Natalie Rothschild – potted Pappé

Natalie Rothschild begins her review of Ilan Pappé’s new book,

“The most astute observation in Israeli historian Ilan Pappé’s book Out of the Frame: The Struggle For Academic Freedom In Israel is that writing about himself was an ‘embarrassing’ experience. Rarely has so much poorly structured, skewed and conceited tripe been squeezed into 220 pages.”

Read on.

Eric Lee, Kim Berman, Salim Vally on Israel and apartheid

Eric Lee writes on his blog:

I visited South Africa twice in recent years, both times as the guest of the trade union movement. On my second visit, to Cape Town, I found myself walking along a beautiful beach with a leader of South Africa’s Communication Workers Union. He told me that under apartheid, if he’d be found walking on this beach, he could have been shot. This was a whites-only beach. That’s what apartheid means. It means you can be shot for walking on the wrong beach.

As for “apartheid Israel,” suffice it to say that my two sons were born in a hospital that serves the residents of the Jezreel Valley — Jews and Arabs. The staff, including doctors and nurses, were a mix of all ethnic groups and religions, as were the patients. There was no segregation, no separate facilities, no differences at all in how Jews and Arabs were treated.

Does this mean that Israel is a perfect society, a real paradise on earth for everyone? Of course not.

But if one cannot see the difference between running the risk of being shot for being on the “wrong” beach — and having your child born in a hospital full of Jews and Arabs working together — if you can’t see that difference, you understand nothing at all.

See the whole piece, on Eric Lee’s blog.

Eric’s piece relates to Kim Berman’s open letter to Salim Vally, originally published onEngage.

Salim Vally’s reply is here, on the UJ website

David Hirsh on the UJ boycott; and letter responding to a boycotter;  and on how it is progressing at UJ; and Hirsh on the apartheid analogy.

For the Engage archive on the Israel / Apartheid analogy click here.

John Strawson on UJ.

For  the debate around the South African campaign for an academic boycott of Israel, with Desmond Tutu, David Newman, Neve Gordon, David Hirsh, Robert Fine, Ran Greenstein, Uri Avnery, Farid Essack click here.

 

 

University of Johannesburg is not boycotting Ben-Gurion University

This letter, by David Hirsh, is from the South African Jewish report.

The boycott campaign wants to make people feel that Israel is a unique evil and it makes progress towards this goal whenever its arguments are treated as a legitimate side of a public debate.

Even when the campaign loses, therefore, it also wins, when, unlike other antisemitic campaigns, it is treated with respect.

There is a sense in which the (mis)educative function of the campaign is more important than actually excluding Israelis from the cultural, academic and sporting life of humanity.

This can lead the boycotters into the realm of the absurd.  When celebrated intellectual Slavoj Zizek recently spoke in Tel Aviv, the campaign tried to spin his visit as a boycott because he spoke in an independent bookshop.

When Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, played a gig in Israel, the campaign tried to portray this as a boycott because he played in a mixed Arab/Jewish village.

Now, scientists from UJ and BGU are quietly resuming their important work together, both institutions have ratified the agreement, and UJ has, ostensibly anyway, re-doubled its commitment to academic freedom.

The antizionists are pretending that there is a boycott while the scientists and their universities carry on doing what they do, scientific collaboration.

The boycott of BGU has taken a dent but there remains enough mirage of the boycott for the campaign to carry on its work, which is to portray Israel as the pariah of humankind.

David Hirsh

Goldsmiths, University of London

James Mendelsohn, Senior Lecturer in Law, Huddersfield University, Resigns from UCU

Dear Sally

Thank you for your message.

I was happy to sign the petition of no confidence in the government’s HE policies and, like you, I have very serious concerns about the White Paper.

Regrettably, though, I am no longer able to join in UCU’s fight against the government’s measures. This is because I am no longer a member of UCU. Following the passing of Motion 70 at the most recent annual Congress, I felt that I had no choice but to resign. Not only does Motion 70 reject the most widely-used definition of anti-Semitism in the world, it fails to provide any alternative definition. The motives of those who proposed the motion are clear: they rightly understood that, according to the EUMC Working Definition, their obsessive campaign to single out Israeli academics for boycott year on year might indeed be anti-Semitic. Whether intentionally or otherwise, this has made UCU an even more uncomfortable place for Jewish members than it was previously. I can no longer contribute money to such an organisation in good conscience.

Please do not send me the same generic response you have sent to others who have resigned on  these grounds. Sadly, your repeated claim that UCU abhors anti-Semitism is not borne out by the evidence; rather, the evidence points overwhelmingly in the other direction. For example, a union which truly abhorred anti-Semitism would have no truck with Bongani Masuku, whose statements were correctly defined as anti-Semitic hate speech by the South African Human Rights Commission. UCU, by contrast, invited Masuku to promote the boycott campaign. Does that sound to you like the mark of a union which abhors anti-Semitism?

Speaking on a more personal level, I sent you three emails on related issues in 2008, which are attached. I think you would agree that a trade union which abhorred anti-Semitism would take such emails from an ordinary member seriously. Regrettably, I never received a reply to any of them.

I no longer wish to contribute my money to an organisation which has a problem with institutionalised anti-Semitism. I am sure I will not be the last Jewish member who feels forced to resign, even at a time when trade union protection and solidarity are more important than ever.  Once again -please do not send me your generic reply. All I would ask you is: do you realise that the boycott campaign is now weakening the union’s numbers and credibility, at a time when a strong union is needed more than ever? And do you ever lie awake at night wondering why, in the 21st century, Jewish members have left UCU in droves?

Yours sincerely

 James Mendelsohn

Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Huddersfield

In 2009 UCU Congress was asked to mandate the union to investigate these resignations.  But Congress said no, it didn’t want an investigation into why people were resigning from the union citing antisemitism as a reason.

UCU members who have resigned:

David-Hillel Ruben

Ariel Hessayon,  Goldsmiths

Michael Yudkin, David Smith and Dennis Noble, Oxford

Shalom Lappin, King’s College, London   

Jonathan G. Campbell, Bristol University  

Colin Meade, London Metropolitan University 

Eric Heinze,  Queen Mary University of London

Tim Crane, Univesity College London

Eve Garrard, Keele University

Raphaël Lévy, University of Liverpool

Sarah Brown, Anglia Ruskin University

The Following UCU members have not resigned; their points of view too need to be taken seriously:

Norman Geras, Manchester University

Lesley Klaff, Sheffield Hallam

Deborah Steinberg, Warwick

David Hirsh, Goldsmiths

Stephen Soskin, Buckinghamshire New University

Ronnie Fraser, Barnet College

Ben Gidley, Oxford

Jon Pike, Open University, Resignation from NEC

Dov Stekel, University of Birmingham

Mira Vogel, Goldsmiths

Robert Fine’s account of Congress, Warwick U

Eva Fromjovic, Leeds University

Robert Simon, LSE

76 UCU members signed a public protest about UCU’s failure to take seriously the criticism made against it by the Parliamentary Inquiry. Read their protest, published in the Times Higher.

39 UCU members signed a public protest at the UCU’s refusal to meet with Ger Weisskirchen at his request. Weisskirchen is the OSCE’s Chairman-in-Office Representative on antisemitism. The protest, which went unheeded and ignored by the UCU.

“Goldsmiths Made Me a Fundamentalist” – Noam Edry

On Thursday 14 July you are all invited to the opening of my show “Conversation Pieces: Scenes of Unfashionable Life”, a mini solo-show at the rear of the Baths Studios of Goldsmiths College as part of the MFA Fine Art Degree Show. It comprises of painting, sculpture, video and live performances all dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict from my own Israeli point of view. Call it a Zionist show, call it what you like. If anyone would have told me two years ago, when I came to London to start my MA in Fine Art, that I would be making a show about the conflict, I would have laughed straight away. I had always thought of myself as a-political. I never thought I had an opinion about politics, right, wrong, I only knew one thing: that I didn’t know. That things were not as simple or clear-cut as a black and white painting and that there were so many other issues I could address as an artist.

But then on my first day at Goldsmiths I was confronted by propaganda posters on the student union walls calling my country an “apartheid state”. It was the first time I had heard of it. Apartheid. How? In what way? I went to art school in Jerusalem with fellow Arab artists. We built our exhibitions together side by side, helping each other. I served in the Israeli army with Arabs and ate the same oily army food with them, and consoled myself with the same Arabic coffee that we brewed together in a small makeshift pot. My own army commander was Druze. All of a sudden I felt threatened and unwelcome here in Britain. I grew up in London from the age of five until I was seventeen but this was a very different London than the one I remembered so fondly.

In the first year at Goldsmiths I lay low, I tried fitting in, I refused to make work about my Israeli identity or anything that had to do with it. But it was simply not good enough. Because I was constantly confronted with questions, accusations, labels. It would happen on the way back from a party or over a casual cup of coffee. I saw more posters and protests and boycotts slandering my home, the place that made me who I am, a place that was barely recognisable in those posters. I saw the crass misrepresentation of my region and its de-legitimisation on a daily basis and I felt powerless. I did not have the words, I did not have the flashy slogans and the fashionable labels.

When I attended a meeting of the Palestine Twinning Campaign at Goldsmiths I felt like it was 1939 all over again. I was expecting a real dialogue but instead they were calling for academic boycotts of Israel, they were rallying young students who were desperate to be passionate about something to silence people like me; to silence artists and intellectuals who believe in human beings and mutual tolerance, who are the real hope for peace and for a bright future. I was horrified. What next? Would they start burning Israeli books? I promptly made the work “Save the Date” where I dressed up as a giant boycotted Israeli date and pleaded with my fellow artists to eat me. I performed it twice at Goldsmiths but the second performance was boycotted by the students. What utter absurdity, I thought: to boycott a performance about boycotting!

Documentation of the performance “Save the Date” will be screened at my upcoming show opening this Thursday. Also on show will be “Coffee Stand”, a work that challenges the demonising of Israel on UK campuses. The stand will be situated at the entrance to my show and manned by Israeli and Jewish volunteers, who will serve Arabic-Israeli coffee to members of the public. They will wear T-shirts designed and hand-printed by me with the text: “I come from the most hated place on earth” and on the back: “(second to Iran)”. Those who wish to take part by wearing a t-shirt at the show will be given one for keeps. You are all welcome to come and see it. There will also be a holistic therapist ready to rehabilitate your left side. Those who have tried it have felt the change.

I hope to generate real dialogue here, a conversation over a friendly cup of coffee, to show the faces of those directly affected by the hate-campaign, the demonization and the de-humanisation. Because, after all, what does it mean to hate a country? What is a country if not its people? What does it mean to hate a person simply because of the place where he/she was born? What good does it do?

I believe in human beings. I believe that each and every one of us seeks happiness.  If people want to be passionate about a cause they should know what it is they are rallying for. And make sure they are not trampling on someone else in the process. Passion is good when it is channelled in positive ways. When tolerance and well-being is the real goal and not the adrenaline rush of a good fight.

There is an Israeli voice in Goldsmiths. There is a Jewish voice in Goldsmiths. It is loud and it is here and it will not be silenced.

Noam Edry

 “Conversation Pieces: Scenes of Unfashionable Life” opens Thursday 14 July 6-9pm at the Goldsmiths MFA Degree Show

 Baths Building, Laurie Grove, New Cross, SE14 6NW

Opening times: Friday 15 – Monday 19 July 10am-7pm, Sunday 18 July 10 am – 4pm

 The Coffee Stand opens for the duration of the Private View, Thursday 14 July 6-9pm

And then every day Friday15-Monday 19 from 12noon – 3pm

 Hope to see you all there!

The tipping point for UCU -David Hirsh

institutional racism?

Ronnie Fraser, a Jewish UCU member who has been bullied, scorned, ridiculed and treated as though he was a supporter of racism and apartheid for ten years,  is going to sue the UCU His letter to Sally Hunt, written by Anthony Julius, says that UCU has breached ss. 26 and 57 (3) of the Equality Act 2010:

That is to say, the UCU has “harassed” him by “engaging in unwanted conduct” relating to his Jewish identity (a “relevant protected characteristic”), the “purpose and/or effect” of which has been, and continues to be, to “violate his dignity” and/or create “an intimidating, hostile, degrading humiliating” and/or “offensive environment” for him.

The letter alleges a course of action by the union which amounts to institutional antisemitism and it gives examples: annual boycott resolutions against only Israel; the conduct of these debates; the moderating of the activist list and the penalising of anti-boycott activists; the failure to engage with people who raised concerns; the failure to address resignations; the refusal to meet the OSCE’s special represenative on antisemitism; the hosting of Bongani Masuku; the repudiation of the EUMC working definition of antisemitism.

The Equality Act 2010 codifies our society’s rejection of racism even in its subtle and unconscious forms; it is one of the most important victories of the trade union movement and of antiracist struggle.  The Equality Act is our Act, passed by a Labour government, a weapon designed to help antiracist trade unionists to defend workers who are subjected to racism.

How is it that a union is itself charged with its violation?  The story begins with the campaign to boycott Israeli academia.  It began to take root in the predecessor unions AUT and Natfhe after the collapse of the peace process between Israel and Palestine.  By 2005, AUT Congress passed motions to boycott Haifa and Bar Ilan Universities on spurious grounds.  There was a mass membership revolt in the union, an unprecedented recall conference was called, there was a whole day of debate, following debates on campuses up and down the country and the boycott movement was democratically defeated.  But then Congress shrunk back to its usual size, the hard core activists reasserted their control and the mood to single out Israelis for punishment gained ground on the British left more generally.

There has been an unhappy and unstable stalemate in the union since.  UCU Congress passes resolutions to support boycotts of Israel and only Israel; the boycotters and the Socialist Worker Party are allowed their demagogy, but they know that the leadership of UCU won’t ever implement a boycott because they all know that it would violate antiracist law in the UK.  The rhetoric ratchets up, the Jews are bullied out and the union does nothing at all to help Israelis or Palestinians.

With the boycott campaign, which is antisemitic in its effect though not in its intent, comes an antisemitic poltical culture.  Anyone who opposes the boycott is accused of being an apologist for Israeli human rights abuses; Jews who do not define themselves as antizionists are suspected of being Zionists; Zionists are denounced as supporters of racism, oppression, war, apartheid. Nazism and imperialism.  People who are concerned about antisemitism are routinely accused of raising the issue in bad faith in order to try to de-legitimise what is always called “criticism of Israel”.

Now we have reached a tipping point.  The government has found UCU’s weak spot, its institutional racism, and it has begun targetting it.

What will UCU do?  There are two factions inside the decision making structures of the union.  There are the hard core antizionists and then there are the grownups.

The antizionists will storm with anger that UCU is being sued.  They will say that it is a matter of principle that UCU should defend its independence from the courts and that it should defend its own democratic structures and its right to make whatever policy it chooses.  They will say that the Israel lobby is conspiring against the union, that it is hugely powerful, that it is in cahoots with those who want to privatise education, that it is playing the antisemitism card in bad faith and that it is putting trade union solidarity at risk.  They will say that there is no question of antisemitism in the union and they will at all times try to construct the question as a debate about Israel and Palestine. The antizionists will be tempted to treat their right to demonize Israel as more important than building a united defence of education.  They will say that the fight against the Zionists is the same fight as the fight against the education cuts.

The grownups in the union, including the trustees, and including the lawyers who will advise the leadership, will want to settle this court action and to make it go away.  They will be worried about the immense cost to the union of defending its antisemtic record in front of a tribunal, both in terms of money and also in terms of humiliating publicity.  They will be worried about the rules of disclosure.  They will wonder what the emails between Tom Hickey and Matt Waddup and Sally Hunt and Mike Cushman might reveal if they were made available to Ronnie Fraser.  They will remember that the union’s legal advice was withheld even from the National Executive Committee.  They will remember that internal complaints by members of the UCU regarding institutional antisemtism were passed to a committee chaired by Tom Hickey, one of the central people responsible for the antisemitic culture in the union.

But what are Ronnie’s terms?  The reinstatement of the EUMC definition; an apology from the union for its record of institutional antisemitism; a new code of conduct concerning Jewish members; an ongoing campaign of education within the union about the relationship between antisemitism and antizionism.

It would appear that Ronnie is ready to go to a tribunal.  He must know that it will be difficult for the leadership of the union to agree to these terms.   Evidently he wants his day in court and he wants to prove his case.

The antizionists will also believe they can win in court.  And they will believe that they can blame the Zionists for the huge cost of defending their antisemitic record and for the disruption to UCU unity which will become even worse than it is now.  They will think that it is enough to parade a couple of dozen Jewish antizionist academics before the tribunal who will say that the union has an unblemished record on the question of antisemitism.

The grownups will not believe that they can successfully defend UCU’s record on antisemitism before a tribunal and they will know that there is a good chance that UCU will be found by an antiracist tribunal to have breached our own hard-won equality legislation.  They will imagine how the antizionist Jews will cope with unrelenting and forensic cross-examination as to the relationship between criticism of Israel, demonization and antisemitism. They will understand that the usual demagogy will fail to impress a tribunal.

The leadership of the union is now between a rock and a hard place.

Will UCU allow itself to be led into a train-wreck in court by the antizionists?  Or will the grownups be allowed to open negotiations over how they will recognize, apologze for, and deal with UCU’s problem of institutional antisemitism?  But this course of action would be greeted by antisemitic howls from the conspiracy theorists, who would say that Zionist power has forced the union to admit to that of which it is not guilty.  Who in the union has either the power or the authority to lead UCU out of this predicament?

David Hirsh

Goldsmiths UCU

Here is Ronnie Fraser’s speech to UCU Congress 2011.

Here are links to some of the evidence concerning institutional racism in UCU.

Tories target UCU’s weakspot

Open Letter to Mr Salim Vally – Kim Berman

On the promotion of transformation, engagement, dialogue, transparency and a culture of anti-racism on the UJ campus:  How does that reconcile with an academic boycott?

Dear Mr Salim Vally,

I attended the excellent colloquium hosted by the UJ Transformation office and Anti-Racism network in Higher Education on Friday 26th May. I found your presentation on Transformation in Higher Education: Globalisation and Education, engaging, passionate and powerfully argued.

I fully agreed with your analysis on the need for transformation toward an African centred university, and your critical analysis of the corporate-model, profit-protocol university.

You concluded with an inspired way forward in your promotion of challenging the status quo through “agency, creativity and imagination”. (Those capacities to catalyse change are closely linked to my own area of research; my PhD thesis is entitled Agency, Imagination and Resilience: Facilitating Social Change through the Visual Arts in South Africa).

Kim Berman

The key point about “agency” if it is real, rather than a rhetorical posture, is that it is about the development of people’s capacities for self-directed democratic action. Developing agency is not a quick process. It depends on people cultivating the energies and capacities to be drivers of transformation from within communities or societies – it is not imposed from without, although groups outside can help catalyse and support change with a considered or collaborative intervention.

At the end of your presentation I was afforded a brief opportunity to ask a question.  I quoted your opening question related to what it means to be an African university. You asked: “How does our uniqueness enable us to constructively enter into dialogue with the rest of the world?” And I asked how you and members of the UJ Senate can reconcile that mission with academic boycotts as a strategy. I also asked why the boycott strategy was not applied universally and why academic scholars at Ben Gurion University were singled out. You suggested that the decision taken by the UJ was an indication of a maturing of the democratic process. I am aware of the debates and the arguments, and yet I remain unconvinced by this position.

You invited me to engage with you after the session as time was short. I am using this format of an open letter to pursue my question. I suggest that the call for an academic boycott is counter-productive and contradictory to “constructively entering into dialogue with the rest of the world”. It does not support agency which develops the capacities for self-directed democratic action.

From 1983-1990, I left South Africa to study in the USA. I joined the ANC and was active in disseminating the photographic images of Afrapix collective, ANC news briefings and was involved in the divestment movement of American universities situated around the east coast. The call for economic, cultural and sports boycotts were an effective and powerful tool for developing awareness among American students of the repressive and violent silencing of protest by the apartheid regime.  Academic boycotts did not feature as a strategy at the time. Heroic and brave individuals inside the universities in South Africa, particularly members of SASO, Nusas and academics, played a critical role in shaping the anti-apartheid campaign across USA universities.  My understanding of the role of university partnerships in social transformation was strongly shaped by this experience.

Ben Gurion University is known for its left-wing academics and peace activists (like some South African universities were in the 70’s and 80’s in South Africa).  Why then do we as South Africans not engage with dissident thinkers – both Jewish and Arab – in Israel?  Surely a serious transformation agenda needs to move beyond blanket categorisations towards deeper and more strategic engagement with potential agents of change.  Should we not be asking what UJ can do to help expand agency and imagination among students and staff at BGU, building on our South African experience?  And should we not also be thinking about how, through such engagement, we can develop the capacities of our own students to be agents of transformation?

I understand that UJ academics are not prevented from engaging with BGU; however, if they want to continue with research, such as the Water Research project, they have to do it through the back door and without the university’s sanction. This results in marginalisation and discrimination.

The Centre for Education Rights and Transformation is established to defend education and human rights and promote transformative teaching and learning. Part of its mission is “stimulating and supporting international, regional and domestic initiatives towards a universal culture of human rights, and more specifically, of human rights within education” (CERT on the UJ website).

As you acknowledged in your colloquium presentation, research continues to be pursued in the elite world of higher education, while activism and community engagement happens in broad fronts on the ground. In my view, one of our challenges as a transformed university is to start to bridge that gap; not through isolation, but through negotiation, dialogue, finding commonality in a vision of peace, freedom from oppression and equality.

I would argue that the mobilising campaign for the academic boycott of BGU does not support democratic change.

Harry Boyte, director of the Centre for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College, a Graduate Faculty member at the University of Minnesota and a long-time leader in the international movement to democratise universities, talks about a distinction between agency politics and mass mobilising. Agency politics or organising, he claims, is based on a particular philosophy of the human condition: profoundly complex, with contradictory qualities, but always including potentially democratic elements and currents (in each individual and in each culture). It can be contrasted with “mass mobilising,” which assigns people to pre-set categories and labels, often resulting in demonising. Though it has old roots in the universal tendency to label and denigrate people from outside one’s affinity group/family/tribe, mobilising politics has taken new forms in recent decades, fed by positivist science, technocracy, market trends and mass communications (see Boyte, Civic Agency and the Cult of the Expert, for this distinction [pdf]).

For a transformation agenda to succeed, we need to re-imagine and create spaces that integrate academic scholarship with societal change and empowering public participation.  Our challenge therefore, is to work together and use our uniqueness as South African academics “to constructively enter into dialogue with the rest of the world”. The strategy of mobilising for academic boycotts blocks the mission of developing agency to pursue democratic change.

 Kim Berman

Associate Professor, Department Visual Art, Faculty of Art Design and Architecture

Please note: the sentiments expressed in this letter are my own

Letters about UCU’s rejection of EUMC Antisemitism guidelines

From a piece in the Times Higher,

Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, wrote to vice-chancellors on 1 June.

“Following these developments, and in light of UCU’s history of behaviour, we now believe it to be an institutionally racist organisation,”

Sarah Annes Brown writes:

“Delegates at the UCU congress voted overwhelmingly for a motion to reject the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s (EUMC) working definition of anti-Semitism, a set of guidelines drawn up in 2005.

The motion states that despite not being ratified by the UK government or by the European Union, the definition is being used by bodies such as the National Union of Students and local students’ unions in relation to activities on campus.

“Congress believes that the EUMC definition confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine anti-Semitism, and is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus.”

It goes on to say: “that UCU will make no use of the EUMC definition (eg, in educating members or dealing with internal complaints); that UCU will dissociate itself from the EUMC definition in any public discussion on the matter in which UCU is involved; that UCU will campaign for open debate on campus concerning Israel’s past history and current policy, while continuing to combat all forms of racial or religious discrimination”.

This motion is related to the UCU’s longstanding preoccupation with an academic boycott of Israel. Many members have resigned over this matter and others have expressed great disquiet. The union has refused to deal with members’ concerns and in 2009 voted down a motion to investigate the resignations.

In the same year, it invited Bongani Masuku, international relations secretary of COSATU (South Africa’s equivalent of the TUC), to speak at a seminar to discuss a boycott of Israel, even though the South African Human Rights Commission had deemed that Masuku’s statements amounted to hate speech against the country’s Jewish community.

It seems quite bizarre for the union to proscribe any consideration of the working definition, to dismiss the whole document and to resolve to disassociate itself from it in any relevant public discussion.

Should this really be a priority for members when higher and further education face unprecedented cuts and a radical overhaul of fees?

Sarah Annes Brown, Professor of English literature, Anglia Ruskin University”

 

Letter by David Hirsh in the South African Jewish Report

RAN GREENSTEIN wants to get us bogged down in the detail of wording and of who said what. But what is important is whether we choose to embrace the politics of peace and reconciliation between Israel and Palestine; or whether we choose the politics of siding with one set of ardent nationalists in their war against the other.

Greenstein does not support a peace between Israel and Palestine. He insists instead that Israel and Palestine should be thought of as one divided people who are ruled over by an apartheid regime.

He wants to dismantle Israel, like the apartheid regime in South Africa was dismantled, and he proposes instead a regime of individual rights within a new state.

But Israel is a nation, the nation descended from those who were driven out of Europe, out of Russia and out of the Middle East by 20th century anti-Semitism.

Israel is not an apartheid regime, it is a life-raft state, and it will not allow itself to be dismantled. Given this fact, Ran’s plan for treating Israelis in the way that the apartheid regime was treated, can only be a programme for conquest. The conquest of Israel is, hopefully, impossible and would in any case, never lead to a democratic outcome.

It is quite wrong to tell Palestinians that Israel must be finally defeated before they can be free, because it is like telling them that they can never be free.

But Palestinians can be free. Even the most terrible and entrenched conflicts between nations come to an end. They don’t come to an end with the final defeat of one or the other, but with a peace agreement between the two.

President Barack Obama was right when he outlined the deal: an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and both nations to recognise the sovereignty of the other.

Greenstein’s “Boycotts, Divestments, Sanctions” slogan tries to exclude Israelis, and only Israelis, from the cultural, academic, sporting and economic life of humanity.

It is war by other means, it is not peace and reconciliation. And such a politics of exclusion, aimed at the descendents of the Jews who have already been boycotted and pushed out, is a politics which is insufficiently sensitive to the history of anti-Semitism which not only hangs over Jews, but over us all.

Ran Greenstein, who has given up on Israelis, has despaired of building the Israeli peace movement, imagines that peace in his homeland can be built by demonising them here, and in the UK and around the world.

He thinks that anybody who disagrees with him should be denounced as supporters of apartheid.

Instead of the politics of anger and desperation, we should back those in both Israel and Palestine who want peace and who stand against the demonisation of the other.

David Hirsh
Goldsmiths College, University of London

the letter is here, on the website of the South African Jewish Report (pdf)

Report of the Debate at the University of Johannesburg Last Week

Click here for Alison Goldberg’s report of the debate in the South African Jewish Report (pdf).

The debaters were Ran Greenstein, David Hirsh, Joel Fishman and Na’eem Jenah.

Na’eem Jeenah was yesterdy detained at Ben Gurion airport in Israel, not allowed into the country by Israeli authorities, and deported to Turkey.  For more on this, see the report on the Voice of the Cape website.  The Israelis said he constituted a security threat.

During the debate at UJ, Jeenah claimed that the Israeli state had a policy of shooting Palestinian school children.   The issue of slippage was raised with Jeenah.  It was said that the discourse tends to shift from Israel not being careful enough to avoid collaterol damage, to Israel targeting children, to Israel as the child-killing state.  “This is not the first time Jews have been accused of murdering children,” Hirsh said to him.   Jeemah didn’t take this idea seriously, but responded simply by saying that it was outrageous that he was bieng accused of being antisemitic.

Jeemah also remembered nostalgically how he used to sing “beat up the whites” in the times of apartheid.  Hirsh said that in this debate, “beat up the Jews” resonated quite differently from “beat up the whites”.

UPDATE: More on Jeenah’s exclusion from Israel in the Mail and Guardian.

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