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)

11 Responses to “Letter by David Hirsh in the South African Jewish Report”

  1. James Mendelsohn Says:

    Good letter David

  2. justquoting Says:


    Good quote in there too: “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.”

  3. Jimbo Says:

    “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 that is precisely the message of professed peace activist Ben White (published in Al Jazeera), who envisions millions of Palestinian Arabs storming Israel’s borders:

    ‘But it is the exposure of a third myth that is the most explosive: that a literal return is unfeasible. In the words of the excellent arenaofspeculation.org, engaging “in new ways with the spatial, political and social landscapes of Israel-Palestine” means that instead of asking “can we return?” or “when will we return?” Palestinians are suddenly allowed to ask “what kind of return do we want to create for ourselves?”’

    ‘There can be no doubt that the obstacle to a resolution of this central injustice is the insistence on maintaining a regime of ethno-religious privilege and exclusion.’


  4. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    And Ran Greenstein, actually, doesn’t listen (read properly) to what anyone who disagrees with him says, so that he might engage (no pun) in a debate with them.

    No, his mind is made up: don’t confuse him with the facts.

  5. Deborah Maccoby Says:

    Dear David,

    Why don’t you publish a link to Ran Greenstein’s letter, to which you are respondin,g and also a link to the article to which he was replying? Surely this is standard practice when posting a letter that has been printed in a newspaper. Also I understand from the Just Peace UK list that Ran Greenstein has sent a letter in response to yours and tried to post it here, but you haven’t put it up. I have little hope of you posting this, but will give it a try, in the hope that Engage has not lost all engagement with debate and dissent.

    best wishes,


    • David Hirsh Says:

      “…in the hope that Engage has not lost all engagement with debate and dissent.”

      Deborah, I am surprised that you think this.

      Currently, on the very front page of Engage, are links to, and large quotations from, Sue Blackwell’s paper, Antony Lerman’s blog and Richard Kuper’s article.

      We don’t debate and allow dissent?

      Over the last few months we have published tens of thousands of words from Ran Greenstein. How much of our work has he published?

      How much of our work have you published, Deborah Maccoby? On Just Peace UK, or on JFJFP or anywhere else?

      All I see on the websites with which you are involved is the libel that those who are concerned with antisemitism are faking it, in order to de-legitimize criticism of Israel.

      Engage has published Ran, without editing here:

      Here, where he said we were “idiots” and supporters of Israeli state propaganda:

      Here, where he argued that consistency is not important because he argues from the point of view of an Israeli: https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/boycott/

      Here, where he says he has no interest in what goes on inside British academia: https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/boycott/

      Here, where says that Israel is a colonial enterprise: https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/more-from-ran-greenstein-and-robert-fine/

      There is lots more from Ran, but I don’t have time right now to give you links to everything of his we’ve published.

      We’ve also published other pro boycott articles, in recent months, some of them containing vile libels about Israel and about us:

      Desmond Tutu: http://sabbah.biz/mt/archives/2010/09/26/desmond-tutu-boycott-isolate-israeli-universities/

      Farid Essack http://www.mg.co.za/article/2010-10-18-why-israel-only-is-tired-and-hypocritical

      Neve Gordon: http://www.isa-sociology.org/universities-in-crisis/?p=559

      We’ve allowed Greenstein to make thousands of words worth of arguments in the comments boxes.

      What has Greenstein published of ours?
      What have you published of ours, Deborah?

      It is just really odd that you accuse us being afraid to debate.

      I went all the way to South Africa to debate with Ran Greenstein.

      If Ran wants to publish on Engage then he should submit comments and articles in the usual way. We’ll happily publish them if:

      he avoids sexist language

      he avoids antisemitism

      his work adds anything to what he has already said

      it helps us in the campaign against antisemitism

      Engage is a campaign against antisemitism. It is not a free publishing house for antizionists.

      Neither is it a fair play social club, where we all sit around and clap boycotters and antisemites on the back and tell them that it is so jolly to debate with them in an English and gentlemanly way.

  6. Lynne T Says:


    Both your response to Ran Greenstein and Deb Maccoby are “must reads” for those of us who recognize the allegation that Israel is an apartheid state for the unhelpful piece of defamation that it is.

  7. Blacklisted Dictator Says:


    You write:
    “What has Greenstein published of ours?
    What have you published of ours, Deborah?”

    Good questions. I should also add …. in my experience, the South African anti-Israel blogs, do not allow freedom of expression and censor comments that do not tow the anti-zionist line.

  8. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Deborah Maccoby appears to come here only to attack Engage. There is no involvement (I was going to say engagement, but I thought that it might be taken as ironic, perish the thought) with the comments that attempt to argue with Ran Greenstein which he proceeds to ignore. I have drawn his attention to the apartheid regime’s policy of bantustans, and asked him how this differed from his claims as to what he says the Israelis/Jews did to the Palestinians. Despite doing this several times, he has never responded. He accused me of being a dupe of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, without specifying how, or what documents (presumably falsified – his words – by the selfsame Ministry), and never responded to requests to elucidate. He referred me to a so-called review of a Benny Morris book he’d written, and didn’t react when I suggested (quite loudly) that it was a diatribe, not a review. He has also failed to reply to outrage over his reference to a female South African journalist as a “hag (in a rag)…”

    Bear in mind that Ran Greenstein is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Witwatersrand University, and should know all about sexism – unless he’s been hiding from world-wide sociology for about 3 decades. Now tell me why we should take him seriously here. Actually, we do take him seriously. He just doesn’t take what we do seriously.

    However, Deborah, if you are such a fan of his, perhaps you should reply to all these points on his behalf: just type in Ran Greenstein in the space provided in the “Search old & new Engage together” space, top right, on this and every page.

  9. Blacklisted Dictator Says:


    The question arises whether Ran Greenstein (an Israeli) would be an Associate Professor in the Sociology Dept at Wits University if he publicly opposed the “apartheid” epithet. I have my doubts. In such an intellectual climate, I wonder whether it is really possible for an academic in South Africa to fully participate in rational debate. If Greenstein recanted, how long would it be before he was persona non grata on the Wits campus?

  10. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    BD, noted and you may well be right: I have no real (and certainly no current) knowledge of the intellectual climate on SA campuses. However, he doesn’t have to get involved in the first place, given the range of topics within sociology to research. What I find most (intellectually) intriguing about him coming here to Engage is that he never responds to criticism, beyond name-calling the critics, and requests (okay, demands) for evidence.

    In this he strongly resembles so many from the BDS movement: they know what they believe but appear to find it very difficult to cite empirical evidence to support their beliefs.

    Not unlike so many “true believers”, of course.

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