A new low for Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Mark Gardner at the CST.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Holocaust denial was considered too toxic for secular leftist anti-Israel activists to touch. Not any more, because the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) is now using the winning entry from Iran’s notorious Holocaust cartoon competition of 2006. (See here, on SPSC website, inserted by SPSC to accompany a press release by the Israeli group, Gush Shalom. The story appears here in the Jewish Telegraph, including condemnations by local politicians.)

This is not to accuse the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign of indulging in Holocaust denial. Far from it. Rather, they have repeatedly utilised Holocaust imagery and abused Holocaust memory to launch the most repugnant attacks upon Israel and its supporters. (The logic is simple and seductive, as subverting the Holocaust undermines the most resonant moral and historical pillar for Israel’s existence.)

Overall, the leftist anti-Israel slide into Nazi-themed filth has been gradual but persistent. (For detail, see this article, “Holocaust Denial as an Anti-Zionist and Anti-Imperialist Tool for the European Far Left” by CST’s Dave Rich.)

It began with absurdly overblown accusations of Zionist complicity with the Nazi Holocaust, epitomised by the play “Perdition”.

It regressed into accusing Israel of being the new Nazi Germany, as seen throughout last year’s Gaza war demonstrations.

It debased Holocaust Memorial Day, using it for anti-Israel campaigning.

Now, it is now lifting cartoons from the world’s foremost pushers of Holocaust denial and antisemitism.

Every stage of this moral collapse has been led by some individual activist or group. Opposing voices have occasionally been heard from within the anti-Israel camp, but largely there was silence, followed by creeping support: until each stage of the narrative reached its tipping point and became embedded as part of accepted anti-Israel wisdom. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the widespread tolerance and subsequent promotion of the Israel equals Nazi Germany libel.

As shown in CST’s Antisemitic Discourse Report (lengthy pdf download here), Nazi-themed anti-Israel propaganda is a grotesque abuse of Jewish history and memory that causes direct and significant hurt to Jews; trivialises and essentially denies the enormity of the Holocaust; and attempts to displace Jews as victims of the Holocaust and supersede them with Palestinians.

The anti-Israel left must know the pain that all of this Nazi-themed filth causes to the overwhelming majority of Jews: but history would strongly suggest that Jews should not expect any comfort or sentimentality from this supposedly anti-racist element of our society.

This was the winning cartoon, used by SPSC. It shows the railway tracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

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These cartoons were from the same competition as the one used by SPSC, and were amongst those winning “special awards”. The first implicitly denies the Holocaust. The second is a riot of antisemitic caricature and racism, with Holocaust denial thrown in for ugly measure.

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See here for David Hirsh’s Israelis are not Nazis.

See here for Mira Vogel’s Israelis are not Nazis.

Robert Fine on the singling out of Israel for boycott

We have been having a debate on Engage for a couple of weeks now on matters concerning the campaign to boycott Israel, how we can help Israelis and Palestinians to move forward towards peace and on the issue of antisemitism.  The participants in this debate have been Desmond Tutu, Robert Fine, Neve Gordon, David Hirsh, Ran Greenstein, Uri Avnery, David Newman and Farid Essack.
The links to all the contributions to the debate are collected here.
This contribution, from Robert Fine, is a response to this contribution from Ran Greenstein and also to the comment from Ran Greenstein which appeared in the comments box in answer to Robert’s last contribution.

Robert Fine

Dear Ran

Thanks for your latest response in our discussion and apologies for being far slower to reply than yourself!

Let me return to the question of Israel’s ‘uniqueness’.  There is, of course, a sense in which every state is unique. Every state has a unique history, a unique set of circumstances that led to its emergence and development, a unique population, a unique place on the globe.  But this is trivial. What you are talking about is exclusion. You write:

“Israel is indeed unique as an exclusionary state. No other state is founded – historically and at present – on the physical and political exclusion of the majority of its indigenous population. No other state regards its ethnic identity as the sine qua non of its existence with such intensity. No other state is an ethnic ‘demographic state’ in the same way. No other state combines the inclusion of all members of one group (Jews), regardless of their specific origins and concrete links to the territory, with the exclusion of most members of another group (Palestinians), regardless of their specific origins and concrete links to the territory.”

We know at least some of the exclusionary elements that went into Israel’s composition. One element was a political and largely secular Zionism that arose in Europe in the late 19th century and attracted a minority of European Jews in the first half of the 20th century. The point to remember here, I think, is that Zionism was one nationalism amongst many in Europe, itself a product of the exclusion of Jews from the nations of Europe. Nationalism was not exceptional; it was the norm. Nationalism for Jews co-existed with nationalisms for Hungarians, Serbs, Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, French, etc. All such nationalisms, not only Zionism, contain strong exclusionary forces.

A second exclusionary element has to do with the experience of the Holocaust. Many of the ‘unmurdered Jews’ of Europe, as Philip Roth called them, went to Palestine-Israel because there was often no other place to go, because they were understandably keen to get out of Europe, or because they were committed to establishing some kind of safe haven for Jews that seemed lacking elsewhere. The experience of exclusion, oppression and murder by Europeans was not unique to Jews, though Jews suffered especially badly, and in most cases it led those who suffered at European hands to seek to establish their own independent states. The newly independent states that arose at different times out of this experience often combined a vibrant sense of national freedom with exclusion of those deemed not to belong to the nation in question. Israel is not in this regard unique.

A third – and perhaps crucial exclusionary element – has to do with Israel being a ‘Jewish state’. As far as I know, many states in the Middle East and North Africa describe themselves as ‘Arab states’ and in some cases as ‘Muslim Arab states’. Yesterday morning I was reading an article in the Independent by Robert Fisk (no great admirer of Israel) who quotes President Sadat of Egypt referring to himself as ‘the Muslim president of a Muslim country’. Fisk focuses on the exclusion of Christians in ‘Muslim’ countries. The problem, he writes, doesn’t only come from fundamentalists but from constitutions: in all the countries of the region, except Lebanon, Christians are second class citizens. Both you and I are opposed to any exclusion that derives from the national character afforded to the state, but to think such exclusions are in any sense unique to Israel cannot be right.

The labeling of a state ‘Jewish’ or ‘Arab’ or ‘Muslim’ or indeed ‘British’ or ‘French’ is in all cases problematic. But it may be more or less problematic depending on whether the national epithet attached to the state refers merely, say, to the cultural motifs of a nation (e.g. whether Christmas or Pesach or Ramadan is a public holiday); or entails the subordination of those deemed not to fit the ‘national’ definition of the state as second class citizens or ‘minorities’; or worse still entails the expulsion of those deemed not to fit as ‘stateless persons’. The history of Israel seems to me equivocal. As far as I know, mainstream Zionists originally supported two states: one for Jews and one for Palestinians with rights of minorities built into both. In the aftermath of existential wars between Israel and neighboring states, Palestinians in Israel were considered co-citizens but were also discriminated against; Palestinians who left Israel (often in the heat of battle) were not allowed back; Palestinians on the West Bank and in different ways in Gaza have been subjected to occupation and to the denial of civil and political rights that flows from occupation.

If we criticise exaggerated characterisation of these abuses as ‘ethnic cleansing’ or ‘genocide’, this does not deny the need to put an end to discrimination against Palestinians in Israel, to the occupation of the West Bank, and to the human rights violations that result from the occupation. The present-day problem is that disrespect for Palestinians is getting worse in Israel as a right wing government, religious fundamentalist movements and needy immigrant populations combine to give license to anti-Arab racism. The situation seems to be aggravated by the decline of antiracist currents within Israel and the difficulties ordinary Israelis and Palestinians have in meeting and conversing with one another.

But the drift to the right in Israel is not unique. In a number of European countries, including some within the EU, there is a disturbing drift to an increasingly ultra-nationalist right wing. In some cases not only is the party of government extreme right but also the main opposition party is even further to the right. In the Middle East, Jews have long since been encouraged to leave or actively expelled from most ‘Arab’ countries and many of them ceased to be considered refugees when they became beneficiaries of Israel’s open door policy to Jews worldwide (beneficiaries, in Zionist parlance, of a right of ‘return’). I am no expert on the Middle East but if Fisk is right there is an increasing problem for other minorities living within Arab states. I should like to know more about how Palestinians are being treated in those Arab countries which refuse to integrate them as full nationals. Certainly Israel is not their only problem. One would have to be willfully blind not to be aware of the growing dangers of religious fundamentalism on one side and authoritarianism among secular elites on the other in a number of Arab countries. Such anti-democratic forces pose dangers not only to Israel but more immediately to a culture of tolerance and mutual respect among Arab people themselves. In short, the drift to what we might call the ‘ultra-nationalist right’ is a threat that is not unique to Israel and indeed seems not to be isolatable in any one country.

From where then does the singling out of Israel derive? One source is perhaps displacement. Instead of the difficult task of addressing problems within ourselves and our own world, we can focus on denouncing Israel as if it were uniquely violent, uniquely exclusionary and uniquely powerful. Israel isn’t in my opinion any of these things but the accusation can open a can of worms. What is really unique about Israel is the Jewishness of the Jewish state as opposed to the Arabness of an Arab state or indeed the Britishness of the British state. It seems to me that the whole argument about uniqueness pushes us where none of us wants to go: not to political criticism but to an attack on Jews. You point your finger at Israel in the name of ‘an inclusive non-ethnic democracy’, but you do not ask why of all states it is Israel that is selected out for not meeting this ideal.

For various reasons, some biographical, I share your particular concern with Israel. There is part of me too that wants to be proud of Israel, though I do not share the conviction of some that there is nothing already to be proud of. We do not want Israel to be corrupted from within or threatened from without. We want it to succeed as an open society as well as to resist those who think Jews have no place in the Middle East. We are worried about what we hear and see of current developments in Israel, but it would be parochial of us to translate our particular concern, as it were, into the mother of all concerns. Democrats from Burma, Hungary, Tibet, Zimbabwe, Syria, Iran, Denmark, the UK, etc. all have their particular battles to fight with their own political elites. The point is not Zionism or antizionism but the need to defend and build democracy with the materials at hand.

You put forward the idea of an inclusive non-ethnic democracy for Jews and Palestinians together. Excellent! I am all for supporting those who try to build a sense of conviviality between Jews and non-Jews, those who oppose hatred and racism on both sides, and I don’t think we should make a fetish of the ‘Jewish state’. In this sense we are not ‘Zionists’. We agree we need to start from the existing situation and move forward, but I cannot accept the way you pose the issue. The idea of transformation from an ‘exclusionary ethnic state’ to ‘an inclusive democratic state’ does justice neither to the past nor the future. In this scenario the darkness of the past goes along with unlimited trust in the future. But those who see only darkness and light never learn to make distinctions between shades of grey.

In any event, your opinion and mine count for little. On the one hand, most people in Israel do not embrace the ‘transformation’ you seek, perhaps because they believe in the idea of a ‘Jewish state’ or more simply because for good reason or bad they are fearful of the consequences. On the other hand, many of the political forces who do embrace ‘transformation’ do not show much interest in sharing an inclusive democracy with Jews. We may want to see what exists dismantled in the name of our idea, but the one thing of which we can be sure is that what will replace the existing state will be driven by forces far bigger and more demanding than what is merely in our heads.

Best Wishes,

Robert Fine

 

 

US antizionist academic embraces Holocaust denial

Here, on Inside Higher Ed.

Green Party adopts careful policy on antisemitism

Antisemitism and the boycott: David Hirsh responds to Ran Greenstein

This relates to an ongoing debate about the campaign to boycott Israel. All the links are here.

Ran Greenstein has made a number of arguments for a boycott of Israel and he has tried to deal with a few responses.  I, however, commented that I found it astonishing that he had not even attempted to say anything about the issue of antisemitism.  I went on:

I ask Ran Greenstein about the antisemitism which always accompanies a campaign to exclude Israelis but nobody else from the global academic, cultural, sporting and economic community.

I say that the standard mode of antisemitic bullying is to accuse Jews of inventing antisemitism in bad faith in a dishonest attempt to shield Israel from critiicsm.

Ran Greenstein’s response is

1. there isn’t any antsiemitism

2. the many hundreds of thousands of words of evidence on Engage is “rather flimsy”

3. If there is antisemitism, then Engage is mobilising it as “an excuse to do nothing”.

The chief spokesperson in the trade union movement for “BDS” in South Africa, Bongani Masuku, has been found guilty of antisemitic hate speech by the South African human Rights commission, a body set up by the South African state to fight racism.

https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/12/04/hate-speech-ruling-against-bongani-masuku/

In UCU, there is not a single Jew left at Congress who is willing or able to oppose the boycott. This is why:

https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2010/01/18/david-hirshs-talk-at-ucu/

Michael Cushman, the leader of the acaemic boycott campaign, pushes antisemitic conspiracy theory and rejoices at the exclusion of “the Zionists” from the union:

https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/05/28/michael-cushman-and-the-jew-free-ucu-congress/

A ucu official claimed that money stolen from Lehman Brothers was paying for anti-boycott lawyers in the UK:

https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/05/27/ucl-ucu-branch-secretary-sean-wallis-lines-up-with-antisemitic-lehman-brothers-conspiracy-theorists/

Conspiracy theory from David Duke’s website has been circulated around the union lists by pro boycott activists:

http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=2058

There is a detailed five year long catalogue on Engage of the antisemitism which accmpanies the boycott movement.  It is not accidental.  The boycott is in itself antisemtic – it launches a global campaign of exclusion against Jews who committ human rights abuses while not doing the same against non-Jews who committ incomparably more serious human rights abuses.

With this campaign comes conspiracy theory.

http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=2092

With this campaign comes bloodl libel.

https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/08/20/blood-libel-in-maintream-swedish-newspaper/

With this campaign comes rhetoric which accuses Jews of being nazis.

http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=2216

http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=2217

With this campaign comes rhetoric which accuses Jews of being neurotic.

http://www.thejc.com/comment/comment/do-not-confine-jews-couch

We have shown you precisely how the campaign to boycott israeli academics works in practice:
https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/01/16/the-campaign-to-boycott-israel-is-now-fighting-for-a-concrete-exclusion-of-israeli-scholars/

Howard Jacboson makes the argument:

https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/02/18/howard-jacobson-says-it-all-about-contemporary-antisemitism-in-todays-independent/

I have shown you how it has become standard practice to respond to a charge of antisemitism:

https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/david-hirsh-the-livingstone-formulation/

Ran, you don’t want to read the evidence. I suspect that you don’t think a bit of antisemitism in the Palestine Solidarity movement is very important. If that is what you think, you should say so. I think you would be quite wrong.

Ran Greenstein replies as follows:

David, I have claim no expertise on (or interest in) internal British academic politics and am happy to leave you guys to sort it out.

As for South Africa, there was ONE Cosatu official, who made offensive comments in ONE speech a couple of years ago, and was censured for it. Make of it what you will. There were TWO incidents of excluding Israeli academics in the UK as individuals and they took place in 2002-03. You have been making a fuss over that ever since.

I would not have bothered to intervene in this debate at all, if it continued to be confined to your dispute with the UCU. It is when you attack activists with impeccable progressive and anti-racist credentials like Desmond Tutu and Neve Gordon, precisely at a time when the Israeli state is coordinating a global campaign against them (and others like them), that I was moved to respond.

If you are for criticism of Israeli human rights abuses, then go ahead and criticise. The academic boycott campaign is merely one aspect – and a marginal one at that – of the global solidarity campaign with those fighting against the occupation and Israeli exclusionary practices. No one will stand in your way in fighting these in any way you see fit. Keep in mind at all times, though, that the goal here is to bring oppression to an end – the Israeli state and its agencies are culprits, not allies in this struggle.

Definitively, Ran Greenstein’s answer is

1  I don’t know what happens in the British Labour movement and I don’t know what happens in British Universities.  I do not intend to find out.

2  There is no significant antisemitism in the South African Palestine Solidarity Movement.

3  You (Engage?  David Hirsh?) makes a fuss about what there is – either because you are useful idiots who think they are protesting against antisemitism but are in fact objectively bolstering the occupation, or because you are dishonest supporters of the occupation.

Greenstein is an Israel-firster.  He has already told us proudly that he thinks what he thinks and he acts how he acts at least in part because he is Jewish and because he is Israeli.  He employs the “asa Jew” rhetoric and the “not in my name” rhetoric.  And now he tells us that he is only concerned with the campaign against Israel and he is uninterested, not “bothered” about what happens around the world in the Labour movement and in the universities.

I and Robert Fine challenged what Desmond Tutu and Neve Gordon had to say and we raised the issue of antismitism, making arguments and offering evidence.

Ran Greenstein responds not to what we say but in terms of who we are.

He denounces myself and Robert as idiots or apologists for Zionism.

He defends Desmond Tutu and Neve Gordon by saying that they both have ” impeccable progressive and anti-racist credentials”.

But these ad hominem attacks and defences leave the issue at hand entirely un-dealt with.  He fails to relate to what is being said.  He says he can’t be bothered.

Greenstein talks the language of universalist cosmopolitanism but actually he is only concerned that his own state, Israel, gets a kicking.

He accuses us of parochialism because we are concerned by the poison of antisemitism being introduced by his rhetoric into the global labour movement when really, don’t we know, the only important issue is punishing Israel.

He is like ‘socialists’ in times gone by who thought that people who made propaganda against Jewish capital and Jewish banks were half way there, and all that was required was for the masses to move one step beyond hating the Jews to hating all the capitalists.

In Ran Greenstein’s world, a campaign against only Jewish human rights abuses, special punishment for only Jewish human rights abuses, are justified.

Serious people on the left have always taken antisemitism in our movement seriously.  They have understood that antisemitism within our movement is an indicator for something profoundly wrong.   Not Ran though, who says he isn’t bothered by what happens in Britain in the wake of his boycott movement, so long as he can recruit the British to his own campaign against Israel.

Ran Greenstein has given up on his academic colleagues in Israel, on the Israeli working class and on the Israeli peace movement.  He has given up on his colleagues in Israel but he thinks my colleagues in Britain are capable of achieving what Israelis cannot achieve.   He thinks we can deliver the telling blow against “Zionism”.  And he isn’t interested in thinking through or finding out the relationship between his yearned-for blow to the Israeli state and antisemitism.

David Hirsh

Goldsmiths, University of London

This relates to an ongoing debate about the campaign to boycott Israel. All the links are here.

Boycott Israel? Desmond Tutu, David Newman, Neve Gordon, David Hirsh, Robert Fine, Ran Greenstein, Uri Avnery, Farid Essack

On September 29 the University of Johannesburg’s ruling body met to discuss a proposal from the boycott campaign that it should sever its research links with Ben Gurion University.  It set an ultimatum for BGU and it postponed the decision for six months.  To read Desmond Tutu’s support for this move, click here.

Click here for the response of David Newman, who is Dean of Social Science at BGU. This proposal in South Africa sparked renewed debate on the Engage website.

Neve Gordon, a supporter of the boycott campaign, wrote an article about academic freedom in Israel here.

David Hirsh wrote a critique of a piece by Neve Gordon on academic freedom in Israel.  Read it here. David Hirsh wrote a second piece tracing Neve Gordon’s journey from sharp critic of the boycott campaign to important supporter.  Read it here.

Robert Fine, meanwhile had an engagement with Desmond Tutu published in the South African Mail & Guardian, here.

Last year Uri Avnery, the veteran Israeli campaigner for Palestinian rights, published a critique of the Israel-apartheid analogy and a critique of the boycott campaign, which related explicitly to the positions of Desmond Tutu and Neve Gordon.  Read it here.

Ran Greenstein, a supporter of the boycott campaign in South Africa responded to Engage here, in a trenchant critique of the Fine and Hirsh articles.

Robert Fine responded to Greenstein’s response.

Farid Essack also responded to Robert Fine in the South African press.

Ran Greenstein came back to Robert Fine here.

David Hirsh challenges Ran Greenstein’s “as a Jew” and “not in my name” stance here.

Robert Fine responds to Ran Greenstein’s argument about “Jewish and Democratic” here.

More from Ran Greenstein and David Hirsh on antisemitism here.

Robert Fine responds again here.

More from Ran Greenstein and Robert Fine

Jewish and Democratic? Civic or ethnic? Robert Fine

Robert Fine responds to Ran Greenstein:

Dear Ran

Thank you for your considered response to my letter. I want to address one particular and important argument you raise. You pick out this passage from my letter:

‘I hold that a Jewish-democratic state has a right to exist and defend itself, even as it has the responsibility to treat Palestinians in Israel as equal citizens and to allow Palestinians in occupied territories to form their own Palestinian state. It is quite normal for people in modern states to find ways of living with the contradiction between democracy and national identity’

You reply:

‘What is unique in Israel is that national identity is defined solely in ethnic-religious terms and civic nationalism which encompasses all citizens equally does not exist… It is the declared policy of the current Israeli government and its predecessors, backed by courts, to ensure that such national identification never emerges… a Jewish democratic state is a contradiction in terms.’

We agree there is a contradiction. I say the contradiction between democracy and Jewish national identity is ‘normal’. You say it is ‘unique’ because national identity in Israel is framed in ethnic rather than civic terms and because the exclusion of Palestinians has been the foundation of the Jewish state since its inception. We also agree that the distinction between ethnic and civic national identity is an important one. It marks the difference between an idea of a nation based on allegedly common origin, blood, religion, history, culture, etc. and an idea of a nation of equal citizens regardless of origin, ‘blood’, ‘race’, religion or ‘culture’.

And now for our disagreements. I cannot see what by this criterion is unique about Israel. There are plenty of states whose national identity has an ethnic dimension. It seems to me that most states emerging from colonial domination or imperial rule have based themselves on the right of their particular nation to self-determination. In all such cases there are urgent questions concerning the treatment of people inside the territories of these newly emerging states, who are not deemed to belong to the ruling nation in question.  In the Middle East, as I understand it, many states that emerged out of the Ottoman Empire and then European colonial rule have characteristically described themselves as ‘Arab’ or ‘Arab-Muslim’ and have faced the problem of how to treat non-Arab minorities in their territories, such as Jews. The Jewish state in this sense is no exception – it is the rule.

Second, it seems to me important not to overstate the distinction between civic and ethnic national identity. In practice, ‘civic’ nations (including my own) may have their own ‘established’ religions, their own more or less official ways of discriminating against ‘alien’ people, their own differential allocation of rights according to some system of civic stratification (e.g. legitimate and bogus asylum seekers), their own controls over the boundaries, physical and symbolic, between nationals and foreigners, and so forth. We may not like it, but Germanness, Britishness, Frenchness and I imagine South Africanness have not been extinguished by the magic potion of civic national identity.

Equally, those nations labeled ‘ethnic’ may indeed at one extreme exclude, expel or murder those deemed not to belong to the ruling nation, but they may also establish civic guarantees to minorities or grant equal civic, political and social rights for all and not just for their own. Just as the civic nation is not necessarily as civic as it appears, so too the ethnic nation is not necessarily as ethnic as it appears. We are in the terrain of social being as well as ideology.

Third, it seems to me important not to slip from a valid and useful distinction between ethnic and civic national identity into the recreation of a moral division of the world between us and them: ‘we’ who are civic and civilised; ‘they’ who believe in the purity of the nation and act with corresponding barbarity. This is an old opposition but Israel seems now to play a peculiar role in this reconstructed binary. My belief is that the distinction between civic and ethnic forms of national identity is being employed to represent ‘Israel’ as the Other of civilized society, that is, as the incarnation of all the negative properties that civic nations now claim to have overcome. ‘Israel’ serves here not as a real country embroiled in real conflicts, but as a vessel into which civic nations can project all that is bad in their own past and present and thus preserve the good for themselves. In this scenario ‘Israel’ performs a symbolic function as the ethnic-religious state par excellence – one that denies civic, political, social and human rights to those who do not belong (the Palestinians) and has an inbuilt inclination toward exclusion, expulsion or genocide. Not only does this image of ‘Israel’ bear little relation to the real thing, it also justifies any kind of violence by the image-makers. Even the most valid of distinctions can be put to invalid use.

Today it seems to me that your position paradoxically dulls the nerve of outrage. In Israel it declares that Lieberman and Yishai merely say openly what has been practiced since 1948. So according to your account nothing has changed. It’s the same old story.  There can be no drift toward ethnic-religious fundamentalism in Israel because Israel is by definition an ethnic-religious state. There can be no worsening of the treatment of Arab Israelis since they have always been second-class citizens. There can be no danger to the integrity of Israel since it always has been and always will be ethnic-religious. And what is more, it is unique.  Would it be an unfair extrapolation to say that for you Palestine is equally timeless: a just cause whose essentially civic aims are not in the least tarnished by the Hamas Charter or the Hezbollah Manifesto?

You acknowledge I am ‘critical of some Israeli policies and practices’ but you say my criticisms are not enough.  What would be enough for you, it seems, is the dissolution of Israel into a greater Palestinian entity (including all Jews and Palestinians with a right of return for all Palestinian refugees). To my mind, your approach contains the potential violence of imposing an ‘ought’ onto reality.  We have to start from where we are – not from some ideal of where we ought to be.

In the Middle East the ‘Jewish’ state exists. It exists for historical reasons. So too do various ‘Arab’ states. In no case has there been an unblemished history of dealing with people deemed not to belong to the defining nation. In every case there have been political arguments within states between those inclined to ethnic exclusivism and those inclined to civic inclusion. This is a political battle within states, not a distinction between bad nations and good. It is a battle that has often been lost.

It is clear to me that Palestinians have been to varying degrees more or less excluded from the possession of civil, political and social rights by many states in the Middle East. Their political leaders claim the right to ‘their own’ state and Israel by virtue of the occupation finds itself in a position to grant this right.  It has not done so for a variety of reasons, including or especially fear. This failure has become a terrible weight on Israel’s back and my belief is that the liberation of the Palestinian people will prove to be of great advantage to Israel. The obstacles to this desirable outcome come from many parts. To have any hope of achieving this outcome, our political need is not to heap on “Israel” absolute culpability, as the boycott call tends to do, but to support those in Israel, Palestine and surrounding Arab nations who share this hope and oppose a politics of despair.

If this is not enough for you, then what exactly is enough? In my opinion, it is no answer to the ethnic-religious claim that Jews have a God-given, absolute and exclusive right to their own nation in Israel to say that Jews have no right at all to their own nation or that the Jewish state is uniquely illegitimate. The one is the negation of the other and like all negations can merely end up destructive.

You make a number of other points I should like to return to – especially on the apartheid analogy and on the universality of human rights – but perhaps we can pursue these on another occasion.

Best wishes,

Robert Fine

“As a Jew” logic is not appropriate in public debate – David Hirsh responds to Ran Greenstein

I want to make one point in response to Ran Greenstein’s argument for boycotting Israeli academia.

Robert Fine challenged him: “Why single Israel out? You say that Western governments do not single Israel out, at least not negatively, and that Israeli war crimes and violations of human rights have gone unpunished. You are on the whole right, though in the European Union there are signs of an increasingly ‘tough’ official attitude toward Israel. As I see it, the first question is whether Israel is a major human rights abuser in relation to the inhabitants either of its own territory or of surrounding territories. The comparisons you raise are indeed pertinent:  Iran, Iraq (under Saddam), Sudan, Serbia, North Korea, Burma and Zimbabwe.”

Ran Greenstein answered the point: “I agree that if we wished to construct a universal scale of human rights violations, that would indeed be the case. That may be a worthwhile project, but not one I have any interest in. As an Israeli citizen my concern with what ‘my’ government is doing. As a Jew, my concern is with what the state that claims to represent me is doing in my name.”

If this is one of the reasons that Ran thinks it is right to single out Israel for exclusion from the global academic, artistic, sporting, economic community, or for particularly harsh criticism (apartheid, nazism, fascism) then it is not a good reason.

He himself is free to consider Israel, and its crimes, to be particularly important to his own worldview “as a Jew”.  If this discussion is about him, and what is done in Ran’s name, then he is free to single out Israel.

But there is a dangerous slippage when Jewish antizionists, for whom Israel is centrally important in the world, take that attitude out into non-Jewish civil society.

The University of Johannesburg is not a Jewish organisation and so ought to relate to human rights abuses round the world consistently. The fact that Ran Greenstein thinks “as a Jew” is neither here nor there.

The University and College Union in the UK is not a Jewish organisation and so ought to do solidarity around the world in a consistant way. The fact that some leading activists who want to put Israel at the very forefront of its worldview do so “as a Jew” should not alter the policy of the union.

What is required for our institutions is precisely what Ran says he has no interest in: the construction of  “a universal scale of human rights violations”.  The values of solidarity, human rights and the university require a universal and consistent approach.

Antisemitism has always constructed Jews as being central to all that is bad in the world.

Some people, “as a Jew” and “not in my name” put the human rights abuses of Israel at the very forefront of their own political consciousness. I can understand this, even if it does not reflect my own way of thinking.  It seems to me to skew one’s own thinking towards the parochial rather than the cosmopolitan.  I want to be concerned with what is important in the world, not to centre my worldview around myself.

But when institutions like unions and universities allow the Jewish antizionsit focus on Israeli human rights abuses to become their own focus too, then this poses a clear danger.  The danger is that unions and universities begin to teach their young people that Israel, and the Jews who live there, are a central evil on the planet.  It is easy to see how this kind of Jewish exceptionalism mirrors older antisemitic forms and how this kind of Jewish exceptionalism is likely to foster antisemitic ways of thinking.

We have seen how the boycott debate brings with it antisemitism into the South African Trade Union movement and also into the University and College Union in the UK.  The situation in UCU is now so serious that there are no Jews left at its biggest decision making body who are willing or able to argue against the boycott because they have been pushed out, bullied or banned.  In South Africa, Cosatu, the trade union federation which has such a proud history and which was an inspiration to us all at one time, is now led in its international solidarity work by Bongani Masuku, a man who has been found guilty of employing antisemitic hate speech on Ran Greenstein’s campus.

“Not in my name” thinking has a tendency to make ourselves the centre of the world and to focus our political consciousness inwards rather than outwards.  The danger is that it is a politics of despair.  This kind of thinking has a tendency to encourage us to give up trying to change the world out there which exists, and to fall back on the rather easier project of declaring that we ourselves are not responsible for the evil that is done out there in the world.

Ran, your own “asa Jew” and “not in my name” consciousness is important to you – fine.  But you should not allow that kind of thinking to define the way big and important civil society organisations think. Because it is dangerous.  This reason for singling out Israel – because you yourself are Jewish – is certainly not tenable.

David Hirsh

Goldsmiths, University of London

Mike Leigh’s appearance

Mike Leigh has given Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel TV and Film School late notice cancellation of his visit there, saying that “cowardice” prevented him from pulling out earlier.

It’s one of the more confused and self-absorbed boycott undertakings you’ll have read. On the one hand he talks about his conscience. On the other hand he talks about having no choice, catharticly exclaiming “I cannot come, I do not want to come, and I am not coming”. On the one hand, he’s rightly outraged by the Israeli cabinet’s approval of a loyalty oath and the resumption of building in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and on the other indicates that it is the profile of his visit rather than the visit itself that’s his ultimate headache. To his correspondent, who opposes the Israeli government, he writes accusingly about “your government” but, as if Israel acted in isolation, glosses the conflict and wider regional turmoil. He designates responsibility for the conflict entirely to Israel while boycotting Israelis who are active in building for peace.

He refers to “what would unquestionably appear as my implicit support for Israel”, yet he was offered, and turned down, a platform to sharply oppose the acts of the Israeli government. You get the impression that his hosts had attributed to him a desire to use the visit as an opportunity to promote peace which he didn’t actually have, and continued not to have even after the ignominious prospect of being spotted in the pariah state panicked him into cancelling.

In the end, the dilemma he sets out is a solipsistic one between commitment to his friend on the one hand, and antipathy to Israel on the other. There is no mention of the impact of his decision on the cause of peace he espouses, nor to what can be done practically to strengthen Palestinian – let alone Israeli – civil society to stand against the forces of conflict. The letter may be confused but it’s consistent in one thing: it’s exclusively about Mike Leigh.

One small point of positive note – the BBC has linked to the letter of response from Renen Schorr, director of the Sam Spiegel Film School director. From it:

“Thousands of Israelis are active in hundreds of organizations that champion peace and coexistence, roundly denouncing acts that are non-democratic or unethical, and promoting Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. Hundreds of protestors take to the streets each week to oppose their government’s policy, and they do this despite the strident condemnation and criticism of large portions of our population here. Over the decades Israeli filmmakers (joined by artists from the full cultural gamut) have used documentaries and features to grapple with the myriad strata of the conflict’s complexities. Those carrying out these courageous, controversial endeavors are people who see no contradiction between their being Israelis, Jews and Zionists and their belief in humanitarian, ethical principles, or identifying with the suffering of others. They fight, to a great extent, against the denial of this harsh reality by other Israelis.”

I realise that boycotting Israel must feel like a weight off a famous person’s mind in these weird and avid times, but I dispute that Mike Leigh has grounds for feeling less of a coward now.

In contrast:

Boycott Israel “as a Jew” – Ran Greenstein

On September 29 the University of Johannesburg’s ruling body met to discuss a proposal from the boycott campaign that it should sever its research links with Ben Gurion University.  It set an ultimatum for BGU and it postponed the decision for six months.  To read Desmond Tutu’s support for this move, click here.

Click here for the response of David Newman, who is Dean of Social Science at BGU. This proposal in South Africa sparked renewed debate on the Engage website.

Neve Gordon wrote an article about academic freedom in Israel here.

David Hirsh wrote a critique of a piece by Neve Gordon on academic freedom in Israel.  Read it here. David Hirsh wrote a second piece tracing Neve Gordon’s journey from sharp critic of the boycott campaign to important supporter.  Read it here.

Robert Fine, meanwhile had an engagement with Desmond Tutu published in the South African Mail & Guardian, here.

Last year Uri Avnery, the veteran Israeli campaigner for Palestinian rights, published a critique of the Israel-apartheid analogy and a critique of the boycott campaign, which related explicitly to the positions of Desmond Tutu and Neve Gordon.  Read it here.

Ran Greenstein, a supporter of the boycott campaign in South Africa responded to Engage here, in a trenchant critique of the Fine and Hirsh articles.

Robert Fine’s further response.

Here is Ran Greenstein’s latest:

Dear Robert,

Thank you for your response to my criticism of your article. Let me clarify my position: the academic boycott campaign is not a sacred cow, and you can criticise it without necessarily becoming an apologist for the Israeli state. Israeli scholars such as the late Baruch Kimmerling and Neve Gordon argued against academic boycotts without compromising their critical perspective. Unfortunately, most of those who take this position on Engage do become – wittingly or otherwise – such apologists. Your article falls, in my view, into this category. You are indeed critical of some Israeli policies and practices, but you present your views in a way that shields other policies and practices from criticism.

Allow me to elaborate on that point. You argue: “I hold that a Jewish-democratic state has a right to exist and defend itself, even as it has the responsibility to treat Palestinians in Israel as equal citizens and to allow Palestinians in occupied territories to form their own Palestinian-democratic state. It is quite normal for people in modern states to find ways of living with the contradiction between democracy and national identity.”

There may be a contradiction between national identity and democracy in all states. What is unique to Israel is that national identity is defined solely in ethnic-religious terms, and civic nationalism which encompasses all citizens equally does not exist. Further, it is the declared policy of the current Israeli government and its predecessors, backed by the courts, to ensure that such national identification never emerges, and to suppress all its manifestations by legal as well as coercive means. In this sense a Jewish democratic state is a contradiction in terms. As the saying goes, it is ‘Jewish’ for Arabs and ‘democratic’ for Jews. The exclusion of Palestinians (as second-class citizens, as occupied subjects, and as stateless refugees) has been the foundation of the Jewish state since its inception. What political thugs like Lieberman and Yishai (respectively foreign and interior ministers) say openly today, has been practiced since 1948 in a more diplomatic but no less oppressive manner by all preceding governments.

You argue that the analogy between Israeli and apartheid practices ends with the occupation and the views of the “ultra-nationalist right wing in Israel”. I beg to differ. In a long analysis, which cannot be replicated here, I argue that the analogy must be based on the realization that ‘Israel proper’ (in its pre-1967 boundaries) no longer exists. The occupation has lasted for 43 years (already a year longer than apartheid), and there is no going back from it. Greater Israel (with the occupied territories) and Greater Palestine (with the refugees) are the meaningful units of analysis, when we consider Israeli practices and compare them to apartheid SA (see detailed discussion in http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/greenstein220810.html AND http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/greenstein270810.html). I would welcome your comments on it.

You argue: “ It seems to me vital to get some perspective on what the state of Israel has done, of which we may strongly disapprove, compared with situations in which ethnic groups are slaughtered, oppositions forces murderously suppressed, students beaten up and removed, trade union leaders defenestrated, women stoned to death, and gay people persecuted.”

I agree that if we wished to construct a universal scale of human rights violations, that would indeed be the case. That may be a worthwhile project, but not one I have any interest in. As an Israeli citizen my concern with what ‘my’ government is doing. As a Jew, my concern is with what the state that claims to represent me is doing in my name. That it is not the only or the worst offender violating human rights is irrelevant. Israel has done its share in expelling ethnic groups (80% of the indigenous inhabitants of the territories that became Israel in 1947-48), murdering opposition forces (defined as ‘terrorists’), beating up and killing students (in the occupied territories), and so on. That some other governments behave similarly is no consolation at all.

You argue that there are progressive academics and radical dissidents in Israel. Of course there are, and I am proud to have met and worked with some of them. But, the universities as institutions have NEVER voiced the slightest criticism of human rights violations, the occupation, military abuses, bombing civilian targets, and so on. They have never raised their voices against suppression of academic and educational life for Palestinians in the occupied territories. That is why the campaign should target institutions and not individuals. No-one I know in South Africa supports the exclusion of Israeli academics as individuals from presenting papers, participating in discussion, attending conference, publishing articles, and other such individual activities. BGU, Wits and other institutions have hosted Israeli academics of different political persuasions without any calls to boycott them. The campaign aims to sever institutional links rather than prevent relations between scholars. Read the UJ petition and talk to those who signed it if you are sceptical.

How can a campaign distinguish between individual and institutional targets? Here are some thoughts based on the need to convey the notion that things cannot proceed as usual, that there is no normal academic life in an abnormal society: do not attend any conference in Israel that does not explicitly address issues of rights and justice; link up with internal dissident forces and work with them to undermine discriminatory and abusive institutional practices; boycott any academic project that has military links; do not teach in specialized programmes dedicated to members of the security/military apparatuses; campaign against European or British financial support for any academic programme that does not have explicit progressive content (including ‘neutral’ or ‘value-free’ research); condition any further cooperation by insisting that the institution subscribe to something along the lines of the ‘Sullivan Code’, which was used under SA apartheid to enforce a minimum code of acceptable practice. I am sure you can come up with more ideas of this nature.

This is an ongoing debate. I am not the only one taking part and would strongly recommend that you read today’s Mail & Guardian for an effective response by Farid Essack to your article. It has not been posted online yet, but I would be happy to forward it when it becomes available

Best wishes

Ran Greenstein
Associate Professor
Sociology Department
University of the Witwatersrand

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