Independent Idiocy (& another Livingstone Formulation) – Mark Gardner

Adrian Hamilton’s dreadful article in the Independent’s 23rd April edition is worth noting, even by that newspaper’s standards.

The article is an attack on the walkout at the UN Geneva anti-racism conference by Western ambassadors during Iranian President Ahmedinejad’s speech. Hamilton quotes the UK ambassador saying that Ahmedinejad’s first mention of Israel was his cue to exit. Hamilton then asks:

“But what basically was our representative trying to say here? That any mention of the word Israel is barred from international discussions? That the mere mention of it is enough to have the Western governments combine to still it?”

Hamilton is aware of Ahmedinejad’s track record, but thinks the President wasn’t so bad in front of the UN. After all, he even remembered to say “Zionist” instead of “Jew”:

“In fact, Ahmadinejad’s speech was not anti-Semitic, not in the strict sense of the word. Nowhere in his speech did he mention his oft-quoted suggestion that Israel be expunged from the map of the world. At no point did he mention the word “Jews”, only “Zionists”, and then specifically in an Israeli context. Nor did he repeat his infamous Holocaust denials, although he did reportedly refer to it slightingly as “ambiguous” in its evidence”.

Next, Hamilton contextualises Ahmedinejad’s narrative (including “Zionist take-over of  Western politics”) as standard stuff in that part of the world:

“Instead, he launched the time-honoured Middle Eastern accusation that Israel was an alien country imposed on the local population by the West, out of its own guilt for the genocide; that it was supported by a Zionist take-over of Western politics and that it pursued racist policies towards the Palestinians.”

Then, Hamilton has his cake and eats it – if there is a “Zionist world conspiracy”, it is a rubbish one; although Western academics are now agreeing with the Muslim world that the American branch of the conspiracy (suddenly recast as “pro-Israel lobby”) is apparently doing brilliantly:

“Now you may find these calls offensive or far-fetched (if there is a Zionist world conspiracy, it is making a singularly bad job of it) but it is pretty much the standard view in the Muslim world. Western support of Israel is seen as a conspiracy, and it is not just prejudice. There are now books by Western academics arguing that the pro-Israeli lobby wields an influence in the US out of all proportion to its numbers. If the Western walkout in Geneva did nothing else, it rather proved the point.”

You can read the whole article on-line, where the sub-heading is the same Livingstone Formulation that the Independent’s headline team plucked out to put in bold letters in the print edition. Namely:

“What are we trying to say? That any mention of Israel is now barred?”

We are sadly used to the Independent and others alleging that anti-Israel “criticism” is branded as antisemitic – but “any mention is now barred?” goes much, much further.

The shift from mere “criticism” to “any mention” is bad enough, but in the context of Hamilton’s article it implies that the supposed antisemitism accusation conspiracy has now ensnared the highest levels of Western diplomacy. Yes, there is still a question mark hanging at the end of the sentence, so it remains more of a barbed rhetorical question rather than a statement of fact. Nevertheless, what is more likely to remain with Independent readers: the narrative, or the question mark?

Mark Gardner, Communications Director, CST

TULIP – Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine

Trade union leaders from three continents have announced the launch of a new global movement “to challenge the apologists for Hamas and Hizbollah in the labour movement” and to fight for a two-state solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

The movement is called TULIP – Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine.

The leaders are Paul Howes, national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Stuart Appelbaum,  President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (USA), and Michael J. Leahy, OBE, General Secretary of Community (United Kingdom).

They have issued a founding statement and invite those who agree with it to join TULIP online.

Founding Statement

The solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is clear – and has been accepted in principle by both sides.  Israeli and Palestinian states living side by side, within secure and recognised borders, is the only workable solution to a conflict that has dragged on for decades.

Israel has already taken a number of steps towards this goal, most notably by agreeing to the Oslo Accords in 1993 and later by the unilateral withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Lebanon and Gaza.  Palestinian moderates lead by Mahmoud Abbas support this process.

People of goodwill everywhere want a process to succeed in delivering peace, justice and reconciliation.   Trade unions can play a positive role here, and often do.  The International Transport Workers Federation, for example, has done much to bridge the gap between transport workers unions in Israel and Palestine and to reach ground-breaking agreements.  TheInternational Trade Union Confederation has encouraged dialogue between the Israeli and Palestinian national trade union centres.  And individual unions in a number of countries have invited Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists to their conferences, helping to promote discussion and agreement.

This is the traditional role of trade unions when faced with disputes of this kind – bridging the gap between nations at war, encouraging peace, justice and reconciliation.  It is a role we can be proud of.

And yet in recent years, a number of national unions and trade union centres have changed course and abandoned that role.  Instead, they have rallied behind those Palestinians who are opposed to the peace process.  Some have gone so far as to deny Israel’s right to exist.

A number of those unions have called for boycotts and sanctions directed against Israel, and only against Israel.  They are attempting to demonise the Jewish state, to deny it legitimacy, and to whip up hatred against it.  Sometimes that hatred even spills over into anti-Semitism.

Those unions are wrong – terribly wrong.

We believe that the time has come for trade unionists around the world to join forces in support of genuine Israeli-Palestinian peace with justice, based on a two-state solution with secure and recognised borders.

There are already unions and associated NGOs in a number of countries which support this goal.  But they are fighting this battle alone, each in their own country.  It is time we united our forces.

We are calling for the formation of a new global movement – TULIP, Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine.

TULIP aims to do the following:

Unite those groups – unions and NGOs – which are already fighting within the labour movement against the boycott of Israel and for genuine peace, justice and reconciliation.

Produce a multilingual global website, print publications, and provide information and opportunities to begin the process of turning back the tide and encouraging unions to play a constructive role in the peace process.

Work together with Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists and associated NGOs to find ways to provide practical on-the-ground assistance — rather than empty slogans.

At the moment, the opponents of a two-state solution are on the offensive, working hard to promote their destructive agenda of boycotts and sanctions targetting Israel.

It’s time for trade unionists in all countries to go on the offensive ourselves, to challenge the apologists for Hamas and Hizbollah in the labour movement.

We have no illusions that this will be anything other than a long and difficult process.  But we also know that we have no choice.  We cannot abandon the field to those whose goal is the destruction of any chance for a real Israeli-Palestinian peace.

We welcome trade unionists from all countries to join us and to say together with us –

No to boycotts and sanctions!
Two states for two peoples!

Geras deals with Seumas Milne’s trivialization of Ahmadinejad


Antony Lerman, Jacqueline Rose and David Hirsh

thejc1David Hirsh had this piece published in the Jewish Chronicle which criticized Antony Lerman, Jacqueline Rose and Caryl Churchill’s parallel projects to portray Jews as being psychologically incapable of forging good relations with their neighbours in the Middle East.  Their approach explains the war in Gaza by reference to the allegation that Jews bring up their children in a neurotic way, and in a way which teaches them to be unconcerned by Palestinian  suffering.

Some of these issues are explored in greater depth in these exchanges.

Antony Lerman and Jacqueline Rose had a letter published in last week’s Jewish Chronicle and David Hirsh responded this week:

Antony Lerman and Jacqueline Rose:

David Hirsh (“Do not confine Israel to the couch”, April 10th) performs the double feat of misrepresenting our views and showing his ignorance.

Jacqueline Rose neither inspired Caryl Churchill to write the play “Seven Jewish Children” – Churchill has not read her work – nor did she brief the actors. She was invited to talk to them about the history of the conflict.

Antony Lerman did not offer his own view of Professor Bar Tal’s research in his “Independent” article but quoted from the “Haaretz” summary of it; nor does he say or believe that it is a scientific discovery to assert that “the Jewish public does not want to be concerned with the facts”. Nowhere do we imply that Jews indoctrinate their children to be indifferent to non-Jewish suffering or that the Holocaust explains the attack on Gaza.

We do not transform political questions into psychological diagnoses. Nor are we practising therapy on anyone. Jacqueline Rose’s writing is rather based on the premise that there is a psychological dimension to all political conflicts that merits the most serious attention. The idea that there is a disjunction between psychology and politics (or between psychological and political explanations of human behaviour) is so ludicrous that no one who thinks this can be taken seriously as a social scientist. Is Professor Bar Tal wrong to be deeply concerned about the political implications of his research into the psychology and “collective memory” of Israeli Jews? Perhaps Hirsh thinks that the International Society of Political Psychology is based on a false premise.

Sadly, Hirsh is so incapable of engaging with our ideas that he invents some which he then ascribes to us. He then resorts to the odious ploy of implying that these fictitious views bear resemblance to those of David Irving and President Ahmadinejad. Surely your readers deserve better than this shoddy tactic from someone who purports to be an academic.

Antony Lerman, Jacqueline Rose

David Hirsh’s response:

It is hurtful but no longer surprising that Jacqueline Rose, a professor at my own university, and Antony Lerman, have responded to my arguments only with ad hominem attacks. They accuse me of misrepresentation, of ignorance, of holding a view “so ludicrous that no one who thinks this can be taken seriously as a social scientist”; of being incapable of engaging with their ideas; of only purporting to be an academic.

JC readers who have heard that discussion of antisemitism on campus is not always rational, have now seen for themselves an example of how those of us who take the issue seriously are often dealt with by colleagues who cannot bear to see their own words reported back to them.

If people read Lerman’s piece in The Independent, Rose’s books and Churchill’s play, they will see for themselves that I have misrepresented nothing.

The issue which Rose and Lerman seek to avoid is antisemitism. The campaign to exclude Israelis from the academic, cultural, sporting and economic life of humanity flows from the way of thinking which Rose and Lerman fight for. Rose works for the exclusion of Israeli colleagues, but no others, from UK universities. Lerman legitimizes the antisemitic demonization of Israel by blurring the distinction between this and political criticism of the policies of Israeli governments.

Rose and Lerman do not answer my points concerning the way they single out Jews as having a pathological inability to live at peace with their neighbours. They leave untouched my criticism of their psychological explanation, which essentializes the conflict as a Jewish neurosis. Rather, we should treat it as a political problem for which we can strive to find political solutions.

Rose and Lerman are fond of speaking “as Jews”. The effect of their project is to reassure the British intelligentsia that antisemitism is not currently an issue about which we need to be seriously concerned. This reassurance, doggedly and consistently offered, is dangerous because it educates anti-racists to recognize claims of antisemitism only as manifestations of dishonest pro-Israel propaganda. We should support the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements but we must never think that working for reconciliation is incompatible with vigilance about antisemitism.

Given that all too often people come up with homespun and offensive psychology to explain why some Jews side with antisemites against Jews, Howard Cooper’s response, which was to psychologize David Hirsh, was rather daring:

David Hirsh doesn’t agree with bringing psychological insights to bear on”political questions”. So he ends up aligning Professor Jacqueline Rose’s nuanced, psychoanalytically informed critiques of Israeli intransigence, and Antony Lerman’s remarks on the phenomenon of Jewish belligerency and sense of victimhood, with David Irving’s “antisemitic” stereotyping. Perhaps Hirsh’s ugly distortion of their positions demands its own analysis.

He suggests that “we expect our therapist to be on our side”, but the problem for any therapist is: what if the patient is in denial? If the patient cannot see his or her own aggressiveness, he or see will often experience the therapist’s comments as persecutory.

Further, the patient may twist the therapist’s words into a perverse parody of what has been said: thus Hirsh’s egregious allegation that Rose and Lerman “imply that Jews indoctrinate their children to be indifferent to non-Jewish suffering”.

These distortions occur when patients fear looking honestly at their own
failures and come up with thoughts like “It is not ‘the Jews’ but the occupation which is oppressive” – a remark indicating a typical wish to shift responsibility away from the personal to the impersonal “context”.

Of course Hirsh is right that the issues of post-Holocaust Jewish attitudes involve political questions. But to divorce politics from an examination of the deep subjectivities that inform any political position is both naive andintellectually flawed.

(Rabbi) Howard Cooper

For more on Jacqueline Rose’s work, people should re-read the exchange in Democratiya between Rose and Shalom Lappin.  Lappin reviewed The Question of Zion.  Rose responded.  Lappin answered.

See also this from Ben Gidley.

David Aaronovitch finds antiracist support for Jew-hating Atzmon

David Aaronovitch

David Aaronovitch

This piece, by David Aaronovitch, is from the Jewish Chronicle.

Here’s a story in which I take no pleasure. Some time ago, I was asked to participate in a “debate” on antisemitism at a respectable literary festival. The other speakers were to be Denis MacShane MP and the radical Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe. Though the debate’s topic was unclear, with a book due to be published on conspiracy theories, I happily agreed.

Two weeks before the event, I was called by the organisers to be told two things: first that Mr Pappe had had to withdraw and second that they had invited Gilad Atzmon, the Israeli musician, to take his place. Atzmon, for those who don’t know, is a man who spends his evenings playing the saxophone and his days on the computer, variously churning out Judeophobic nonsense and indulging in extensive pseudonymous self-promotion.

In essence, his stock argument is that Jews are responsible for their own historic misfortunes due to their tribalism and aggression. He then serves this stuff up larded with post-modernist gobbledegook borrowed from his incomprehensible, academic mother.

So I said no? No, Denis MacShane said no, but I said yes. I was too proud and arrogant not to believe I could show a roomful of British people that a line was in danger of being crossed.

The day was bright, the tent was warm. A co-speaker, arranged at the last minute, was the journalist Nick Cohen. This was worrying, not because Nick is anything other than excellent, but because British audiences hate ganging-up. If it was two beauteous elves against one hideous orc, they would side with the orc.

From the platform, I was able to see to my right at the front a group of people some of whom had greeted Atzmon as he arrived. Towards the back was the unmistakable Aryan presence of Michele Renouf, of the Number One Ladies’ Antisemitic Agency, pal of David Irving, cursed by being born too late to marry Reinhard Heydrich.

My plan was simply to read out what Atzmon had written, which I did. Nick Cohen then questioned why such a speaker would be regarded as respectable. Atzmon began by suggesting — as if it were (a) true and (b) a bad thing — that we had learned our debating tactics “in the synagogue”. From there it was downhill, mostly a diatribe about warmongers, in the course of which Atzmon said that he stood by every Judeophobic word of his that I’d read out.

Then the thing happened. As he finished, Lady Renouf gave him a big hand, but so too did the people below to the right. Stupidly, I took issue with their decision to applaud, suggesting in my choler that they must be anti-semitic to cheer such sentiments.

“Rubbish”, one of the front row shouted back; indeed, one of their number “had done more for Jewish heritage than anyone in the country”.

And this is what staggered me — it turned out to be sort of true. Later on that evening, I emailed this man and asked how it could be that he was so interested in Jewish history and the early experience of British Jews, and could end up co-applauding the Judeophobia of an idiotic musician, alongside Renouf, whose political forebears marched to the sound of, “The Yids, The Yids, We’ve got to get rid of the Yids”?

I’ll boil his answer down for you — he was seething about Gaza. On the day, he’d hoped for Avi Shlaim, but the silly Atzmon would just have to do. Reading what he had to say I felt it was as though the IDF had dumped white phosphorous on his judgment as well as on Gaza.

Forget the Zionists, he no longer seemed to have the capacity to distinguish between criticism of Israel and antisemitism. Perhaps, I found myself thinking, he found the fading lamentations of dead, underdog Jews preferable to the sometimes awful actions of all-too-human live ones. And perhaps there are not a few elite Britons who kind of agree with him. It is the kind of thing that I wished I hadn’t learned, as perhaps did the Jewish student who came up to me afterwards in tears. But again, maybe I needed to know.

This piece, by David Aaronovitch, is from the Jewish Chronicle.
For more on Atzmon, click here.