Why the silence over attacks on Israeli campuses? – Colin Shindler

raphaportrait23This piece, by Colin Shindler, is in The Guardian

A few days before Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), spoke at the demonstration for Palestine earlier this month, my colleagues and I – the Israeli and Jewish studies staff at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) – put out a statement that expressed our shock at the attack on the Islamic University of Gaza and mourned the terrible loss of life. But, unlike Hunt, we asked another question: “Why has the union been silent for many years about the assault on Sapir College in Sderot, inside Israel, whose campus has become a firing range for Hamas units in Gaza?”

In February 2008, a student, Roni Yechiah, a father of four, was killed in a bombardment of Sderot. The helipad of Barzilai hospital, ferrying the injured from Sderot to casualty wards, was similarly hit. The enrolment in recent years at Sapir College has dramatically decreased. Yet the silence from the UCU has been deafening.

The union seems to be unaware that the range of the missiles fired from Gaza has increased fivefold since 2001. The firing has been continuous throughout the evacuation of the Jewish settlements in Gaza, before the election of Hamas and before the imposition of sanctions on Gaza. Even during ceasefires, Hamas refused to corral groups such as Islamic Jihad to prevent them launching missiles.

During the last two years, their sophistication and payload has increased. Even the lethal flying pipe-bombs have had their range extended. Longer-range Grad missiles have been smuggled into southern Gaza through tunnels from Egypt. Now Ben-Gurion University at Beer Sheva, some 40km distant, is a target. Classes have been abandoned and university life is at a standstill. Yet the UCU resolution on the crisis states that the Hamas missiles are a mere “pretext for the invasion”.

While the Palestinians interpret disproportionality in terms of the powerful Israeli military machine pitted against the highly trained, 15,000-strong Hamas militias, the Israelis understand disproportionality in terms of the potential threat to their unarmed civilians from bigger missiles. Will proportionality only be achieved if a rocket hits an Israeli university building filled with students?

We were shocked at the images coming out of Gaza, but outrage through Hunt’s eyes is selective. Yet this negates any pretence at serious examination of a problem – the core of our educational raison d’etre.

As our statement concluded: “As teachers of Israeli and Jewish studies to Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims at Soas, we cannot bury our heads in the sand in the belief that this issue is one-sided. We are a small minority at Soas, but our academic training tells us to look at narratives beyond our own opinions. This is why we have chosen to speak out and not to remain silent.”

• Colin Shindler is professor of Israeli studies at Soas, University of London. His History of Modern Israel was recently published by Cambridge University Press

Italian trade unionists who want to boycott “Jewish-owned shops” in Rome

Ths is a press release from B’nai B’rith Europe

Brussels, Belgium – January 12, 2009 – B’nai B’rith Europe condemns the proposal by Giancarlo Desiderati, the leader of the Italian trade union FLAICA Uniti – CUB, to ‘identify and boycott’ Jewish-owned shops in the Italian capital. This call clearly represents a multiple transgression of the red lines of the Working Definition of Antisemitism that is used by both the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) of the EU, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the OSCE and by the Personal Representative of the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE on Combating Antisemitism. It mentions not only “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”, but also “applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” as “examples of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself”.

Moreover, “FLAICA Uniti – CUB’s idea is highly similar to the Nazis’ call not to buy ‘Jewish'”, as Yves Kamami, the Chairman of F.A.N., notes. “Desiderati’s subsequent condemnation of ‘all forms of anti-Semitism by Right or Left’ appears to be nothing but a meaningless lip service in the face of his earlier statement. This is also confirmed by the fact that he has since compared the situation of the Palestinians today to that of the Jews in the Holocaust, whereby an analogy between Israel and Nazi Germany is implied.” Precisely these comparisons are mentioned as another example of antisemitism by the Working Definition, as BBE has pointed out previously in a condemnation of similar remarks made by Cardinal Renato Martino.
B’nai B’rith Europe holds that while the statements by the leader of FLAICA Uniti – CUB are malicious and unfounded, they also do nothing to help the people in Gaza. Far from resembling a truly progressive viewpoint, the trade union’s position ignores the true causes for the suffering of the Palestinians, who have been subjected to the rule of an anti-Semitic movement that also suppresses and murders women, homosexuals, religious minorities, oppositionists, and trade unionists.

Israel expresses its concern about current wave of antisemitism

Statement from the Israeli Foreign Ministry

Israel has embarked on a defensive campaign against Hamas, a terrorist organization which, on a daily basis, has launched rocket and mortar barrages, thus threatening the lives of Israel’s civilians – men, women, and children. Moreover, Hamas’ Charter and many declarations to this very day call for the destruction of Israel and, using antisemitic epithets, call for the annihilation of the Jewish people.

We have received with great concern and revulsion many reports of physical, moral, verbal and other manifestations of antisemitic attacks towards Jews and Israeli citizens in many parts of the world. Examples of these include physical assault, violence and abuse towards Jews, the desecration of cemeteries and synagogues, the use of antisemitic incitement in pro-Palestinian demonstrations, the writing of antisemitic graffiti on Jewish property, as well as cartoons, editorials and other press stories reminiscent of the kind that appeared in the media of certain countries during the darkest days of the early 20th century. Israel and the Jewish people are appalled at these expressions of incitement, hatred and blatant extremism.

The Government of Israel therefore calls upon the leaders of the world to condemn, suppress and curb any and all forms of such incitement and hate, and to further hold accountable those responsible for their actions. We know that there is a delicate balance in maintaining freedom of expression while preventing it from becoming hate speech or worse. Nonetheless, the dangers that lie within the Pandora’s box that appears to have been opened with this current wave of antisemitism are known too well to humanity, and we must all strive to prevent all forms of incitement to hatred and discrimination, whoever the victim might be.

Israel will continue to defend the operation it has undertaken to defend the lives of its citizens from systematic and continuous terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, whatever one’s opinion may be of this operation, it should never be used to legitimize hate and antisemitic incitement.

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