Complaint about BBC coverage of David Ward partially upheld

A complaint about the BBC News website’s coverage of David Ward’s comments on the Holocaust was turned down by the website itself and then by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit, but has finally been partially upheld by the BBC Trust.  You can read the full report here, and some coverage of the outcome here.  

In case you need one – here’s a reminder of Ward’s original words, posted on 25/1/13.

“Having visited Auschwitz twice – once with my family and once with local schools – I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”

One of the focuses of the complaint was the seriously misleading BBC headlines:

David Ward MP ‘sorry’ over Israel criticism

Ward most certainly was not castigated ‘over Israel criticism’ – and he made it quite clear that his apology would not prevent him from criticizing Israel in the future.

Another focus of the complaint was the way in which the article framed Ward’s reference to ‘the Jews’. It began:

A Liberal Democrat MP who accused “the Jews” in Israel of “inflicting atrocities on Palestinians… on a daily basis” has apologised for the “unintended offence”.

The complainant maintained that the article implied that Ward’s criticism ‘was limited to “‘Jews in Israel’ and not … general ‘Jews’ (p.32).  This is a somewhat complex point.  It is possible to make a case – as was done at the first two stages of the complaint procedure – that it was clear that Ward was referring to ‘Jews in Israel’ – by the end of his sentence.  But it is not always enough to work out what must logically be signified by words, and leave it at that. One problem with the sentence is that ‘the Jews’ are being treated as some kind of undifferentiated mass, mythically mutating from victim to persecutor.  ‘The Jews’ in the first part of the sentence refers either to ‘all Jews’, or at least ‘all Jews directly affected by the Holocaust’, but then, with no change in the subject of the sentence being signalled, these seem to become ‘(some) Jews in Israel’ many of whom will have been born after the Holocaust, and/or have immediate roots only in the Middle East. 

Now the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit described as a ‘stretch of the imagination’ the complainant’s claim that Ward could not clearly be said simply to be referring to Jews in Israel committing atrocities. 

However the BBC Trust disagreed, upholding objections both to the headline and the article’s opening formula, although it did conclude that the article (eventually) succeeded in offering an appropriately impartial range of perspectives on the story. Here’s an extract from the ruling:

The Committee noted also the European Union’s working definition of anti-Semitism, which states that “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” was a manifestation of anti-Semitism. The Committee agreed with the ECU and BBC News that David Ward’s words might not necessarily be interpreted to mean what the complainant said they meant, i.e. that it was a collective criticism of Jews worldwide. The Committee concluded, however, that this was not a relevant consideration in this context. It noted the purpose of the article was to report the ongoing row over David Ward’s comments and the fact that they had been interpreted in some quarters as criticism of Jews as a whole rather than confined to Jews living in Israel. The Committee therefore agreed with the complainant that an accurate conveyance of what the MP actually said, and the nature of the row his comments had provoked, was required in order for the article to achieve due accuracy, as required by the Editorial Guidelines. In the Committee’s view the formulation in the headline and opening sentence of the article did not do this.

It’s good to see an instance of complaints relating to the misreporting of antisemitic discourse being engaged with seriously. The problem with the headline was immediately apparent, as I noted here, although it was a repetition of the error in the Huffington Post which happened to first catch my eye. 

What was particularly concerning was the way in which the headline contrived to mislead in a way which damagingly reinforced the familiar claim that those complaining about antisemitism are actually trying to shut down criticism of Israel.  And, even though the article itself provided a more accurate picture, many don’t go beyond a headline, or continue to read/interpret a story through the headline’s lens.

The point about ‘the Jews’ is more complicated. Was Ward suggesting that Jews outside Israel were persecuting Palestinians?  In one sense the answer is ‘no’.  But the strong suggestion of collective guilt, of a seamless continuum between ‘the Jews’ of the Holocaust and ‘the Jews’ of Israel (and of course not all Israelis, or even all IDF soldiers, are Jewish) was still present.   It’s the same continuum which contributes to making Seven Jewish Children such an objectionable play.  In fact I was reminded, by Ward’s comment, of the implied symmetry between the Holocaust and Operation Cast Lead in some publicity material for Churchill’s play which I quote here:

“Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza by acclaimed playwright Caryl Churchill. What do you tell a child when her government is trying to kill her? What do you tell a child when her government is killing other children?”

And one further trope invoked by Ward’s original comment is the false and gratuitous drawing of an equivalence between the Holocaust and events in Israel/Palestine. 

David Ward has recently made it clear what his view is of those he has angered and offended, and what his apologies are worth.

These recent tweets have led to renewed criticism of Ward, from across the political spectrum, including a sustained attempt to explain the problems with his comments about ‘the Jews’ by an increasingly irritated Owen Jones.

Finally – congratulations to the tenacious complainant! 

From Liberal Democrats to Star of David pigs

This is a cross post from Mark Gardner at the CST.

On 18th July, the Liberal Democrats withdrew the whip from David Ward MP, saying his language in a tweet about Zionists and Israel was insufficiently “proportionate and precise”. Ward’s tweet:

 

Am I wrong or are am I right? At long last the #Zionists are losing the battle – how long can the #apartheid State of #Israel last?

 

The response of Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, and chief whip Alistair Carmichael:

 

We were in unanimous agreement that questioning the continued existence of the state of Israel fails the test of language that is ‘proportionate and precise’.

 

CST commended the “proportionate and precise” language demand, but a strong editorial in the Times was also surely correct when it stated that Ward “doesn’t need to change his words, he needs to change his mind”.

 

Ward’s tweet was the last straw that finally broke the Lib Dem camel’s back. It had beenschlepping bales of Ward straw since January, ever since he signed a Holocaust memorial book in the House of Commons and stated:

 

Having visited Auschwitz twice – once with my family and once with local schools – I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.

 

Ten days before Ward’s overdue (and overly brief) suspension, another Lib Dem MP, Sir Bob Russell, was in the Commons abusing Holocaust memory on behalf of Palestinians. He is for Holocaust education, but thinks Palestinians deserve equal mention. He asked:

 

The Secretary of State referred to more coverage of world history. On the assumption that the 20th century will include the Holocaust, will he give me an assurance that the life of Palestinians since 1948 will be given equal attention?

 

Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, probably knows more about Holocaust memory, education, and political attacks upon it, than any other person in Britain today. She commented on Russell’s intellectual and moral idiocy:

 

To try to equate the events of the Holocaust, the systemised mass murder of six million Jews, with the conflict in the Middle East is simply inaccurate.

 

This studied understatement was too much for Sally FitzHarris, the Secretary of Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine. Back in January, FitzHarris said that Ward had “spoken for the vast majority of Liberal Democrats“. Now, she jumped to Russell’s defence, writing to the Jewish Chronicle (July 19):

 

Ms Karen Pollock…describes the Holocaust as “the systemised mass murder of six million Jews. (News, July 12)But at least five million non-Jews were killed. Or do gypsies, homosexuals, priests, communists, Slavs, black people, mentally and physically disabled et al not count?

 

To actually send such a letter to the Jewish Chronicle is a gross insult to Jews and their memory of the Holocaust. This, before any discussion of its potential libel of Karen Pollock MBE, with its implied accusation that she, of all people, denies or obscures Nazi crimes against non-Jews.

 

The historical and moral (and political) question as to whether Nazi crimes against non-Jews even constitute “the Holocaust” is yet another matter: but that is hardly likely to have motivated Sally FitzHarris’ two-fingered insult to Ms Pollock and the JC’s readers. By her own logic, if non-Jews “count”, then why is the anti-Israel mob only so obsessed with what lessons and actions Jews derive from the Holocaust? Or, as Chas Newkey-Burden has written:

 

Let us strip the “they-of-all-people” argument down to its very basics: gentiles telling Jews that we killed six million of your people and that as a result it is you, not us, who have lessons to learn; that it is you, not us, who need to clean up your act. It is an argument of atrocious, spiteful insanity.

 

Do not for one second think that “proportionate and precise” language is somehow exclusively a Liberal Democrat problem. It is immeasurably wider and more important than that.

 

Anti-Israel politics could be precisely that: anti-Israel, opposed to the policies of a state. They do not need to spit on Jewish sensibilities and they do not need to echo antisemitism, from blood libels to conspiracy charges and all points in between: but all too often they do.

 

The old ”Jew” is replaced by the new “Zionist“, fuelling and reflecting antisemitic attitudes across the board. As with last decade’s “neo Con” fad, it is now taken as axiomatic in many circles that Zionists are intrinsic to global power dynamics, the secret state, call it what you will.

 

Furthermore, in one breath, Israel is compared to both Nazi Germany and South Africa: as if Zionism, Nazi genocide and apartheid racism have equal meaning to each other, and to Jews. And in this way of thinking, as per Ward, Russell and now FitzHarris, the Holocaust is a weapon for attacking Israel, with Jews and Jewish sensibilities trashed as collateral damage.

 

It is right to demand that Liberal Democrats get their house in order, but they are only a very small and visible part of a far deeper and still evolving problem. An extreme variation of such dynamics can be seen in footage from a very recent gig by former Pink Floyd star, Roger Waters.

 

When Waters announced his “boycott Israel” position in the Guardian (where else?), he strongly stressed that Israeli (to say nothing of Jewish) opinion is highly diverse. And, anybody remotely familar with his The Wall knows he is no Jew-hater. Nevertheless, the flying pig in his new show now has a Star of David on it: along with totalitarian symbols.

 

Here, thousands of fans cheer the pig. A huge video shows Waters in pseudo-Nazi costume, machine gunning the audience with a copy of the same gun that many German soldiers would have used in mass shootings of approximately 1.5 million East European Jews (prior to the gas chamber programme).

 

The Star of David pig, the Nazi imagery and the machine gunning are statements againstNazism and oppression. Waters, and much of the audience, seem to derive greategotistical appeal in the anti-Nazi, anti-racist posturing. Jews will be somewhat less comfortable at such trends.

 

 

 

 

Mira Vogel Speaks – Smart, Funny, Sharp, Thoughtful, Complex, Ethical, Modest

Mira Vogel talks about learning technology and politics.

Fast Forward to her thoughts on the Fraser v UCU case, if you like, from about 23 minutes.

Follow the link to the interview with Mira here.

The Protocols of the Elders of Meron: Judge Frederik Harhoff points to Jewish intrigue at the ICTY – Guest Post by Marko Attila Hoare.

This a guest post by Marko Attila Hoare.

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The explanation of the background to this case is complex but necessary. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has had a bumpy journey since its foundation in 1993. It has long been condemned by Serb and to a lesser extent Croat nationalists, as well as by left-wing and right-wing hardliners in the West, as a political court set up to serve the interests of the Great Powers. But until recently, it has been supported by liberals in the former Yugoslavia and in the West and beyond, as a positive and necessary exercise in international justice – albeit one that has not produced very satisfactory results. In recent months, however, a realignment has taken place: former supporters of the ICTY have begun to condemn it in the same ‘anti-imperialist’ terms used by the nationalists, and to present its judgements as the work of Great Power intrigue. Their anger has focused above all on the figure of Judge Theodor Meron, President of the ICTY. Meron is a Polish Jew by birth and a Holocaust survivor, who emigrated to Israel, was educated at the University of Jerusalem, and served as legal advisor to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada and to the UN, before emigrating to the US. Meron is no Zionist hawk; in 1967, he wrote a memo for Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol advising against the building of settlements in the newly occupied West Bank and Golan Heights. Yet with a sad inevitability, his Jewish and Israeli background have taken on a sinister prominence in the current campaign against him.

As the ICTY is not a kangaroo court, it naturally has acquitted some of its defendants, including some high-profile suspects such as former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, former Bosnian army commander Sefer Halilovic and Bosnian commander in Srebrenica Naser Oric, as well as Miroslav Radic, a Yugoslav army officer accused over the 1991 massacre of Croats at Vukovar hospital. These acquittals excited varying degrees of anger in the former Yugoslavia, but relatively little controversy in the West. However, this began to change in November of last year, when the ICTY Appeals Chamber – a five-judge body presided over by Meron – overturned the convictions of the two Croatian commanders, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, for war-crimes against Serbs during Croatia’s Operation Storm in 1995. This was immediately followed by the acquittal of the former Kosovo Albanian rebel commander Ramush Haradinaj by the ICTY Trial Chamber.

These acquittals were naturally denounced by Serbia’s leaders, including its president and prime minister, as evidence of the ICTY’s political or ‘anti-Serb’ character. Vuk Jeremic, the Serbian statesman then serving as president of the UN General Assembly, responded to the Gotovina-Markac acquittals by summoning a special session at the General Assembly to examine the ICTY’s record, in a naked attempt to undermine it. Such behaviour from Serbian politicians was par for the course. Yet on this occasion, they were prominently joined by pundits in the West – not only those who had long accused the ICTY of being an anti-Serb institution, but also others who were angry at the acquittals for overturning their favoured narrative, according to which Croatia had been just as guilty as Serbia of ethnic cleansing and war-crimes.

The Gotovina-Markac acquittals thereby united mainstream liberal Western commentators and Serb nationalists in condemnation of the ICTY under Meron’s leadership. Bizarrely, these critics were then joined by some Bosnians (particularly Bosniaks – Bosnian Muslims) and friends of Bosnia, after the Appeals Chamber in February 2013 overturned the conviction of Momcilo Perisic, former Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff, for aiding and abetting Bosnian Serb crimes at Sarajevo and Srebrenica. The ICTY’s already shaky reputation among Bosniaks was then further grievously damaged by the ICTY Trial Chamber’s acquittal in May of this year of two senior officials of the Serbian interior ministry, Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, for war-crimes in Croatia and Bosnia. The acquittals of Perisic, Stanisic and Simatovic mean that no official of Serbia has been found guilty by the ICTY of war-crimes in Bosnia. For many Bosniaks and others, joining the anti-Meron chorus became irresistible.

From this diverse alliance against Meron and the ICTY, a narrative has emerged: the acquittals form part of a sinister pattern. Meron is the puppet-master who has manipulated other judges into securing the acquittals. Even though he was only one judge among five in the Appeals Chambers that acquitted first Gotovina and Markac, then Perisic, and even though he was not even a member of the Trial Chambers that acquitted Haradinaj, Stanisic and Simatovic, Meron has nevertheless been imbued with the power to manipulate his fellow judges into doing his bidding. He is said to be doing this at the bidding of the United States, which allegedly fears the consequence for its own soldiers and officials of senior Serbian and Croatian war criminals being convicted. The Wikileaks cables have been cited to demonstrate Meron’s connection with the official US – even though the contents of the cables do not provide any evidence that he followed US policy [http://www.ifimes.org/en/researches/ictymeronization-of-our-future/]. Facts that go against the Meron conspiracy theory have been brushed aside: the fact that, far from seeking to sabotage the ICTY, the US has long been its strongest supporter in the international community; the fact that under Meron’s presidency, the ICTY has also recently secured key convictions, including of senior Bosnian Serb intelligence officer Zdravko Tolimir, and of six senior Bosnian Croat officials. Most recently, Meron presided over the Appeals Chamber judgement that reinstated one charge of genocide against Radovan Karadzic.

In the absence of any evidence to support either aspect of the conspiracy theory – that Meron manipulated his fellow judges to secure acquittals, and that he did so at the bidding of the US – his critics were delighted when another senior judge at the ICTY, Frederik Harhoff, wrote what was effectively an open letter (Danish original), (imperfect English translation), dated 6 June and emailed to 56 friends and colleagues, apparently confirming it. Citing the acquittals – of Gotovina, Markac, Perisic, Stanisic and Simatovic – Harhoff wrote:

‘You would think that the military establishment in leading states (such as USA and Israel) felt that the courts in practice were getting too close to the military commanders’ responsibilities.’

Thus, in an astonishing non sequitur, not just the world’s superpower, but Israel made an appearance as the guilty party responsible for the acquittals. Harhoff continued:

‘Have any American or Israeli officials ever exerted pressure on the American presiding judge (the presiding judge for the court that is) to ensure a change of direction? We will probably never know. But reports of the same American presiding judge’s tenacious pressure on his colleagues in the Gotovina – Perisic case makes you think he was determined to achieve an acquittal – and especially that he was lucky enough to convince the elderly Turkish judge to change his mind at the last minute. Both judgements then became majority judgements 3 -2.’

Thus, Harhoff again implied Israel was behind the acquittals, and linked it specifically to the Jewish, formerly Israeli presiding judge, Theodor Meron, whom he accused of ‘tenacious pressure on his colleagues’. Harhoff’s claims have been thoroughly deconstructed and exploded, in particular by legal experts Luka Misetic and Bogdan Ivanisevic*
but to summarise: he admitted that ‘we will probably never know’ if his claims are accurate, in other words that he has no evidence to support them; his grasp of his facts is so weak that he wrongly claimed that Perisic was acquitted by a 3-2 majority in the Appeals Chamber, when it was actually 4-1; and he portrayed Meron as manipulating the ‘elderly Turkish judge’ Mehmet Güney, even though the latter, born in 1936, was six years younger than Meron himself, who was born in 1930.

Turning to Stanisic and Simatovic, who were acquitted by a Trial Chamber that was presided over by Dutch judge Alphons Orie and of which Meron was not even a member, Harhoff continued:

‘Was Orie under pressure from the American presiding judge [Meron] ? It appears so! Rumour from the corridors has it that the presiding judge demanded that the judgement against the two defendants absolutely had to be delivered last Thursday – without the three judges in the premium authority having had time to discuss the defence properly – so that the presiding judge’s promise to the UN Security Council could be met.’

Naturally, Harhoff did not suggest that the Dutch judge acquitted Stanisic and Simatovic on orders from the Netherlands. No, he suggested that the Dutch judge acquitted them ‘under pressure from the American presiding judge’ – a Jew and former Israeli official who was not even on the panel. And Harhoff based these conclusions on nothing more than ‘rumour from the corridors’.

Harhoff was the first of Meron’s critics explicitly to play the Israeli card. Following the acquittal of Perisic, Dzenana Karup-Drusko, editor-in-chief of the leading Bosnian news magazine BH Dani, had published a critique of Meron, whom she described as ‘an American of Jewish extraction’, whose verdict established a precedent meaning that ‘it was now almost impossible to indict almost any commander of NATO, or of the Russian or Israeli army, for example’. But Karup-Drusko did not suggest that Meron was acting at the behest of Israel. Nor did she portray him as a puppet-master manipulating the other ICTY judges. Harhoff therefore broke new ground.

Harhoff’s aspersions against the reputations of his colleagues – not just Meron, but Orie, Güney and by implication all those involved in the acquittals – although wholly unsubstantiated by any actual evidence, then became the basis for an article in the New York Times by Marlise Simons on 14 June, which claimed they ‘raised serious questions about the credibility of the court’, and concluded that ‘Judge Harhoff’s letter, which echoes protests by many international experts, seems likely to add a fresh bruise to the tribunal’s reputation.’ A few days later, Rwanda used Harhoff’s assault on Meron to demand the latter’s resignation, since it was unhappy with the role he had played in the ICTY’s sister body, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, in acquitting or reducing the sentences of some Hutu-extremist prisoners. The Rwandan newspaper New Times claimed on 20 June that ‘a confidential letter by a Danish judge, Frederik Harhoff that leaked to the media’, revealed that the ‘embattled’ Meron had ‘exerted “persistent and intense” pressure on his fellow judges to allow suspects go free.’
Also on 20 June, a petition was published by prominent Bosnian intellectuals and activists directed at Meron, stating:

‘Following the letter by your colleague Judge Frederik Harhoff, we, the war crime victims in BiH, consider it your moral obligation to tender your resignation from all of the functions performed by yourself in the ICTY… You, Mr. Meron, have misused your position by influencing your colleagues, and thereby you have cruelly violated the Statute of the Tribunal, the implementation of which exactly you were to supervise, and the disrespect of which by your colleagues also you were to sanction. Therefore, we find it your moral duty, moreover as a Holocaust victim, to leave the Hague Tribunal.’

On 25 June, an open letter signed by well over a hundred individuals and NGOs, either from the Yugoslavia or specialising in it was submitted to UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, claimed that the

‘general public in the former Yugoslavia and particularly those in communities that were affected by war, view Judge Harhoff’s allegations as evidence of a mockery of justice by the most important UN tribunal’, and urged Ban ‘to use your authority to order a prompt and thorough inquiry, to establish beyond doubt if there has been a violation of articles 12 and 13 of the ICTY Statute, which guarantees the independence, impartiality, integrity and high moral character of judges serving at the ICTY.’

Thus, Harhoff’s rumour had quickly hardened into the mainstream version of events, and was providing ammunition for those with an interest in bringing Meron down. Nor did the story go unnoticed by anti-Zionist critics of Israel. Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss took Harhoff’s claims at face value, arguing ‘Is this the US imperial state or the Israel lobby at work? My suspicion is of course the Israel lobby’. Alison Weir of Intifada – Voice of Palestine interpreted the Simons article rather freely when she wrote that

‘The New York Times reports that an Israeli diplomat turned U.S. citizen – and now president of the war crimes tribunal at the Hague – has been pressuring the court to acquit officials accused of war crimes.’

The moral of this story is: if you want to create your own conspiracy theory that other people will believe but which isn’t supported by any evidence, it really helps if the person you finger as the leading villain happens to be a Jew. Most members of the anti-Meron campaign are neither anti-Semites nor motivated by anti-Semitism; perhaps none of them are. Many if not most of them are motivated by fully justified outrage at the meagre results of the ICTY and a principled desire to see justice served. Yet they are basing their campaign on allegations, by Judge Harhoff, that at the very least feed off familiar anti-Semitic themes of alleged Jewish power and manipulative behaviour; themes that strike a chord among the wider public, which explains the vibrancy of the campaign. If it does not already, this is something that should seriously concern them.

*Bogdan Ivanisevic’s deconstruction of Harhoff’s letter appeared on his Facebook page; the link in this article is to his earlier defence of Meron.

Marko Attila Hoare is a Reader at Kingston University specialising in the history of South East Europe. He is the author of four books: The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War: A History (Hurst, London, 2013); The History of Bosnia: From the Middle Ages to the Present Day (Saqi, London, 2007); Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943 (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006); and How Bosnia Armed (Saqi, London, 2004). He is currently working on a history of modern Serbia.

Hostility to Israel and Antisemitism: Toward a Sociological Approach – David Hirsh

This paper, by David Hirsh, is published in the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, JSA Vol 5#1 2013.

Download the paper on PDF by clicking here. Read the rest of this entry »

The left and Israel – David Hirsh

This is the text of a short talk given by David Hirsh to Sixth Formers at JFS today.   The other panellists were Brendan

David Hirsh

David Hirsh

O’Neil and Dan Judelson.

What does it mean to be on the left?  I think one thing it might mean is an attachment to some kind of universalism.   That is the idea that human beings are all, in some profound way, of equal value.   Of course we are not equal – some are big some are small; some are weak some are strong; some are good looking some are… less so.  But whatever our nation, our wealth, our power, our gender, the left works with the idea that we are all important.  The left tries to find ways that we can work together to look after each other because we are all of equal value.

The right is often more concerned with particulars than universals.  How can I best educate my child? how can Britain be successful in the world? how can Israel remain safe?

The left sees a world in which poor people are exploited, weak nations are colonised, women are  confined to the home and people die in religious conflict.  The left sees a lot wrong with the world and it sets out to change that.  The right tends to focus more on ways in which we can prosper not in the next world, but in this one.

The left hopes that ordinary people – the majority – can come together in solidarity, looking after each other, respecting each other and defeat those – the small minority – who benefit from injustice.

Interestingly, the ancient Israelites themselves were amongst the pioneers of the idea of universality, the conception of fundamental human equality.   They also wrestled with the difficulties of grasping both the universal and the particular at the same time.

Christianity was an important carrier of the concept of universality from the ancient world into modern Europe.

But through the centuries many Christians have seen the Jews as a threat to the Christian brotherhood of man.  The Jews have been understood as those who reject the universal – Christ killers.  And in doing so, they wreck the utopian universal dream not only for themselves, but also for everybody else.

In the 19th Century, the left sought to turn universality into a scientific and secular movement.  It should follow, then, that the left should always oppose antisemitism, because its universality tells it that Jews are of equal worth to everybody else.

And of course, there have always been proud traditions on the left which have opposed antisemitism.

Yet.  Antisemitism has its temptations.  It is tempting for radical people who want radical change.   Why?    Because for centuries, antisemitism has functioned as a way of explaining why the simple plan of all getting together to make the world better keeps on failing.

This left is for the universal.  But it is tempted to see the Jews as anti-universal and a threat to the universal.

The Nazis are usually thought of as right wing.  But in some ways, they were also similar to the left.  They were radical, they wanted profound change.  They didn’t like nationalism, they had a global programme for changing the whole world.  They were hostile to British and American imperialism and democracy.  They put their big political ambitions before the ‘pursuit of happiness’.  Hitler claimed to be the universalist and he said it was the Jews who wrecked society for everybody by following only  their own selfish interests.

But by and large, the left opposed Hitler and his antisemitism.

In the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, radical Jews were split as to how they should oppose the antisemitism. 

Some wanted to dissolve all religious and national characteristics into a universalistic socialism where the distinction between Jew and non-Jew would eventually be forgotten.

Others wanted Jews to organise themselves into culturally and politically Jewish Bunds which would defend them from antisemitism and which would construct Jewish identity in new, egalitarian and empowering ways.

A third current thought that national self-determination was the key to guaranteeing people’s individual rights, and they wanted Jews from all different places to forge themselves into a sovereign nation.

In the 1940s the overwhelming majority of the Jewish Socialists, Bundists and Zionists were murdered, alongside the other Jews of Europe.

There were a few survivors here and there in Europe, but most of them felt it unbearable to continue to live amongst those who had killed everybody they knew, and amongst those who had failed to prevent the killing, and amongst those who still had their children and their friends and relatives.

When Israel was first established, it was supported by most people on the left.  They liked the socialist experiment of the kibbutzim and the Labour Party which ran Israel in its first decades.  They admired Israel as an anti-imperialist movement which defeated the British.  They supported Israel as the underdogs, the survivors of the Holocaust.

Later, for good reasons of universality, the left developed more and more sympathy for the Palestinians, who had lost out in the conflict with Israel and who were also exploited by the predominately Arab states which claimed to speak on their behalf.

But the problem is this:  some on the left are still tempted by the image of the Jews, now Israel, as being the fly in the ointment of universal peace and love.  The particularists, nationalists, racists, anti-universalists, who wreck the world for everybody else.

The problem is not that people take the rights of Palestinians seriously.  I believe that they’re right to do that.  The problem comes when they start to think of Israel as being central to a whole global system of domination.

When they care more about every injustice perpetrated by Israel in the conflict with the Palestinians than they do about any other injustice.

When they put all their energy into boycotting Israel, but they wouldn’t dream of boycotting any other nation.

When they close their ears to claims of antisemitism, saying that the Jews invent such claims as a nasty trick to stop people from criticizing Israel.

When they say that Israel is apartheid or Nazi or racist – when they find forms of words which make Israel seem like the nastiest place on the planet.

 David Hirsh

See also by David Hirsh:

The Progressive Case for Israel

Defining antisemitism down

The Livingstone Formulation

Portia, Shylock and the exclusion of Israeli actors from the global cultural community.

A reply to Neve Gordon by David Hirsh

Do not confine Jews to the couch

Occupation, not apartheid.

Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: Cosmopolitan Reflections.

David Ward M.P. can’t make his mind up.

At first he talked about “the Jews”.

Then he talked about “the Jewish community”.

Now he talks about “the zionists”.

Tonge Wrong (Again) – Guest Post by Ben Goldstein

Baroness Jenny Tonge, who infamously declared in 2006 that “the pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips”, took part in a recent debate about the two-state solution at the Cambridge Union. In her speech, she argues in favour of a “one-state solution” and, in so doing, makes a series of erroneous claims.

She first argues that “successive Israeli governments have never wanted a two-state solution – they want the whole of the land”. It hardly seems possible that a former MP who consistently makes speeches about the Middle East could be so ignorant of Israeli history. How would Tonge describe Rabin’s attempts to create peace based on two states in the 1990s, or Olmert’s in 2007? How would, in fact, she describe the current Israeli government, which contains Tzipi Livni (whose entire election campaign was based on the urgent need for a two-state solution) and Yair Lapid (who said “there’s no other game in town but the two-state solution”)? While the extremes of the hard right and elements of the settler movement might maintain the fiction of a Jewish state from Jordan to the sea, the vast majority of the Israeli political establishment (and, indeed, the Israeli public) favour a two-state solution.

When confronted with the reality of the 2001 Taba negotiations (where both sides agreed in principle on two states based on 1967 borders) by an intervention from an opposing speaker, Tonge replied: “They didn’t succeed”. Unfortunately for her, this is not the point. To substantiate her claim that Israeli governments have “never wanted a two-state solution”, it is insufficient to point out that negotiations up until now have failed. She would further have to demonstrate that each failure was committed by Israel deliberately – a burden that, given, for instance, Barak’s offer of 91 per cent of the West Bank and all of Gaza to Arafat in 2000, she unsurprisingly does not fulfil.

Tonge next uses what she claims is a Ben-Gurion quote: “If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. We have taken their country.” This quote is unrecorded, and is found in a book by Nahum Goldmann. The book was published in 1978; Ben-Gurion died in 1973 and could therefore not dispute the allegation. The alleged quotation certainly does not fit with the vast majority of Ben-Gurion’s other writings, which calls on Israel to treat Arabs as equals; he wrote, for instance, that if ‘the Arab citizen will feel at home in our state…then Arab distrust will accordingly subside and a bridge to a Semitic, Jewish-Arab alliance will be built’ (Ba-Ma’Araha Vol. IV, Part 2, pp. 260, 265, quoted in Fabricating Israeli History, Efraim Karsh, p.67).

Even if Tonge’s attribution of that quote to Ben-Gurion holds (which seems unlikely), it is unclear exactly what Tonge seeks to draw from it. On one reading, she may be claiming that the Arab states (à la Iran or Hamas) ought not to make terms with Israel. If so, it is rather puzzling how she envisages cooperation between hardline Israel-hating Arabs and Jews actually happening in her single bi-national state. Alternatively, she may be using the quote to illustrate that “even the Zionists admit that they stole Palestinian land”. Leaving aside the obvious simplicity of the colonial narrative of the creation of Israel (which ignores the existence of a native Jewish population, the Balfour Declaration, the Peel Commission and the UN vote of 1947), it is again unclear how this helps Tonge argue for a one-state solution. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of 1948, the question is whether a one-state solution is feasible now and Tonge gives us literally no reason to suggest that it is.

Thirdly, Tonge says that “non-Jewish residents of Israel are distinctly second-class citizens. There are forty differences in the rights they have compared with the rights Jews have.” The details of these alleged “differences” are never elucidated. While it is clearly true that Arab Israelis face societal discrimination much like minority ethnic groups in other countries around the world, it is simply not true that they have different rights to Jewish Israelis. The Israeli Declaration of Independence states that Israel will offer “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture”. That is why Arabic is an official language, and why there are Arab judges on Israel’s supreme court, Arab members of Parliament, Arab civil servants, Arab ambassadors, Arab army officers and Arab winners of The Voice Israel. Tonge’s assertion betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the reality of the position of Israeli Arabs within the state – wholly equal under the eyes of the law, even while facing some structural inequality.

Finally, towards the end of her speech, Tonge describes a one-state utopia, with Jews and Palestinian Arabs ‘living together peacefully’. There are two problems here. The first is that it is wildly fanciful. The idea that groups with two distinct national/religious identities will hold hands and sing Kumbaya, when Hamas’ charter calls for the killing of all Jews and the majority of Israelis view a Jewish majority as fundamental to their security, is wholly untenable. Secondly, the one-state solution removes the right of self-determination from both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people. Majorities of both desire a homeland for themselves – a Jewish homeland, with an Arab minority, in Israel and a Palestinian homeland, perhaps with a Jewish minority, in Palestine. In a one-state “utopia”, one of these groups will ultimately have that right frustrated.

Tonge’s words at the Cambridge Union – which, incidentally, voted overwhelmingly against her position – should thus persuade nobody: the one-state solution is no solution at all.

Ben Goldstein is a student at Lincoln College, Oxford, and is currently an intern at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre.

The UCU, Antisemitism and the boycotts campaigns against Israel

Thu 11 Jul 2013

Time: 4.00pm – 6.00pm

The University and College Union (UCU) has passed anti-Zionist resolutions since 2005 and Jewish members have complained about antisemitic tendencies within the union. In 2012 Ronnie Fraser brought a case against the UCU complaining of institutional antisemitism in violation of the Equality Act. However, the employment tribunal handling the case ruled that his complaints of harassment were unfounded. Despite the evidence that was brought forward the judges did not recognise antisemitism in the union and instead accused Fraser of disregarding pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression by trying to silence his political opponents.  This workshop seeks to analyse this case as well as antisemitism in unions and on campus, including anti-Israeli boycott campaigns. It explores why there is a reluctance to recognise anti-Zionist forms of antisemitism in the frame of anti-racism and anti-discrimination.

This event is organised by The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide and the International Study Group for Education and Research on Antisemitism.

Roundtable speakers: Ronnie Fraser, Eric Lee, Doerte Letzmann, Eve Garrard

Discussant: Robert Fine

Chair: Gunther Jikeli / Hagai van der Horst

Admission: Free, but booking is essential as space is limited.

Location: The Wiener Library, 29 Russell Square, London – click for map

Illustration of Israel as devouring Moloch in Süddeutsche Zeitung

Image

This picture, not surprisingly, greatly offended many readers when it was used to illustrate an article criticizing the amount of support given to Israel.It’s important to note that the artist originally created the design for a food magazine, and has been angered by the misappropriation of his work.  The picture itself is not antisemitic but, when placed in the context of the Süddeutsche Zeitung article and caption, it visualizes and reinforces antisemitic tropes.  The Times of Israel reports:

Heiko Flottau’s review, with the headline “The Decline of Liberal Zionism,” dealt with American author Peter Beinart’s book, whose title in German translates to “The American Jews and Israel. What is going wrong,” and German TV journalist Werner Sonne’s book “Raison d’état? Germany’s Liability for Israel’s Security.” The article appeared in the prominent paper’s July 2 edition.

Under the lurid illustration, the caption reads, “Germany at your service. For decades, Israel has been provided with weapons, partly free of charge. Israel’s enemies consider the country to be a voracious Moloch. Peter Beinert regrets that it’s gotten this far.”

One day after the article came out, editor Franziska Augstein issued a statement that “the publication of the illustration in this context was a mistake.”

The representation of a female figure carrying food to a monstrous beast lying in bed reminded me of illustrations to Little Red Riding Hood. The reference to a ‘Moloch’ in the caption also helps suggest that the horned troll, brandishing his knife and fork, may be casting his greedy eye on the girl as well as the tray she carries.

The paper’s response to criticism has been grudging:

The Süddeutsche issued a statement on its website Tuesday, under the title, “Is a Horned Monster Anti-Semitic?” The paper wrote that the cartoon had “nothing to do with anti-Semitic clichés,” but added that as “the photo led to misunderstandings, it would have been better to have chosen a different photo.”

This is an evasive statement.  Yes, the picture itself, in its original context ‘has nothing to do with anti-semitic cliches’ but, in conjunction with the review and caption, it clearly taps into antisemitic tropes, in particular the blood libel.  (One strand of the blood libel is the claim that Jews worshipped Moloch, the false god who demanded child sacrifice).

The paper also claimed that the picture was only meant to represent how Israel’s enemies see the country.  However the text of the caption hardly works to discourage such a view,

Germany is serving. For decades now, Israel has been given weapons, and partly free of charge. Israel’s enemies think it is a ravenous Moloch. Peter Beinart deplores this situation.

and, although the article is behind a pay wall, a glance at the opening suggests that the writer has jumped at the opportunity, courtesy of Beinart, to explore ideas which are somewhat taboo in Germany. A later statement, published on Wednesday, is rather more apologetic in tone.  However there is still an emphasis on readers’ perceptions, on ‘misunderstandings’.

I would imagine that not all readers of Engage are great fans of Peter Beinart.  However when I first read the story I found it hard to imagine he would approve of the use of this offensive (in context) picture, and I was glad to have this assumption confirmed.

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