I’ve just re-read the “About Engage”. I’m not sure when it was written, but it was a few years ago. I quite like it, except, perhaps for one thing. Really it is a personal vision and I’m a bit embarassed by the number of times I wrote the word ‘we’. Other people who are centrally involved with Engage, or who are part of the wider Engage network, or who like to debate here, or who read the website silently – the disparate and complicated ‘Engage community’ – others, of course, can speak and write for themselves.
Maybe there are two important Engage principles: (1) we absolutely oppose all racism, including anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia and (2) we are for a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. For most of us, but not all, a 2-state solution is the only immediate possibility for such an agreement. Also we are pro-union and and we have a particular interest in academic freedom in Israel, in Palestine and elsewhere. DH
David, I admire your expectation (pious hope?) that those who don’t share this view or vision of what this site is all about will take any notice. I have on occasion referred commenters to this statement, but they don’t seem to take any notice, even if, as they claim, they’ve actually read it. They come back and carry on as before.
Still, we can live in hope that they _will_ both read and inwardly digest.
It would be so nice to have an actual debate here, other than between those of who are already the good guys and gals.
I’m not quite sure whether I’ve read that before David – but it is certainly the case that the tone of Engage (which is different from some other sites sympathetic to Israel, or from their comments at least) helped reinforce my initial opposition to boycotts when I first came across the site a few years ago. If I had read, for example, anti-Palestinian comments – that might have distracted me away from good arguments about the boycott and other similar issues.
One thing I’ll say about Engage is that it provides an alternative for progressives who don’t buy into the near-manditory false narrative of the BDS clique that insists that it speaks for us, while retaining our broader principles. Engage shows that we can be progressive, professional and well… adult, about one of the most contentious big-P political matters on campus all without jeopardizing any leverage, both collegial and confrontational, we have with upper management (and since most of us are academics, we already middle management), our colleagues, students and “stakeholder” outside the academy. Otherwise, I’d have had to turn into a neo-con by now.
David, having reread the About Engage statement, I am very happy with it and completely understand that this is an ant-antisemitism and anti-boycott site, not a ‘pro-Israel’ site. I also fully understand Sarah AB’s point that she felt happy to get involved in this where she might not in the case of a ‘pro-Israel’ site.
However, I do have some concerns with the viability of this approach, arising from the debates I have had with various pro-boycotters on the UCU list and elsewhere.
Essentially, their case is that treating Israel as an exceptional case is justified on non-racist grounds because it really is exceptional. That Zionism is an inherently exclusionary, colonialist enterprise, and that Israel is a ‘settler state’ in the sense that, say, white Rhodesia was. They would say that rejecting Israel’s right to self-determination is valid in the same way as they rejected Northern Ireland protestants’ right to self-determination. That these are all colonialist enterprises whose inherent nature involved the dispossession or domination of a subject people.
Now, I (and I hope everyone else commenting here) would recognise this interpretation of Israel’s history as garbage. But in order to demonstrate that it’s garbage, you have to argue the history of Israel. In short, you have to make what most people would regard as a pro-Israel case. If you simply respond to these arguments by raising the issue of antisemitism, then people (not just the hardliners themselves but the decent people we’re trying to convince) will switch off. The anti-Israel case will become accepted by default, and we will be accused of trying to deflect attention from this case with our accusations of antisemitism. And yes, I know we face that accusation anyway, but the issue is whether the accusation looks plausible to the uncommitted.
This is why I have maybe taken a slightly different approach on occasion, and why I find it extremely hard to separate the ‘pro-Israel’ and the ‘anti-antisemitism’ approaches.
I should emphasise of course that I don’t interpret ‘pro-Israel’ as meaning pro any particular Israeli government policy; still less does it mean opposing Palestinian national rights. Even less does it mean having any truck with racist views of Arabs or Palestinians. I am as committed as others on this site to a just two-state solution. I just don’t see that we can avoid the arguments about what Israel is and how it came about.
David, I’m grateful to you for drawing attention again to the founding statement. I hope that you regard the above as a constructive contribution to a discussion among friends about our aims and approach.
i think the problem is that it’s not really just about viewing Israel as a “settler state”. It’s about the use of antisemitic themes and myths.
Talk about the “zionist lobby” controlling the Tory party, about the “zionist lobby” controlling the financial markets. It’s about conspiracy theory, it’s about collective guilt, blood libel, linking to David Duke, linking to a holocaust denial site, claiming that money to fight the boycott came from bank balances from the Lehman brothers, and other antisemitic themes. There’s plenty of examples on Engage and your comment completely ignores these. Defending Israel, giving a pro-Israeli narrative does not combat these themes. The antisemitism that Engage demonstrates and lists, effects Jews in the UK, Jews in the UCU, in political activity, and so on. Your solution doesn’t combat and fight against antisemitism which is a danger to Jews and also to civil society. Antisemitism is something that David, myself and other supporters of Engage will not ignore because people think it’s tactically wrong to raise antisemitism when it exists. It’s not about defending Israel, it’s about fighting antisemitism when it raises its ugly head.
“Now, I (and I hope everyone else commenting here) would recognise this interpretation of Israel’s history as garbage. But in order to demonstrate that it’s garbage, you have to argue the history of Israel.”
I absolutely agree.
“In short, you have to make what most people would regard as a pro-Israel case.”
I agree. Although I don’t think a critique of anti-Zionist history has to be ‘pro Israel’ – although you might be right that many people would regard it as such. It just has to be good history – or cosmopolitan history.
But you do also have to be honest about antisemitism – about the ways that people fall into antisemitism often without knowing it, about the ways in which people fight for ways of thinking and policies which will have antisemitic consequences – I think you have to be open and clear about that.
But you do also have to be honest about antisemitism – about the ways that people fall into antisemitism often without knowing it, about the ways in which people fight for ways of thinking and policies which will have antisemitic consequences – I think you have to be open and clear about that. (Emph. Mine)
Right, and whenever I’ve gone through H/D or search committee training we get the big briefing on internalization of biases, often with concrete examples on how it can happen to various underrepresented and “underrepresentable” groups. Normally the antisemitism example is pretty over the top and almost pedestaled “our of reach,” while they’ll often do a good job in giving cleverly subtle examples on other groups. There seems to be a major fear to go near any blurred lines as to when the spectrum of antisemitism begins while there’s no shyness in addressing and exploring such transitional boundaries with other groups. I asked about this to one developer and her response was indeed the “I” word (while she had no problem using the PRC to illustrate anti-sino bias).
I agree that it’s difficult to disentangle discussions of antisemitism from discussions of Israel. So much discussion seems actively anti-Israel that I often seem to end up taking what is perceived to be a pro-Israel line – from an initial starting point of (until I became aware of the boycott issue) not-terribly-interested neutrality. Bill’s point about diversity training fits in with the working definition repudiation – compare the way people are happy to brood anxiously on the most refined instances of sexism here
If I understand you correctly you are saying that is on the one hand, Engage is not rationally pro-Israel enough and on the other hand too concerned with fighting antisemitism.
It is interesting but both yourself and those you oppose (the boycotters and the antizionists) appear to link Israel to antisemitism as if somehow the one does not have an independent existence from the other.
To argue a “pro-Israel” line in the hope of defusing antisemitism is a bit like arguing that Jewish capitalists were/are actually jolly decent fellows in the belief that that would have countered the not-yet-overcome older forms of antisemitism.
I think Richard Gold is right when he say, “It’s not about defending Israel, it’s about fighting antisemitism when it raises its ugly head”. And, as soon as antisemitism stops “raising its ugly head”, then Engage will stop raising it. I think it is nearly always wrong to shoot the messenger for the message.
Richard – I agree with everything you say about the work Engage does in combating antisemitic manifestations. Please don’t refer to me as ‘completely ignoring’ these things. That isn’t the style of debate I expect among friends at Engage. Of course I value the work Engage does, and try to do my bit, as we all do. I didn’t think that making one particular point on a post at Engage would leave me open to accusations of ‘completely ignoring’ everything I didn’t mention.
David H – I’m not going to quibble about what counts as ‘pro-Israeli history’. If we agree on tackling the false narratives of zionist history, then we agree.
I’m simply pointing out that there is a line of attack from the other side that we are not always best equipped to tackle from an Engage perpective, and that is the claim that Israel really is as bad as the ‘antis’ claim it is. There really is a false history being promoted out there which underpins the hard left’s political perspective, and acts as a justification (in their own eyes at least) of the antisemitic behaviours that we rightly challenge. In fact, I have seen it very recently, with posts from some of the key pro-boycotters on the UCU activists’ list arguing from this false narrative that Israel isn’t a state like any other, and therefore isn’t entitled to the same treatment. Even where the point of the thread is antisemitism, they try to shift it to this narrative.
David S – I absolutely agree that puncturing this false narrative won’t convince an antisemite to stop being an antisemite, But then nor will exposing his actions as antisemitic. The antisemite isn’t our target audience.
Our target audience is surely those on the broad left who don’t know much about either Israel or antisemitism, who genuinely want to do the right thing, but aren’t sure what that is. Obviously to address this audience we need both tracks. We need to tackle the issue of antisemitism directly – as we all do – and also tackle the false narrative that underpins it.
Harry says : “In short, you have to make what most people would regard as a pro-Israel case. If you simply respond to these arguments by raising the issue of antisemitism, then people (not just the hardliners themselves but the decent people we’re trying to convince) will switch off.”
I have have been confronted by this phenomenon a few times. The adoption of the premise vritually as an axiom, that Zionism is a colonial enterprise at very root of people’s perception of the the issues, makes it very difficult to have a dialogue. One gets the feeling that people who you thought were “decent” until then have become “hardliners”, and it’s hard not to interpret this as a symptom of insidious anti-Semitism.
So I tend to agree with Harry that in these cases, to fight anti-Semitism is to lay out the (historical) facts about Israel, and I also think that Engage does provide the adequate resources in this area. I do miss some kind of a “framework” though, an approach as to how to go about to refute these premises. That may be because I have not been paying attention.
It might also be, and if I’m right, that is what Harry is arguing, that since the premises (Israel is a colonial enterprise) are not in se anti-Semitic, Engage does not consider it to be within the realm of things it is concerned about.
But that sounds a bit like Cotler’s “logic” no? If you are ignorant about the fact that other democracies have laws of return, then to think that Israel’s law of return is racist, should not be labeled anti-Semitic. With some effort I can bring myself to agree. But that does not mean that the idea that the law of return is racist must not be refuted.
If I’m right, in order to deal with this at the root (i.e. refute the idea that Zionism is a colonial phenomenon), some definition of Zionism is necessary, and what’s more, a line must probably be drawn as to from what point on, anti-Zionism turns into anti-Semitism. A line that I understand Engage chooses not to draw.