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.

—-

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.

 

36 Responses to “Hidden Agenda at Southampton University – Mark Gardner”

  1. soupyone Says:

    An excellent article by Mark Gardner.

    I do hope that would-be attendees of that awful “conference” read it, and then re-read.

  2. johnstrawson Says:

    As a participant in the Southampton conference I must protest against the methodology of Mark Gardner. It reminds me of Stalin’s approach to politics. According to Mark there is a “hidden agenda.” His evidence is an account of an article published by one of the organizers, Oren Ben Dor defending Aztmon’s views. This is supplemented by a rather unimpressive presentation by Ben Dor at an unidentified and undated event in video form. However, he does not discuss the actual agenda of the conference; there is no reference to the call for papers or indeed the actual program. Nor does advance any argument for the relationship between the conference and views expressed. Rather he hopes that the views of Ben Dor are so unpalatable that it will be obvious to all that they will infect anything he touches. As Ben Dor is an organizer of the conference therefore the entire conference must be devoted to advancing such views. That’s it that the evidence for the “hidden agenda:’ in other words there is none

    Mark’s piece is essentially a “shock piece.” This is to divert attention from a systematic attack on academic freedom that a small part of the community has been lured into. The celebrations for the cancellation of the conference will be short lived. Southampton University has cited public order as a concern. One can only draw from this that the threats of demonstrations and other disruptions were feared. The next time that an Israeli academic who is in the sights of the BDS movement appears on any campus I assume universities may well cancel the event citing similar grounds – now with a respectable precedent. The lesson of free speech and academic freedom as always been that tolerating the views that you loathe is the price you pay of being able to express your own. We are all threatened by this cancellation.

    • David Hirsh Says:

      John, this conference is organized by a man who writes things like:

      “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”

      As I’ve said, I don’t think this is the central issue – I agree with you that the actual content of the conference is what is really important – it is intended to bolster the narrative of unique Israeli evil and criminality and it will educate antiracists into an antisemitic worldview.

      Not the central issue, but it is an issue.

      How is it that a man who blames the Jews for the provoking the Holocaust, and who blames Jewish use of the Holocaust for preventing the Jewish disease from being properly treated, is organising a conference about Jews and their state?

      You think that Mark is a Stalinist, because he’s raised this issue? Really?

      You think it isn’t at all relevant?

    • Richard Gold Says:

      John, while disagreeing with the cancellation of the conference, i don’t think comparing MarK Gardner’s methodology to that of Stalin’s approach to politics is helpful, unless your comment is a “shock piece”.

      Secondly, Ben Dor is an apologist for Atzmon (not to mention his denial of academic freedom for Israeli academics) and this is a well known fact. If it isn’t well known to you then it should be. It’s wrong to play down his odious support for Atzmon.

      • jonathanhoffman1 Says:

        John, we deconstructed the Call For Papers extensively on the original thread. It effectively suppressed freedom of speech by discouraging speakers willing to defend Israel.

        As Michael Gove said “It was not a conference, it was an anti-Israel hate-fest.”

  3. soupyone Says:

    I am somewhat surprised that the reaction to Mark Gardener’s informative article.

    Whatever your thoughts on the matter, Mark does bring into plain view the wisdom of nonracists attending such a gathering.

  4. Mark Gardner Says:

    I’ve never been accused of Stalinism before, it’s not me and it’s not my style. I’ve just finished reading Snyder’s Bloodlands and am now two thirds of the way thru Grossman’s Life & Fate – I find the accusation cheap, baseless and hurtful.
    I didn’t set out to write the article on Ben Dor that I ended up writing – but the more I looked, the more appalled and amazed I was. What I wrote up is only the smallest fraction of it all. I don’t see why he shouldn’t be called out for opening the door to antisemitic ways of thinking into an anti-Zionist politics that hitherto largely tries to avoid such things.
    If anything is remotely Stalinist in all of this it is Ben Dor talking in ideological terms that strip Zionists, and perhaps Jews also, of all humanity.
    Note that the video is from a one state for all its inhabitants conference at Massachusetts Uni in 2009 – it didn’t sound like the sort of event that would welcome the kind of total shit that Ben Dor spouted, and neither did the Southampton one. What would he have said in Southampton? On the platform, in the bar afterwards? I don’t know, but I do know that his previous is considerably worse than what we see elsewhere.
    For sake of brevity I never used another thing I saw from him, saying it wasn’t tactically right to call for a boycott of Zionists – for this guy to be some kind of pin up boy for freedom of speech is bloody insane. (David Hirsh excellent article showed how we ended up here however.)

  5. johnstrawson Says:

    Mark I did not call you a Stalinist I said the methodology of your piece reminded me of Stalinist politics. Quite different. David also misses the point. The issues are not the views the Ben Dor or anyone else holds. They are (1) should those view be censored? (2) is there a necessary connection (the “hidden agenda”) between Ben Dor’s views and the conference? (3) can you pick and chose who has academic freedom or who has freedom of speech?

    My answers are obvious and come form the liberal tradition.

    • David Hirsh Says:

      Is there a necessary connection between Ben Dor’s view – which is that Zionism is a manifestation of age-old Jewish evil – and the conference which he is organising – on the unique evil and criminality of Israel?

      Err. yes. You don’t think so John? Do you think it is just a coincidence that the antisemitic conference is being organised by a person who specializes in antisemitic rhetoric?

      If the conference is not antisemitic, why is it tolerating the pivotal role of such a person?

  6. bengidley Says:

    In general, I agree with John Strawson (and with Robert Fine, David Seymour, Ken Stern and Cary Nelson in the other recent posts) about the academic freedom issues, and about the fact that cancelling this conference has potentially disastrous consequences for everyone. But Mark is right here to raise these issues about the deeply toxic nature of this particular academic’s views. We should be able to condemn the organiser’s views without supporting the conference cancellation. I don’t think we have any basis to say that mainstreaming Atzmon-like views is the “hidden agenda” of the conference (there are one or two other Atzmon-like speakers, but most of the speakers are not of that ilk at all). However, Mark might be right that there is something significant going on if anti-Zionists who have ostracised Atzmon are now defending someone whose views are very similar to Atzmon. The problem is, if we accept that his views are similar to Atzmon’s, the issue of the conference becomes fairly trivial next to the issue of someone who promotes racist ideas teaching students.

  7. bengidley Says:

    On the “unidentified and undated event”: just to say this was a conference called “One State for Palestine / Israel: A Country for All Its Citizens?” at the University of Massachusetts in 2009. Here’s the line-up: https://sites.google.com/site/onedemocraticstatesite/Home/conference-update

    The video comes from the Massachusetts-based American Arab Media Foundation’ “Arabic Hour” programme.

  8. jonathanhoffman1 Says:

    Join the club, Mark. On the other thread John said of Brian Goldfarb and me “Both views unfortunately exhibit a type of authoritarian thinking that use to characterize the old Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe”…………..

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      I take deep exception to being labelled any sort of Stalinist, and if that is what John Strawson did, then he should apologise immediately. He has been reading what I have posted on this site fr a deade now. Where do I demonstrate Stalinist tendencies, whatever these might be? Every comment on the original comments thread called,not for the cancellation, refining or relabelling of this event, beyond calling it what it actually is: a gathering of, for the most part, anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli activists to discuss their favourite topic: the delegitimisation of Israel.

      Thus, it is not and never has been an academic conference, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

      Not that I Expect an apology, of corse.

  9. soupyone Says:

    It is a pity that common courtesy from academics is so lacking in this case, let alone debating tricks which would embarrass the lowliest of Socialist Worker acolytes.

    John Strawson managed some 300+ words scolding Mark, yet cannot engage with any of the arguments which subsequently point out the tricky issues around his emotional rebuke.

    But let’s dispense with the intellectual trivia, assume this conference goes ahead in another guise, either in a coffee shop, a dank basement or capacious room above a pub.

    These anti-Israeli zealots are perfectly capable of finding a platform somewhere, and any academics here can familiarise themselves with the lengthy discussions and debates on freedom of speech from across the Atlantic. All fascinating but not exactly deep.

    Rather, the question is, should a nonracist like John Strawson lend his support to people on the fringes? To individuals who clearly have serious issues? To supporters of Gilad Atzmon?

    If so why, and what are the wider implications. What precedents does it set when nonracists consort and lend credence to the ideas of bigots?

    So any academic, who can walk and chew gum, should be able to dispense with the somewhat mundane (however important) debate around freedom of speech and concentrate on the question of judgement.

    The wisdom of attending such a gathering, now, in the future or at another location?

    That is a tricky one. That is the elephant in the room, which everyone is tiptoeing around.

    Is it wise?

    PS: Whilst that is being pondered (and its many ramifications) might I suggest that John Strawson make a serious effort to apologise to Mark Gardner.

    • Mark Gardner Says:

      Thanks all above, I agree with a great deal of what’s been written and I think this a healthy and necessary debate given the complexity of it all. John S, I appreciate the distinction you make on the ‘Stalinist’ issue, but I won’t feel guilty for pointing out that Ben Dor is far from being just another usual suspect – if you spend a couple of hours looking at his stuff, I think you’ll see it is far dodgier than what is already usually expressed about Zionists and Jews (as I tried to say in my original piece). And, the more that this conference (more accurately it’s cancellation) now becomes the focus moving forward, the more important it is to realise just who is at its core – for me, I find it entirely fitting it should be such a person as it brings all the complexities crashing further home. Others may disagree. Anyways, I need to do all the Passover stuff now, so gracefully leaving this chain.

  10. Mark Gardner Says:

    Sorry, couldn’t resist one further comment – if Jewish anti Zionists were right to have Atzmon banned in mainstream anti Zionist circles, then would they also be right to have Ben Dor banned in those same circles?

  11. wigs and hunters Says:

    Unfortunately, the heavy handed call for ‘cancellation’ will now mean that there will be a general rallying around Ben Oren. As a result, the Atzmonites will be reintegrated into the anti-zionist movement.
    Another negative consequence of the triumph of bluster over considered thought.

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      Or to put it a different way, Wigs, that would be another negative consequence of the triumph of anti-racist principles over tactics in these weird disorientated times.

    • soupyone Says:

      The crude analysis provided by Wigs is far too deterministic and misses out human agency.

      If “anti-Zionists” choose to embrace Atzmon they will do it of their own accord. They will not be somehow miraculously or mysteriously manipulated into it by an external force. It will be a choice to take up racism.

      It is entirely their own choice, to do it or not.

      Indeed, they may have taken up with it irrespective of what happened in Southampton. Who really knows?

      But either way vulgar determinism is hardly a useful analytical tool in this instance.

      • wigs and hunters Says:

        Soupyone,
        Yes of course the anti-zionists are responsible for their own choices. But equally, the bluster of Hoffman and others have to take responsibility in helping define the parameters of that choice. Just as the anti-zionists have to take responsibility for their decisions and their consequences, so too do the other parties to this mess.

        Mira,
        I take your point, but the arguments made against the conference were not presented in the language of anti-racism or anti-antisemitism. The argument made was that universities should not bestow legitimacy for this (latest) attempt to delegitimise Israel. At no point did they present the matter overtly (or even covertly) in anti-racist or anti-antisemitic terms. They kept entirely within the language of opposition to anti-zionism and anti-Israel within the broader context of ‘freedom of speech’. For anybody familiar with the tribunal’s treatment of Ronnie Fraser, Hoffman’s belief that the law would have been sympathetic to his arguments about the anti-zionist nature of the conference is frankly laughable.

        To repeat, they did not present their arguments in the language of ‘anti-racist principles’ or even in anti-antisemitism. I think that was their mistake. I think with a little bit more work that argument could have been made – and made effectively. indeed, that argument was made today (after the cancellation) by Geoffrey Alderman in this week’s Jewish Chronicle (it does not appear to be available online) in my opinion, to great effect. Ironically, Alderman was listed to speak at this conference and for all I know this was part of his paper. Unfortunately, no one will now hear what he has to say, including the very people against whom he makes this argument.

        So those who called for the cancellation of the conference can’t have it both ways. They can’t now claim victory for anti-racism when that was not the substance of their argument. Many of us are fully aware of the stench of racism at the very heart of the conference, but that stench was never fully brought into the open in the petitions to cancel. Only then would arguments against the conference been truly grounded in anti-racist principles.

        • Mira Vogel Says:

          Wigs,

          I may have misunderstood, but are you basically arguing that a conference with a racist premise should go ahead on a campus unless it is refused for explicitly anti-racist reasons? I assume David Hirsh is right in his earlier post when he says that the conference is unlikely to be cancelled, but will take place elsewhere. My main consideration is whether it should get to be held on a university campus. I think there is a case for refusing to host the conference on academic freedom grounds as well as anti-racist grounds, since it’s generally acknowledged that the boycott, supported by conference organisers, has chilled Israeli participation. Considering the subject of the conference, isn’t this a case of ‘Not about us without us’?

          I agree with your and others’ point that the pushing of the conference off campus will lack symbolic anti-racist power because it was not for explicitly anti-racist reasons. I’m worried that anti-racist activism on behalf of Jews has for some time been co-opted by pro-Israel activism. You wrote, “those who called for the cancellation of the conference can’t have it both ways. They can’t now claim victory for anti-racism when that was not the substance of their argument.”

          Yes, I agree that incidental anti-racism is of limited use – anti-racism needs to be conscious and deliberate. But everybody seems to agree that the conference is provocative – incendiary, really – and accordingly it did provoke. I’m usually inclined to decode unconditional support for Israel (eg no matter who is in government at the time) on the part of UK Jews as worry about antisemitism – at least to some extent – in the absence of other frameworks for responding to antisemitism. Netanyahu popping up every time a Jew gets gunned down, urging Jews to ‘come home’. That needs disrupting. But to me, it is another kind of not-well-worked-out anti-racist response. Which is why I think anti-cancellers and pro-cancellers (like me – weakly and reluctantly, recognising the anti-cancel case, and recognising the bind this puts us in) probably need to be addressing open letters to the Jewish community as well as to the uni bosses.

          These are the reasons for my doubts about opposing, on free expression grounds alone, the cancellation – even though it is unmistakeably helpful that Jews and advocates for Jews should un-self-interestedly support free expression. And even though I think my point of view would be easily misunderstood, and (to the extent that it has any significance) possibly used against Jews.

        • Brian Goldfarb Says:

          Funny that, wigs, this is exactly what I thought I was doing: calling for the event to be relabelled, while not calling for its cancellation.

          Nice to be told what I was “really” doing!

      • soupyone Says:

        I find it extremely odd the level of angst concerning the cancellation of this awful gathering.

        As I’ve pointed out such events will occur, either in grubby backrooms or palatial venues.

        Such “activists” are compelled by their prejudices to seek venues and outlets for their hostility.

        None of this should surprise us, except when nonracists decide to lend them legitimacy.

        That, really is, the troubling question.

        Whether or not nonracists should participate and in turn aid these zealots?

        It is a difficult issue and I can appreciate the other point is easier to tackle but we shouldn’t avoid this troublesome manifestation.

        • wigs and hunters Says:

          Mira,
          Thank you for your comments.
          I agree with much of what you say. I was particularly taken by your point that a ‘pro-Israel’ position is expressive of a response to antisemitism and that the calls to cancel the conference is’ another kind of not-well-worked-out anti-racist response’. The irony is that such views (not yours) is a mirror of many of those people who seek to mask their anti-Jewish politic within the language of Israel; that a defence (or rather, support for its mere existence) of Israel masks a fight against racism that can lie at the heart of the attacks on its existence.

          If those supporting the cancelling of the conference had done so because of the antisemitism that many see at the conference’s heart either in the call for papers or for that matter in the work of Ben Oren, the consequences would have been different. It would have placed racism and antisemitism at the heart of the debate. First, it would have forced a discussion on the nature of antisemitisim and anti-zionism rather than on the ‘nature’ of Israel alone. Secondly, it would have avoided (at least to a large extent) an argument of ‘academic freedom’ and of ‘freedom of expression’; an argument that, to be frank, is as problematic as much as in its victory as its loss. Racism and antisemitism is not protected free-speech, it is not ‘speech within the law’ (as the call for papers referred to it). Had the argument for the racist nature of this conference been at the forefront of debate, and had it succeeded, then the unmasking of the substance of this ‘academic conference’ would have meant that it could not have simply been moved from one venue to another; a move that leaves the argument on ‘academic freedom’ in the dust.
          True, those making that argument may not have been successful, but even in defeat, it could have set the frame for future battles as well as bringing to the fore the stench that I have said lies at the conference’s heart.

        • wigs and hunters Says:

          Brian,
          Not sure I have commented here on you thoughts. But, if I have mischaracterised them, then I apologise. I guess where I disagree is that had we set what I see as the antisemitism at the heart of the conference in relief (and not just in Ben Oren’s work) then we could have called from its banning. I do not think that racist and antisemitic speech has any place anywhere, and not just in a University.
          I would go further and argue that those who are now complaining about the cancellation are showing their true colours with all their talk of Southampton University falling prey to the nonsense of the power ‘pro-Israel Lobby’. After all, it was the ‘pro-Palestinian Lobby’ who forced the same University to ban an Israeli academic, not for the substance of his thought, but because of his passport. I find it depressingly routine that every time the pro-Palestinian Lobby lose (which is not that often), they have recourse to old antisemitic myths as if it were second nature. As so often with anti-zionism, antisemitism is never far from the surface.
          To use an old East European idiom ‘we should be so powerful’

        • bengidley Says:

          Re Wigs and Hunters’ use of the phrase “pro-Palestinian lobby”: I think better to call them the “anti-Israel lobby”, as the idea that their actions are in any way good for or behalf of the genuine interests of Palestinians is very far-fetched.

  12. Mira Vogel Says:

    Hello Wigs,

    Agree that antisemitism should have featured more centrally in any campaign about the conference. I don’t know what was said at the meetings with Jewish community groups and the Southampton managers (wish the reports were detailed) but I can’t imagine the BoD delegation didn’t bring up antisemitism. I suppose the reason the campaigners decided to lead on the anti-Israelism rather than antisemitism is because the delegitimation of Israel and exclusion of Israelis is blatant and obvious unlike the antisemitism which is so often denied these days. All I seem to know about campaigning about antisemitism in anti-Zionist garb is what doesn’t work. I can’t be alone.

    Another thing is that under the HRA definition of race Israelis are entitled to the same anti-racist protection as Jews. Shouldn’t we treat Israel bashing the same as any other negative behaviour on grounds of nationality? And in the context of boycott, if we agree that Israeli participation in this conference has been limited by its political character and by the boycott movement, doesn’t this affect actual individuals? And if we also agree that Jewish defenciveness of Israel feeds off, as you put it, the masking of anti-Jewish politics as anti-Israel politics then I can’t see that it was a bad idea to campaign against the anti-Israel nature of the conference.

    And Ben G, if you’re still there, this is where balance comes in for me. If the conference were led and delivered almost exclusively by partisans dedicated to delegitimising the case for a state of Palestine or a state of Scotland, I don’t think we’d want our institutions to host such a political event, and I think we’d make our case with reference to academic qualities other than the claim to free expression. If it were delivered by people with a range of views, in some kind of proportion with the prevalence of those views, we’d be far less concerned, I’d imagine – because that’s when you get interrogation and debate. Am I wrong?

    And yet Southampton management give us to believe that none of this would have made a difference – health and safety related to predicted protests is the only reason they will give. They don’t acknowledge the Israel-delegitimating politics of the conference and they will assist the organisers in finding another venue. Southampton has a precedent for this – when Mark Auslender from Ben Gurion tried to talk about optical sensors in healthcare last year and pro-Palestine boycott campaigning attracted the EDL – also declaiming about free speech, incidentally – that was cancelled with no plans to reschedule.
    http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/11437625.Palestine_protests_halt_university_seminar/

    • bengidley Says:

      I don’t think “wouldn’t want our universities to host it” is the same as “would want our universities to refuse to host it”. Obviously, I don’t want Southampton to host this conference, but there’s got to be a really clear exceptional-ness to justify the cancellation and I don’t think that’s made. With your hypothetical Palestine or Scotland conference, ditto. I might not want them, but they’d have to really show much, much more than lack of balance for me to support a cancellation.

      Here’s an analogy. I’m not sure it works. The Marxist journal Historical Materialism has a conference every year, at which several arcane issues within Marxist theory are debated from a range of perspectives – but 99% of speakers are Marxists. You and I might or might not think that the thorny knots they want to unpick are worth unpicking (just as they might not think the academic issues I work on are all that interesting), but still. Now, if it were insisted that the conference could only happen if anti-Marxists were given an equal platform, in the name of “balance”, they couldn’t possibly do much of the arcane intellectual work they want to do, as they’d have to engage in a totally different discussion. If there was some principle about distribution of speakers in proportion to prevalence of views, well, there wouldn’t be any conference at all, as Marxists must be a negligible percentage of the population.

      On the preceding issue, the HRA definition. Yes, our anti-discrimination laws give Israelis, as a nationality, the same protection as any other group defined as such. (Hence the BDS campaign which denied Mark Auslender, the Ben-Gurion optical engineer, on the basis of his nationality could be strongly argued to fall foul of that.) But the protection is for Israelis, not the state of Israel. If we interpreted this rule as protecting states from being bashed, then it could equally be used by any state (say, China or Syria) to accuse bashers of racism, which would be an appalling precedent. The fact is that the conference included a number of Israelis (and Israel-based non-Israelis), so a case that it would’ve discriminated on the basis of nationality is hard to make.

      • soupyone Says:

        Please forgive my directness, but many of the discussions held by academics around this topic seem like debating the colour of wallpaper several years before the house is built. Utterly fascinating, but somewhat lacking.

        There is little we can do concerning such conferences (or similar), they are going to happen or not.

        You could debate tactics and definitions until your undergraduates have collected their pensions, with little meaningful conclusion.

        Instead, please could the academics here ask John Strawson, when he has time, to engage with the evidence presented by Mark Gardner and if any of it changes his mind?

        That would be really useful.

  13. soupyone Says:

    The scholars here might want to ponder why tactical questions (to oppose such gatherings and how) takes precedence over intellectual and antiracist ones (asking why nonracists attend such tawdry events and what would convince them not to)?

    As many here seem decidedly reluctant to posed these questions, I shall ask John Strawson directly:

    1. John, given the weight of evidence produced by Mark Gardener, have you had time to reflect on attending and whether or not it is advisable, should the event be rescheduled?

    2. Further, doesn’t your attendance lend unnecessary credibility to it?

    3. Wouldn’t it be better, upon reflection, to reconsider and decline?

  14. jonathanhoffman1 Says:

    The person who calls him/herself ‘wigs and hunters’ has the right to issue ad hominems anonymously (unfortunately) but does not have the right to misrepresent me. Where is the “bluster” in deconstructing the ‘call for papers’ and saying that this was no ‘academic conference’ but rather an Israel hatefest?

    And where on earth is the link with Ronnie Fraser’s case?

    I never brought ‘the law’ into the argument to postpone the conference and reissue the ‘call for papers’ (“Hoffman’s belief that the law would have been sympathetic to his arguments about the anti-zionist nature of the conference is frankly laughable”).

    Lobbing ad hominems from behind the cover of a pseudonym does not entitle Mr/Ms ‘Wigs and Hunters’ to completely misrepresent what I have written.

    Go find a genuine opponent of free speech to triangulate away from.

    • wigs and hunters Says:

      Jonathan, you write here,
      ‘I never brought ‘the law’ into the argument to postpone the conference and reissue the ‘call for papers’’

      Jonathan, here are your comments from the previous thread,

      ‘You are wrong. The ‘call for papers’ effectively excluded speakers who do not believe Israel is an apartheid state. That was a restriction of free speech. It contravened the university’s duty to enable freedom of speech (Education (No 2) Act 1986, section 43).’

      Having raised ‘the law’, you now ask, ‘And where on earth is the link with Ronnie Fraser’s case?’
      The fact that you need to ask that question illustrates a complete unawareness of the (negative) significance the overcooked decision of the Tribunal had for legal arguments relating to Israel, or, for that matter, antisemitism. Hence, my comment that you quoted in your last comment, and, if the reports are right, and the conference organisers are appealing to ‘the law’, may well be proved right yet again.

  15. zaccaerdydd Says:

    Frankly, the more I hear how nutty Ben Dror sounds, the more I wish the conference had gone ahead. We missed a trick there. On the other hand, I can see why SU may have breathed a sign of relief for s straw wherewith to head off his inherent embarrassment.

  16. jonathanhoffman1 Says:

    The suggestion “the law would have been sympathetic…” implies that I wanted judicial review – which I never suggested.

    As for the Fraser Tribunal, it “responded that those who raised the issue of antisemitism did indeed speak in bad faith, chose to play a rough game, and got what was coming to them” (David Hirsh). I have never argued that the Conference was antisemitic. Simply that the ‘call for papers’ and the preponderance of boycotters among the speakers indicated that (pace Michael Gove) it was not a conference, it was an anti-Israel hate-fest. The case put by Ronnie Fraser against UCU was entirely different from the case against this event.


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