Antisemitism: Who gets to judge?

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.

32 Responses to “Antisemitism: Who gets to judge?”

  1. Larry Ray Says:

    Everything here and in David’s posts is right. But this is a major defeat and we should be braced for this to be the basis for another wave of boycott activism in the UCU. Here the boycotters from 2005 are truimphally circulating the Tribunal’s judgement. In view of the absurd ruling that nothing that was said in this campaign was antisemetic they will emerge confident that the most outrageous claims will pass without any censure. I’m afraid the Livingstone formulation has penetrated deeply into institutional processes in this country. Does anyone know if a High Court appeal is planned?

  2. Andrew Says:

    “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.”

    David however failed to mention the context reported in the rulings stating that Joshua Robinson expressed a lack of confidence in Tom Hickey. It states quite clearly that :
    “The obvious aim should be to devise a means of hearing and resolving complaints in which all interested parties, particularly the complainant, can feel confident. Dr Robinson was denied that comfort.”

    So it is a matter for the complainant (Dr Robinson) to feel confident in Tom Hickey and not the tribunal. Nowhere does the tribunal state that Tom Hickey is not the best person to adjudicate in a case of antisemitism. The tribunal thus made a procedural criticism of the UCU but not a criticism of Tom Hickey’s personal ability to adjudicate antisemitism.

    In general I would recommend people read the ruling for themselves rather than rely on David Hirsh’s account.

  3. s4r4hbrown Says:

    I felt it was implied here that he was not the best choice.

    “It was also regrettable that Dr Robinson’s complaint was referred to Mr Hickey, a well-known
    pro-Palestinian activist, and that it was never resolved. If an internal rule dictated
    the reference to Mr Hickey, it should be amended.”

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      Besides the NEC membership which qualified him to adjudicate, the only attribute of Hickey’s the judgment mentions is his pro-Palestinian activism. In addition, I can’t figure out why the judgment specifically regrets the referral of the complaint to Hickey without picking up what it mentions earlier in para 100 – that the other adjudicator was moderator of the Activists List, which means he was himself implicated in Josh Robinson’s complaint about antisemitism on the Activists List. This is an actual conflict of interest so, as I say, I can’t figure out why the judgment makes so much of Hickey’s pro-Palestinian politics. I agree with Sarah’s reading of that.

      I also agree with Andrew that people should read the judgment as well as commentary on the judgment – no matter how valid the commentary.

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        Mira says, with regard to Hickey and Josh Robinson’s complaint and the appointment of an Activists List moderator as a”judge in the case, “This is an actual conflict of interest…”

        Begins to sounds eerily like the SWP case, doesn’t it? Except that the UCU won’t fall apart over it.

    • Andrew Says:

      Well yes – but for the reasons stated. For example in paragraph 100 it is pointed out that Dr Robinson did not feel confident that the investigation would be impartial. It is surely correct to criticise the fact that the investigation into Dr Robinson’s claims was conducted by interested parties (Hickey and Waddup) regardless of whether they are competent to carry out the investigation.

  4. Stephen Foot Says:

    This ruling is a watershed in how the accusation of antisemitism should be used in respect of the BDS campaign. It is one all those working to combat the vilification of the Jewish state in this arena ought to consider very closely and adapt their strategies accordingly. Although I am extremely sympathetic towards Fraser’s anguish over what has proved to be a crushing collapse, it is important to learn lessons for what inevitably will come next. There is a wider context to consider here and the issues this ruling has brought forward for the cause of pro-Israel activism should not be lost in our concern for Fraser’s situation, however we may feel he has been maligned personally. It is fortunate that this case was made against an institution and not an individual. The UCU can not sue for slander or defamation, individuals can.

    The Rev Sizer has a case to fight where he has been accused by The British Board of Deputies of “conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders”. The careful wording of the complaint avoids the possibility of this case going the same way as Fraser’s. It should be seen as a template for any future litigation against those who seek to isolate and delegitimise the state of Israel, and for those who work to maintain the sovereignty and self-determination of the Jewish people, otherwise known as Zionists, becoming the target of hate. I firmly believe the Rev. Sizer will attempt to make this a case in which he has been unfairly accused of antisemitism. If he does, he will lose. The “bad faith” argument used so effectively against Fraser will become his undoing too.

    The accusation of antisemitism should only be used when there is a clear and substantial case to be made that an individual has suffered harm or loss because he or she is Jewish. I think in Fraser’s case, this was true, but the complaint lacked vigour in this regard and become blurred in the attempt to make an argument that the UCU was institutionally anti-Semitic.

    On an historic note, we are in unchartered waters as far as how antisemitism will operate now there is a Jewish state in the picture. We need to formulate completely new strategies in combating antisemitism as the old rule book needs to be thrown away

  5. Brian Robinson Says:

    What is “the self-determination of the Jewish people”? If such a thing exists, it can’t have anything to do with Israel, since most Jews don’t live in Israel. Israelis vote their governments into office, and those governments legislate for the people under their jurisdiction, not for Jews worldwide. What Israel does may affect me one way or another for a variety of reasons, but I’m not an Israeli, it doesn’t determine what I may and may not do as an individual living in Britain. Furthermore, I can’t vote anyone into the Knesset.

    • zkharya Says:

      I agree that this is a problem as the definition of a problem. What I would say is that affirming a Palestinian Arab Muslim and Christian right of return while denying a Jewish one is problematical as a moral position and with regard to international law. The exile and dispossession of the Jewish people as a whole has been a Christian and Islamic datum with tangible historical consequences for Jews worldwide, not least their dispossession or alienation from most of Old World Christendom and Islam in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is at least one reason why it was a if not the premise of the Balfour Declaration and League of Nations Mandate and its daughter, UN Resolution 181, namely allowing Jews for the first time in 2000 years, asides briefly in 363, to return to live in the land in above the small numbers Christianity and Islam decreed their proper lot for rejecting Jesus and the prophets.

      Now, if one wishes to argue this is no longer relevant or should be cancelled, fine. But to do so +without+ acknowledging the historical and traditional datum of Jewish exile and dispossession is to omit a crucial element in what constitutes any kind of justice for the state of Israel and Israeli Jews today, their fundamental justification for their having come there a priori. It is to erase a if not the fundamental pillar of their existence, I think.

      If one wishes to cancel a Jewish right of return in an Israeli or single Palestinian state, that is, again, an argument one could make, even if insisting on implementing a Palestinian Arab Muslim and Christian right or return instead (as effectively UCU, BDS, ADALAH etc. But to do so, again, +without+ at least acknowledging the historical of right of return for those Jews who have become Israeli, even if one wishes to cancel such an ror from now on, is to send the message, by omission, that the very presence of Israeli Jews and the return of Jews in above the tiny numbers to which Palestinian Christians and Muslims were (imperially) accustomed, is itself the fundamental cause of the problem/injustice a priori. Which is to do nothing to reassure those Jews that they are in the land by right and not merely on sufferance.

      I appreciate you mayn’t agree with me, Brian, but I immensely respect your usually finely nuanced comments none-the-less.

      • zkharya Says:

        Ah wish I could edit. Engage needs a system like HP’s.

      • Brian Robinson Says:

        Thanks zkharya for kind comment (you should hear how some of my dichotomously blinkered acquaintances refer to my comments, but then some of them daren’t let the thinnest wedge of nuance in for fear their entire edifice will collapse). I don’t disagree, but I wonder if Right of Return for Jews can have the same spiritual status as Next Year in Jerusalem, and in that case many Jews will already have returned (if one assumes that the ‘Next Year’ aspiration was always largely a spiritual one — I’d be grateful for clarification here).

        It might (?) be akin to the way some radical, not-so-new-now Christian theologians redefined the meaning of the term ‘resurrection’ to say things such as, “We are all now, ie in the here and now, living in the Resurrection”.

        Then perhaps diaspora Jews and Palestinians alike could agree to make physical return optional?

        • zkharya Says:

          Hi Brian,

          I’m not sure an allegorical return will ever formally be accepted by any branch of Judaism: for too long the notion of a physical exile was central to Judaism and enforced by the Christian and Islamic cultures and societies in which Jews lived (including the Palestinian).

          But my point was really that even those who wish for a single Palestinian Arab Muslim and Christian state could at least acknowledge the fact that, for most of Christian and Islamic history, Jews +have+ been regarded as a people exiled and dispossessed, not only by Jews, but by pretty much everyone else, and, to that extent, it might be allowed that those Jews who became Israeli had some kind of right of return, even if they seek to cancel it for any more.

          It is extremely telling that BDSers like UCU et al. cannot bring themselves to acknowledge even the historical and traditional circumstances whereby both Jews and their host societies regarded them as a people in exile. It suggests that they cannot, ideologically, grant even a smidgeon of legitimacy to Zionist aspirations and beliefs. Elsewhere I wrote that is an inability to tolerate ambiguity (for to them, anti-Zionism can never, in any circumstances, constitute injustice, antisemitism or discrimination) that is characteristic of a creed.

          All the EUMC definition does, it seems to me, is allow that certain criticisms of Israel +could+, in certain circumstances, constitute antisemitism or its like, not that it invariably, always or even mostly does so (and some pro-Zionists go the equally unhelpful opposite extreme: their creed). But this was too much for the ideologues of UCU, since, for them, Zionism can have no more legitimacy than can worshiping Antichrist have in comparison with worshiping the true one.

          May own area of expertise, if I have one, is looking at this sort of thing in the church fathers.

    • zkharya Says:

      BTW, I am not saying this can or should be a legal matter. These are fine matters, and the law is a blunt instrument (which is why I thought this case ill-advised). But one can argue whether someone’s position is just or not, because they omit crucial details to the detriment of the justice of their opponent’s case, UCU, BDS etc claim to a universal justice that is, in fact, quite independent in many ways of which constitutes actual written law.

    • Stephen Foot Says:

      Hello David,

      Thank you for responding to my comment.

      According to recent research Israeli Jews now form the largest single Jewish community on the planet, just overtaking American Jews this year. This is a staggering statistic when one considers just sixty years ago there were just 630,000 living in Palestine. It is also remarkable when one remembers that, after 1948, for many choosing to go to Israel was just a means to escape elsewhere. It is even more remarkable if one considers the degree conditions needed to get to within the Diaspora in order for those Jews to make the difficult choice to emigrate, it is unprecedented.

      It’s stating the obvious that minority rights are protected in Great Britain. Historically, as you know, the same cannot be said for Jews and other minorities living elsewhere (including Britain not that long ago). I wish others had been able to enjoy the rights you and I take for granted, but they did not, many don’t now. If they had been able to then maybe the Jewish State would not have been needed, or at the least, perhaps those Jews who chose to emigrate to Palestine would have found a place to live within a more inclusive, indigenous community that did not require the full paraphernalia of statehood to cope with what turned out to be overwhelming numbers. It is ironic when one considers how in part Jewish complacency in the face of rising anti-Semitism contributed to that result.

      These days Zionism is seen as a juggernaut that overwhelms Palestinian national and human rights but the early historical picture is very different. You ask “what is the self-determination of the Jewish people?” You will know when you need it and you will no doubt be glad that others had the foresight and vision to guarantee its availability in Eretz Yisrael.


      • Stephen Foot Says:

        Sorry… Brian! I was thinking of a David I know!

      • Brian Robinson Says:

        (Yes, it’s BR, thanks for the addendum!) Thank you for the update on the figures, because that is significant. You’re right to get me to look further afield than the UK, and I’m aware of nasty developments in for instance Hungary, Poland, just to stick within Europe. I also wonder how many people in 1930s Germany were saying just the sorts of things I’ve been saying, not to mention further east when the dreams of the Bund and the Russian advocates of assimilation were ground to dust.

    • zkharya Says:

      I realise my argument might be considered abstruse by some, but it occurs to me how Hickey chooses to couch the conflict +primarily+, in the video above, in terms of Zionism’s seeking to erase 2000 years of Palestinian history and peoplehood, a kind of ethnicide, and to manufacture a 2000 year presence of Israel in its place (and one can’t help but suspect that he is mentally couching Zionism in the same frame of reference as the biblical (likely fictional) Israelite genocide/ethnic cleansing of the Canaanites).

      Zionism is premised on a sense of exile, dispossession and absence i.e. analogous, arguably, to the modern Palestinian experience. One might argue, if one wishes, that this is no longer relevant +now+, but to omit +any+ mention of it seems to me a kind of erasure of Jewish history and experience analogous or equivalent to the kind of ‘extirpation’ of which Hickey accuses Israel.

      But this is fine stuff, and, as David says below, it is impossible to make one’s case without adducing a subtle comparison of narratives, something which the tribunal was ill-suited, or even qualified, to judge.

  6. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    In talking about Tom Hickey Sarah leaves out one of his most egregious forays into the use of antisemitic tropes (and, as it happens, racist ones too), In the infamous article he wrote for the online BMJ issue of July 2007, he wrote: “In the case of Israel, we are speaking about a society whose dominant self image is one of a bastion of civilisation in a sea of medieval reaction. And we are speaking of a culture, both in Israel and in the long history of the Jewish diaspora, in which education and scholarship are held in high regard. That is why an academic boycott might have a desirable political effect in Israel, an effect that might not be expected elsewhere.”

    Given the slide from ‘Israel’ to ‘the long history of the Diaspora’, we move straight into the use of an antisemitic trope. Further, it is also implicitly racist, with the suggestion that only Israeli and Jewish parents who care at all deeply about the education of their children.

    Actually, those who have been following the developments will know that the UCU’s own lawyers have advised them that actually attempting to operate a boycott against Israeli universities (and only Israeli universities) would be contrary to UK race relations and equality law. So, the UCU Annual Conference can pass all the boycott motions it wants; it just mustn’t order or otherwise instruct members to activate such a boycott. To do so would allow employers to declare open season on the union. While I would love to see Hickey et al suffer the full weight of the law, this would be a disaster for the vast majority of members who care less about this issue and just want their Executive get on with pay and conditions.

    Perhaps the turmoil within the SWP will have a ositive effect on UCU.

  7. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    reference for the Hickey quote in the BMJ is

    • Brian Robinson Says:

      In the interests of facilitating discussion, I’ve posted the two articles, pro and con, by Dr Tom Hickey and Professor Michael Baum respectively in my Dropbox.
      Link to both articles:
      shorter link to both:

      Some of you will know that Prof Baum came under considerable hostile pressure for his stance, including suffering some particularly nasty hatemail and vile and untrue allegations. For the record I don’t actively oppose BDS, I simply don’t take part in it. I don’t agree with everything Baum wrote in his piece. Those who wish to boycott, that’s for them. If someone says to me, But Palestinians have asked that, if you support their case, you should join the boycott, I reply that I don’t always do everything someone asks me to, and in particular not when I know it feels wrong for me. I don’t then say to others, Go, do thou likewise. A well known advocate of boycott once said to me that if I wasn’t going to join it, then [gender undisclosed] said they could have nothing further to do with me, since for them the political was indeed personal. Friends, or pseudo-friends like that, we can all do without.

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        Brian, like you, I have frequently stated that I don’t believe in boycotts, or, rather, the organised kind. I personally attempted to never buy South African goods from the time of the Sharpeville Massacre until the release of Nelson Mandela. However, I never demanded, or even asked, that others do the same. That was and is for their consciences.

        It is exactly this demand that all “right-thinking” people (whatever that non-phrase actually means) do as the BDS mob do that is so alienating.

        And they don’t even follow their own ideology in denying themselves the use of Israeli-based technological developments, which we anti-apartheid boycotters did, to our personal cost (Outspan oranges were excellent!).

        Hypocrites, the lot of them.

        • Brian Robinson Says:

          I know someone who told me that he feels there are at least as good grounds for boycotting China (human rights, occupation of Tibet) as the ones he gives for boycotting Israel, but says he doesn’t try because everyday life in the west would become impossible if you wanted to boycott China — how would he begin to replace every domestic appliance for a start? (He wont of course buy Israeli dates but he had no problem taking holidays in Egypt when it was under Mubarak, and helping to blockade Gaza. Ah well …)

          However I did know someone who went to the most extraordinary lengths (including a deal of research) to buy a computer that didn’t have anything in it invented or made by Israelis. (Was it Chinese? American? I was never told.) Wonder if this person asks their doctor about the provenance of medicines in every prescription before taking them?

  8. zkharya Says:

    Very commentary, Sarah, on precisely the problem.

  9. The Anti-Semitism of the UCU | Anne's Opinions Says:

    […] Engage article cynically asks “Who gets to judge what is Anti-Semitism“, slamming those boycott-supporting UCU members for their hypocrisy and […]

  10. Brian Robinson Says:

    @zkyarya April 4, 2013 at 1:37 pm (For some reason my copy of the web page, despite reloading, doesn’t show any ‘Reply’ after your post)

    I’ve hesitated before now to bring up the case of Shlomo Sand and his books, partly because I know that some antisemites in Hungary were using his work to further their nasty aims and partly because there are people in the UK who use Sand’s popularisations in attempts to invalidate Zionist claims. (Apart from reading Sand, I also heard and saw him in person a couple of years ago at the LRB bookshop. What he said reduced at least one member of the audience to tears and made several others quite angry because what he was doing was challenging their deeply felt and sincere self-identification as Jews.) Of course antisemites will grab any handy peg on which to hang their hats, so it’s not necessarily Sand’s fault. His books are certainly tendentious, but they’re not in themselves antisemitic, and you’ve only to listen to him to know that he isn’t either.

    Sand seems to be saying that Jewish identity is either religious or it is (Hebrew) Israeli; or it is nothing. Indeed, he sounded like a Zionist (which I suppose he is, perhaps to the dismay of some who regularly cite him thinking they’re clinching an anti-Zionist case). He has no place for the secular Jew (I think somewhere he points out that for individual cases any transmission of secular Judaism can’t last for more than a generation or two — although surely the *concept* of secular Judaism outlasts any particular individual’s identification with it). Several Jews in the LRB audience took exception — they were not religious, they didn’t want to move to Israel, but they knew that they were, and that they wanted to be, Jewish, culturally, ethnically, psychologically, philosophically in a historically grounded way.

    Sand’s ‘Invention’ book carries the dedication, ‘To the memory of the refugees who reached this soil and those who were forced to leave it’. Sand and his parents were amongst the former group. ‘Were forced …?’ By …? Does at least some of his writing stem from a sense of guilt at the implications of translating from the passive to the active voice? Not that we can ever know, and in any case it’s not important, however interesting it might be to speculate. What’s important about Sand, if anything at all is, is whether the Khazaria case, the declared absence of archaeological evidence in that patch of land along the eastern Mediterranean, the supposed ancient boundaries of Egypt and whither Moses led his people if not, allegedly, back into Egypt again, and all the rest are true.

    (I’ve read several books on the supposed genetics of all this and come away more confused than when I started. I no longer entertain the notion that genetics has anything to say about the old question as to Who is a Jew. At least here, Sand and I are in complete agreement. Not that he’d care!)

    However a very vague and distant memory of a review of a book that in many ways resembles Sand’s books, that of John Rose’s ‘The Myths of Zionism’ pointed out that all nations have founding myths (the review might have been in the JC?). You didn’t have to believe that infants were suckled by a she-wolf to be a Roman.

    So even if Sand, and Koestler before him, are and were right, does that affect the way the United Nations decided to construct social reality for our day? If we all agree that this is a cocktail party, it’s a cocktail party, and not a football match, although other things are football matches. The problem I suppose is that not all the world agreed when a majority at the UN said, This is the Jewish state.

  11. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Brian R. (as distinct from Brian G., for the onlookers), I suspect (that’s the intellectual get-out clause – in fact I believe) that there is a point to the genetic link argument. Sand appears to be saying that Ashkenazi Jews originate with a mass-conversion to/voluntary adoption of Judaism sometime in the Medieval period by the Khazars. If he’s right, then there would be distinct genetic evidence (“genetic fingerprints”, as someone has dubbed this) of links between Ashkenazi Jews and populations living in that part of Russia then and now. But there doesn’t appear to be any, beyond links common to a much greater population across that part of the world.

    However, what the latest evidence appears to show is that there are distinct links between Jews worldwide: Sephardi, Mizrachi (i.e. Jews from Arab lands) and Ashkenazi. While this doesn’t show that Jews are different from the rest of humanity (or ‘distinct’ or whatever), it does show that they have a greater genetic similarity with each other than mere chance would give, and it is a similarity that gives a distinct group genetic identity. What’s more, this ‘genetic fingerprint’ can be traced back to the general area of the Middle East some 3000 years ago

    That is, over the millennia, Jews have, in general terms, chosen to select other Jews as marriage/procreation partners, with this genetic result. Another article I saw a couple of years ago (possibly in The Jewish Quarterly) showed that within this group, “Cohens” (that is, the priestly caste) show an even closer genetic affinity than for Jews generally. Further, this link goes back to an individual (or individual couple?) some 3000 years or so ago. So Mr & Mrs ‘Aaron’ really existed!

    The link is here: The original article was posted on 29 December 2010, with the comment in question some 75%+ (out of a 100 or so) of the way down the list, posted on 12 January 2011 and is by David D. (whoever he is).

    The point to all this is that Sand’s argument, however well-meant, intellectually honest and believed in by him, cannot be used as an argument against the claim that there is such a thing as a “Jewish people”. This won’t stop the intellectually dishonest from using it of course, but when did anything like the lack of factual information ever stop the intellectually dishonest?

    • Brian Robinson Says:

      Brian G, many thanks. I did post a fairly lengthy comment in Engage on this in 2012 but can’t find it in the Archive. I had written to Prof Steve Jones, who put me on to Dr Neil Bradman, Chair of the Centre for Genetic Anthropology at UCL. Dr Bradman kindly replied to my questions, and I quoted his letter in my original comment. He recommended me two books, and I found the first one much more interesting and better written than the second.

      Jon Entine, “Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People”, Grand Central Publishing, NY & Boston, 2007
      David B Goldstein, “Jacob’s Legacy: A Genetic View of Jewish History”, Yale UP, 2008

      Since my above cited comment, I’ve read Harry Ostrer’s book “Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People”, OUP 2012.

      There’s a very good review of it by the above-mentioned Jon Entine in the Forward, here:
      or “Jews Are a ‘Race,’ Genes Reveal: Author Uncovers DNA Links Between Members of Tribe” The review opens:
      “In his new book, “Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People,” Harry Ostrer, a medical geneticist and professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, claims that Jews are different, and the differences are not just skin deep. Jews exhibit, he writes, a distinctive genetic signature. Considering that the Nazis tried to exterminate Jews based on their supposed racial distinctiveness, such a conclusion might be a cause for concern. But Ostrer sees it as central to Jewish identity …”

      To anyone who hasn’t read Entine’s review (or Ostrer’s book) I do recommend a read of the review at least — there’s an excellent discussion about the way the concept of race is currently regarded, about whether we really ought to be discussing this at all (but “We can’t avoid engaging the most challenging questions in the age of genetics”) and how “because of our history of endogamy, Jews are a goldmine for geneticists studying human differences in the quest to cure disease”.

      But going back to my brief correspondence with Bradman and my naive question, he wrote that there is no genetic answer to the question, Who are the Jews?

      There was a Letter published in Nature in 2010 (doi:10.1038/nature09103) by an international group of 21 researchers, entitled “The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people”. Six pages of highly technical stuff, but the conclusion is:

      Contemporary Jews comprise an aggregate of ethno-religious
      communities whose worldwide members identify with each other
      through various shared religious, historical and cultural traditions

      Historical evidence suggests common origins in the Middle
      East, followed by migrations leading to the establishment of communities
      of Jews in Europe, Africa and Asia, in what is termed the
      Jewish Diaspora.

      This complex demographic history imposes
      special challenges in attempting to address the genetic structure
      of the Jewish people6. Although many genetic studies have shed
      light on Jewish origins and on diseases prevalent among Jewish
      communities, including studies focusing on uniparentally and
      biparentally inherited markers, genome-wide patterns of
      variation across the vast geographic span of Jewish Diaspora communities
      and their respective neighbours have yet to be addressed.

      Here we use high-density bead arrays to genotype individuals from
      14 Jewish Diaspora communities and compare these patterns of
      genome-wide diversity with those from 69 Old World non-Jewish
      populations, of which 25 have not previously been reported.

      These samples were carefully chosen to provide comprehensive
      comparisons between Jewish and non-Jewish populations in the
      Diaspora, as well as with non-Jewish populations from the Middle
      East and north Africa. Principal component and structure-like
      analyses identify previously unrecognized genetic substructure
      within the Middle East.

      Most Jewish samples form a remarkably
      tight subcluster that overlies Druze and Cypriot samples but not
      samples from other Levantine populations or paired Diaspora host
      populations. In contrast, Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) and Indian
      Jews (Bene Israel and Cochini) cluster with neighbouring autochthonous
      populations in Ethiopia and western India, respectively,
      despite a clear paternal link between the Bene Israel and
      the Levant. These results cast light on the variegated genetic architecture
      of the Middle East, and trace the origins of most Jewish
      Diaspora communities to the Levant.

      I fear this comment is already far too long, so I won’t add my summary of the Entine and Goldstein books here, but I’ll post a link later when I’ve put it in my Dropbox, in case anyone wants to follow up this note.

      In the end (tho’ I suppose my view could change yet again!) I think culture in this context is much more important than the structure of our DNA, and that’s not only because our knowledge of the latter is still so contested and incomplete. Worth knowing, worth keeping in mind, but not to determine who we are and still less anything to base a territorial claim on.

      • Brian Robinson Says:

        Link to my short note on the Entine and Goldstein books, as well as a reference to the website of Kevin Brook (“an impressively self-taught scholar”) on all things Khazarian. (His book is well worth reading, in addition to a browse through his website). Incidentally, just to note here, Brook is convinced that the supposed “religious competition” and mass conversion are apocryphal. This relates to the anecdote that in the 8th or 9th century CE, the Khazarian King Bulan staged a debate between the three monotheistic religions and that “supposedly the Jewish representative rhetorically outdueled his rivals”. And that, according to the legend, is how Khazaria became Jewish — although accounts vary as to whether it was just Royalty and the court circle, or the entire people who were said to have converted: according to Brook, who bases his view on the historical record, only “the royal court and select nobility converted”.


        • Brian Goldfarb Says:

          Point taken on culture, if only because the genetic link (or pattern) is nothing without the will to remain culturally linked.

          Mind you, I’ve often thought that the basic glue has probably been the persecution (and other pressures) on us (the Jews). Had we been collectively ignored and allowed to get on with it, we might have vanished from history as thoroughly as the lost 10 tribes of Israel.

          I’ve noted the references, and thanks for those.

  12. east1956 Says:

    IMO the debate over ethnicity / genetics panders to the BDS group’s agenda. Israel and Zionism is not a political movement to create a homeland for an ancient tribal group, but a profoundly rational response by a readily identifiable community to the continued inability of other communities to co-exist with it. Judaism nor genetics defined the “Jew”, rather it was the antisemitic communities that defined the “Jew” according to their own wishes. They might have cloaked with sectarian, tribal or genetic concepts, but at the end of the day the stance has been oppressive and violent.
    That some representatives of these communities, now horrified by their own past obscenities, believe that they have reformed themselves to such an extent as to render Israel and Zionism redundant is an irrelevance. It is not they who have earned the right to determine whether they truly are capable of peaceful coexistence. Arguably the relative ease that some exponents of BDS slip into petty antisemitism is indicative of the progress they have yet to make to achieve the position that they currently believe they are in.
    Condemnation by these states of Israel and Zionism for doing exactly what they have done and have benefited from is indicative of the fundamental hypocrisy at the heart of this debate. Are not the English within Britain the descendants and beneficiaries of the very colonial, apartheid and settler practices upon the indigenous British? It is easy to overlook that Israel and Zionism afforded the Palestinians a level of legal equality that the English denied the Welsh. Arabic had legal status in Israel long before Welsh obtained the same status in Wales. And English settlers still exploit the land at the expense and disadvantage of the Welsh. Even the continued use of the term Welsh and Wales (Foreigner) about the indigenous British reflects a more profound and destructive mindset among the English and England than anything Israel has committed against the Palestinians.
    This then raises a further question. Why do the BDS faction expect Israel and Jews to demonstrate exemplary behaviour, when they and their allies do not demonstrate the same? IMO they have latched on to the values that Zionists and perhaps Jews more widely set themselves as goals. By doing this the BDS faction have set Zionists and Jews aside, making them a distinct and separate peoples for whom the expectation of exemplary behaviour is greater than for other peoples. Again an indicator of a tendency to regard Jews as being different separate and inherently outside the greater community of peoples.
    To render Zionism and Israel an irrelevance the onus is upon the BDS movement to demonstrate that universally Jews may live according to their values without the fear of oppression and attack. Until such times occur, then the core validity and purpose of Israel and Zionism remains, a place of refuge and relative safety for Jews whoever they may be.
    If the Palestinians are the victims of this, then they are the victims of primarily Christian and Muslim oppression of Jews, and the Christian and Muslim communities should acknowledge this and make amends – oddly they decline to do so.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Umm, east1956, this is one of those “yes, but…” moments. In this case, Yes, but these are exactly what we’ve been saying since about 2004, when this site started. And despite that, the BDS mob are still saying the same thing.

      As the old song has it “Life gets tedious, don’t it.”

      For example, we have long been arguing that Israel should not be held to higher standards than any other nation-state. Does this make a difference? Does it hell. Our anti-Zionist opponents are determined not to listen to sense and reason. If they did, they’d have to shut up shop and go home.

      To take up a different point, while culture is probably the glue that has held Jews together over the millennia, the apparent fact of a genetic link between us pointing to a genuine “Jewish people” remains important. Should you, east1956, have the time and persistence to search the Engage archives, you will find that, time and again, the canard of “stealing the land” comes up. Against this, we (and I certainly am part of that “we”) have argued that the land was never entirely free of Jews from about (or earlier than) 1000BCE. Neither the Assyrians, the Babylonians nor the Romans entirely emptied the land of Jews. Thus the historic claim has a validity that the BDSers cannot disprove, much as they deny it.

      None of this is to say that you are wrong, just that you have rediscovered the truth: we are up against those who find their myths, assumptions and assertions more comforting than evidence, rationality and logic, despite their claims to be rationalists. This, however, doesn’t excuse us from the fight.

      Come on in! The water’s just fine.

  13. Brian Robinson Says:

    From the Forward

    ‘Jews a Race’ Genetic Theory Comes Under Fierce Attack by DNA Expert
    Israeli Scientist Challenges Hypothesis of Middle East Origins
    By Rita Rubin
    Published May 07, 2013, issue of May 10, 2013.

    Read more:

    Read more:

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