Violence against Israeli speaker is not an isolated incident

At the University of Manchester anti-Israel demonstrators, reportedly from Action Palestine, surrounded and tried to attack deputy Israeli ambassador Talya Lador-Fresher after she’d given a political science lecture. She has the impression that they would have beaten her up if they could.  The event had been postponed previously due to security concerns. A spokesperson for the University of Manchester commented irrelevantly:

“The University is fundamentally committed to freedom of speech, exercised within the law. It follows that it should also allow peaceful and lawful protest to take place on its campus.”

Not reassuring – the protest was not peaceful but violent.

There are political players at the extremes of Israeli and Palestinian society, along with their supporters, who would like us to consider this attack representative of Palestine solidarity, but it isn’t. At most, it represents support for the minority within Palestinian society which hates and attacks Israelis, and works to drive them away. In their approach and mentality Action Palestine activists have more in common with the extreme right Israelis who left a pipe-bomb outside the home of anti-occupation activist Ze’ev Sternhell than they have with genuine pro-Palestinian campaigners. They insist that they stand for Palestinian rights, dignity and freedom, and yet deny rights, dignity and freedom to Israelis. The only serious thing about them is their attempt to import the Middle East conflict onto a British campus.

Too often anti-Israel campaigners find antisemitism appealing, though they would be the last to admit this. Action Palestine hosted Bongani Masuku back in December 2009, at the same time as the University and College Union. The South African Human Rights Commission found Bongani Masuku guilty of hate speech against Jews a few days afterwards. UCU and Action Palestine would or should have known about the charges against him. They would or should have known that anti-Israel campaigning is often expressed as animosity to Jews, who are treated as proxy Israelis.

But, like UCU nationally, my local UCU branch at Goldsmiths attributes antisemitism to “the actions of the Israeli state” rather than to the groups and individuals who enact it, and leaves Jews to deal with it on their own. Harry’s Place points out that Action for Palestine is holding a seminar next week with Amnesty International and Ben White, who considers antisemitism “understandable”.

So where are we? A British campaign for Palestinian rights seeks education from an antisemitic speaker and attacks an Israeli. A reputable human rights organisation is content to partner with it. A trade union invites the antisemitic speaker to present on an anti-racist platform. A higher education institution can’t distinguish between peaceful protest and physical attack.

And precisely what does all this have to do with a political solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians?

Palestinians are not free, and there is a need for a movement which supports and enables a negotiated political settlement and mutual understanding between ordinary citizens. Compare Action Palestine with 11 students at the Technische Universität Darmstadt. They run an annual Middle East Simulation event where 50 students from Israel, Palestine and Europe are assigned key roles, simulate the conflict and global responses, and discuss freely. Nobody gets beaten up and nobody is permitted to indulge their prejudices. They are currently inviting applications to attend.

Update: on Harry’s Place, Marco Schneebalg writes of ongoing efforts to reduce the tension on the University of Manchester campus over Israel and Palestine. He feels that the attacks on Talya Lador-Fresher were a marginal event which nevertheless undermined the Palestinian cause because of the way it was dealt with in the media. He is due a lot of credit for his bridge-building work (and it would be good to stop there). But. The good work he and others are doing doesn’t change the facts of the attacks, nor the way the University of Manchester, and Action Palestine, whom he deals with gently, handled them. Nor does it alter the fact that the vitriolic attacks are not six of one and half a dozen of the other. It is right to take physical attacks and hatred against people because of their nationality very seriously indeed. This doesn’t come across in Marco Schneebalg’s post, and this is perplexing. I wonder if this is a case of (I’m going to quote Sophie Buckland here because she puts it best, even though she’s referring to clashes about something else – and the post I link to is well-worth reading): “Where two ideologies clash there’s always someone who claims the middle ground for their own, however inconsistent and fractured it may be.”

11 Responses to “Violence against Israeli speaker is not an isolated incident”

  1. Thomas Venner Says:

    “At most, it represents support for the minority within Palestinian society which hates and attacks Israelis, and works to drive them away.”

    In the end, it’s got nothing to do with Palestinians of any variety. This group of thugs primarily represents the elements of British society who hate and attack Jews, and work to drive them out of this country. Beating up women is a new low for them, though (although not unprecedented). Or is this considered “progressive” – equal opportunities brutality, perhaps?

    As for the University’s spineless response, what do you expect? If they spoke out against it, the anti-Zionist lobby would be down on them faster than you could say “silencing criticism”, subjecting them to the usual flurry of harassment, intimidation, false accusations and malicious complaints.

  2. Adam Says:

    Fantastic news, I’m glad that beastly pig did not feel too welcomed.

  3. Adam Says:

    Thomas nobody got beaten up.

    Beating up an Israeli Ambassador be it a woman would actually be quite a noble endeavour I’d say. Very well deserved.

    • Thomas Venner Says:

      I’m assuming that this is satire, rather than a genuine remark from an “anti-Zionist”? The gloating promotion of violence against political opponents to the point of out-and-out moustache-twirling villainy seems a little extravagant, even by the standards of some of the stuff I’ve heard from “anti-Zionists” over the years.

  4. Mitnaged Says:

    Mira, I take your point that these may well represent a minority of lunatics (talking of which, Hi, Adam), but aren’t you at all concerned that the majority does and says nothing to counteract them?

    Do you think they could get away with any of this if there was a majority groundswell against it?

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      Yes I do. Action Palestine’s associates, supporters and sympathisers should take a stand against violence.

      See my final added-later paragraph in the post above.

  5. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    By the way, is the promotion of violence by those commenting here, whether against women or anyone else, acceptable to Engage’s moderators? This is seen as separate as the reporting of it, and any discussion of that violence. I would have thought and hoped that it was not – and if Adam wants to rail against any resulting “censorship”, he should go and do it elsewhere. Editing is and should always be practiced by those moderating comments, whether they are letters editors in hard-copy papers or online.

    Freedom of speech has _never_ included licence to say _whatever_ one wants: thus laws against libel, incitement to violence, incitement of racial hatred and so forth.

    Again, if the likes of Adam don’t like it, take your complaints elsewhere, wherever that might be.

  6. Weekonly Says:

    I though long and hard about approving Adam’s hate speech and incitement to violence.
    I decided to post it because it gives at least some of the flavour of the venom and hatred that attaches itself to the Jewish state.
    I can assure you that, compared to some comments received, this was relatively mild.
    Every now and then, it is useful to remember exactly what is out there and what, for many such as Adam, passes for “legitimate criticism of Israel” and those “anti-zionists” who remain silent in the face of it

    • Bill Says:

      It’s nice to know where people stand. I’ll make sure I have both the the spokesperson’s and Adam’s quotes in needlepoint and framed when someone so much as disagrees with their sacred cows and they cry foul. My only issue with the piece and this thread is that we never got to know who at the university thought that jumping on a car and trying to smash the windshield was a peaceful exercise of free speech. I suspect they’re glad no one published their names.

  7. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Weekonly, fair enough, but in that case (and we have all either read, been directed to, or had quoted to us, some of the comments on, eg, CIF), please let us know that such comments have been let through for illustrative purposes only. I can cope with most of those who comment here from an “anti-Zionist” perspective (and, yes, I am using the term in an allusionary manner, and it should not be confused with those who at least attempt to debate on these issues).

    However, I do not wish to dignify with a serious response those such as “Adam” and his ilk who appear to think that the encouragement of violence against _anybody_ is an acceptable debating technique in a democracy. Either that, or they think it is somehow “amusing” to applaud actual or attempted violence against anybody, “even” if, in their view, they are only Israelis or Jews. Such statements against any other ethnic, religious or gender group would rightly be roundly condemned by all to the left of the BNP and such groups.

    Had you, as moderator, signalled this, I would have been upset at the comment, but I am fully aware of the depth of antisemitic feeling existing in this and other western societies that purports to be “really” about Israel’s behaviour.

  8. James Mendelsohn Says:

    This is a great and much-needed post Mira, thanks

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