possible factors in this sharp rise.  107 violent assaults were logged last year, and it is likely that underreporting masks the true total.  Although these only account for a small proportion of total incidents, it’s concerning that campus related cases involving students and academics have doubled since last year.

The report is characteristically measured.  There has been much discussion of antisemitism within the UK’s Muslim communities and the CST is very careful to caution against reading too much into the raw statistics about perpetrator identity (where available).

These figures partly reflect the fact that Britain’s Jewish communities tend to live in relatively diverse urban areas, and that street crime offenders (where the most common type of antisemitic incident takes place) make up a younger, and more diverse, demographic profile than the population as a whole (p. 24)

The CST is also extremely careful not to conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism, while acknowledging the obvious potential for intersection.  Their rationale for including (or rejecting) anti-Israel discourse in their incident report is very clearly laid out on pp.27-8.  This section demonstrates the nuanced and cautious approach adopted by the CST.

Similarly, anti-Israel material that is sent unsolicited to a synagogue at random may be recorded as an antisemitic incident (because the synagogue was targeted simply because it is Jewish and the offender has failed to distinguish between a place of worship and a political organisation), when the same material sent unsolicited to specifically pro-Israel organisations would not be. On the other hand, if a particular synagogue has been involved in public pro-Israel advocacy and subsequently is sent anti-Israel material, it may not be classified as antisemitic unless the content of the material dictates otherwise.

Below you can read Jenny Tonge’s nasty response to the CST’s report – indeed her proud promotion of her initial response.


Where to start? No concern is expressed over the rise in antisemitic violence.  Instead she insists that Jews need to distance themselves from Netanyahu in order to avoid attacks.  If she thinks the CST demonstrates a ‘perpetual victim mentality’ what kind of campaigning community group against antisemitism would she countenance?  Although sometimes Israel is the apparent driver for antisemitism, the CST’s report also contains evidence of Holocaust denial and conspiracism.  And it’s deeply unfair to imply that the CST is not concerned about ‘ALL racism’ – it has worked closely with Tell MAMA to support their project countering anti-Muslim bigotry.

In her recent response to a much criticised interview on J-TV Tonge opined

My own fault I guess for being decent and wanting to connect with Israel’s supporters.

This rings very hollow in the light of her failure to connect with the victims of hate crimes – something which should be easily possible whether or not one is a supporter of Israel.

Some resources for the struggle against the campaign to boycott Israeli Universities

The Academic Engagement Network (AEN) has published David Hirsh’s keynote presentation at its first national conference, as a pamphlet:  The pamphlet is available as a pdf on the AEN website.

AEN has also published a podcast of a conversation between its Executive Director Ken Waltzer, and David Hirsh: To listen to the podcast,  “Making Democracy Sexy: David Hirsh on Combating BDS and Antisemitism by Rediscovering Democracy”, follow this link. 

 The American Studies Association boycott resolution, academic freedom and the myth of the institutional boycott – David Hirsh :   published in Inside Higher Ed is available here.

David Hirsh: Why BDS is antisemitic

David Hirsh in debate with Ilan Pappé.

Hirsh, David. 2012. Portia, Shylock and the exclusion of Israeli actors from the global cultural community.

David Hirsh discussion with Claire Potter about support for the campaign to boycott Israel:

For David Hirsh’s open email to Claire Potter, follow this link. 

For Claire Potter’s response, follow this link.

For David Hirsh’s response, follow this link. 

Archived debate – Martin Shaw, David Hirsh, Norman Geras – is the proposal to boycott Israeli academics antisemitic?

The Myth of the Institutional Boycott – Jon Pike: The claim that BDS is a boycott campaign which is not directed at Israeli individuals is doing the rounds again. The article is from February 2006 and questions this claim with regard to the academic boycott.

Is an academic boycott of Israel justified? – Michael Yudkin – Engage Journal Special Issue – April 2007  The principle of the Universality of Science and Learning – that academics do not discriminate against colleagues on the basis of factors that are irrelevant to their academic work (such as race, religion, nationality etc.) – is well established and almost universally respected. To boycott academics by reason of their country of residence breaches this principle and harms the interests of the academics concerned. Two kinds of argument speak in favour of maintaining the principle of the Universality of Science and Learning: 1) that undesirable consequences would flow from violating it, and 2) that to harm people who are innocent of wrongdoing is morally unacceptable. Those who wish to boycott Israeli academics attempt to defeat the second type of argument by claiming that these academics are complicit in discrimination against the Arab minority in Israel or the occupation of the West Bank, and/or that Israeli universities suppress dissenting voices. Analysis of these claims shows that they are without serious substance.

Cure worse than the disease: academic boycott of Israel in the light of the academic boycott of South Africa – Mira Vogel – Engage Journal Issue 4 – February 2007

Israelis are not Nazis – David Hirsh – 15 November 2008

Israelis are not Nazis – Mira Vogel – 13 November 2008

Esprit d’escalier: reminiscences of a silent observer of the UCU conference – Robert Fine 30 May 2008

Antisemitism, Boycotts and Freedom of Speech – Robert Fine – 16 May 2007

Israeli Universities, Israel-Palestinian Peace and Real Solidarity – Paul Frosh, Hebrew University, Jerusalem Added by David Hirsh – 3 November 2006

The argument for the boycott – Pacbi – David Hirsh – 9 September 2006

“I would hate myself in the morning” – Steve Cohen – May 29 2006

Why I am against the boycott, by John Strawson – 18 May 2005

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and Antisemitism

The Academic Engagement Network (AEN) in the US has published David Hirsh’s keynote presentation at its first national conference, as aaen pamphlet.

The pamphlet is available as a pdf on the AEN website.  To download it, follow this link. 

AEN has also published a podcast of a conversation between its Executive Director Ken Waltzer, and David Hirsh.

To listen to the podcast,  “Making Democracy Sexy: David Hirsh on Combating BDS and Antisemitism by Rediscovering Democracy”, follow this link. 

The new definition of antisemitism is only a threat to antisemites – David Hirsh

This piece, by David Hirsh, is from theJC.com

Characterising something as antisemitic is a political judgment. It requires knowledge about how antisemitism works, an understanding of context, somedownload thought about intentions, but also analysis of unintended consequences. The working definition, which has now been adopted by the UK Government, offers helpful guidance on the making of such political judgments.

How would you decide whether a joke was antisemitic, or sexist for that matter? You could not invent a machine to do this for you. In part it would depend on whether the joke was funny, on who told it, how and why; on who laughed at it and why they laughed.  It is a matter of judgment, and there is room for legitimate disagreement and debate over judgments.

In our time, people who do and think antisemitic things frequently believe themselves to be opponents of antisemitism. Those who single out Israelis and their supporters for boycott angrily deny that they are antisemitic; some who conflate Zionism and Nazism consider themselves to be antiracists; those who say Jews were among the chief financiers of the slave trade or who want to address the ‘Jewish question’ complain they are targets of Zionist smears.

On the level of words, prohibitions and taboos against racism and antisemitism remain firmly in place; but this does not prevent antisemitic and racist ways of thinking becoming ever more significant and influential in public discourse. Because the veneer of respectability is still important, denial and counter-accusations of bad faith tend to drown out rational and democratic discussion.

Antisemitism lurks under the surface; we are reluctant to see it in our allies and we are eager to see it in those we fear or hate. The left sniffs the antisemitism on the right and the right sniffs the antisemitism on the left.

The working definition does not seek to see a person’s essence to find out whether they are antisemitic. What it does instead is to help in the recognition of antisemitic actions and ways of thinking. It is concerned with what people do, what they say and what they tolerate; not what they are.

Many in the movement to boycott and to de-legitimize Israel are afraid of the working definition. They say that it defines criticism of Israel as antisemitic. It actually does the opposite. It helps us to make the distinction between what kinds of criticism may be legitimate and what kinds of hostility or demonization may either lead towards, or result from, antisemitism.

Some on the left will continue to say that the working definition is part of a Zionist and Tory conspiracy to smear left wing politics. This itself is an antisemitic claim.

The left needs to understand antisemitism and to come to terms with the history of antisemitism within its own movement. It needs to educate young people to recognize and oppose antisemitism, not to accuse those who do recognize it of being the problem.  The working definition can help us to mobilize against antisemitism. It is not a threat to the left or to those who are for Palestinian freedom, it is a threat to antisemitism.

David Hirsh is a lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London

This piece, by David Hirsh, is from theJC.com

Follow this link for a pre-history of the new definition of antisemitism. 

Follow this link for the UCU’s disavowal of the working definition.  

Follow this link for the live blog of the debate in which UCU decided to disavow the working definition. 


David Hirsh Podcast – Academic Engagement Network

David Hirsh did this podcast in New York for the Academic Engagement Network on left antisemitism, opposing BDS, and the rise of the new populist movements, Brexit and Trump.


Summer Institute for Curriculum Development in Critical Antisemitism Studies St. John’s College, Oxford, UK

Summer Institute for Curriculum Development
 in Critical Antisemitism Studies
St. John’s College, Oxford, UK
The ISGAP-Oxford Summer Institute is seeking
scholars-in-residence for an intensive two-week workshop-based curriculum development program in interdisciplinary critical contemporary antisemitism studies.
The program, dedicated to the development of antisemitism studies as a recognized academic discipline, will be held at St John’s College, in Oxford, United Kingdom from July 16, 2017 to July 29, 2017.
The program is intended primarily for professors with full-time college or university positions, though exceptional doctoral and post-doctoral students may also be considered.
Under the guidance of leading international academics, scholars-in-residence will be required to develop a course syllabus and curriculum in the interdisciplinary study of critical contemporary antisemitism, to be taught in their home university upon completion for course credit.
Partial or full Fellowships will be awarded to successful applicants.
Application deadline is February 22, 2017.
Please click here to see a video of highlights from previous year’s programs.
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