As David notes in this post, one point made by the tribunal in the recent case brought by Ronnie Fraser against the UCU was that a pro-Palestinian activist was not the best person to adjudicate in a case of antisemitism. Some pro-Palestinian activists might bridle at being judged unfit to recognise racism. But what of the particular activist, Tom Hickey, who was asked by the UCU to sit in judgement on a formal complaint of antisemitism? You can see him in action here explaining why Israel should be boycotted.
“The cultural effect of what Israel is trying to do to the Palestinian people has always seemed to me to be the most driving insistent that requires us to act and that’s the attempted extirpation of a whole people. I don’t say errrrr the erm killing of a people, not the physical genocide of a people, not their annihilation physically as the Nazis attempted against European Jewry but something more insidious, and in some sense, almost nastier… than the attempted murder of a whole people and that is its erasure from history, its writing out as if it was never there… an archaeological commitment to discover the origins of Israel as something always there, set aside by a temporary incursion of Palestinians who are now being expelled. That is an extirpation of a people.And that, for instance, is the reason why Archbishop Desmond Tutu, heroic struggler against apartheid in South Africa, the Archbishop of Cape Town, after his visit to the Occupied Territories said of the condition of the Palestinians:
This is far far worse than anything that happened to Africans under apartheid in South Africa. Far far worse. Incomparably worse. Because we at least still had the organisation and allowed the dignity to resist.
These people are holding themselves together having been deprived of the physical capacity of resistance and now facing the possibility of the cultural eradication of their capacity to resist. But resist they continue to do.
And it seems to me that in those circumstances we have not just the right to talk about the boycott of the state that is inflicting those barbarities but I think we have a duty to do it.”
So – in a breathtaking example of Holocaust trivialisation – Hickey does not simply compare the Israeli regime to Hitler’s Germany – he says it’s worse, ‘almost nastier’. Forget the Nazis – Israeli archaeologists are the real villains.
The EUMC Working Definition of antisemitism might have helped the UCU choose someone other than Hickey to rule on a case of antisemitism, as it cautions that comparisons between Israel and Nazis are likely to be antisemitic.
This Working Definition has been repudiated by the UCU of course. But there are plenty of other people ready to explain why such parallels are profoundly problematic. Steve Hynd, a blogger who was until recently based in Israel/Palestine with EAPPI, discusses here why he thinks comparisons between Israel and the Nazis are unhelpful. It is clear from the post that he is highly critical of Israel, but also that he takes antisemitism seriously. Rather similarly, one can point to this definition of antisemitism, proposed to (but not adopted by) the Green Party. Here is the relevant clause.
(8) Use of language can be antisemitic. Awareness of the history of the Holocaust, perpetrated by the Nazi regime, should preclude making any equivalences between that regime and the current government of Israel. This should not prevent any criticism of any deed by the government of Israel, but the Nazi allusion adds nothing and serves only to cause distress. “
The motion proposing this definition of antisemitism was seconded by Peter Cranie, a recent Green Party leadership candidate. Like Steve Hynd he is a firm critic of Israel, minded to support at least some elements of the boycott campaign. But that wouldn’t stop him being able to see why Hickey was not the best person to make a ruling on antisemitism.
Being pro-Palestinian should not be a barrier to detecting antisemitism – but if you think Israel is worse than the Nazis your eligibility to carry out such a role fairly might seem to be thrown into question.