Response from University of Johannesburg

Sociologist Peter Alexander, at the University of Johannesburg, has defended the boycott decision against this critique from David Hirsh.  (double click the image to make it bigger)

David Hirsh argued, amongst other things:

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.

Peter Alexander does not relate to this argument and he doesn’t rebut it.  He simply denies it:

Hirsh’s view that UJ is “legitimising an anti-semitic boycott” and “incubating anti-semitic ways of thinking” smacks of a man who is losing an argument.  For myself I am proud to have spent half a century opposing racism including anti-semitism.

He doesn’t say why Bongani Masuku was found guilty of hate speech by the South African Human Rights commission.   He doesn’t make an argument or present any evidence.  He doesn’t show that he is aware that much hostility to Israel is manifested in the language of antisemitism, for example by Hamas, by Hezobllah, by the Iranian government.  He doesn’t show any evidence that he knows what has been going on within the University and College Union, where Jews who oppose the boycott have been bullied out of the “debate”.   He doesn’t show any awareness of what it is like to be a Jewish student on his own campus.  He just responds with haughty, unthinking, denial.

For  the debate around the South African campaign for an academic boycott of Israel, with Desmond Tutu, David Newman, Neve Gordon, David Hirsh, Robert Fine, Ran Greenstein, Uri Avnery, Farid Essack click here.

For some Engage classics on contemporary antisemitism and boycotts against Israel, click here.

Israel is not like apartheid South Africa.  click here.

Hirsh’s argument against the academic boycott campaign.  click here.

What’s wrong with PACBI’s “call” for a boycott?  click here.

Michael Yudkin’s argument against the academic boycott campaign.  click here.

For the Engage archive on the Israel / Apartheid analogy click here.

double click on the image to make it readable


There is also this piece in the M&G, defending UJ’s boycott.

14 Responses to “Response from University of Johannesburg”

  1. Absolute Observer Says:

    His defence contains a fundaemntal contradiction.

    He argues that since UJ has not received a call from Chinese universties there is no move to boycott China.

    However, it would appear from the article that UJ received no call from Palestinian universities, but rather “pro-boycott Palestinians”. (Most, if not all Palestinian universities are opposed to a boycott despite their animosity to Israel).

    Morevoer, the call from these (self-selected) groups is not for a boycott of their own institutions, but for the boycott of another country.

    Perhaps if UJ phoned up Tibettans or those languishing in Chinese jails, or even speak to those academics who are not fearful of detention, he mind find another response. But, then again, their is no motion on the table to send a “fact finding” mission to China.

    I agree with Hirsh; his comments on the boycott and its connection with antisemitism are simply banal.

  2. ken Says:

    Ok let me try, imagine it’s 1983

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

    I seem to recall there were campaigns against Chile etc. at the time just as there against Burma etc. at the current time

    • toby esterhase Says:

      Yes Ken.

      Except that antisemitism isn’t the same as “anti-Afrikaner-ism”. Is it?

      South Africa was not founded by waves of Arikaners fleeing from European, Russian and Middle Eastern antisemitism.

      The people who founded South Africa were not the remnants of the undead of Hitler’s genocide.

      The idea of a boycott against Afrikaners does not have centuries of anti-afrikaner history behind it.

      By the way it is simply wrong to say that all white south africans were “afrikaners”.

      It isn’t the case that white South Africans were surrounded by states which had attempted to drive them into the sea three times in the last century.

      It isn’t the case that Black South Africans were led by a political force which propagated the centuries long tradition of anti-afrikaner boycotts and hatred and genocide.

      It isn’t the case that white south africans were a nation – rather they were an imperial and racist cast which maintained its rule by openly racist “law”.

      It is true that the spitting image song “I’ve never met a nice white south african” was absurd and unpleasant fomenting bile against white south africans did not key into the immense power and history and potential of antisemitism.

      You opposed the boycott of South Africa if you wanted to maintain white rule. You oppose the boycott of Israel if you think that Jews in the Middle East have a right to, and a need for, self determination.

      Anybody who has seen the debate against Israel has felt the power and the potential of antisemitism – and if they have an antiracist instinct in their political body they they will feel how it is different from the campaign against apartheid.

  3. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    I need to make a number of points here, so please bear with me, people. Firstly, I personally never called for a boycott of South African universities; I never personally called for a boycott of South African goods; I never personally called for a boycott of anything South African.

    However, I _did_ respond to the ANC, et al, call for a boycott of South African goods, even tho’ I would not demand that anyone else did the same: that has to be _their_ decision. After all, I was taught by Prof. Percy Cohen, South African (self-)exile, and had the pleasure of meeting and being educated by Prof. John Rex, ditto, so how could I boycott SA academics. I also note that I am old enough to remember Sharpeville (as an adult) and Nelson Mandela being sentenced to life imprisonment. How many of the proponents of this boycott can claim the same?

    Note that, bar a few, apparently maverick, individuals, Israeli universities haven’t requested a boycott either. Didn’t it use to be a (sacred, you should pardon the word) trade union tenet that you only boycotted those who asked you to, as direct participants in the system or as citizens of the state in question? Boy, how times have changed: you boycott those who don’t call for it, but those you decide deserve it, and the hell with principle, let alone old-fashioned left ideology.

    The UJ position is self-satisfied and self-reverential nonsense: they are only doing it because it makes them feel good: they are doing “something”, even if that “something” actually hurts those they would help more than their supposed target. Palestinian universities and collaborators of Ben Gurion Uni haven’t called for a boycott of BGU water research; nor have Jordanian universities, also collaborators in this project. So, who will suffer? Not the Palestinians, they’re still collaborating. Not the Jordanians, ditto. Only the poor of South Africa who could desperately use the fruits of the research being undertaken. And, of course, there are significant US and Australian Unis that would be delighted to take up the slack.

    Regrettably, the faculty of UJ will never even notice the increased ill-health in the townships as a result of this: their ivory tower is far too high.

  4. ken Says:

    Toby
    the first part of your comment suggests that Israel deserves to be judged differently from other nations given the historical context. But….I seem to recall engagers en masse jumping on any suggestion that Jewish citizens, post-holocuast, might be more sensitive to the horrors that an authoritarian state can impose. You really can’t have it both ways.

    As to ” It isn’t the case that white south africans were a nation – rather they were an imperial and racist cast which maintained its rule by openly racist “law”.” Do you really not see the irony in this?

    • Paul M Says:

      Israel deserves to be judged fairly — meaning by the same standard as everyone else, and also meaning not subject to a one-sided misapplication of the idea of fairness to dismiss relevant distinctions.

      The Jews have a three thousand year history of existence as a people, and a two thousand year history of mistreatment — from the casual to the genocidal — as a diaspora and a perpetual minority. What is the relevant parallel to the Afrikaner experience? The Jews have seen their historical connection to their ancestral homeland systematically denied, and in places deliberately erased, by enemies who are remarkably frank about their goal of ending Jewish self-determination in the one place it ever existed. What is the analogous aspect of South African history that makes it useful in understanding this Arab attitude to Jews? Israel has none of the legal, civil and political framework of a regime that enshrines the idea of eternally superior and inferior races. Why then is Apartheid your model of choice for interpreting Israel?

  5. toby esterhase Says:

    I don’t think it is true to say that Jews ought to be expected to have learnt some kind of antiracist lesson out of the Holocaust. I think different Jews learnt different lessons. Jews are not one. I think many Jews learnt that it would be better, next time, if somebody wanted to kill them, to have a state and an army with which to defend themselves.

    But to ask a question about Jewish “sensitivity” is not to deal with the question about antisemitism. Jews have been boycotted, treated as second class citizens, accused of treason and cruelty, excluded from civil society, from trades, from education, for centuries. If you propose, again, to boycott Jews, you should think carefully about the tradition in which you put yourself, not about the tradition in which the Jews find themselves.

    There is an argument which says that Israel is not like other nations. It is a life raft nation into which the undead of Europe, of Russia and of the Middle East found some kind of precarious refuge. Yes, you could argue that its particularities should be taken seriously.

    The reason why you were wrong, in your original comment, Ken, is becasue you were imagining that Jews in Israel were the same as white South Africans. And a campaign against Jews in Israel would have the same effect as a campaign against white South Africans. I dont think that is true. I think there is a potential and a history and a power in singling out Jews for particular punishment which is not present with white South Africans. Look at the different ways in which Hamas, and historically the PLO too, have related to Jews, by contrast to how the ANC related to whites in its own Freedom Charter. Don’t pretend these are similar situations. They’re not.

    Israel does not define race in law. Israeli citizens are of all colours and are of all religions. If you can’t see how this is different to South Africa then you need a lesson in what apartheid actually meant. Irony? yer, sure, but it isn’t the one you were thinking of Ken.

  6. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    And ken could do worse than search for references to Benjamin Pogrund in the Engage archive. Here is someone who faced (and helped to face down) apartheid who has cogently, and often, argued against any analogy between apartheid South Africa and Israel post-’67. ken could start with this:
    http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=1184
    and carry on by himself from there.

    Happy reading, ken

  7. ken Says:

    I copy from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website:

    The Knesset, sets out the procedures for being elected to Israel’s parliament and those by which the Knesset itself is governed. One of the more important provisions in this law was an amendment prohibiting the election to the Knesset of any party or person whose goals directly or otherwise (1) negate the existence of the state as a Jewish and democratic state,

    This is cleary oxymoronic. Just as South Africa lauded itself as a stable, prosperous and democratic (for whites) exception in Africa, so does Israel in Arabia. Any secular (let alone muslim or buddhist or whatever) party is prohibted from power

    • toby esterhase Says:

      Ken, if you think Israel is in Arabia, you’re either an antisemite or you’re someone who doesn’t know anything about the subject which he comments on.

    • Paul M Says:

      Thanks Ken. Here’s the whole deal, from the Knesset’s own website:

      Who Can Participate in Elections?

      The contest in the elections is among lists of candidates. Since the Parties Law was passed in 1992, only a party, which has been legally registered with the Party Registrar, or an alignment of two or more registered parties, which have decided to run in the elections together, can present a list of candidates and participate in the elections (for example, in the elections for the fifteenth Knesset, the list “One Israel” was composed of three parties; Labor, Gesher and Meimad). A party can informally add to its list bodies or personalities that are not members of the party and that are not registered themselves as a party (for example, in the elections for the fifteenth Knesset, the Unified Arab List included contenders from the Democratic Arab Party, a registered party, and individuals from the Islamic Movement, a non-registered party). The following lists may not run in the elections: A list which acts directly or indirectly against the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people or against its democratic nature; a list which incites racism; a list which supports the armed struggle of an enemy state or a terrorist organization against the State of Israel.

      Here’s a pertinent bit: “… the Unified Arab List included contenders from the Democratic Arab Party, a registered party, and individuals from the Islamic Movement, a non-registered party.” The Islamic Movement’s position is “No recognition of the State of Israel’s right to exist, with the ultimate goal of it being replaced by an Islamic state (that’s from Wikipedia, but Al Jazeera says exactly the same) but they currently have two seats in the Knesset. Had you missed the news that despite the Parties Law and despite the Israeli Central Elections Committee trying to ban several parties from participating in elections because they deny Israel’s right to exist, the Israeli Supreme Court struck down the ban? Or did you think it would be unhelpful to mention it?

      “Any secular (let alone muslim or buddhist or whatever) party is prohibted from power”. Are you really so uninformed about Israel, and if so why are you here making a fool of yourself?

      And again: Where is the parallel with South Africa under Apartheid?

    • Uri Golomb Says:

      This is nonsense. There *are* secular parties, and Arab parties with a strong Islamic component, in the Israeli Knesset. The law Ken quotes has only been used, in practice, to exclude a Jewish racist-religious party which wanted to establish an apartheid regime (and worse) in Israel.

  8. Absolute Observer Says:

    “I seem to recall engagers en masse jumping on any suggestion that Jewish citizens, post-holocuast, might be more sensitive to the horrors that an authoritarian state can impose.”

    Ken begins by making the situation of SA and Israel, Afrikaners and Jews the same. Toby refuted that through reference to history of the two situations.

    Ken responds by claiming that since engage is opposed to arguments of specificity they can’t raise historical contingencies and therefore, can’t have it both ways.

    As with those of the past, Ken confuses history with superstition and, as with SA and Israel wishes to make them the same.

    So, let’s clarify. Engagers do not oppose history but they oppose superstition.

    Engage en masse oppose the substitution of actual history and politics, including the history of antisemmitism for myths and related superstitions that claim to make Israel and Jews “exceptional”. Such as,

    Politics and history can be substituted by arguments that turn on “national character” and psycho-babble.
    The conflict between Israel and Palestine and the way is has developed is a result of Jewish psychological trauma brought about by the Holocaust.

    That Jews should have learnt the (Christian) lesson to be nice to people because people were so beastly to them.

    Toby notes that if you want to bring up history – real history -then, you need to look at the real history of attempts of Jewish exclusions and the arguments that justify including, boycotts, of claims of some innate and negative “Jewishness”, of Jews not acting like Christians, of claims that Jews have excess power, that Jews control governments, that Jews control the media, that Jews lie and act in bad faith.

    As Ken quite rightly says, “You really can’t have it both ways”

  9. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    As Absolute Observer notes above, in reply to ken:
    “That Jews should have learnt the (Christian) lesson to be nice to people because people were so beastly to them.”

    As I posted below, in response to a similar comment (by someone who meant it) – see the comments attached to the Jacobson article below, and (comments 3 and 4) that by “a reverent thought” – followed by this:
    “This is too serious to be irony, so, in the same spirit as “A Reverent Thought”, I offer the following:

    If Christians had accepted that others are entitled not to believe what _they_ believe – Dayenu;


    If Christians had accepted that others also had freedom of thought – Dayenu;

    
If Christians had actually practised ‘peace on earth, goodwill to all men’ – Dayenu;


    If Christians had actually _believed_ in ‘peace on earth, goodwill to all men’ – Dayenu;


    If Christians had not decided that those who didn’t believe what they believed deserved to be tortured until they _did_ believe – Dayenu.

    Christians have have had 2000 years tom practice what they tell us Jesus preached – and they have failed, consistently, over those 2 millenia.

    You think they’d have cottoned on by now: not everyone thinks that Christians (or Moslems, or Buddhists, or Hindus, or…) have the _only_ answer.”

    ken also brings out that item from the Israeli Foreign Ministry about Israeli law “prohibiting the election to the Knesset of any party or person whose goals directly or otherwise (1) negate the existence of the state as a Jewish and democratic state”. He seems to think he’s scored some sort of significant point. He might have done, if he’d first dealt with noting that the English (as it was then) Act of Succession of 1688 established that the English (now British) Head of State had to be a Christian, and further, a Protestant at that. More, they had to be a communicating member of the Church of England. Why else did we have William (of Orange) and Mary, followed by Anne, succeeding after the dethroning of the Catholic James II? Beyond that, the Head of State, or the potential Head of State, is not allowed to marry a Catholic – how liberal is that?

    ken goes on, after quoting from the Israeli Foreign Ministry document, to say that: “Any secular (let alone muslim or buddhist or whatever) party is prohibted from power”. How, in that case, does he explain the election of Meretz (formerly Mapam) MKs, from the foundation of the State of Israel, to say nothing of Israeli Communist Party MKs and any number of Arab-Israeli (and thus Moslem) MKs? It’s also quite possible that certain of these might even have stood on a platform of creating a bi-national state, rather than seeking a two-state situation, as a way of solving the “problem” of Israel and Palestine.

    He can’t of course, because he’s too intent on scoring what he sees as cheap tricks (or if he doesn’t see them as thus, are, in fact, cheap tricks).

    And if he really believes that things are different elsewhere, or that Israel is based on a religious identity (he mistakes ethnicity for a religious identity – he should see what proportion of Israeli Jews attend synagogue on a regular basis on the Sabbath), he should try standing as a Christian (or anything other than a Moslem) for election in Iran, Iraq, Jordan or even Saudi on a platform of de-Islamification, and see what happens to him.

    And, ken, have you started reading Benjamin Pogrund in the Engage Archive yet?


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