Israelis are not Nazis – David Hirsh – 15 November 2008

Israelis are not Nazis - David HirshThere was an event at Goldsmiths, University of London, last week, which aimed to spread the view that what happens in Gaza today is similar to what happened in the Warsaw Ghetto under the Nazis. Confronted by criticism of this event, Jennifer Jones, speaking to the Jewish Chronicle on behalf of the Students Union at Goldsmiths, expressed the hope that ‘the few vocal Zionists on campus become involved in a more positive capacity to support those suffering under the occupation’.

The overwhelming majority of living Jews are Zionists if what is meant by the term is that they do not support campaigns to de-legitimize Israel and to disband it against the will of most Israelis. Indeed in this sense, the overwhelming majority of human beings are Zionists too. And they are right to be Zionists in this sense. They are right because Israelis are behaving entirely rationally when they insist that there are lots of people in their neighbourhood who might want to kill them or to drive them out and that they need a state with which to defend themselves.

I hear the sense in which Jennifer Jones uses the term ‘Zionist’ as exceedingly threatening and it is not easy to communicate why, to a person who is unable to see why for themselves. I understand the word ‘Zionists’ in this context to mean ‘Jews’, except that it does not include a category of exceptional ‘good Jews’. The category of ‘good Jews’ here should be understood as those Jews who are not disgusted by the designation of Israeli Jews as Nazis – those Jews who are prepared publicly to kosherize such a designation as being legitimate on the antiracist left.

So what Jennifer Jones says sounds to me very much like the sentiment that Jews on campus should stop making a fuss about the Israel-Nazi analogy and should instead support it because it is rightly understood as a campaign to support those suffering under the occupation. She doesn’t allow for the possibility that many of us ‘Zionists’ on campus have spent decades working hard to ‘support those who are suffering under occupation’. But in any case I am reluctant to rely on this because I think that even a ‘Zionist’ who does not ‘support those who are suffering under occupation’ has the right to oppose the antisemitic designation of Jews as Nazis.

Still don’t see why this use of the term ‘Zionist’ is vile? Perhaps it is because you also aren’t disgusted by the analogy between Israel and Nazi Germany. OK. Let me try again.

The Nazis herded the Jews of Warsaw and its surroundings into a few city blocks as the first stage in organizing their murder. Some were murdered by starvation and others were murdered by gas. But they all, except for a handful who escaped, ended up dead. The Nazis were executing a plan to kill the Jews of Europe. The Nazis killed about six million Jews in a set of events which are now often known as the Holocaust. Some Jews were able to get out of Europe and to escape with their lives.

For the previous century or so there had been heated debate on the Jewish left as to how to oppose antisemitism in Europe and Russia. Some, who called themselves ‘Zionists’, thought that the problem of antisemitism was best addressed by a Jewish movement for national self-determination. Others thought that Jews should remain in Europe and should defend themselves against antisemitism as part of the European socialist and emancipation movements. Most Jews were unimpressed by either of these two radical responses and preferred to carry on trying to live their Jewish lives without bothering anybody else. Neither strategy proved very effective in the end, against Nazism. Not many Jews went to Palestine and those who had put their faith in European civilization to keep Jews safe were politically defeated.

The huge material transformation of Jewish life in Europe, the Holocaust, changed everything. It is understandable that Jews, running for their lives from Europe and largely barred from the rest of the world, having seen their friends and families, their children and their parents killed, embraced the nationalist idea that they should build a state with which they would have the capacity to defend themselves and in which they could feel at home. In 1948 The United Nations partitioned Palestine and gave a little statelet to the Jews.

The rationale for claiming that Zionism is racist or is like Nazism is the assumption that the Jewish nationalist project in Palestine necessarily required the oppression and dispossession of the Palestinians in order to succeed. Here is Trotsky’s biographer, Isaac Deutscher’s telling of the story:

A man once jumped from the top floor of a burning house in which many members of his family had already perished. He managed to save his life; but as he was falling he hit a person standing down below and broke that person’s legs and arms. The jumping man had no choice; yet to the man with the broken limbs he was the cause of his misfortune. If both behaved rationally, they would not become enemies. The man who escaped from the blazing house, having recovered, would have tried to help and consol the other sufferer; and the latter might have realized that he was the victim of circumstances over which neither of them had control. But look what happens when these people behave irrationally. The injured man blames the other for his misery and swears to make him pay for it. The other, afraid of the crippled man’s revenge, insults him, kicks him, and beats him up whenever they meet. The kicked man again swears revenge and is again punched and punished. The bitter enmity, so fortuitous at first, hardens and comes to overshadow the whole existence of both men and to poison their minds.

You will, I am sure, recognize yourselves (I said to my Israeli audience), the remnants of European Jewry in Israel, in the man who jumped from the blazing house. The other character represents, of course, the Palestine Arabs, more than a million of them, who have lost their lands and their homes. They are resentful; they gaze from across the frontiers on their old native places; they raid you stealthily and swear revenge. You punch and kick them mercilessly; you have shown that you know how to do it. But what is the sense of it? And what is the prospect?

In truth the complex and tragic evolution of the conflicts between Israelis, Palestinians, Arab nationalists and Islamists was not pre-ordained by some kind of historical necessity but has been the result of political decisions, narratives, and ideas, and the result of a number of wars. Throughout this history and on all sides, political movements for Israeli-Arab co-existence were defeated, and belligerent political movements which aimed for victory over the other tended to win out. None of this was inevitable. None of this is the result of an essential Israeli or Jewish or Palestinian or Arab or Muslim racism. It is how things happened.

What we need now is what we have always needed. We need Israelis and Palestinians to find the peace, to find a way to live together and to resist the tendency within both nations to embrace racism and demonization against the other.

It is false to say that Israel is trying to achieve a ‘final solution’ by killing the Palestinians. We should not educate students in London to believe what is false.

It is true that conditions in Gaza are extremely difficult. The borders are tightly controlled by Israel and by Egypt. The de facto government in Gaza, elected in January 2006, which later took total power in a coup against the Palestinian President, promises war against the Jews of Israel to the end. The Israelis pursue the Hamas fighters into the streets and housing estates of Gaza, resulting in the inevitable and routine deaths of civilians. In Gaza there is agonizing poverty and shortages, for example of medical supplies. There is little freedom of movement for Gazans. But talk about Gaza being a prelude to a ‘final solution’ is just false.

But it is more than false. It is vile. Why can’t you see that the designation of ‘Zionists’ as Nazis is vile? Why don’t you feel it in your political bones? Why doesn’t it set your internal racism alarms ringing?

I think the reason is that too many radical people no longer understand irrational and disproportionate hostility to ‘Zionists’ to be a form of racism. They have internalized a commonsense notion that demonization of ‘Zionists’, in Jennifer Jones’ sense, while perhaps not entirely right, is neither entirely wrong. ‘Zionists’ are thought of as being at the centre of bad things that happen in the world. ‘Zionists’ oppress the Palestinians and the Palestinians stand for the oppressed everywhere. ‘Zionists’ are in favour of war and they are responsible for sending America to war in Iraq and perhaps in Iran. ‘Zionists’ have lots of power – in the media, in Hollywood, on Wall Street. ‘Zionists’ failed to learn the lesson of the Holocaust as we learnt it so well in Europe. ‘Zionists’ failed to learn the lessons of imperialism as we learnt it so well in Europe. ‘Zionists’ are behind Islamophobia, which eats at the heart of the new Europe.

Can you see it now?

David Hirsh
Goldsmiths

NB The graphic which accompanies this piece depicts Anne Frank who was a Dutch Jewish girl who was murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Anne Frank is well known because she wrote a diary about her experiences hiding from the occupying Nazis in Amsterdam. The image of Anne Frank has become iconic and it stands, in the imagination of many people, for all the children murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. This version of the image shows Anne Frank wearing a Keffiyeh, which is iconic of the Palestinian struggle against Israel. The image, which was originally produced as a postcard in the Netherlands illustrates, for me, the Jew-Nazi analogy and why it is inappropriate. DH

Israelis are not Nazis – Mira Vogel – 13 November 2008

Israelis are not Nazis - Mira VogelLast night, “formally hosted” and “subsidised” by the Student Union, Suzanne Weiss darkened the door of my institution as an invited speaker. She was invited by the Palestine Twinning Campaign to which the officers of the local branch of my trade union, UCU, voted to donate £200 of our subs. The meeting – From the Warsaw Ghetto to the Gaza Ghetto – had been advertised with a monochrome poster juxtaposing images of the Warsaw Ghetto wall and a segment of wall round Gaza. Beforehand the Activities Officer read out a statement to the effect that the opinions expressed that evening were those of the speakers, and not the Student Union. It was hard to reconcile this with the October motion resoundingly passed by the 16-member student assembly which included the statement, if I have it correctly, that “hosting Ms Weiss would be a great honour to the union and what our union ethos incorporates”.

In January 2008 (1) Weiss wrote that Israel deliberately kills Palestinians as part of a genocidal plan. She asserted that

“the Jewish people are the most hated people in the world today – because they are associated with the Zionist policies of Apartheid”.

Rather than resisting any such racism against Jews – fully manifest in the language of extreme hostility to Israel – she acquiesces to it. In August 2008 she wrote an article in Socialist Voice (2) titled ‘The siege of Gaza: Israel uses Hitler’s methods against Palestinians’. In it she writes:

“The Zionists’ aim is to remove Palestine from the world’s family of nations. They hope that the world will forget that a Palestinian people ever existed. That is the Zionist “final solution” for the Palestinians”.

She then pre-empts objections by appealing to ‘Zionist’ duplicity:

“The Zionists misuse the memory of the holocaust to breed and justify new wars in the Middle East”.

Because her comparison between Zionists and Nazis is so dangerous, I and others had simply and without demands written in protest. Free speech and the value of debate had been raised in response. As it turned out, there wasn’t debate. The hall was full to capacity with over 120 people with sufficient overflow for a decision to be made to repeat the presentation. The first presentation was made by a refugee from Gaza, the Exeter academic Ghada Ageel who gave an emotional presentation about the shortages food water and medicine in Gaza and their devastating impact on lives there. She had lost family members to poor healthcare. An uncle with liver failure had been prevented from crossing into Israel after refusing a request to collaborate with the Israeli army. She told of her father’s death from cancer without even aspirin to relieve the pain. Her presentation was about the human toll taken by the occupation.

Then Suzanne Weiss made her presentation, which had the specific purpose of drawing an analogy between the Warsaw Ghetto and Gaza. It began with her sole and spurious claim to authority, “I’m a survivor of the Jewish Holocaust”. It became clear over the course of the evening that many audience members, including twinning organisers, believed that Weiss had survived the Warsaw Ghetto, and that this conferred on her the authority to speak on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Her family perished in Auschwitz when she was a baby, however she herself was spared the inside of a camp or a ghetto. She was sent to an orphanage in her native France aged three and adopted by Americans at the age of nine. Her brief sketch of the US was as a racist and war-fevered state. Israel – “religious and ethnic exclusive state” – more so, she contended, ignoring the plurality of Israel’s population and the absence of a category of race in Israeli law. She talked of the great hate provoked by Zionism and vaguely of Israel’s use of methods once employed by Nazis. She said that Zionists did not want to kill all Palestinians but the basic philosophy of Zionism is the “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians “off the face of the earth” so that the world would forget they had ever existed. This she declared, is Israel’s “final solution”. She went on to mention Matan Vilnai’s threat to Gazans – which was already unacceptable enough – confidently interpreting it as an “unmistakeable” threat of a holocaust.

Next came a systematic comparison between the Warsaw Ghetto and Gaza with respect to methods; motivation; resistance, much of which was made up.

“Racism is the ideology of Euro-American colonial settlers”

she said, wrongly leading her audience to believe that Israel is a colony but failing to clear up the mystery of the colonial power. She told us that

“Zionists want their state to expand and dominate the region”.

She made much of the alliance between Europe’s Jews and the socialist resistance movement. But in those drastically polarised times, many who opposed the Fascists aligned themselves with the Communists. Things are different now and there exists a range of different political opinion and space for free and open discussion. The main obstacle for Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are their respective extremists – they both agree that there should be one state and they would wage war on each other for it if there were. The origins of racism apparently lie with “Euro-American colonialist ruling settlers”, not with the Nazis. The “colonialist settler movement” was “hellbent” on depriving the Palestinians of everything. She quoted Avram Burg that “there are two kinds of people coming out of Auschwitz – those who say “Never again” for the Jews, and those who say “Never again” for humanity.” The latter, she declared, was her type, meaning that people like me – people who believe that the persecution of Jews which saw its zenith in the Holocaust justifies a Jewish state, a place where Jews do not have to exist on sufferance – are designated the other type. As if you can’t say “Never again” for Jews and at the same time “Never again for humanity”.

I made a disgusted remark to my neighbour, was overheard and later repeatedly condemned as a racist. It’s not the first time members of this campaign have called me racist because I’m not an anti-Zionist. This kind of thing has put a lot of people off badly. But then, that may be the idea – “Zionists out of the peace movement” and all that. We are repeatedly told, almost like a mantra, that we are welcome at meetings. But somehow there is a vast gulf between being told we are welcome, and feeling welcome. Speakers like Suzanne Weiss occupy that gulf.

It was all so adrenal and so insubstantial. You listen to Ageel and learn compassion but no strategy. You listen to Weiss and learn nothing about the Palestinians, but why it is necessary to reject and condemn Zionists. There is already a big problem with rejecting Jewish nationalism while accepting and promoting Palestinian nationalism – a bigger danger arises with the term ‘Zionist’ being left undefined and being used in such a way that it readily slips between ‘Jew’ and ‘Israeli’. Indeed there is large overlap between the three. Half of the world’s Jews are Israeli, and the overwhelming majority of them believe in the existence of their state – i.e. are ‘Zionists’. It’s a small step from hating Zionists to hating Israeli Jews, and from hating Israeli Jews to hating all Jews who do not condemn Israeli Jews. So, the Hamas Charter wages explicit war on Jews. In their Democratiya review of Al-Qaradawi’s book Fatawa on Palestine, Gardner and Rich observe that Israelis, Zionists and Jews are conflated and the terms freely mixed throughout the book. The anti-Israel graffiti last Nakba Day appeared on the walls of synagogues in the in the ultra-orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of Stamford Hill. There is a current of thought which believes, as the erstwhile doyenne of the Socialist Worker Party Gilad Atzmon believes, that

“the Hebraic identity is the most radical version of the idea of Jewish supremacy, which is a curse for Palestine, a curse for Jews and a curse for the world. It is a major destructive force”

and consequently

“For an Israeli to humanise himself, he must de-zionise himself. In this way, self-hating can become a very productive power. It’s the same sense of self-hating I find, too, in Jews who have given the most to humanity”.

This idea that, while a good Palestinian can be a Palestinian nationalist, Arab nationalist or even an Islamist, a good Jew cannot be a Zionist, is a current of thought which is also familiar in the boycott campaign in UCU which many who oppose it have experienced directly. It is false and corrosive.

Immediately after Weiss had finished the Chair, one of the twinning organisers, attempted to end the event right there. All pretence of debate was abandoned. We were there to be talked at. Protests from the floor persuaded him reluctantly to allow ten minutes for questions. The first few comments permitted from the floor were in criticism of Weiss, and a further question was addressed to the panellists about whether Goldsmiths should twin with an Israeli as well as a Palestinian institution. The panellists were reluctant to answer this, attempting to defer to the chair. Then Ageel was permitted 5 minutes of response before the meeting ended. One audience member rose to her feet, gestured in the direction of the previous commenters and said, “You see, the ones that support Israel have the main power”, urging us to act to counter this in the future.

I left with a colleague, a senior academic whose family died in the Warsaw Ghetto, and who is Zionist, optimistic and left wing. A vigorous debate among maybe 15 students was ongoing in the corridor, which we joined. Students asked my colleague about Zionism and several listened carefully to his responses. Some said they felt that they knew too little about Zionism. There seemed to be a will to find out more. My colleague and one of the twinning organisers swapped details. The activities officer regretted the lack of debate and the imbalanced panel. We objected to the title and poster, which Weiss had chosen and the Student Union had accepted unchallenged.

We carried candles to a vigil on the steps of Deptford Town Hall. There the Chair of the meeting called bombastically for Israel to be subsumed into a single state, and Suzanne Weiss called for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, in order to (her voice rose above the traffic) “force” Israel to submit.

That more or less wrapped things up. One of the organisers told me that we shouldn’t censor such views as Weiss’. I would say in response that the twinning campaign’s invited speakers – and Weiss came to London from Canada specially – defines the character of the twinning campaign. Inviting extremists to paint Israelis as Nazis clearly indicates the priorities of the twinning campaign. Although debate is made much of, only anti-Zionist external speakers have been invited, meaning that what debate there is takes place between privileged official speakers and dissenting Student Union members. And the lack of debate or opportunity for response at this, the most contentious and damaging event to date, with a speaker who controlled the title and publicity, has harmed the reputation of the twinning still further. How does implacable, unopposed hostility to Jewish nationalism help the students at Al-Quds University towards a better education or Goldsmiths students towards a better understanding of the conflict? We need to return to these things and away from bad stories about Israel.

Update (15th November): Two relevant pieces of infomration. What the chair promoted that evening as a “vigil” is he is now retrospectively referring to in a circular email as a “picket”. It was the promotion of the event on Facebook which gave students the false impression that “Suzanne will be speaking about her time in the Warsaw ghetto in Poland as a child and her experiences in the ghettos of the Gaza Strip”.

Mira Vogel
Goldsmiths

Resignation statements from UCU – Raphaël Lévy, Jonathan Campbell, Eric Heinze, Michael Yudkin, Eve Garrard, Shalom Lappin, Norman Geras – 2006-2008

Physicist Raphaël Lévy resigns from UCU, October 22, 2008 Physicist Raphaël Lévy resigns from UCU

Dear Sally Hunt

Six months after the passing of motion 25 and while this motion is still “on the books”, I have to consider the ethical implications of remaining a UCU member.

The union has done nothing to distance itself from the discriminatory policy passed at Congress after six months.

The union has accepted without being moved the resignation of Jewish and antiracists union members, including philosopher Eve Garrard, philosopher Tim Crane, lawyer Eric Heinze, Professor of English Sarah Annes Brown, and Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies & Judaism Jonathan Campbell.

The union has excluded sociologist David Hirsh permanently from the UCU e-list.

Now, the general secretary of the UCU, i.e. you, describes as “a free speech” issue the legitimate court action by members who are seeking to ensure that antiracist legislation is enforced within the Union.

I have considered the ethical implications of remaining a UCU member and I thereby resign.

Dr Raphaël Lévy
BBSRC David Phillips Fellow

Jonathan Campbell’s resignation from UCU – and a reply from somebody on his local UCU executive   –  October 20, 2008

Jonathan Campbell's resignation from UCU - and a reply from somebody on his local UCU executiveDear Bill and everyone on the Bristol UCU Committee,

I’m emailing you to let you know that I’m resigning from UCU again because the anti-Israel Motion 25, passed at the last UCU Congress, remains on the books.

I’ve managed to hang on this far because I was expecting one or other of the union’s national committees to have discussed the motion further by now, preferably with a view to throwing it out as illegal – not to mention unethical in its demonization of the only Jewish country in the world alone of all countries in the world.

It’s fine, of course, for people to disagree with some or many Israeli policies or actions. In the UCU context, however, such supposedly ‘legitimate criticism’ tends to be inaccurate and unfair at best, or at worst part of a broader campaign to delegitimize Israel’s very existence – regardless of borders, government, or policies – alone of all UN member states. Indeed, that the latter agenda lies at the heart of UCU’s current position on Israel-Palestine was demonstrated in detailed reports I read of the shamefully one-sided Palestinian speaker tour sponsored by the union earlier this year (see http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=1842).

Moreover, UCU persistently refuses to take seriously those arguing that its attempts to exclude Israelis, and only Israelis, from the world academic community might, at least unintentionally, constitute antisemitism. This is perverse given that the union is generally concerned to avoid even homoeopathic levels of prejudice against other groups (e.g. sexism, homophobia, racism, Islamophobia), prejudice often thought to be all the more pernicious when it is relatively hidden, indirect, or unconscious.

It is perverse, furthermore, because there has been much careful and serious critique of UCU’s obsessive hostility to the Jewish state from people whose union record and left-wing credentials are second to none. Contributions to the Engage website (www.engageonline.org.uk) spring to mind as the primary example. And it is also worth mentioning the Report of the All-Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism which criticized UCU’s anti-Israel activity as anti-Jewish in effect (http://thepcaa.org/Report.pdf, para 213), as well as the fact that the union refused to meet with Prof Gert Weisskirchen of the OSCE to discuss his concerns in the same regard (see www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=209828§ioncode=26 ).

It seems that the UCU Executive is determined to ignore the real concerns of these and other folk, including myself, in a way that would be unthinkable if, say, black and Asian people or lesbians and gay men were voicing parallel concerns both inside and outside the union. As a result, it’s become intolerable for me to remain in UCU for the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, though I realise that everyone is really busy at present, I’d be grateful for some kind of a response to this message.

Kind regards,
Jonathan

Dr. Jonathan G. Campbell,
Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies & Judaism,
Department of Theology & Religious Studies,
School of Humanities, University of Bristol.

UPDATE : Jonathan has received a reply from a Bristol UCU exec member which contains the following:

“If Jews Worldwide are fed up with being identified with the Israeli state then surely they should try harder to distance themselves from Israel’s actions? They could join with non-Jews in an attempt to force the Israeli state to treat the Palestinians better. Perhaps wealthy Jews could influence Israel’s actions by organising to cut off external funding?”

My Reasons for Resigning from the UCU – Eric Heinze QMUL  –  July 03, 2008

My Reasons for Resigning from the UCU - Eric Heinze QMULAfter the first AUT boycott resolutions in 2005, I joined a small number of members in a lawsuit to challenge the legality of boycott action. We did it reluctantly, and withdrew the suit after the vote of May 2006 defeated the resolutions.

Large numbers of union members, including many opposed to a boycott, criticised the decision to litigate. They insisted that legal action violated the democratic traditions of trade unionism. They argued that recourse to law recalled the worst days of Thatcherism, when government used court orders to force the hand of labour. The AUT, we were told, had ample means of providing a full and fair hearing to all points of view without such outside intervention.

I disagreed. Courts can indeed be abused. But not every lawsuit is an abuse. A fundamental principle of liberal democracy, and of any democratically constituted body, is that sheer majoritarianism provides no guarantee of fair outcomes. A liberal tradition revived in our own day in Ronald Dworkin’s Taking Rights Seriously (1977) recalls that judicial intervention is nowhere more justified than when a body, like the AUT (and UCU)—organisations comprised, moreover, entirely of government employees—embraces positions raising such serious questions about discrimination. That does not mean that courts should step in to resolve every bitter controversy, but only that, on highly exceptional matters of fundamental principle, some checks on raw majoritarianism do more to promote democratic legitimacy than to undermine it.

I was willing to sue my trade union, but not to withdraw my membership. On the whole, I accepted the union’s declared commitment to democratic processes. I continued to believe that the misguided views of fellow members did not warrant my outright abandonment of my trade union. Like a family, a civic organisation demands commitment in times of discord, and not merely in times of harmony.

By April 2008, however, it became clear that my initial distrust of the union’s democratic pretensions was correct. The UCU leadership widely advertised what they called a ‘Speaking tour by Palestinian university union representatives.’ I would not have objected to a balanced presentation, granting equal time to both pro- and anti-boycott views. The wholly one-sided, UCU-sponsored presentation, however, revealed a core of union membership committed to democracy as long as they were winning their battle, yet just as committed to foiling it once they feared they might lose.

We can imagine a quasi-Gramscian defence of the Speaking Tour: ‘The Palestinians are a people oppressed by dominant interests. There is no such thing as a “level playing field” for them. A one-sided presentation of their views injects balance into an equation that systemically (“hegemonically”) deprives Palestinians of anything like a “level playing field”. A non-mixed panel of speakers is therefore justified.’

Little extrapolation is required—toss a concept like ‘hegemony’ into the stew, and little extrapolation is ever required—for those ‘dominant interests’ to be understood as US-backed militarism, neo-colonial racism, free-market corporate capitalism, and media conglomerates which ‘serve’ those interests. Even after a century of the grossest abuses of ‘anti-hegemonic’ polemics, that pretension to Ideologiekritik, to unmasking the ‘real’ imbalance that would underpin any insistence upon a seemingly ‘balanced’ presentation of pro- and anti-boycott views, continues to work like a charm upon ‘leftists’ desperate to prove that there’s some life in the old Marx yet—until some inconvenient facts rear their heads. I’ll limit myself to two kinds of facts: facts about mass media coverage, and facts about global power politics.

Mass Media coverage Notwithstanding that image of Palestinians as excluded from even-handed global attention, barely a week goes by without exhaustive attention to Palestinian suffering. Whatever may be the defects of journalistic coverage of the Middle East, indifference to the plight of Palestinians hardly counts among them. No global human rights issues, including those claiming far more victims, have received more column inches over such a sustained period of time.

The mainstream British and global media may do many things wrong in covering the Middle East, but they have hardly deprived the Palestinian cause of a level playing field. It is by no means unusual for one child killed in Gaza to prompt extensive Guardian, Independent or BBC coverage, replete with poignant sketches and photographs of grieving parents, siblings and communities.

Rightly so. Such journalism lends a fuller humanity to innocent victims in a way that cold facts and figures can never do. By comparison, however, how many such deeply individualised, deeply humanised stories, have appeared for victims in and around the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose conflict in the past decade has claimed three million lives, along with countless rapes, mutilations, displacements, destructions of families, noted in the Western press in only the most perfunctory terms—and in numbers exponentially exceeding casualties in the Israeli Occupied Territories? And Congo is hardly the only such example one might cite.

My aim in drawing comparisons is not to ‘weigh up’ sufferings in an unseemly volley of ‘More victim than thou’. Human rights is not a zero-sum game. We should not begin to care ‘less’ about Palestinians so that we might begin to care ‘more’ about victims elsewhere. It cannot be argued, however, that the Palestinian side needed from the UCU a level playing field that it lacks in the public arena.

Global Power Politics So-called attempts to level the Palestinians’ playing field might be made not only with respect to the media, but also with respect to full-blown global politics. Nary a word is uttered against Israel without simultaneous reference to her ‘backer’ or ‘broker’, the United States. The lone Palestinian David, we are told, can scarcely confront the American-Israeli Goliath.

If only the Middle East were so simple. Again, consider an analogy. Why haven’t, for example, Australian aborigines ever mounted the kind of strident, militarised resistance displayed by the Palestinians? Why hasn’t Australia been declared an ‘illegitimate’ state, despite a brutalisation of its indigenous people that stretched from the 19th century well into the present generation?

One can imagine a romantic reply: ‘The Palestinians’ resistance demonstrates their heroic fighting spirit, their refusal to capitulate, their belief in the justice of their cause.’ The reality is rather more banal. Had Australian aborigines formed part of a global population, an actual or even wholly nominal ummah, numbering 1½ billion members, controlling one-quarter of the world’s governments, along with much of its oil reserves, with demonstrators from one continent to the next taking to the streets en masse to proclaim their cause, it is unlikely that they would have confronted their fate so helplessly.

Throughout the formation of incipient Israeli statehood, wholly encrusted within the Cold War period, Palestinian interests were relentlessly defended by enormous power blocks—Arab, Soviet, and more broadly post-colonial. The 1978 UN General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism (repealed only after the end of the Cold War) was passed by a Goliath, not a David. How could it have passed at all through a UN supposedly ‘dominated’ by American ‘hegemony’? If a level playing field is our concern, why was no similar resolution passed to censure regimes in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other declared enemies of Israel whose brutality claimed more Muslim victims than Israel’s?

Israelis and Palestinians alike invoke a David-and-Goliath story. The Middle East is a mess not because Goliaths are fighting Davids, but because they are fighting each other, and, indeed, in view of intricate networks of political and financial support for both the Israeli and Arab states, often fighting themselves. Injustice on both sides? No doubt. Lack of a level playing field for one side? Nothing could be further from the truth..

Since the inception of the AUT, NAFTHE and UCU controversies about Israel, the most strident proponents of boycotts have remained stone silent about the world’s most egregious violators of human rights, several of which states, like China, have an overwhelmingly greater presence in British universities than Israel. The fact that such states are un-democratic, instead of being seen as an aggravating factor, has, bafflingly, been cited by pro-boycotters as an exculpatory factor. Throughout the boycott debates, and among frighteningly wide swathes of the media and public opinion, we have regularly heard that ‘China doesn’t claim to be a democracy, so needn’t be judged in the same way.’ The fact that China does, however, claim to be a ‘people’s republic’ (or that any number of Israel’s foes justify their regimes with reference to principles of Islamic justice) is conveniently avoided by proponents of that view.

All states proclaim formulaic, self-justifying ideals which they inevitably fail to fulfil. There is something sinister about the fact that Israel is so doggedly held to the most minute letter of her own proclaimed ideals. If the pro-boycotters were sincerely committed to human rights (a long history shows how little—how selectively—they have been), they would expend far more effort looking at the abuses that governments actually commit. They might not find Israel exemplary, but would hardly find her alone. In a recent article in the Harvard Human Rights Journal entitled ‘Even-handedness and the Politics of Human Rights’, in which I by no means exempt Israel from all criticism, I nevertheless argue that such one-sided campaigns, purportedly waged in the name of human rights, serve in fact to assault the most basic principles of human rights.

I can support an organisation without assenting to all of its adopted resolutions. I cannot support an organisation that manipulates the concept of fundamental human rights with such partisanship. Nor can I support an organisation that manipulates its proclaimed democratic values, structuring its public discourse so as to preclude a balanced presentation of views on an issue so desperately crying out for balance.

Prof. Eric Heinze
Faculty of Laws
Queen Mary, University of London

Michael Yudkin  –  May 19, 2006

I almost resigned my AUT membership (of 40 years’ standing) after the scandalous Council meeting in April last year at which a small and well-organised minority drove through motions to boycott two Israeli universities. In the end I was persuaded to remain in the AUT and fight for the motions to be reversed. But many AUT members did in fact resign (some of them returned after the boycott motions had been rescinded), and many more said they would do so if the boycott were confirmed. (In Oxford, for example, a rough count shows that, out of 59 members who wrote in to express their views on the issue, 21 said they would resign if the boycott went ahead).

We now have the hard left of NATFHE trying, in the dying days of their union, to force through an even more pernicious motion (“Motion 198C – Academic Responsibility”). It’s more pernicious a) because it potentially affects all Israeli academics (or possibly all Israelis: the language is highly ambiguous), not just those at the two universities named in the AUT motions last year; and b) because it imposes a McCarthyite test that requires Israelis, if they wish to remain on good terms with their NATFHE colleagues, to say that they are not now, and never have been, in favour of the policies of their Government.

But if NATFHE is indeed dying (it merges with the AUT on 1 June to form the UCU) why should we care about all this? There are two very good reasons. The first is that the motion sends an appalling signal to the world of higher and further education that UK academics have learned nothing from the AUT débacle of last year. The second reason is perhaps even more important: motion 198C, if passed, may well become the policy of the merged union and thus commit the very members of AUT who voted so decisively against boycotts last year.

Officers both of NATFHE and of AUT have expressed (no doubt in good faith) their opinion that the motion, even if passed, will become null when the merger takes place. There are several reasons for doubting whether their opinion is correct.

First, among the FAQ’s on the AUT web site is the question “Do all agreements or policies have to be resigned or ratified in the new union?” And here is the AUT’s answer: “No, there will be an assumption that the acts of the predecessor unions are adopted by the new union except where it specifically decides otherwise.” We’re not told how the new union might “specifically decide otherwise”; but a plausible answer is that we’d have to wait until the new union’s first Council meeting (next year?), when the whole sorry boycott debate would need to be started up all over again, resulting in yet further damage to the international reputation of UK academics.

Secondly, nowhere amongst all the documents that govern the new union’s constitution and standing orders and describe the arrangements for the amalgamation between AUT and NATFHE, is there any guidance on whether the policies of the constituent unions survive the merger. The FAQ mentioned above is the best information we have.

Thirdly, motion 198C is clearly intended to be more than transitory, as it speaks of “facilitating meetings in each university and college”. Necessarily these meetings would take place after 1 June, when the merger between AUT and NATFHE comes into force.

Motion 198C also instructs the Executive to offer to fund the travel costs of [pro-boycott] speakers at these “facilitated” meetings. In other words, the subscriptions of all UCU members, including present AUT members who last year firmly squashed (or thought they had squashed) any notion of academic boycotts, are now to be used to finance speakers who will travel from place to place inciting academics to boycott Israelis.

If motion 198C is passed by the NATFHE Conference we can envisage two results. First, the pro-boycott members of UCU (who may be bigots and extremists but who are not stupid) will demand that their motion be considered as binding on the new union. If they aren’t satisfied with the UCU Officers’ implementation of their boycott policies, they will set up a squawk about how their democratic decision is being trampled on and ask the Officers to cite their authority for ignoring it. (As we have seen, there is no such authority). Secondly, the former-AUT members of UCU will consider that they have been conned and will resign in droves; and this time we shan’t get them back.

Michael Yudkin
Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry
University of Oxford

Philosopher Eve Garrard resigned after attending UCU Congress 2008. Her resignation letter is here.

Computational linguist Shalom Lappin resigned in June 2007, following the first UCU Congress. His letter of resignation is here.

Political philosopher Norman Geras explained why he was no longer a member of the UCU here.

 

Why can’t we just remember Kristallnacht? David Hirsh

The Guardian asked Paul Oestreicher to write a piece on the 70th anniversary of the night of 9/10 November 1938, when the Nazi government organized a national day of violence against the Jews of Germany. The Nazis demonstrated that they had control of the streets and they used it to attack and to terrorize Jews.

Oestreicher’s first paragraph is about Kristallnacht. Paragraphs two, three and four are about his family’s refugee experience and the family’s desperate search for a place that would give Jews asylum. Pargraphs five and six return to the events of the pogrom itself.

In paragraph seven Oestreicher sets out to demonstrate that antisemitism wasn’t only a Nazi phenomenon but was also manifested in British, Australian and American reluctance to take in Jewish refugees. Paragraph eight also describes the difficulties German Jews encountered when looking for somewhere to flee. Britain, he tells us, ‘thanks to a group of persistent lobbyists’ (a curious form of words?) allowed in a number of unaccompanied Jewish children on the ‘kindertransport’ scheme. This paragraph is already doing some of the work of normalizing Nazism by comparing its antisemitism with the antisemitism present in the states which opposed Nazism.

In paragraph ten Oestreicher confesses that he is not simply telling this story for ‘personal and historic interest’ but for another more immediate reason: ‘because it brings into sharp focus the far from humane attitude of Britain, the European Union and many other rich countries to the asylum seekers of today.’ He says, employing another curious form of words: ‘This is not quite our 1938, but the parallels are deeply disquieting.’ He admits that there is no parallel between British immigration policy today and the Nazi policy in 1938 of burning out Jews from cities up and down Germany, but this does not stop him going on to make such an inappropriate comparison.

It is not until paragraph eleven that Oestreicher cuts to the all too predictable chase:

‘An even sadder consequence of this story of anti-Jewish inhumanity is that many of the survivors who fled to Palestine did so at the expense of the local people, the Palestinians, half of whom were driven into exile and their villages destroyed. Their children and children’s children live in the refugee camps that now constitute one aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse that embitters Islam and threatens world peace: all that a consequence of Nazi terror and indirectly of the Christian world’s persecution of the Jewish people over many centuries.’

Oestreicher’s piece, written on the anniversary of Kristallnacht and published in the Guardian on the anniversary of Kristallnacht is actually about Palestine. And as a piece about Palestine, it isn’t very good. The description of the consequences of the war of 1948 is so inadequate and one-sided as to render it fundamentally mis-educative. The inference that the plight of the Palestinian refugees is the real source of Islamist hostility to non-Muslims is unsupported by evidence or argument, as is the claim that the Israel/Palestine conflict is so globally important that it constitutes a threat to world peace.

Paragraph twelve begins with the essentialized and racialized claim that fear is, after the Holocaust, ‘bred into every Jewish bone’. Oestreicher is preparing us for the idea that what Israel does is not the result of politics and policy, as is the policy of any other state, but is actually a product of a Nazi-induced deep-seated psychological pathology. He tells us, but offers no evidence, that ‘today many Israelis say of the Palestinians, as once the Germans said of them: “The only solution is to send them away.”’ This is a serious misrepresentation of contemporary Israeli public life. Ethnic cleansing is a political programme embraced in Israel only by a tiny fascistic fringe and is simply not discussed in mainstream political discourse. No mainstream political party considers it to be an option. Oestreicher, however, pushes on with his analogy between Nazi Germany and today’s Israel: ‘To create another victim people is to sow the seeds of another holocaust.’

And he pushes further still, arriving at the claim that people in Britain who supported German anti-Nazis were wrongly accused, in the 1930s, of being anti-German. The analogy he is trying to make here is with those who support anti-Zionist Jews today, being accused of antisemitism.

This is how we are invited to remember Kristallnacht in the Guardian of today. Oestreicher divides today’s Jews into two camps. The majority are, for him, like Nazis. The other camp, which he defines as being for justice for the Palestinian people, is, he says, an isolated minority. It is unfair, he thinks, that those who are for justice are ‘often accused of anti-semitism’. He doesn’t say who does the accusing or why. He doesn’t examine the complex relationships between movements for Palestinian freedom, anti-Zionist and anti-Israel movements, and antisemitism. He hasn’t read The Livingstone Formulation.

Where to start, deconstructing this edifice of half-truth upon nonsense upon cliché upon analogy? First, the conflict between Israel and Palestinians is not like the conflict between the Third Reich and the Jews of Europe. Israel is not a murderous and totalitarian evil which exists to wipe out people it designates as being of the wrong ‘race’; Israel is what Isaac Deutscher called a life-raft state, founded by the United Nations, a place where Jews who fled from racism in Europe, in the Middle East and in Russia built a home.

Antisemitism has always thought of Jews as being central to all that happens in the world but in truth, Jews and Israel are not very important on a global scale. They are not responsible for ‘embittering’ Islam, they are not responsible for ‘threatening’ world peace and they are not part of a global plot to ethnically cleanse or to murder ‘races’ across whole continents, as the Nazis were.

There is a real struggle between Israel and the Palestinians – it is a nasty struggle over a small piece of land and it concerns a relatively small number of people. There are significant and important injustices perpetrated in this struggle and from many different directions. Israel, because it has state power, bears a great responsibility for finding the peace – a responsibility which it has not always taken sufficiently seriously. But this talk about Israel as Nazis is just nonsense and is particularly inappropriate when it is sold as the central lesson of Kristallnacht, which itself was an important moment in the campaign to murder European Jewry.

How is it possible to explain to a person who cannot see, why it is so vile to throw the epithet ‘Nazi’ at Jews?

A person who thinks that Nazi Germany is like Israel (or today’s Britain or EU or America, for that matter) appears not to understand what was particular about Nazism. It is actually a form of Holocaust denial: ‘Oh the Holocaust is not really such a big deal – it was rather like contemporary British immigration policy; it is nothing unique, it is rather like the struggle over land between Israel and Palestine.’

It is the Holocaust which defines Nazism; the plan to kill the Jews of Europe, to kill the gay people and the Roma of Europe too, and other communities designated as rubbish by the Nazis. Britain and the EU and America and Israel certainly do things wrong. But they are not organizing the industrialized murder of millions of defenceless human beings.

Jews and Israelis are not Nazis. Oestreicher knows that they’re not. So he should stop saying they are. Perhaps he just does it for effect. But he seems to misjudge what the effect is.

David Hirsh
Goldsmiths, University of London

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