UCU elections

The ballot is now open for the UCU’s NEC elections.  It’s likely that Engage readers who are also union members will not support candidates from its far left, SWP dominated faction, ‘UCU Left’. So you may be ucuinterested in the alternative recommendations of ‘Broad Left’ group.

http://ucuagenda.com/2016/02/04/nec-elections-2016a-team-to-take-our-union-forward/

David Hirsh in debate with Ilan Pappé, Nadia Naser-Najjab, Alan Johnson

This is the text of my talk this evening at Exeter University.  DH

David Hirsh

David Hirsh

Benedict Anderson described nation as a product of the shared imagination.  Stories, music, food, cinema, discussion, ritual: we negotiate and contest the shared understandings of community.

Nation is how we protect ourselves against external threat but it can also become an instrument of exclusion.

Hobsbawm insisted that those cultural phenomena are not free floating but they tie external material factors and social relations to our thoughts and to our feelings.

Shlomo Sand says that the Jewish people is invented.  He should read some sociology of nationalism which would explain how all nations are invented along with their claims to authenticity.

Newt Gingrich tells us that Palestine is invented.

If Sand and Gingrich had to teach on nationalism, they would know that the newness of Israel and Palestine are ways into understanding all nations; all nations are new, like Israel and Palestine.  They may reach into the past, but they are also connected to the material world and to objective social relations.

To treat Israel as a unique evil on the planet is a radical departure from the norms of both scholarly analysis and antiracist solidarity.

Some people say Israel is racist – essentially and fatally – because it wants to be both democratic and a state for the Jews.  Others say that antizionism is antisemitic  because it denies self-determination to the Jews which it grants as a democratic right to every other nation.

But sociology starts in the world, not in our own heads, definition follows observation.  We do not discover contradictions in order to condemn; we discover contradictions in order to trace them through, to see how they may play out, to see how they compare, to find ways of resolving them.

History requires that Israel is a Jewish state.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu was not the first to moralize that the Jews should know better after the Holocaust, than to oppress another people.

What did the Jews learn at Auschwitz?  Well, we don’t know because most of them were murdered there.  It was not a university.

One can reflect on the universal lessons of the Holocaust and take it as a warning against racism in general.

One can reflect on its particularities: why totalitarian thinking went for Jews in particular?

And one can reflect on the fact that many Jews learnt that next time they should have a state, an army and more powerful friends.

So, Archbishop, sorry, if few find shame in the creation of Israel as a state for the Jews.

No, the Arab Nationalist aim of “driving the Jews into the sea” is not a Zionist myth.

No, the Arab nationalist expulsion of Jews from the great cities of the Middle East is not a Zionist myth either.

Israel requires itself to be a democratic state.   From the declaration of Independence:

“…it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex …”

Does Israel fail to be democratic?  Does it fail to be Jewish?  Of course it fails to be democratic, of course it fails to be Jewish, as all states fall short of the claims they make for themselves.  The interesting part is how it has held together the contradictory requirements, how it has succeeded as well as how it has failed.

Israel is like other states, not unlike them.  Since Hegel we have understood that social life is a relationship, between principles and the human beings who articulate them, between human concepts and their human acutalizations.

There are two ways of relating to this conflict:

  • We can fight for a politics of peace and a politics of reconciliation between nations
  • Or we can join one nation in its fight for victory over the other

Scholars read narratives of nations with a sceptical eye.  Our job is not to stand aloof and prick the narratives of ordinary people, to show how their consciousness is false; our job is to understand actual consciousness, and to think about how it may develop.

During the peace process Israeli and Palestinian scholars made contact, forged trust, shaped narratives.  We aspire to be communities of scholars; we aspire to the universal; we have democratic ways of relating to each other.  Our elitism is egalitarian and inclusive; it revolts against essentialist and violent ways of constructing boundaries.

We build spaces where we can reason, where we can persuade, where we can laugh, where we can sit as equals, where we can learn and teach; spaces where violence is not the norm.

During the last five years we have seen what can happen to minorities in the Middle East.

  • We have seen states kill hundreds of thousands of their own people;
  • we have seen the genocide of the Yazidis
  • we have seen the sale of young women for rape
  • the filling of mass graves
  • the crucifiction of people with the wrong religion.

Israelis will not disarm, dismantle their state and rely, once again, on democratic civilization to guarantee their survival.  If you want Israel dissolved, you will have to support those who aim to do it against the wishes of its citizens.  A democratic or a secular state could not emerge from the conquest of Israel.

But we are here, in Exeter, not in the Middle East.  We are here to consider the campaign to exclude Israeli scholars from this campus.

In 2012, scholars were waiting for a panel to begin at the South African Sociological Association Conference.  A leading sociologist appeared:

“Which one is the Israeli?” he asked.

The Israeli made himself known.

He was then challenged to denounce Israel as an apartheid state.

When he declined to do so, the other participants in the session left the room and carried on their panel in another place.  The Israeli was left to give his paper to nobody.

This way of weaponizing the apartheid analogy is far removed from the methods of comparative study, of reason, of giving evidence, of relating to the work rather than to the person.

Steve Cohen explained the specific problem with the McCarthyite political test:

“Loyalty tests have a particular significance when forced on Jews. The significance is the assumption of collective responsibility, of collective guilt. Intrinsic to this is the requirement to grovel. Groveling, the humiliation of Jews, is fundamental to all anti-semitism.”

Ilan Pappe supports a boycott of Israelis from Exeter University.  He says:

“I think what’s really important is that a growing number of individual academics feel they can no longer tolerate co-operating with their Israeli counterparts, except for those who oppose current government policies.”

Pappe describes it as an issue of ‘feeling’ rather than of politics.  It is part of a ‘not in my name’ ethics of resistance: a retreat from a politics of changing things for the better.  It is co-opted as identity politics far from Israel and Palestine.

Ilan wants a political test for Israeli scholars.  He supports the kind of scene we saw in South Africa.

But most of the boycott campaign realises that the Political test is too transparent a violation of the norms of universities.  They dress their exclusion as an ‘institutional boycott’ of Israel.

But without the institutional support of a university, we could not be individual free scholars.

Haifa and Jerusalem Universities have about twenty per cent Arab students.  They are multicultural spaces.

To require Israeli scholars to disavow their institutions is little different from requiring them to jump through a political hoop.  This is not how we relate to scholars around the world.

Imagine walking into a conference and demanding that Pakistani scholars condemn Islamism and terrorism as a pre-requisite to giving a paper.

Or imagine that they would be asked to disavow their institution on the basis that it has links with the Pakistani military.

This is of course, unimaginable.  But it is imaginable for Jews.

To raise antisemitism in a discussion like this is more and more considered to be vulgar and outrageous.  As Howard Jacboson said, the standard response to the raising of antisemitism is “How very dare you!”

  • The boycott campaign seeks to exclude Israelis and only Israelis.
  • It seeks to characterise Zionists as racists and anyone who opposes antisemitism as Zionist.
  • It seeks to characterize Zionism as the key form of racism in the world.
  • The boycott campaign encourages people to relate to Jews who refuse to disavow Israel as though they were racists.
  • The boycott campaign imports antisemitic ways of thinking into democratic spaces.

Already this year we have seen meetings organised by gay American Jews being broken up by the boycott campaign.  They want to sit and discuss what it means to be gay in Israel, they want to talk about LGBT rights in the Middle East, they want to talk about how gay Israelis can make links with their Palestinians comrades.    The boycott campaign breaks up their meetings.

At King’s in January Ami Ayalon was making a case for Israeli peace with the Palestinians.  His meeting was broken up too, a window was smashed, he wasn’t allowed to speak, people weren’t allowed to listen.

With this assertion that Zionism is racism comes a withdrawal of solidarity from progressive Israelis.

  • Israelis involved in defending gay people against the Orthodox Jews or against Hamas are called racist.
  • Israelis involved in the trade union movement are called a racist.
  • Israelis who campaigns for peace with the Palestinians and an end to the occupation are called a racist.

The antizionists are more and more ridiculing antisemitism and the Jews who raise it as an issue.  Steven Salaita, a US scholar and antizionist tweeted:

‘Zionists:  transforming “antisemitism” from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.’

French scholar Alain Badiou says that  there ‘could be no such thing as a far-left anti-Semitism – an absurd oxymoron…’.

In this way he shows his ignorance of the history of our own left wing movements, from Proudhon, Bakunin, Durhing and Bauer, whose antisemitism Marx opposed quite specifically, to Bebel and his opposition to the ‘Socialism of Fools’, to the Jew-hatred of the Stalinists, who learnt how to dress it up under anti-imperialist rhetoric and who invented the Apartheid slur.

Badiou responds to a critic of his antisemitism:  ‘I’ll simply give [him] a smack in the face if I ever come across him, ….’

An accusation of antisemitism, which ought to make us wonder and think and worry, needs only be responded to by violence:  discursive or physical.

Why was the Bataclan theatre attacked?

Why were the Eagles of Death Metal attacked?

The theatre had long been targeted by antizionists and Israel boycotters; it was owned by Israelis.   The band?  Had played music in Tel Aviv, explicitly breaking the so-called boycott.

A coincidence?  Perhaps.

Why was a kosher supermarket attacked in Paris?

Why was the only woman at Charlie Hebdo who was not spared, Jewish?

Why were Jews shot outside the Jewish museum in Brussels by a man who had come home from Syria?

Why were Jewish teachers and children murdered in Toulouse?

Why was a security guard outside of a synagogue in Denmark shot?

Oh, you say, this kind of antisemitic antizionism has nothing at all to do with our antiracist antizionism.

Tariq Ramadan, a French scholar argued that the killer of Jewish schildren at a school in France was not “driven by racism and antisemitism… He was merely attacking symbols.

People in Britain do not even know that the Bataclan had been targeted by Israel-haters for years.

President Obama called the killing of people in the kosher supermarket ‘random’.

We have a leader of the Labour Party who supports the boycott of Israel.

He says that Hamas and Hebollah are dedicated to peace and justice in the Middle East.

  • In spite of their antisemitism.
  • In spite of Hebollah’s current role in butchering Syrians.

Corbyn says that Raed Salah, a man who had employed medieval blood libel to incite Palestinains against Jews, is “far from a dangerous man”.

And the scholars?  Well Ilan Pappe too offered a scholarly defence, arguing that in this context, the medieval blood libel was anti Israel and not antisemitic.  Yes, this medieval blood libel, quoting Salah:

“…you should ask what used to happen to some of the children of Europe, whose blood would be mixed in the dough of the holy bread.”

Amira Hass joked this week about the Elders of Zion directing Israeli policy.

Anti-imperialist comedian Dieudonné jokes about Zyklon B, Yellow stars and the ‘Shoannanas’.

Out of the democratic discourse of criticism of Israel emerges a worldview, an “-ism”, antizionism.

Antisemitism always puts the Jews at the centre of everything that is wrong in the world.  Antizionism re-configures that Jew-centred frame.

Steven Salaita, the man who laughed at being called an antisemite, who said it was a dirty Zionist trick:

“Zionism is part and parcel of unilateral administrative power. It lends itself to top-down decision-making, to suppression of anti-neoliberal activism, to restrictions on speech, to colonial governance, to corporatization and counterrevolution—in other words, Zionism behaves in universities precisely as it does in various geopolitical systems.”

We need to pull back from this fantasyland in which Israel stands for, and stands behind, oppressive forces everywhere.

  • We need to support a politics of peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.
  • not a politics of inciting hate;
  • not a politics which harks back to European antisemitism;
  • not a politics which jumps to the defence of antisemites;
  • not a politics which scorns and ridicules those who worry about antisemitism;
  • not a politics which hopes to deprive Israelis of the means by which they may need, one day, to defend themselves.

David Hirsh

Goldmsiths, University of London

Opposing BDS with TUFI

Last weekend Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) and We Believe in Israel organised a very productive seminar for activists concerned about the impact of BDS and the singling out of Israel within the trade union movement.

Those attending held a wide range of views on Israel’s current policies and government, but were in broad agreement over the way Israel is targeted for disproportionate scrutiny, a scrutiny which, as we heard from grassroots activists, may manifest itself as open antisemitism.

There was a good discussion of the (contested) boundary between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism. A poster with the slogan ‘End the siege in Gaza’, it was suggested, is a legitimate intervention even if you don’t agree with all its implied premises. However ‘Well done Israel, Hitler would be proud’, accompanied by a swastika, clearly crosses the line.

Whereas many unions are happy to affiliate with groups such as PSC or Stop the War, TUFI has been proscribed in various ways by unions such as GMB, Unite and Unison. Rather than trying to encourage supportive links between Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists, in a spirit of both solidarity and conflict resolution, hard left activists try to sow division between them. With this aim in mind, some pro-Palestinian activists in the West have accused Palestinian workers of selling out, even (ironically) of undoing their (i.e. the Western activists’) work.

Avital Shapira of Histadrut joined the seminar by Skype. She described both the general successes of Israeli trade unions (negotiating an increase in the minimum wage, improving the rights of contract workers, unionising workers in less traditional sectors such as high tech industries) and achievements specifically relating to Palestinian workers. Many Palestinian (as opposed to Arab Israeli) workers are employed in construction, and Histadrut, as well as working on their behalf, remits half their dues to the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions in a very concrete gesture of solidarity.

One theme which emerged in discussion was the importance of continuing to speak out even when the cards seem stacked against you. Being able to identify sympathetic reps, or people willing to offer an alternative perspective on these issues, is heartening for those who don’t find their own views reflected in their union’s policies, or the voices of their most vocal activists.

 

 

ISGAP-OxfOrd Summer Institute for Curriculum Development In Critical Antisemitism Studies

ISGAP-OxfOrd Summer Institute for Curriculum Development In Critical Antisemitism Studies to be held at St Antony’s College, Oxford starting July 31, 2016

The Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP), a New York-based interdisciplinary research center, is seeking scholars-in-residence for an intensive two-week workshop-based curriculum development program aimed at establishing critical antisemitism studies as a recognized academic discipline. 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. The workshops will take place at St Antony’s College, Oxford, beginning July 31. Under the guidance of leading international academics, scholars-in-residence will be asked to develop new syllabi and curricula for critical interdisciplinary antisemitism courses that the scholars-in-residence will teach in their home institutions after completing the program. Full and partial scholarships are available

Application deadline March 1, 2016

To obtain more information or to apply, please visit http://isgap.org/summer-institute or e-mail info@isgap.org

Scott Nelson & a weirdly related miscellany

Assuming his appeal is unsuccessful, prominent activist Scott Nelson aka @TheMockneyRebel has been expelled from the Labour Party after making a number of statements implicating Jews, “Jewish blood”, &c in various things he doesn’t like and scoffing when antisemitism was mentioned. Mathilda Murday and Soupy have collected some offending tweets. If you are inclined to comment about this below, keep in mind they’ve been threatened with litigation so mind your Ps & Qs. Nelson is penitent and as of about an hour ago, defiant at the same time (retweeting supporters who say antisemitism is nonexistent and a right wing smear). I am guessing the appeal will be considered by Labour’s National Executive Committee; if so it can be thought of as a benchmark. At the moment Corbyn-aligned Momentum people do not control the official organs of the Labour Party, but they have said that they intend to. In response, new alignments such as Open Labour are currently forming to bolster Labour democracy against populism and mitigate Corbyn’s anticipated failure to engage the wider electorate. My feeling is that if the outreaching parts of Labour make their presence felt, it will continue to put out people like Scott Nelson. If not then I have doubts that Momentum has the will, although Corbyn supporters exist who do recognise a problem and will do what they can, so hopefully I’m wrong about that. Worrying about antisemitism is one of those things where you win if you’re wrong.

I should also say I don’t think Labour have explicitly implicated antisemitism in the expulsion, and it is only one of several issues people have raised concerning Scott Nelson. One major divide in different parts of the left is the issue of whether to treat bigotry similarly if expressed by somebody privileged or somebody marginalised. This tension between relativist and universalist views is concentrated in situations like this one in which a disabled UKIP member objects to disablism on the part of Nelson (who is also disabled). Being universalist, Engage resists bigotry regardless of the objectionable politics of those who may be subjected to it (I find UKIP deeply threatening and politically moribund), or the extent to which we may identify with the perpetrator (without hesitation I’d hold my nose and take Corbynite Labour over the Conservatives in a two horse race).

Now to the weirdly related miscellany.

Campaigners against antisemitism often endure a range of unpleasant emotions which come with pursuing the issue both through big organisations and with individuals. They include a sense of futility against the machine, the chipping away of our self-esteem in the face of prejudice, and, if we’re unlucky, a sense of hatred we have no way of confirming because the hater is clever, directed against us personally because we are identified as Jewish.  It all plays with your head. I think you will be struck by the overlap with the experiences of Adam Pearson in the excellent BBC3 documentary The Ugly Face of Disability Hate Crime. His starting point is an estimated 63,000 hate crimes against disabled people in England and Wales in one recent year, and the failure to prosecute these effectively. He speaks with disabled people, YouTube, legal professionals, and the police, and participates in a social psychology experiment. The action he embarks on is a promising direction, too. I very much recommend watching it.

The second miscellany is a recent LSE European Institute podcast, French sociologist Michel Wieviorka‘s talk ‘Europe’s Perfect Storm: racism, anti-Semitism, terrorism and resurgent nationalism‘. In it he weaves together several currents of European thinking in the past 30 years. He treats racism, antisemitism, terrorism and nationalism as expressions of evil which he observes to have revived in new, changed forms in in the 1980s, in what had been until then humanist Europe. Listen to this for an examination of how plural xenophobia has become, and how it is related to a decrease in trust of establishment authorities.

The final miscellany (HT @patlockley) is a piece in Dissent by Susie Linfield on left-wing Zionism.

“In its early decades Israel combined socialist, or social-democratic, politics with democratic freedoms. It was a poor and deeply egalitarian country; it was the praxis of left-wing Zionism. As Fred Halliday wrote, until 1967 “Israel enjoyed enormous authority, not so much as a close ally of the west, which at that time it was not . . . but as the site of an experiment in socialist economics and living.” But Israel has changed.”

“The task for American leftists is to support democratic, anti-occupation, two-state groups in any ways we can, including publications, conferences, visits, and, where appropriate, donations (even if we can’t match Sheldon Adelson). There are numerous such organizations, from the well-established New Israel Fund to smaller ones like Ta’ayush (in Arabic, “Living Together”) and Women Wage Peace, all of whose members include Arabs and Jews.

Boycotts of Israel in US Academe: David Hirsh and Claire Potter

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) has voted overwhelmingly in favour of a “boycott of Israeli academic institutions”.

Last year, while a similar debate raged within the American Studies Association, there was this exchange between David Hirsh and Claire Potter:

from David Hirsh:  “I am a sociologist at Goldsmiths, University of London.  I read that you were an opponent of the campaign to boycott Israeli academic institutions and I read that you decided, nevertheless, to support the BDS motion in the recent ASA debate.  I would like to respond…”

from Claire Potter:  “Thank you for your civil and knowledgeable open letter of December 17, and the links you have shared. I hope you like the stamp I chose for my response: Harvey is one of my heroes, both for his belief that democracy can come to all of us and for his belief in moral persuasion.   You are right: I am new to the global debates over the BDS boycott, having been engaged in reading and conversation for only a year. And yet people have to make decisions at political moments, and for a variety of reasons I was faced with one this fall when I chose to come out against the ASA boycott resolution and then came to believe I needed to re-think and change my position….”

from David Hirsh:   Thank you for your reply to my email.  In this short correspondence we have already touched upon a number of key issues.  We have discussed the centrality of academic freedom, and how that is sometimes underwritten, but sometimes also threatened by academic institutions; we have touched on the need for a civility in our discussions which enables us to focus on what is said and done rather than on who is recognised as being positioned in the camp of the ‘horrible people’ or the good, radical people…

 

for more from Engage about the boycott movement and antisemitism:

The Myth of Institutional Boycotts – David Hirsh

Opposing the campaign to exclude Israelis from the global academic community – David Hirsh

Alan Johnson: The case against Boycott of Israel.  VIDEO. (2014)

Michael Yudkin’s argument against the academic boycott campaign.  click here.  (2007)

Stephen HawkingDavid Hirsh on the antisemitism which comes with the boycott campaign. Experiences from UCU  (2013)

Cure worse than the disease: academic boycott of Israel in the light of the academic boycott of South Africa – Mira Vogel (2007)

Mira Vogel on PACBI (2008)

Engage response to BRICUP [PDF] (2007)

Ben Gidley on the antisemitism which comes in the wake of the boycott campaign:  The Case of Anti-Semitism in the University and College Union (2011)

Robert Fine responds to Desmond Tutu’s call for a boycott of Israel in the South African Mail & Guardian  (2010)

Robert Fine in debate about boycotting Israel, “the apartheid state”. (2008)

Antisemitism, Boycotts and Freedom of Speech – Robert Fine (2007)

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

Hirsh, David. 2011. No such thing as victimless boycott. Mail and Guardian, South Africa, p. 14. [Article]

Hirsh, David. 2007. Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: Cosmopolitan Reflections. Working Paper. Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) Occasional Papers, New Haven, CT

Resignations from UCU over the issue of the academic boycott of Israel.

Raphael Cohen-Almagor (2013)

Norman Finkelstein’s Attack on the BDS Movement

Boycott Israel? Desmond Tutu, David Newman, Neve Gordon, David Hirsh, Robert Fine, Ran Greenstein, Uri Avnery, Farid Essack.  here.  (Oct 2010)

The University of Johannesburg Boycott, here.  (May 2011)

Eric Lee argues a boycott is no way to help the Palestinians here. (June 07)

Israeli Universities, Israel-Palestinian Peace and Real Solidarity – Paul Frosh, Hebrew University, Jerusalem Added by David Hirsh – 3 November 2006 (Nov 06)

A detailed critique of PACBI‘s (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) call for “BDS” – “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions”. Here. (Sep 06, David Hirsh)

Hirsh’s speech and reports from his debate with Ilan Pappe, pro-boycott professor at Haifa University, on the issue of the boycott. At Birmingham AUT. Here.  (Nov 05)

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

Another version of who we are. 

 

Discussions about BDS and how to oppose it – David Hirsh

This is copied from discussions on facebook:

DH:  Is the US Anthropological Association aware that the Bataclan and the Eagles of Death Metal had both been targeted by the BDS movement? The US Anthropological Association currently constitutes the most influential part of the BDS movement.

XX:  The arguments you’ve been making for the last day or two make complete sense to me. What’s unfortunate is that the floodgates will eventually open if Israel continues to follow a policy of “manage the occupation”. First in academia, and perhaps next in arts and entertainment.

A two-pronged approach is needed. Fighting BDS is only one part. There also needs to be an alternative to BDS for supporters of the Jewish democracy and opponents of what’s happening over the green line. Luckily the European Commission has given us some idea about what this would look like…

DH:  1. I’m worried about the argument that if only the Jews in the Middle East behaved better, then antisemitism would subside. Antisemitism is a huge and malign mystification of the actual conflict in the Middle East, not a straightforward response to it.

DH:  2. I’m worried about the notion that it is in Israel’s power to end the occupation whenever it chooses. There has to be a political solution to the conflict and there is no reason to believe that the Palestinians are sufficiently committed or politically organised to hold up their end of a peace agreement. What happens if months after a peace agreement a Palestinian state fails – in the way that the Iraqi state failed – and then Israel ha ISIS ten miles from Tel Aviv? The idea that Israel is so powerful that it is only embroiled in the occupation because that is what it chooses – is wrong.

DH: 3. I’m worried about the argument that the good anthropologists only need to be offered a move coherent and less antisemitic way to be anti-Israel and then that would undercut the BDS movement. This relentless focus on Israel is ever more eccentric; the Middle east is falling apart, hundreds of thousands of people are being murdered. US anthropologists need to lift their eyes from the evil Zionists.

DH:  4. The conflict is not about the occupation. There is a huge Sunni/Shia war brewing up. There is a war between democratic forces and totalitarian forces in the Middle East. All minorities are in danger of eradication – the Jews have a particular duty to stand up for the minorities of the Middle East because they are the only ones with state power. Kurds, Yazidis, Christians, B’hai… other minorities which people haven’t even heard of are in serious danger.

DH:  I agree Israel should do better. I think Israel should do more to position itself as the the pro-peace party, the pro-democracy, pro-human rights party. I agree. But for most Israelis, doing a dance to please US anthropologists is not their top priority.

XX:  1) Anti-Semitism plays a role in BDS, but it’s not enough to explain the spread of the phenomenon. Surely the supermajority of members of the AAA are not anti-Semites. Denouncing supporters of BDS as anti-Semites has gotten us nowhere. It’s continuing to spread.

2) No, but it is in Israel’s power to begin relinquishing control over the lives of Palestinians. While Israel doesn’t actively choose to continue the occupation every day out of choice, it has unfortunately made a number of choices over a few decades that certainly makes the occupation look more like a preference than a need. The settlements being the most obvious example.

3) It’s not a “less anti-Semitic way to be anti-Israel.” It’s neither anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. Didn’t you say that you declined to visit the Ariel University?

4) Again, a good argument, but where has it gotten us so far? It only has a chance at working if liberal and progressive supporters of Israel are also fighting for a liberal and progressive Israel. Supporting the rights of settlements to mislead European consumers on the origin of their products is supporting the illiberal and undemocratic extension of Israel, not the democratic Jewish state.

DH:  1. Antisemitism is the only way to understand the way BDS has taken over the AAA. There is no politically or morally relevant reason to single out Israel for punishment while embracing the academic institutions and the scholars of every other state as our colleagues. True, denouncing supporters of BDS as antisemites has gotten us nowhere. That is the twist isn’t it? You can’t understand the phenomenon without understanding it as antisemitism, yet you’re not allowed to call it antisemitism because of the Livingstone Formulation. Contemporary antisemitism has within it a mechanism to push those who criticize it outside of the community of the oppressed.

DH:  2. Yes, Israel should offer a state to the Palestinians every morning at a press conference. Yes, Israel should withdraw the settlers. But antisemitism is not a function of the bad behaviour of Jews.

DH:   3. the psychological driver behind the boycott of Israel is to punish the Jews. Offering people difficult, complex and time-consuming ways to actually help, would not answer that psychological drive. The boycott is a way of screaming at the Jews without having to do anything else, without having to sacrifice anything without having to understand anything. It is a “not in my name” politics. It is identity politics.

DH:  4. I, like many many Israelis support a liberal and progressive Israel. It doesn’t make any difference to the supporters of BDS because the indicator for being in the community of the good, rather than outside it, is antisemitism. Anybody who is concerned about antisemitism is bundled out of the room.

XX: 1) There is an explanation, no one likes to hear it, but here it is: Academia is particularly supportive of anti-colonial movements and sentiments, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. Israel is, as far as I know, the last country supporting a massive colonial project (the settlements) in the face of strong opposition from native inhabitants.

2) I certainly never suggested it was. But I don’t think Israel is helping itself at all.

3) I disagree. I think most of the soft support for BDS, which is the only kind of support we have any hope of pealing off, is being psychologically driven by the desire to be part of a contemporary anti-colonial struggle.

4) No one can convince the hardcore of BDS. But to stop its spread supporters of Israel can’t defend or water down everything Israel does. The response to the labeling proposal has been disheartening. A missed opportunity to support a clear distinction between democratic Israel and a deeply undemocratic aspect of its occupation of the West Bank.

DH:  Academia is not supportive of anti-colonial movements. It doesn’t support the Ukrainian fight against Russian colonialism; it doesn’t support the Tibetan fight against Chinese colonialism; it doesn’t support the Kurdish fight against Turkish colonialism; it doesn’t support the Moroccan fight against Spanish colonialism… etc etc etc etc. Academia supports anti-colonial movements when the “colonists” are Jews who are descended from the remnants of the undead of the Holocaust.

DH:  You say that being open about the antisemitic aspect of BDS is not effective. But our experience is that offering ways of doing genuine solidarity with Palestinians experiencing occupation isn’t effective either. That too, is written off as Zionist propaganda.

DH:  The boycott campaign does not make a distinction between the settlements and Israel, between Tel Aviv University and Ariel College. I wish it did. If it did, it would be a profoundly different movement from the one it is. When the BDS movement targets the West Bank, it is a dishonest tactical move. It believes Haifa and Jerusalem to be occupied territory too.

XX:  Indeed. I should have said Western colonialism, to which there is a record of academic opposition, and Israel is considered part of the West politically.

But that’s where you’re making a mistake! The boycott movement didn’t initiate the labeling proposal. Nor the cultural boycott of Ariel (which was started by leftist Israelis). There’s no “smart BDS” operating tactically alongside BDS. European leaders are Israel’s friends and allies. So are progressive Jews overseas and in Israel who try their best to isolate the settlements. It’s long past time a group dedicated to that cause was formed.

DH:  oh now you’re being silly XX. the European decision was a result of smart BDS lobbying. You know how politics works.

XX:  It’s a policy that was many years in the making, and BDS has only begun (unfortunately) to build respectability.

If you’re right, then there is no hope. I’d rather not believe this. The conclusion I’ve come to is that we have to convince centrist andliberal Israelis that the status quo is incompatible with Israel being a part of the liberal world. I’m not an alarmist who says Israel is on the verge of disappearing, but it is slipping into the revisionist bloc of states and away from the liberal one (*supproters* of Israel now say things like, “Why don’t you treat Russia and China the same way?”)

Perhaps then Bibi will finally lose.

DH:  It is true that I’m immensely angry about this AAA decisoin and yes, it is also true that I am arguably burnt out as an effective anti-BDS activist. We have been making all the smart arguments you advocate for ten years. And people should continue to make all the arguments: norms of academic freedom; solidarity not boycott; antisemitism; effectiveness. But I’m sick of it. People who make these smart arguments are responded to in straightforwardly antisemitic ways. They are accused of being agents of a foreign power, racists, imperialists, etc etc.

DH: It is also true that the only way to understand the power and the dynamics of the BDS movement is to understand its similarities to other antisemitic movements. If you refuse to understand this, you’ll lose your way.

DH:  But yes, make all the arguments. You’ll still lose. I suspect.

DH:  Bataclan. Eagles of Death Metal. targets of BDS.

DH:  I profoundly disagree with the strategy of trying ” to convince centrist and liberal Israelis that the status quo is incompatible with Israel being a part of the liberal world.” This is to support the boycott movement. It is to try to harness it as a force for peace. It is entirely the wrong strategy.  You cannot harness an antisemitic movement for progressive purposes.

XX:  I think we disagree about what the boycott movement is. I don’t think the European Commission is part of the boycott movement. Phillip Hammond, Laurent Fabius and John Kerry are not part of the boycott movement.

XX:  I have to get to bed as it’s almost morning here, but I’ll add one thing (and I hate to exploit my relative youth to make a point): It’s not just academics that are turning away from the possibility of a democratic Israel. Progressive secular Jews in my age group (18-24) are increasingly giving up on Israel. I feel like a right-winger these days when making arguments that would land me in Meretz in Israel. Without an active element in the equation, without a way for people who might be sympathetic to Israel to also actively oppose Israel in some areas, Israel will soon become a cause exclusive to the Right.

My suggestion is that liberal intellectuals, academics, businesspeople and celebrities who support Israel, but oppose the settlements, should sign an open letter supporting a boycott of the settlements and the recent labeling proposal. Send it to The Guardian or the New York or London Review of Books, or wherever else might be appropriate. But leaving no activist alternative to BDS is a huge mistake.

DH:  Goodnight XX. You need to start taking antisemitism seriously. Stop thinking like a person in a little bubble, an American liberal academic bubble or an Israeli North Tel Aviv bubble. Raise your eyes. Understand why US anthropologists can’t resist kicking the Jews. Think about the Jews as a minority in the Middle East. We have seen in the last 3 years precisely what kind of danger minorities in the Middle East face.

DH:  And it is hard. It is hard to understand that our friends and colleagues are influenced by antisemitic discourse. If we recognise this then we are faced squarely with our own scary and isolated position. How much nicer it would be if we could deal with antisemitism by being better people. Then it wouldn’t be so scary. If only there was a rational core to it that we could address rationally.

DH: And Bataclan. And Eagles of Death Metal.

XX:   That BDS is in large or in some part motivated by anti-Semitism is not in question. What my concern is whether its rise, particularly in academia, is a result of anti-Semitism or a result of BDS’s success at portraying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a struggle between Western colonialists and indigenous peoples. I think it is the latter, and by not acknowledging off the bat and in our own words that the settlements are indeed such a colonial project, we may ourselves be strengthening BDS. Tel Aviv University is already being treated the way Ariel College should be treated.

I strongly believe if there was an alternative—and I would not support this alternative simply to be part of an alternative to BDS, but because it’s right—BDS would soon be seen as unhelpful and extreme by liberal and moderate academics. You certainly won’t see such a lopsided vote if there were three options: no boycott, boycott Israel, or boycott the settlements.

See also:  

The Myth of Institutional Boycotts – David Hirsh

Opposing the campaign to exclude Israelis from the global academic community – David Hirsh

Alan Johnson: The case against Boycott of Israel.  VIDEO. (2014)

Michael Yudkin’s argument against the academic boycott campaign.  click here.  (2007)

Stephen HawkingDavid Hirsh on the antisemitism which comes with the boycott campaign. Experiences from UCU  (2013)

Cure worse than the disease: academic boycott of Israel in the light of the academic boycott of South Africa – Mira Vogel (2007)

Mira Vogel on PACBI (2008)

Engage response to BRICUP [PDF] (2007)

Ben Gidley on the antisemitism which comes in the wake of the boycott campaign:  The Case of Anti-Semitism in the University and College Union (2011)

Robert Fine responds to Desmond Tutu’s call for a boycott of Israel in the South African Mail & Guardian  (2010)

Robert Fine in debate about boycotting Israel, “the apartheid state”. (2008)

Antisemitism, Boycotts and Freedom of Speech – Robert Fine (2007)

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

Hirsh, David. 2011. No such thing as victimless boycott. Mail and Guardian, South Africa, p. 14. [Article]

Hirsh, David. 2007. Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: Cosmopolitan Reflections. Working Paper. Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) Occasional Papers, New Haven, CT

Resignations from UCU over the issue of the academic boycott of Israel.

Raphael Cohen-Almagor (2013)

Norman Finkelstein’s Attack on the BDS Movement

Boycott Israel? Desmond Tutu, David Newman, Neve Gordon, David Hirsh, Robert Fine, Ran Greenstein, Uri Avnery, Farid Essack.  here.  (Oct 2010)

The University of Johannesburg Boycott, here.  (May 2011)

Eric Lee argues a boycott is no way to help the Palestinians here. (June 07)

Israeli Universities, Israel-Palestinian Peace and Real Solidarity – Paul Frosh, Hebrew University, Jerusalem Added by David Hirsh – 3 November 2006 (Nov 06)

A detailed critique of PACBI‘s (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) call for “BDS” – “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions”. Here. (Sep 06, David Hirsh)

Hirsh’s speech and reports from his debate with Ilan Pappe, pro-boycott professor at Haifa University, on the issue of the boycott. At Birmingham AUT. Here.  (Nov 05)

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

Another version of who we are. 

 

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