Letter sent to the Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University by Robert Fine and David Seymour

This letter was sent to the Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University, Professor Don Nutbeam, by Robert Fine, Emeritus Professor of Sociology University of Warwick and Dr David Seymour, Senior Lecturer In Law, City University London. It is published with their permission.

A request to revisit your decision to cancel the conference on International Law and the State of Israel

Dear Professor Don Nutbeam,

We are writing to urge you to reconsider the cancellation of the conference on International Law and the State of Israel. We have a long track record of opposing the academic boycott movement, opposing BDS, opposing the delegitimation of Israel, and opposing antisemitism in all its forms. We have also spoken out in defence of academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of criticism. We recognize that there is much in this conference with which we would profoundly disagree, and that the participation of our Israeli academic colleagues has probably been limited both by the particular political character of this conference and by the general atmosphere created by those who would exclude them from the global community of scholars. That said, it is vital for the work of all those who look to the development of rational and open debate on issues surrounding the Israel / Palestine dispute, and on the forms of racism and antisemitism that sometimes take the place of such debate, that academic conferences such as this one can go ahead. We are more than capable of arguing our various positions and we do not want to encourage either the reality or appearance of stifling debate. So we urge you, with due consideration of the security issues at stake, to allow the conference to go ahead. While we respect the grounds of your decision, our judgment is that it is wrong in principle and will create an unwelcome precedent.
Best wishes,
Robert Fine and David M. Seymour
Robert Fine
Emeritus Professor of Sociology University of Warwick

Dr David M. Seymour
Senior Lecturer In Law,
City University London

Hidden Agenda at Southampton University – Mark Gardner

This piece is written by Mark Gardner on the CST blog.

The cancellation on “health and safety” grounds of a planned anti-Israel conference at Southampton University is causing much controversy. This hides a deeper problem with the conference: its organiser’s insistence that Zionism can only be understood by deep reference and understanding of Jews, Judaism, “Jewish being” and “Jewish pathology”.

The organiser is Professor Oren Ben Dor, whose thinking sits alongside that of the better known Gilad Aztmon. Both men are ex-Israelis living and working in Britain. They both hold up Jewish anti-Zionists as some kind of ultimate supposed proof that Zionism can only be fundamentally understood (and more importantly opposed) as an extension of Jewishness.

Atzmon’s anti-Zionism has caused turmoil in anti-Israel circles. Most left wing anti-israel activists anxiously manufacture distance between Zionists and Jews (i.e. between anti-Zionism and antisemitism).  Ben Dor derides such thinking as “politically correct” and opposes it every bit as bitterly as does Atzmon.

Atzmon’s insistence on linking “the Jewish Question” and Zionism means leftist Jewish anti-Zionists have led a fractious but largely successful campaign to have Atzmon declared antisemitic and beyond the pale within anti-Israel circles. Now, with Ben Dor at its core, the Southampton anti-Israel conference threatens to derail this.

As Jewish anti-Zionist Tony Greenstein has stated of Ben Dor’s association with Atmzon:

he has aligned himself with a small, anti-Semitic current on the fringes of the Palestinian movement.

Ben Dor is a staggeringly turgid writer and speaker, whilst Atzmon is a showman: but nobody is compelled to visit his website, read his book or attend his meetings. In the case of Professor Ben Dor, university students (Jewish and non-Jewish) are being taught by this man.

Ben Dor’s defence of Atzmon in Counterpunch gives some indications of his ideology and impenetrable style. It begins “…No thinking person could fail to be stimulated by the deep connections Gilad [Atzmon] makes”.

It emphasises the link between Zionism and “Jewish being and thinking” and asks if the original aggressive Jewish  “victim mentality” and “choseness” persist into Zionism:

…Zionism can be conceived as a symptom the non-empathetic manifestations of which are historically and existentially continuing certain facets of Jewish being and thinking. It is very important to ask whether the originary aggression of victim mentality as well as the choseness-begotten separateness existentially links the Zionist and the Jewish question.

It opposes attempts to sever the deeper ontological connection of the “Jewish Question with the Zionist Question”. (Ontological means “the nature of being”.) Ben Dor says this is so deep, that Jews perhaps cannot even oppose Zionism:

…The anti-Zionist struggle must not encage itself in too simplistic a link between the Jewish Question with the Zionist Question–a simplistic link that in fact craves to sever the deeper ontological connection that might persist between the two questions…this very denial of the existential link between the Jewish Question and the Zionist Question – a link that is suppressed by formulations such as “Jews Against Zionism” or, more broadly, by many attempts of “Jews” to become anti-Zionist – that needs to be questioned and destabilised.

He then implies that the meaning of the Jewish link with Zionism means that it is not sufficient to only challenge “the symptom – Zionism”:

To be an anti-Zionist without due regard to that being and thinking that Zionism may so tragically continue, may well be to confuse symptom and cause, thus perpetuating that history that leaves the symptom – Zionism – intact…

On and on Ben Dor waffles, until he hits upon the Holocaust, stripping its meaning for Jews. This is where his ivory tower is perhaps at its ugliest.

Despite his family having lost many relatives in the Holocaust, Ben Dor shows a startling failure on the most basic human level to accept that Jewish backing for Israel (ie Zionism) is an overwhelmingly natural and human reaction to the Holocaust. He goes further, suggesting that Nazi perpetrators were somehow captives of a deeper historical force that may repeat in the future. Ben Dor does not explicitly rule out the possibility that this “corruption” “between humans and Being long ago” is somehow due to Jewish longevity and influence:

The horrors and murderous violence against Jews may have been a response to events that had corrupted the relationship between humans and Being long ago. Grasped thus, the Holocaust may have been severely distorted by National Socialism; by those who are said to “deny” the Holocaust by some arguments about facts; by self-righteous Jews-against-Zionism; by Zionists. All these forms of forgetfulness of the Holocaust may well be on a common matrix of denial. Indeed this denial may constitute a chronicle of another Holocaust foretold.

My point is that the Holocaust’s significance lies beyond the actions by the Nazis who actually perpetrated the violence and who justified these actions by turning this significance into a militarist object of an idea. The same claim can be made in relation Zionists and their Jewish opponents.

None of this mumbo jumbo features in the actual Southampton conference programme. Instead, it reads as just another faux academic anti-Israel hate fest. Which of its many attendees and defenders even know of Ben Dor’s deeper animosities is open to question: but these animosities are fundamental to his ideological position and place him firmly in the same ball park as Atzmon. An environment in which antisemitic discourse is permitted, even if not fully endorsed and encouraged…thus far.

If Ben Dor is now to be defended within current mainstream leftist anti-Israel and anti-Zionist discourse, this represents a significant lurch towards an anti-Zionism that holds  Jews and “Jewish being” as fundamentally responsible for every crime that is laid at Zionism’s door. The antisemitic danger of such a shift is blatant.

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For a more comprehensive view of Ben Dor’s animosity, the below video should be viewed. It is too long to summarise, but these give a taster of it:

10.50 [self hatred mentality] “stems…from sublimated hatred of, and supremacy towards, all others”

15.55 “It is the denial that there is something so Jewish in that which has provoked the Holocaust; and the dealing with which has been so successfully postponed by the Holocaust”

18.19 [on Jewish anti-Zionists] “Nothing would prevent them for going and celebrate many feasts of hatred of all others”

18.50 “the connective tissue to the Jewish pathology that actually moves Zionism and the deeper historicity that Zionism is just a fleeting phase of”

This piece is written by Mark Gardner on the CST blog.

 

“BRITISH UNIVERSITY SHOULDN’T CANCEL ANTI-ISRAEL CONFERENCE” – Ken Stern and Cary Nelson

This statement, by Ken Stern and Cary Nelson, appears on the Justus and Karin Rosenberg foundation website

The following letter from the Foundation, jointly written with Cary Nelson, former president of the American Association of University Professors, was sent to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Southampton on April 1, 2015, and was published the same day as a comment in Inside Higher Education. It calls on the University of Southampton to let an anti-Israel conference proceed, while also encouraging academics there and elsewhere to speak out about the bigotry that will likely be heard.

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Dear Vice Chancellor Nutbeam,

We write as two North Americans who oppose academic boycotts and support academic freedom. While we find the upcoming conference on International Law and the State of Israel disturbing (it questions the right of Israel to exist, it includes panelists who have made gross antisemitic statements, etc.), we are shocked by the report that the university might cancel the conference.

Academic freedom requires that scholarly meetings, even ones that can rightly be criticized for promoting bigotry, are permitted to be held. The correct answer to the problems this conference poses is for others to use their own academic freedom to document what is wrong when, as here, history and principles are twisted to promote a bigoted political agenda. Especially given the University’s track record of supporting important and valued teaching and research in Jewish studies, it is well poised to answer speech with speech, rather than with suppression.

Canceling the conference because of security concerns is called, in the American context, a “heckler’s veto.” We ask Southampton not to eviscerate the right its faculty and students have to hear what the organizers of this conference present, even if what is presented is troubling and bigoted.

Campus security can surely handle a demonstration against the conference. Indeed people participating in such a protest would be exercising their own academic freedom so long as the event was allowed to continue.

We also worry about the precedent Southampton would set by canceling. Whether pro-Israel or anti-Israel (or pro-immigrant or anti-immigrant, or pro-gay rights or anti-gay rights, etc), it would effectively be saying that forces inside and outside the academic community who don’t like a particular point of view can shut down speech by threats. How can learning take place in such an environment? Would Southampton only then have conferences and speakers on “safe” topics? How can students learn to think when difficult issues and hot topics are no longer appropriate for campus programming?

We call on the university to allow this conference to take place, on campus, with adequate security. And we call on you and your colleagues to use your own academic freedom to speak out about both the bigotry that will likely be evidenced at the conference, and the danger to the academic enterprise when speech, even troubling and bigoted speech, is suppressed.

Cary Nelson, co-chair, Alliance for Academic Freedom
Kenneth Stern, executive director, Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation, executive committee, Alliance for Academic Freedom

This statement, by Ken Stern and Cary Nelson, appears on the Justus and Karin Rosenberg foundation website

 

Thoughts on the Southampton Conference

David Hirsh:

The fact that the Southampton conference is organised by somebody who has actively come to the defence of an open antisemite is not the point.  The fact that it de-legitimizes Israel and only Israel is not the point. The point is that the narrative of unique Israeli evil and criminality educates antiracists into an antisemitic worldview.

The fact that this antisemitic worldview is not recognised as such by most ‘decent’ people is one of the things that makes it especially dangerous; another is that it operates partly on an emotional and unconscious level and so is less vulnerable to rational debate than might be hoped. The antizionists love it when people of ‘opposite’ views engage them in debate because it legitimizes their questions, it positions them as the radical side of a discussion; to posit debate as an alternative to ‘banning’ is not proving an effective way of responding. The antizionists love to debate, they suck strength out of it.  Everybody sympathises with those who are defeated in debate by the ‘clever Jews’.

Ban the conference, especially on the spurious grounds of ‘security’, and it will be held elsewhere, the participants will declare their own courage and oppression, and people will be attracted to the conference which the power of the ‘Israel Lobby’ cancelled by fiat.

Don’t ban the conference and the daily work of normalizing the feeling that the Jews are behind everything bad in the world progresses as usual; it happens in pseudo-academic pseudo-egaltiarian language and seduces many directly, but it also sets the framework of what is considered respectable and legitimate.

The toxic notions pushed by this conference seem, at the moment, to be impermeable both to debate and to coercion. This is a measure of the scale of the problem.

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