The quote above comes from Ring Lardner Jr, the famous writer and member of the Hollywood Ten – who were convicted in 1947 of criminal contempt for refusing to cooperate with the House Unamerican Activities Committee. The ten were imprisoned for a year for their defiance. In fact Lardner was one of the few who did respond to a question put to him. The question of course was whether he was or had ever been a member of the Communist Party. To which he replied “ I could answer the question exactly the way you want , but if I did I would hate myself in the morning”.
I am sure Lardner, whatever his position on Zionism (if he had one) would have responded in exactly the same way to the resolution passed at the NATFHE conference which calls for a “a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from” Israeli governmental policies towards Palestinians. It is this imposition of a loyalty test which is so reminiscent of McCarthyism. And of course Lardner did not stand alone. The playwrite Lillian Hellman famously said “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions”. The fact that this year’s fashion –support for the Palestinians – is to be supported whereas old fashioned anti-communism is to be condemned – is irrelevant. The issue here is loyalty tests. It is being forced into making an open and public political statement not out of principle but out of blackmail.
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. Degradation ceremonies are central to Jew-hatred. Remember those shocking images of Nazi Berlin where rabbis were forced to scrub pavements. Likewise it was central to McCarthyism. As the actor Larry Parks said “I would prefer, if you would allow me, not to mention other people’s names. Don’t present me with the choice of either being in contempt of this Committee and going to jail or forcing me to really crawl through the mud to be an informer”. As far as I am aware Larry Parks (who rose to fame playing Al Jolson in the Jolson Story before being destroyed by McCarthyism) was not Jewish. However being a squealie, a snitch, an informer, has always been seen within the Jewish tradition as being an abomination – particularly where the victim of denunciation is another Jew. For what it is worth (and culturally it is worth a lot) it says in Genesis “Though they all be killed they shall not betray a single soul from Israel”. This is one reason why the Kapos (the Jewish guards of the concentration camps) are so reviled. Morally there is no difference between this and loyalty teats – including the NATFHE test (though of course politically NATFHE have not achieved the status of Kapos). Loyalty tests, by blackmailing some into “coming clean” only act to point a finger at others who refuse to submit and who then become subject to a blacklist. And there is no suggestion that Palestinian academics submit to such a test (why should they?). Only Jews (and why should they?).
The NATFHE resolution refers to be boycotts of individuals and institutions – with the loyalty test applying to both. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has said in support of the boycott “no Israeli academic body or institution has ever taken a public stand against the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.”. This I am sure is true. But it is equally true that in the UK no academic body has taken a stand against the institutionalised racism of immigration control – which creates at least a quasi apartheid in the UK and which renders legality of employment in colleges (as elsewhere) as well as level of student fees dependent upon immigration status. Why does not NATFHE campaign for a boycott (not a loyalty test) against UK college institutions for compliance with such racism? In reality NATFHE has for years been accepting the loyalty test set by UK colleges and universities –“Are you or have you ever been of full immigration status?”. It would be interesting to know if NATFHE as an employer demeans itself by complying with immigration legislation (legislation which incidentally would prevent it employing Palestinian asylum seekers fleeing Israeli repression). Perhaps NATFHE should start boycotting itself.
Obtaining names was actually irrelevant to McCathyism. The American state (through its own espionage agents) already had these. What was important was naming names – the degradation ceremony. Likewise the deep anti-semitism behind the NATFHE resolution is not the boycott principle. It is the loyalty test on which it is based. It is the loyalty test more than anything else exceptionalises Israel. As a materialist I am far more concerned about what people do as opposed to what they say. I am far more concerned to see solidarity in action with the Palestinians – both in the occupied territories and Israel itself – than with verbal support extracted through blackmail. It may be that the proposers of the NATFHE boycott were not conscious anti-semites. It may be that the loyalty test was clumsily added as a “compromise” against a blanket boycott. So what? It doesn’t make it any less anti-semitic in its consequences. If I were a Israeli academic campaigning for Palestinian rights I would only have one response to the NATFHE demand – the response would be to get lost. Otherwise I would not be able to live with myself in the morning.
Author of Thats Funny You Don’t Look Antisemitic
November 5, 2015 at 5:10 pm
February 1, 2016 at 4:48 pm
[…] Steve Cohen explained the specific problem with the McCarthyite political test: […]
July 7, 2016 at 8:23 am
[…] Sometimes BDS argues that there should be a political test rather than an institutional test. For example Israelis have been challenged to criticize Israeli ‘apartheid’ – and if they fail to do so in the terms required of them then they are excluded. But proponents of BDS never explain what kind of machinery would be set up in a university in Britain, say, or America, to test the political cleanliness of an Israeli. And they never explain why such a McCarthyite blacklist would only be set up for Israelis. For more on McCarthyism and BDS, see Steve Cohen here. […]