We spread the word about ‘The Great Debate – The Gaza Issue’ at Goldsmiths last week – I took some notes. Somebody made a video recording – might be worth checking the SU Middle Eastern Society page in a few days.
This debate was envisioned by its organisers (an unprecedented and positive parnership between Goldsmiths Middle-Eastern Society, Jewish Society and the Palestine & Israel Peace Society) as a departure from the kind of Israel/Palestine event Goldsmiths is used to. But something untoward happened with the way the panellists were recruited and fairly late in the day the organiser who had arranged Eric Lee and John Strawson found out that the other two speakers were known provocateurs. John Rose in particular practically lives in Goldsmiths Student Union as a guest of the Goldsmiths Palestine Twinning Campaigners.
Maybe the clue is on the Facebook event page – four panellists “two representing each ‘side'”. The dichotomy which disrupts so many campus debates about Israel and Palestine was also present here.
Consequently there were last minute worries on the part of the Student Union (the event was promoted as public on Facebook) who briefly attempted to limit the audience to Goldsmiths staff and students in the hope of avoiding the seemingly-inevitable controversy due to the choice of Israel-eliminationist panellists. During this last-minute flip-flopping about this, John Strawson cancelled (with the offer to return another time). In the end, the event remained public.
However there was a lot which was good about this event. The chair in particular was principled, firm, bright and something else – concerned that the audience should leave in a positive frame of mind. The mood was relatively tolerant despite some revolting statements from one ‘side’ of the panel. Eric Lee, being without anybody else on his ‘side’, was allocated the appropriate amount of extra time. The format was also good – three questions interspersed with panellists’ responses and questions from the floor. These well-conceived measures kept the toxicity which dogs SWP/RESPECT-organised events out of this one and distinguished the co-organisers as SU societies committed to improving general understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Hopefully they will organise more events.
The notes I took at the time [pdf]. Worth noting is Ghada Karmi’s “extremely generous offer” to allow Jews to live alongside Palestinians in “my country”, and Eric Lee’s response. Karmi’s main argument was to insist that it was simple: Jews came, stole my country and threw me out. John Rose defended suicide bombing and Islamism as resistance to imperialism which deserve our “unconditional but critical support”. This deeply appalled Eric Lee on behalf of the Iranian workers who were betrayed by the Islamist counter-revolutionaries. For John Rose, the inclusion of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the Hamas charter was a “mistake”. He went on to evade a question on whether he’d condemn suicide bombing against innocent Israeli civilians by reading from a Darwish poem about a suicide bomber, making (regardless of Darwish’s intentions) the facile connection between suicide bombing and desparation. He closed with advice to “engage with the Jewish students” in order to change their minds as his mind had been changed. The SWP has been failing at this for decades.