Mystical Politics on US academic boycotters

Westminster University Cancels Gilad Atzomon’s discussion of “Jewishness”

Gahda Karmi had already said she was pulling out.  She’s the one who thought that “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s UN speech on 21 April struck many as obnoxious, but in terms of understanding the 1948 roots of the Middle East conflict he was spot on.”  She also thought that after  ‘the Holocaust and all this business’, as she put it, masses of ‘alien’ Jews started to pour in to Palestine. These Jews were nothing like the Jews they were used to: these new Jews were pale and blue-eyed, but most of all they were ‘complicated’, ‘very difficult to deal with’, and they were bringing ‘their miserable lives’ with them.

John Rose had also said he was pulling out.  Remember John Rose, brought up in a “Zionist home”?

Alan (“some of my best friends are Jewish“) Hart was also billed to speak.

The star of the show was to be the antisemitic saxophonist, Gilad Atzmon.

The event had been promoted by groups including the Stop the War Coalition, the white nationalist Stormfront movement, and the Real IRA, according to the Jewish Chronicle report here.

Howard Jacobson: Ludicrous, brainwashed prejudice

This piece, by Howard Jacobson, is from The Independent

So that’s Passover almost done with for another year.

Except that Passover is never done with. To me it’s the greatest Jewish festival because the story is so good. We sit around the Seder table and relate, over and over, as though we still can’t believe it, our escape from Egypt. Every depiction of the Last Supper shows Jesus relating the same story.

There’s a song Jews sing at Passover – “Dayenu”. The word means “it would have been sufficient”, or “enough already”. It would have been sufficient had God only done this for us, and stopped there. Each verse records what he did next, insisting that that, too, would have been enough. It is written in the hypothetic-preconditional tense, imagining a lesser deliverance which we would have settled for, while at the same time acknowledging that we aren’t out of the woods yet. As a boy I felt fraught during the Passover service because it seemed that even as we celebrated a narrow escape from one disaster, we were preparing for the next. A Jew has either to be ignorant of his history or mad to suppose that what has happened before won’t happen again.

Myself, I wouldn’t bet heavily on there being good times ahead for Jews. Anti-Zionists can assure me all they like that their position entails no harm to Jews – only witness how many Jews are themselves anti-Zionist, they say – I no longer believe them. Individually, it is of course possible to care little for Israel and to care a great deal for Jews. But in the movement of events individuals lose their voice. What carries the day is consensus, and consensus is of necessity unsubtle. By brute consensus, now, Israel is the proof that Jews did not adequately learn the lesson of the Holocaust.

Forget Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is old hat. The new strategy – it showed its hand in Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children, and surfaced again in Channel 4’s recent series The Promise – is to depict the Holocaust in all its horror in order that Jews can be charged (“You, of all people”) with failing to live up to it. By this logic the Holocaust becomes an educational experience from which Jews were ethically obliged to graduate summa cum laude, Israel being the proof that they didn’t. “Jews know more than anyone that killing civilians is wrong,” resounds an unmistakably authorial voice in The Promise. Thus are Jews doubly damned: to the Holocaust itself and to the moral wasteland of having found no humanising redemption in its horrors.

It matters not a jot to me that the writer/director of The Promise is a Jew. Jews succumbing to the age-old view of them and reviling what’s Jewish in themselves has a long history. Peter Kosminsky would have it that his series is about Israel, not Jews, but in The Promise Israel becomes paradigmatic of the Jews’ refusal to be improved by affliction.

In a morally intelligent world – that’s to say one in which, for starters, Jews are not judged more harshly than their fellows for having been despatched to concentration camps – The Promise would be seen for the ludicrous piece of brainwashed prejudice it is. Ofcom’s rejection of complaints about the drama’s partiality and inaccuracy was to be expected. You can’t expect a body as intellectually unsophisticated as Ofcom to adjudicate between claims of dramatic truth and truth of any other sort. And for that reason it should never have been appealed to. That said, its finding that The Promise was “serious television drama, not presented as a historical and faithful re-creation”, is a poor shot at making sense of anything. You can’t brush aside historical re-creation in a work of historical re-creation, nor can you assert a thing is “serious television” when its seriousness is what’s in question. A work isn’t serious by virtue of its thinking it is. Wherein lies the seriousness, one is entitled to ask, when the drama creaks with the bad faith of a made-up mind.

I’m an art man, myself. Aesthetics trump the lot. And “seriousness” is an aesthetic quality or it’s nothing. But you will usually find that bad intentions makes bad art, and bad art, while it might be solemn and self-righteous, forfeits the right to be called serious. From start to finish, The Promise was art with its trousers round its ankles. Yes, it looked expensive, took its time, was beautifully shot and well acted. But these are merely the superficies of art, and the more dangerously seductive for that. “Gosh, I never knew such and such had happened,” I heard people say after one or other simplifying episode, as though high production values guarantee veracity.

One-sidedness is a failure of imagination; aesthetically, The Promise failed because it couldn’t conceal the dramatic monotony of its bias. Just about every Palestinian was sympathetic to look at, just about every Jew was not. While most Palestinians might fairly be depicted as living in poor circumstances, most Israeli Jews might not be fairly depicted as living in great wealth. The family life of Palestinians, when it was not rent with fear, was loving and considerate; family life among the Jews consisted of spitting words of violence against Arabs and callous socialising around a pool built on appropriated land. Juxtaposition counts for much in art, and when every juxtaposition – of beauty, wealth, humanity, kindliness, suffering – favours one party to the conflict at the expense of another, the simplicity of view begins to show itself in uninventiveness and repetition. Though I, too, have found Palestinians to be people of immense charm, I could only laugh in derision at The Promise every time another shot of soft-eyed Palestinians followed another shot of hard-faced Jews.

As for the politics, they were as transparently simple-minded as the casting. An act of violence carried out by a Palestinian was shown to be no different in motive and ambition from an act of violence carried out by a Jew, but the same understanding was not extended in the other direction, though if A resembles B, then B must resemble A.

But then of moral equivalence of any sort, except when anti-Jewish propaganda required it, The Promise was bare. Therefore, I say to Ofcom, no, the drama was not serious. It only looked serious because it said what the consensus says. The truth is now nailed to the floor. Jews went through hell only to build a hell for others. Trying arguing otherwise and you are an apologist for that hell.

We have been here before. Dayenu: it would have been enough had God done no more than help us out the last time. But it won’t ever be enough.

This piece, by Howard Jacobson, is from The Independent

For more from Howard Jacobson click here.

Stormfront and Stop the War Coalition members promote same campus event

No such thing as victimless boycott – David Hirsh

This piece by David Hirsh is published in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian.

The campaign to boycott Israel has won a victory by persuading the University of Johannesburg to end its scientific collaboration with Ben Gurion University (BGU). In Britain, the campaign has made headway among some trade union activists but no university anywhere has considered actually refusing to work with people based at Israeli institutions. Such a policy would break anti-racist law in Britain and violate the norm that the work of scholars is what counts, not their national origin.

South African support is priceless for the boycotters because they make their case worldwide by saying that a boycott of Israel would be similar to the ANC’s boycott of apartheid. Heroes of the anti-apartheid movement back the campaign and anti-Zionist Jews try to indemnify it against the whiff of anti-Semitism that lingers around it. People assume that if South Africans say Israel is apartheid and if some Jews say that the boycott is legitimate, then they are probably right.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel, says that UJ’s decision “is a commendable step in the direction of ending relations with Israeli institutions” and it adds, breathlessly. “This decision is guaranteed to resound around the globe!” So it is surprising that Ihron Rensburg, the principal of UJ, says that UJ does not “subscribe to an academic boycott of Israel”. David Newman, a dean at BGU, sees it differently: “ostensibly, UJ objects to the policies practiced by BGU … but in reality, it’s the first institutional boycott of an Israeli university.”

Rensburg’s attempt to spin the decision is disappointing. It relies on a spurious distinction between “institutional links” and “individual engagements”. But universities are self-managed collectives of academics who research and teach. Scholars are supported, and their academic freedom is underwritten, by their institutions. You cannot have a victimless boycott against universities without boycotting individuals. BGU, in the desert, is renowned for its work on water systems in arid conditions. Some of its scientists were helping to develop, with UJ colleagues, ways of bringing fresh, clean water to more South Africans. UJ has decided, for political reasons, to end this collaboration.

UJ scholars should be able to recognise an apartheid institution. The Rand Afrikaans University, from which it is descended, was set up as an apartheid project. Even its buildings were symbolically laid out in the shape that the wagons formed when under attack during the Great Trek.

Israeli universities are not part of a racist project; they are autonomous academic institutions like others across the democratic world. BGU does not support the occupation of the Palestinian territories. It has stood up against those on the Israeli right who seek to interfere with its academic norms and antiracist practices. It defends its own critical scholars, even those who go round the world calling on people to boycott their colleagues. Twenty percent of BGU students are Arabs and scholars at the university are involved in many joint projects with Palestinian colleagues.

Israel is not an apartheid state. Jews were forced out of European and Middle Eastern countries by racist boycotts and violence, including exclusions from universities. They went to Israel as refugees not imperialists. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians was never inevitable and neither nation is free from responsibility for the oppression and the bloodshed. If the conflict is to be ended, it will be through the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Israel and Palestine are not, like South Africa, a single but divided nation. Compare the ANC charter, which guaranteed in advance rights for minorities in a democratic state, to the Hamas charter, which calls for the killing of Israelis and the creation of an Islamist state.

Umberto Eco, the Italian intellectual, considers it “fundamentally racist to identify a scholar, a private citizen, with the politics of his government”. No wonder then, that UJ pretends this is not what it is doing.

The boycott campaign is not motivated by anti-Semitism, but wherever it goes, anti-Semitism follows. One of its leaders, Bongani Masuku, a Cosatu official, has been found guilty by the South African Human Rights Commission of hate speech. Jews around the world are routinely treated as supporters of apartheid if they dare to oppose the boycott campaign.

When you educate people to boycott only Israel, when you tell them that all Israelis are responsible for human-rights abuses, when you mobilise a global campaign to say that Israel is uniquely racist, and when this campaign becomes central to progressive politics globally, you are, whether you know it or not, incubating anti-Semitic ways of thinking. When ears are closed to concern about anti-Semitism on the basis that such concern is a marker of secret support for Israeli human rights abuses, then you know there is a problem.

UJ has chosen to boost the international campaign to exclude Israelis, and nobody else, from the global academic community. It is legitimising an anti-Semitic boycott, it is distorting the memory of the anti-apartheid struggle and it is depriving South Africans of clean-water technology.

Dr David Hirsh is lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. Hirsh is also the founding editor of http://www.engageonline.org.uk


The Y-word

Palestinians tell British union: Don’t sever ties with the Histadrut

This piece by Eric Lee is from the TULIP website (Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine)

Britain’s giant public sector union UNISON has just issued its long-awaited report on its delegation’s visit to Israel and Palestine.

The visit had been scheduled to take place a year ago, finally happened at the end of 2010, and the report has become available only now.

It is a long and detailed report reflecting the organization’s views of the conflict, but the really interesting bit — the surprising bit — was what happened when the UNISON team asked Palestinian trade unionists and Israeli leftists whether the union should sever its ties with the Histadrut.

The union had been instructed by its governing bodies to look into this very question.

It was, in some ways, the central question, the one that really mattered above all.

And the advice the union got from everyone it talked to was: don’t sever your ties with the Histadrut.

What the report says is so extraordinary that it needs to be quoted at length — and this passage should be shown to any union anywhere in the world that is thinking about cutting off ties with Israel’s trade unions.

Here is what they say:

All the organisations we met during the delegation including the PGFTU, the new Israeli trade unions and Israeli NGOs are or have been critical of the Histadrut in the past for various reasons.

However, they all stressed that the Histadrut was a legitimate trade union and with over 700,000 members was clearly the dominant trade union in terms of members and collective bargaining coverage. Even the new Israeli unions accepted that the Histadrut had been responsible for Israel’s strong labour and employment protection legislation. They also recognised that the Histadrut remained influential, although less so than in the past, with the Israeli government.
Neither did any of them call on UNISON to sever its relations with the Histadrut, in fact the opposite. The PGFTU in particular said that UNISON should maintain links with the Histadrut so that we could specifically put pressure on them to take a more vocal public stance against the occupation and the settlements.

Kav laOved, Koach laOvdim and WAC/Ma’an all felt that international trade union influence on the Histadrut was essential in moving it towards more progressive policies in relation to migrant workers and discrimination against Palestinian Israeli workers.

There is much in the report that we wouldn’t agree with – including criticism of things we and others have written and said – but the bottom line is that when Palestinian trade unionists are asked, they turn out to be supporters of engagement with the Histadrut and urge unions everywhere to keep up their ties with the Israeli union federation.

This piece by Eric Lee is from the TULIP website (Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine)

No place for a gallery on the Holocaust in the new Canadian Museum of Human Rights?

Those who want a permanent gallery on the Holocaust at the museum are portrayed as Stalinist Pigs

In the Baltic States and in Eastern Europe, where post Soviet narratives of nationhood are being written, there is a temptation to emphasize the crimes of the Stalinists and to de-emphasize the crimes of the nationalists.  The crimes of the Stalinists against the nations of Eastern Europe are of course real and terrible – and also largely forgotten, particularly during Soviet rule.  Not least amongst the historical crimes of the nationalists, however, was help given to the Nazi movement in perpetrating the Holocaust.

Buried within rhetoric about remembering all these historical atrocities equally is a temptation to rehabilitate perpetrators of the Holocaust as partisan heroes against the Stalinists, and to criminzlise Jews as supporters of Communism.  Buried within the rhetoric about remembering “equal genocides” is sometimes a wish to portray Stalin as being worse than Hitler.

The Canadian government is building a Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg.  In this museum it is proposed to found a gallery on the Holocaust, and on the effect that the post Holocaust settlement had on the international idea nd practice of Human Rights.

There is a large Ukranian community in Canada, and among that community is a nationalist campaign against this “centering” of the Holocaust in the story of the development of human rights.

Per Anders Rudling, a scholar who has taught in Canada and is a specialist in Ukranian nationalism, has, with colleagues, written the following open letter, which he is asking scholars and academics to sign.  Please use your academic email address and send details of your name, position and institution to him.  rudlingp@uni-greifswald.de

Catherine Chatterley, the director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism has written this op-ed explaining the issues.

This is the proposed text of the open letter:

The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, and the Canadian Museum of Human Rights

The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress have been campaigning against the plans of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg to mount a permanent Holocaust gallery. The UCCLA has mailed out a postcard across Canada that reproduces the cover of an edition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and implies that supporters of a Holocaust gallery are pigs. For its part, the UCC, which, in contrast to the UCCLA, is an elected body that represents major Ukrainian Canadian organizations, has complained that the planned Holocaust exhibit is “unacceptable” and has asked the Museum to provide the Holodomor, or Ukrainian famine of 1932-33, “no less coverage… than the Holocaust.”

We, the signatories to this letter, have all studied various aspects of genocide, fascism, anti-Semitism, Stalinism, war criminality, the Holodomor, and the Holocaust. We unequivocally recognize that the violence and oppression that Ukraine has experienced during its multi-totalitarian past ought to be remembered and commemorated in a Canadian museum devoted to the history and abuse of human rights. What we object to is the dishonest manner in which the UCCLA and UCC have distorted historical accounts of the Holodomor while at the same time refusing to acknowledge the Ukrainian nationalist movement’s role in the Holocaust.

The Ukrainian famine, which constitutes one of Stalin’s great crimes and one of Europe’s most devastating tragedies, deserves a place in any venue dedicated to commemorating and understanding the violation of human rights. Yet the way the UCC treats the Holodomor is problematic. All demographic studies place the number of famine deaths in Soviet Ukraine in the range of 2.6 to 3.9 million. This is, in itself, a grievous toll. Nonetheless, the UCC has, at times, inflated the number of victims to seven or even ten million. The implication is obvious: seven or ten million is more than six million; the Holodomor deserves more attention than the Holocaust. Such a manipulative attempt to exploit human suffering is reprehensible and should not be acceptable to the Canadian public.

We are also troubled by the UCCLA and UCC’s attitude toward the OUN, the UPA, and the 14th Grenadier Division of the Waffen SS ‘Galicia’ (1st Ukrainian). OUN stands for the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. UPA is the Ukrainian abbreviation for the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, the armed branch of the OUN. The Galicia Division, a military unit that was primarily involved in counterinsurgency activities, was established by the Germans in 1943. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians who belonged to these formations perished while resisting the ruthless imposition of Soviet power at the end of the war. Today many Ukrainians revere the members of these organizations as the champions of an oppressed people. In February 2010, the UCC called on the Canadian government “to make changes to Canada’s War Veterans Allowance Act by expanding eligibility to include designated resistance groups such as OUN-UPA.” Last Remembrance Day, the UCC asked Ukrainian Canadians to honour veterans who belonged to OUN, UPA, and the Galicia Division.

In their calls to honour the members of these organizations as veterans, what the UCCLA and the UCC do not fully acknowledge is that all three groups have been implicated in violence against civilians on a massive scale. Significant historical research indicates the political responsibility of the OUN in anti-Jewish violence in the summer of 1941. Emerging research also demonstrates that many former policemen who aided the Nazis in genocidal operations subsequently joined the UPA, created in early 1943. Moreover, it is incontrovertible that the UPA murdered tens of thousands of civilian Poles in the western province of Volhynia to undercut the ability of postwar Poland to make claims on the area. The Galicia Division was also involved in anti-civilian military actions, although mainly outside of Ukraine.

By pointing out the historical record of the OUN, UPA, and the Galicia Division, we do not mean to suggest some sort of collective responsibility for genocide on the part of all the men and women who served in them, and certainly not on the part of all Ukrainians. Nevertheless, in an age when the mass murder of civilians is regarded as a crime against humanity, the mixed record of these organizations has to be openly debated, particularly when the significance of the Holocaust is being questioned in a public campaign pertaining to a fair representation of the history of human rights.

We therefore assert that since the UCCLA and UCC have not understood that confronting the historical record openly and honestly is preferable to manipulative falsehood, have engaged in a competition of suffering, and have failed to acknowledge both the vices and the virtues of the nationalist movement, they ought to stay out of a debate about the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

Per Anders Rudling, a scholar who has taught in Canada and is a specialist in Ukranian nationalism, has, with colleagues, written the following open letter, which he is asking scholars and academics to sign.  Please use your academic email address and send details of your name, position and institution to him.  rudlingp@uni-greifswald.de

Catherine Chatterley, the director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism has written this op-ed explaining the issues.

For more background information on the campaign in Eastern Europe to normalize the memory of the Holocaust, see the excellent www.HolocaustInTheBaltics.com

George Galloway… What can you say?

via Harry’s Place

Nick Cohen: “They missed the story”

The Arab uprising is annihilating the assumptions of foreign ministries, academia and human rights groups with true revolutionary élan. In journalistic language, it is showing they had committed the greatest blunder a reporter can commit: they missed the story. They thought that the problems of the Middle East were at root the fault of democratic Israel or more broadly the democratic West. They did not see and did not want to see that while Israelis are certainly the Palestinians’ problem — and vice versa — the problem of the subject millions of the Arab world was the tyranny, cruelty, corruption and inequality the Arab dictators enforced.

Read the whole piece here.

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