Academic Boycott conference at TCD

Hot on the heels of the recent anti-Israel conference at UCC, comes this event at Trinity College Dublin:

Call for Papers – Freedom of Speech and Higher Education: The Case of the Academic Boycott of Israel

I don’t suppose it will come as any surprise to learn that the conference is not concerned with any possible threat to academic freedom of speech posed by such a boycott.

The Call for Papers (CFP) – one of the longest I’ve ever seen – begins:

Academic freedom includes the liberty of individuals to express freely opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to fulfil their functions without discrimination or fear of repression by the state or any other actor[.]

This cuts both ways. The organisers of the conference would presumably be concerned about the cancellation of an event involving Ben White at UCLAN. But would they also be worried by:

These events all involved non-Israeli speakers/participants – and yet people still tried to silence them.

However even though the CFP continues:

The enjoyment of academic freedom carries with it obligations, such as the duty to respect the academic freedom of others, to ensure the fair discussion of contrary views, and to treat all without discrimination on any of the prohibited grounds (UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “The Right to Education (Art.13),” December 8, 1999)

there is no acknowledgement of any challenge to freedom of speech caused by anti-Israel activism.

The organisers then go on to describe the negative effects of cuts, managerialism and bureaucracy on universities (fair enough). Particular concern is expressed over a possible impact on

the expression of dissenting and controversial views.

It rather depends what is meant by ‘dissenting and controversial’. It could be argued that having right of centre views might be seen as ‘dissenting and controversial’ in a university context. ‘Dissenting’ voices on the left might include Germaine Greer on transgender issues or Maryam Namazie on Islam. By contrast, in many academic contexts support for the Palestinian cause would be seen as normative, rather than an issue which might ‘lead to self-censorship and curtailing expression.’

Certainly one of the conference organisers, Connor McCarthy, doesn’t seem to have experienced any chilling impact on his free speech in this regard. His research profile notes that he is ‘a founder-member of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and of Academics for Palestine’. Ditto David Landy. The third organiser, Ronit Lentin, has similar research interests – and, interestingly, once distanced herself from a condemnation of Gilad Atzmon posted by Electronic Intifada.

The CFP then turns to the wider question of how, and how far, academia and political activism should combine. This concludes:

With growing global political polarisation, this question has returned to the spotlight with academics under fire for expressing political opinions in Turkey, the US and elsewhere.

This pairing – and here’s just one reminder of what academics are facing in Turkey – reminded me of Pope’s lines:

Not louder shrieks to pitying Heav’n are cast,

When husbands or when lapdogs breathe their last

Perhaps the CFP writers had US academic Steven Salaita in mind, as he is the first keynote speaker named. It is claimed that he ‘was denied a Professorship in University of Illinois due to his views on Israel/Palestine’. This is a rather bland summary of the objections to Salaita. These are just a couple of his controversial tweets:

You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing. (after the disappearance of the three murdered Israeli teens)

Zionists: transforming “antisemitism” from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.#Gaza #FreePalestine

(Here’s a link to a storify which aims to give a balanced perspective on Salaita, and here’s a critical post which discusses his academic publications.)

It might be possible to make a case against the unhiring of Salaita (he was made a job offer which was then withdrawn) in the context of US views on free speech or by analogy with other academics with very controversial views. But to claim that this happened because of ‘his views on Israel/Palestine’ isn’t really sufficient.

Finally, it’s good to note that:

Last week Trinity’s students union voted against a college-wide boycott of Israel by a “significant majority”.

Livingstone, Labour and Antisemitism – David Hirsh

This piece, by David Hirsh, is from the Jewish Chronicle

Ken Livingstone has been suspended from Labour membership for two years, counted from last April, when he said on the radio that Hitler ‘was supporting Zionism – this was before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews’.

But he is unrepentant.  On the steps of his tribunal, he gave interviews saying that Hitler intervened on behalf of the Zionists against the Yiddish speaking rabbis in Germany and that the SS was giving training to Jews to help them in Palestine.

Why should the two years not begin when he went on Radio 4’s Today programme on the morning of this verdict, when he said that these allegations of antisemitism were invented by the Jewish Chronicle to silence criticism of Israel and to smear Jeremy Corbyn?

Why not start the suspension from 1982, when Livingstone, who was at the time the editor of a Workers Revolutionary Party front paper, published a cartoon of Menachem Begin giving a straight armed salute, wearing an SS uniform and standing on a pile of Palestinian skulls?

Why not start the suspension from 2004, when the Mayor of London hosted, at City Hall, Yusuf Qaradawi, a cleric who thinks that Hitler ‘put the Jews in their place’?  Why not start the suspension from 2005, when Livingstone persistently accused a Jewish reporter of being ‘like a German war criminal’?

Why was Livingstone’s two year suspension not started when he presented programmes for the Iranian state propaganda channel Press TV?  Or from when he said that Jews were rich and so were not likely to vote Labour anyway.

There is a debate to be had about how hostility to Israel, antizionism and boycotting Israel relate to antisemitism.  Livingstone is part of this politics of Israel hatred; he is part of the milieu which sees Israel as a key and unique evil on the planet and as a keystone of global imperialism. But Livingstone is one of those figures who cannot resist taking it to another level.  He is often tempted to focus his critique on Jews; he is especially attracted to accusing Jews of being like Nazis.

Livingstone has spent half a century trying to cultivate the view amongst the general public that Zionism and Nazism are somehow similar and that they were in cahoots against the ordinary innocent Jews.  Of course this is not true.  Hitler was clear in Mein Kampf in 1924 that the Jews did not want a state ‘so as to live in it’; they wanted one, said Hitler, to ‘establish a central organisation for their international swindling and cheating’.

Livingstone has become the mouthpiece for a new kind revisionist history. He wants to mix up Zionism with Nazism. Nazism, which rounded up, selected on racial grounds and murdered the Jews of Europe, is symbolic of all that is evil in the world. Livingstone wants people to think of Zionism as being linked, similar and in alliance with it.

This is not only nonsense, it is also antisemitic; to say that Zionists are like Nazis designates the national liberation movement of the Jewish people as pure evil; it demonizes Jews and it normalizes Hitler; it licenses and encourages people to relate to Zionists, that is the overwhelming majority of living Jews, as they would relate to Nazis.

Livingstone has even begun to resemble David Irving in the way he fixes on particular grains of half-truth about Hitler and weaves them into one big lie.  But he does it with confidence and with charisma.  He looks radical, and many people come away with the feeling that there must be something to it.  And quite a few people are open to the notion that the Zionists are bad and the Zionists are liars and that clever and brave Ken can show us exactly how.

He keeps repeating the Livingstone formulation, for which he is famous.  All of this storm about antisemitism, he says, is manufactured by Zionists and Blairites to silence criticism of Israel and to smear the left.  They know there is nothing to it, but they do it in order to gain advantage.  The allegation of antisemitism is, today, portrayed as the root of Zionist power.  Secondary antisemitism asks: ‘When will the Germans forgive the Jews for the Holocaust?’  Livingstone won’t rest until people believe that the Zionists collaborated with the Nazis and until people believe that Zionists who remember the Holocaust are doing so out of some ulterior motive.

Livingstone keeps on repeating that his Jewish friends agree with him; and there is indeed a small but noisy coterie of Jews ready to bear witness against the Jewish community and to whitewash their hero.

Livingstone is not a jolly, harmless old bloke who is basically on the right side and who supports the Palestinians; he has spent much of his life crafting antisemitic discourse for mass public consumption.

There is a bigger problem of political antisemitism in the Labour Party than Livingstone; the leadership of the party itself is implicated in the kind of politics which cultivates it.

And now, Labour is not even able decisively to distance itself from Livingstone by expelling him.  No doubt, Livingstone will still be invited to do media work and he will still be treated as a respectable and experienced political leader; because even now, that is how he is seen by many.

David Hirsh is a lecturer at Goldsmiths College, University of London, author of the forthcoming book ‘Contemporary Left Antisemitism’

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