Letter by David Hirsh in the South African Jewish Report

RAN GREENSTEIN wants to get us bogged down in the detail of wording and of who said what. But what is important is whether we choose to embrace the politics of peace and reconciliation between Israel and Palestine; or whether we choose the politics of siding with one set of ardent nationalists in their war against the other.

Greenstein does not support a peace between Israel and Palestine. He insists instead that Israel and Palestine should be thought of as one divided people who are ruled over by an apartheid regime.

He wants to dismantle Israel, like the apartheid regime in South Africa was dismantled, and he proposes instead a regime of individual rights within a new state.

But Israel is a nation, the nation descended from those who were driven out of Europe, out of Russia and out of the Middle East by 20th century anti-Semitism.

Israel is not an apartheid regime, it is a life-raft state, and it will not allow itself to be dismantled. Given this fact, Ran’s plan for treating Israelis in the way that the apartheid regime was treated, can only be a programme for conquest. The conquest of Israel is, hopefully, impossible and would in any case, never lead to a democratic outcome.

It is quite wrong to tell Palestinians that Israel must be finally defeated before they can be free, because it is like telling them that they can never be free.

But Palestinians can be free. Even the most terrible and entrenched conflicts between nations come to an end. They don’t come to an end with the final defeat of one or the other, but with a peace agreement between the two.

President Barack Obama was right when he outlined the deal: an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and both nations to recognise the sovereignty of the other.

Greenstein’s “Boycotts, Divestments, Sanctions” slogan tries to exclude Israelis, and only Israelis, from the cultural, academic, sporting and economic life of humanity.

It is war by other means, it is not peace and reconciliation. And such a politics of exclusion, aimed at the descendents of the Jews who have already been boycotted and pushed out, is a politics which is insufficiently sensitive to the history of anti-Semitism which not only hangs over Jews, but over us all.

Ran Greenstein, who has given up on Israelis, has despaired of building the Israeli peace movement, imagines that peace in his homeland can be built by demonising them here, and in the UK and around the world.

He thinks that anybody who disagrees with him should be denounced as supporters of apartheid.

Instead of the politics of anger and desperation, we should back those in both Israel and Palestine who want peace and who stand against the demonisation of the other.

David Hirsh
Goldsmiths College, University of London

the letter is here, on the website of the South African Jewish Report (pdf)

Are you antisemtic? – From Talking Squid

Ariel Hessayon, Historian at Goldsmiths, Resigns from UCU

Dear Ms Hunt,

Following the recent motion at the UCU congress in Harrogate on 30 May 2011 to reject the EUMC working definition of anti-Semitism (overwhelmingly carried), I have taken the decision to resign my membership of the UCU.  Mine is not the first resignation, nor do I expect it will be the last.  A number of people have already resigned from our Union in protest at policies that are antisemitic in effect (though arguably not intent).  These are people with far better credentials as union activists and anti-racists than myself.  So I do not expect you – and certainly no one who has been pushing these motions – to be unduly troubled. After all, and so far as I’m aware, we’re still waiting for an investigation into the reasons for the initial spate of resignations.

For my own part, I am an historian whose research interests and writings include studies of attitudes towards Jews and secret Jews in early modern England.  I have also looked at the ways in which modern histories of Jews and antisemitism reflect the present day concerns of their authors.  Based on my professional expertise, I have no doubt that the politically motivated rejection of the EUMC working definition has antisemitic implications.  Accordingly, I cannot in good conscience remain a member of a union that countenances the antics of such extremists; fanatics who seem at best oblivious and at worst disdainful of the consequences of their single-minded obsession: Israel.  Their relentless promotion of a boycott of Israeli Universities – and therefore by extension Israeli academics – at a time when their energies would be better channeled dealing with the ‘bread and butter’ issues that concern the vast majority of our membership has succeeded only in alienating people who while condemning the occupation, nonetheless believe in a just two-state solution as the best way to achieve peace in the region.  It also happens to be a fact that in their own way most of these people identify as Jews.

Yours sincerely,

Ariel Hessayon


Sue Blackwell and Willem Meijs: Loaded words: Evolving interpretations of ‘anti-semitic’ and ‘anti-semitism’ [1] in dictionary definitions and in public discourse [2]

Sue Blackwell and Willem Meijs have published a paper:


Some words are loaded with connotative associations that make them highly sensitive elements in public discourse, especially political and legal discourse. This is certainly the case with the words anti-semitic and anti-semitism.

While Semites and semitic were originally used to refer to a broad ethnic category that included both Arabs and Jews, their derivatives anti-semitic and anti-semitism came to be applied, from first use, almost exclusively to people of Jewish ethnicity or religion, meaning roughly ‘hatred of / hostility towards Jews’. In some quarters over the past few decades there has been a further semantic shift, involving an extension of the meaning of anti-semitism to include criticism of, or hostility towards, the state of Israel. This paper traces these semantic shifts both in evolving dictionary definitions and in public discourse as evidenced in the Bank of English and the World-Wide Web.

More recently still, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) devoted some emphasis in its 2004 report to the lack of a common definition of anti-semitism, and promptly offered one. The resulting “EUMC Working definition” has been taken up throughout the EU: for instance in the British Parliament through the report of its All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism (September 2006). This did not volunteer a definition of its own but concluded: “We recommend that the EUMC Working Definition of antisemitism is adopted and promoted by the Government and law enforcement agencies.”

Our study revealed that the terms semite, anti-semitic and anti-semitism are the focus of much linguistic contention, particularly in the UK. We found that collocational patterns in data culled from the World-Wide Web fluctuated widely from one year to another: disturbingly, this appeared to be largely due to the influence of pressure groups and documents in the public eye at the time. We conclude by drawing some salutary lessons for linguists and lexicographers.

1. Introduction

Our starting point for this paper is an article by the campaigning journalist Robert Fisk, published in The Independent newspaper in April 2004. In it he berates Webster’s Third New International Dictionary for defining anti-Semitism as “opposition to Zionism: sympathy with opponents of the state of Israel”. Fisk goes on to quote “the pitiful response of the Webster’s official publicist, Mr. Arthur Bicknell, who was asked to account for this grotesque definition”:

‘Our job’, he responded, ‘is to accurately reflect English as it is actually being used. We don’t make judgement calls; we’re not political.’ Even more hysterically funny and revolting, he says that the dictionary’s editors tabulate ‘citational evidence’ about anti-Semitism published in ‘carefully written prose-like books and magazines.’ Preposterous as it is, this Janus-like remark is worthy of the hollowest of laughs. (Fisk 2004)

In this paper we will attempt to provide context to the conflicting claims by Fisk and Bicknell by charting the semantic shifts which have taken place in the use of anti-semitism, zionism and related words. We will examine the changing definitions in the most influential British and American dictionaries over the last century, and compare them with the use of the terms in current British and American English as found in newspaper texts in a general corpus and pages from online newspapers on the World-Wide Web.

This study bears similarities with the task which Baker et al. (2008) undertook: trying to trace and interpret the evolving use of certain ‘loaded words’ over time in the light of developments in ‘the real world’, utilising linguistic evidence as found in textual sources from relevant time-frames. Our analysis has been guided by Fairclough’s Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) (Fairclough 1995) and Critical Language Study (CLS) (Fairclough 1995, 2001). We have attempted to provide a “description” (Fairclough 2001: 21) of the linguistic characteristics of our chosen texts, using corpus linguistics methodology; an “interpretation” (ibid.) of the processes by which they are produced and interpreted; and also an “explanation” (Fairclough 2001: 22) of the wider social processes within which the semantic space of words like anti-semitism and anti-zionism is fought over.

the whole paper is downloadable here.

In 2006 Sue Blackwell showed how rife antisemitic ways of thinking were in the Palestine Solidarity movement.

In 2007 Sue Blackwell threatened to sue Engage for saying that she campaigned “to exclude Israeli academics from UK campuses”.

Here is a piece about Sue Blackwell’s rather one-sided understanding of Equality Impact Assessments.

In 2005 Sue Blackwell turned on LabourStart, a website which carries news about trade union struggles around the world, claiming that it was “Zionist” and so shouldn’t be considered to be part of the legitimate labour movement.

Here is a piece from 2005 which traces the relationships between Sue Blackwell’s antizionism and more openly antisemitic currents within the Palestine Solidarity movement.

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