Report of the Debate at the University of Johannesburg Last Week

Click here for Alison Goldberg’s report of the debate in the South African Jewish Report (pdf).

The debaters were Ran Greenstein, David Hirsh, Joel Fishman and Na’eem Jenah.

Na’eem Jeenah was yesterdy detained at Ben Gurion airport in Israel, not allowed into the country by Israeli authorities, and deported to Turkey.  For more on this, see the report on the Voice of the Cape website.  The Israelis said he constituted a security threat.

During the debate at UJ, Jeenah claimed that the Israeli state had a policy of shooting Palestinian school children.   The issue of slippage was raised with Jeenah.  It was said that the discourse tends to shift from Israel not being careful enough to avoid collaterol damage, to Israel targeting children, to Israel as the child-killing state.  “This is not the first time Jews have been accused of murdering children,” Hirsh said to him.   Jeemah didn’t take this idea seriously, but responded simply by saying that it was outrageous that he was bieng accused of being antisemitic.

Jeemah also remembered nostalgically how he used to sing “beat up the whites” in the times of apartheid.  Hirsh said that in this debate, “beat up the Jews” resonated quite differently from “beat up the whites”.

UPDATE: More on Jeenah’s exclusion from Israel in the Mail and Guardian.

13 Responses to “Report of the Debate at the University of Johannesburg Last Week”

  1. Absolute Observer Says:

    “Because Israel was sheltered
    by the United States, he felt
    Israel was complacent. Calling
    the boycott one of peace, he
    said: “Anything we do to
    undermine that complacency
    is justified.”

    “Anything” Ran, really, “anything”? – oh dear!

    Likewise, if Ran sees the problem with Israel’s complacency as a consequence of the US’s “sheltering”, then why not go to the root of the crime of complacency”? – the US?

    Go on, Ran, I dare you, call for a boycott of the US. I can assure you that you will find enough US academics to make the call, that their universities have a link with the military and that the US are guilty (or, if that is too high a standard, “complacent”) of serious human rights violations.

    Maybe Ran could organise under the slogan,

    “Boycott the Complacent!”

    or, how about,

    “Tough on complacency and the causes of complacency!”

    • Ran Greenstein Says:

      You are welcome to disagree with my views, but to do so you need to find out what they are (not what some stupid hag in a rag wrote about them). So, for easiness of access check out the article titled “Reflections on academic boycotts in the wake of the UJ-BGU campaign”, published in the South African Review of Sociology, 42, 1, April 2011 (, and “Israel/Palestine: Apartheid of a special type”, published in the Johannesburg Salon, 3, February 2011 (

      • toby esterhase Says:

        From the JFJFP “who we are”:

        “Jews for Justice for Palestinians is a network of Jews who are … practising and secular, Zionist and not. … We support the right of Israelis to live in freedom and security within Israel’s 1967 borders.”

        Why is JFJFP posting Ran Greenstein’s stuff, which is anathema to anybody who is a “Zionist” of any kind and which violates the central premise of their political statement.

        Greenstein believes the Zionist signatories of the JFJFP statement are supporters of apartheid.

        Greenstein does not support the right of Israelis to live in freedom and security within Israel’s 1967 borders. Indeed, he doesn’t see anything different about this side of the 67 borders or that side. His politics are entirely opposite to the JFJFP statement.

        I guess it is time that somebody saved JFJFP from the antizionists who now run it.

      • modernityblog Says:

        Ran Greenstein,

        I have followed your many exchanges here with interest.

        I was hoping for an intellectually coherent case as befits an academic, yet you come across (to the average reader) as dogmatic, immature and sexist.

  2. Absolute Observer Says:

    “Stupid Hag”

    That is disgraceful!

    Or, is it simply that when it comes to Jews and Israel any and all rules of civility – including the expression of gendered insults – are simply beside the point?

  3. Ex-UCU Says:

    Ran’s use of sexist language to characterise someone with whom he disagrees is, by analogy, proof of exactly what Engage has been saying about the way antisemitism attaches to debates about Israel. In fact, it verifies Hirsh’s comments about it being surprising if antisemitism did not attach to matters like the boycott of Israel.

    In this instance, a normal fact of political life – journalism’s relationship to what is being reported – is reframed or, as AO calls it, “expressed” in misogynist language, as if the reason for Goldberg’s getting it wrong is a consequence of her gender.

    What starts life as a rational/normal disagreement is, in an instant, and, no doubt in Ran’s case, unconsciously, overlaid with sexism, that is with an irrational account of why she reported what she reported. From an comment about an individual we have an almost immediate slippage to comments about an entire group of people (in this case, women) as a way of explaining her mendacity.

    Goldberg’s (mis)representation of Ran’s words is seen as a product of her being a female and not of this or that person, this or that journalist.

    If this is the case with a female journalist, Engage is replete with instances of a similar kind of instances when Jews – or non-Jews – raise the question of antisemitism within UCU or elsewhere and their comments are reframed as being representative of Jews or Zionists in general, of being a product, not of this or that individual, but of “Zionists” or “Jews” as a group.

    It is this type of reactionary thinking, of course, that is at the heart the UCU motion prohibiting the EUMC’s use of a working definition of antisemitism in aiding judgement on matters related to Israel and Palestine.

    Understood in this light is no coincidence that the idea that Jews “cry antisemitism” fraudently and maliciously and the idea that women “cry rape” fraudently and maliciously share the same discriminatory framework.

  4. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Ran Greenstein (as AO notes immediately above) says “not what some stupid hag…”

    This man is a sociologist? Where he he been for the last 40 years? This is disgraceful sexism. Goes well with his anti-zionism without an argument.

  5. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Further to Greenstein’s comment above that “You are welcome to disagree with my views, but to do so you need to find out what they are…” (this is followed by the disgraceful reference to Alison Goldberg), and he then refers us to two JfJfP sources. We can better than that, can’t we? Just go to “Search old & new Engage together”, up there, top right of every page, and type “Ran Greenstein” into the search box. Among lots else, one will find the following:
    and (Greensteins’ first comment, 3rd one down)

    There, that wasn’t difficult was it? And I’ve been retired some years, so I have to do all this myself (no research students in sight, alas). We’ve been taking issue with your views for some time now, Ran, and we think we have a fair handle on what they are, so there’s little need to get all pompous and snide on us.

    Actually, your way over the top response to Ms Goldberg suggests that she might just have hit the target dead centre.

  6. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Craving the indulgence of the moderator, I reread the exchanges between Ran Greenstein and myself on that first link above. I noted there and I note again that he consistently and continuously fails to respond to requests for evidence to support his position on Israel and the boycott. He is asked, again and again, for support; again and again, he fails to provide it and, indeed, responds by re-asserting what he has previously asserted (not demonstrated). He also ignores the evidence I (and others) supply. He does this other exchanges between us (and others) on this and other threads.

    This is more than passing strange in an Associate Professor of Sociology at Witwatersrand University. Perhaps he thinks us uneducated poltroons, who don’t have the intellectual skills to joust with him. If he thinks that, then he could most easily dispose of us. But he doesn’t. In fact, of course, many of those who post here on the anti-boycott “side” are at least as highly educated as he is. However, of course, high levels of formal education by no means equate to common sense – on either side of the debate.

    Nevertheless, is Greenstein’s failure to produce concrete evidence a tacit admission that he doesn’t have the evidence? That there isn’t any (or much) worthy of the name? That it is only his ideology that sustains him?

    I would note that when I taxed him with reading Benny Morris’s book “1948: The First Arab-Israeli War”, he linked to a “review” he had written of the book. Only it isn’t a review; it is a hatchet job, dripping with vitriol, designed to _stop_ people reading the book (perhaps he was afraid that they might change their minds away from his point of view?). Anyone so inclined should go to the next page down on this website, go to the Howard Jacobson article posted there and listen patiently to his talk at an Engage meeting. Wait patiently until he comes to his description of what criticism is, then listen carefully. It’s worth waiting for.

  7. Sarah AB Says:

    Yuck – as well as being inherently objectionable – I find it extraordinary that any academic or professional, using his own name, would say such a thing in a public forum.

  8. Absolute Observer Says:

    On and off topic, but can you imagine UCU passing a motion that says that the definition of sexual harassment cannot be used in any complaint concerning allegations of sexual impropriety that concerns a UCU member on the grounds that one has to assume prima facie that the woman raising it is doing so to “silence” her tutor from giving her a low mark or refusing to remark an essay, etc., etc..

    The more one thinks of this motion, the one more realises not only its effect on Jews in the future, but also that antisemitic assumptions goes to its very heart.

    Maybe Jewish academics should think of setting up a “Jewish” section in UCU (like a Black section or Women’s section) to fight this type of racism? After all, if “you are attacked as Jews. then you fight back as Jews”.

    • Bill Says:

      On and off topic, but can you imagine UCU passing a motion that says that the definition of sexual harassment cannot be used in any complaint concerning allegations of sexual impropriety that concerns a UCU member on the grounds that one has to assume prima facie that the woman raising it is doing so to “silence” her tutor from giving her a low mark or refusing to remark an essay, etc., etc..

      Well that’s the whole point. They aren’t even considering running this blanking out of antisemitism through the Cinderella Test. “You’re changing the subject” We aren’t talking about creating objective and consistent policy that’s compliance with anti-discrimination and harassment law… We’re talking about Jews the Zionists that work amongst us (and who are up to heaven knows what). That it requires lots of dodgy editing, the infamous Lawrence Lowell quote and HTML code, should make one wonder about the honesty of those who push such motions.

  9. South African Says:

    On a separate note about the seminar…few will appreciate the significance of the event without having the benefit of some context:

    *This was the first event on the issue of boycotts that had taken place outside of Senate and it gave those excluded Faculty members and students the chance to engage directly on the topic.

    * It also achieved balance by bringing together speakers on both sides – which cannot be said for many other seminars on Israeli or Jewish matters at UJ. An example is the seminar “The Politics of Water: Are Palestinians systematically denied water?” held on the 16th of March, which took place a few days after the UJ Petition Committee released its “damning report” of BGU’s “institutional complicity and active collaboration with Israeli military, occupation and apartheid practices” and a week before the boycott vote. The seminar included five pro-Palestinian speakers and not a single person on the other side. I don’t need to spell out what that occasion turned out to be.

    *Finally, initially the seminar in which David Hirsh participated was going to be a full day symposium with a number of balanced panels. The Department of Sociology and Faculty of Law had agreed to co-host it. However, when it was revealed that the seminar would include two international guests, David Hirsh and Joel Fishman, the event was accused of being “a vehicle for a propaganda response”. One of the speakers, a key figure in the boycott campaign, who made this accusation, subsequently withdrew from the symposium. At that point, the Faculty of Humanities withdrew its support from the event stating that the event was “pro-BGU” as Brenda Stern, the Excecutive Director of the SA Associates of Ben Gurion University was included in one of the panels. Further objections were raised about my involvement as an organiser on the grounds that my role “should be more neutral”. None of these issues / concerns were ever raised by the same Faculty when the “Politics of Water” seminar was held (and organised by the SA office of BDS) or any other such events that have occurred on campus. I could continue listing many more double standards on this point. I’ll end off by saying that in the end, this seminar was moved to the Faculty of Law and reduced to one panel with four speakers. Once at the Faculty of Law no further problems were experienced and it went ahead as planned. The Faculty of Law should be commended for providing the opportunity for this seminar.

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