Jewish issues again at UCU Congress 2017

Motions about Jewish issues are standard at UCU Congress. This year saw another attempt to undermine protection for Jews from the kind of antisemitism which disguises itself as anti-Zionism. The motion – 57 of the Business of the Equality Committee – was about free speech and the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. It began “Congress notes UCU’s exemplary anti-racist work”, which was strange in the light of what followed.

Before I report how the motion went down in Congress I’ll indulge in a bit of free speech myself.

The first thing to say is that there was no motion that UCU adopt the working definition, and yet UCU was pre-emptively trying to ban it. I was aware of this motion because our branch officers tried to push it through in early March. Amazingly they found it appropriate to bump it from the middle to the end of the meeting [see update below]. I believe the presence of three of us in particular, sitting at the front (and refusing to be in the officers’ Stand Up to Racism photo) caused this awkwardness, since the chair observed in a non-welcoming way that the antisemitism motion was the only reason we had decided to attend. In my case that is absolutely correct – and here is why he is responsible.

Jewish-related motions are instigated by officers controlling some branches. The pretext of this one is free speech, but the same campaigners have been undermining free speech for years in the form of the boycott campaign against Israeli (and only Israeli) academia. Of course I find fault with that on grounds of relevance and sinister priorities, but there’s more to it. Their hostile interest in Jewish issues is so bizarre (compare it with all the motions warmly supporting other equalities groups) that any trust I may have once had in them on the bigger issues and motions is a distant memory. They didn’t even circulate the IHRA definition of antisemitism they expected us to condemn in 90 seconds.

Higher education workers who don’t feel involved in this matter or who don’t care about the labour movement just laugh at this weakness of UCU’s. I find it appalling though, because it means that in a rushed meeting cluttered with another Jewish-related motion, the text received a day in advance signalling that the role of members is not to think very hard, our union is actually giving us extra work to do. Because when you can’t trust your leaders fact-checking and scrutiny is what you have to do. And if there’s no time to do that extra work, then voting becomes problematic – so why bother attending when it’s so clear that the officers view members as fodder. Considering the attendance was short of quorate at that meeting, I doubt I’m the only person to feel this way.

In case I’m misunderstood, I’m coming at this as a non-nationalist and volunteer UCU department rep. I’m in favour of a working definition of antisemitism and I have little patience with objections to this IHRA one since it’s full of ‘may’ and ‘might’ and ‘taking into account the overall context’. In other words, it provides some valuable pointers to the forms contemporary antisemitism can take, and leaves the rest up for consideration and debate. So if it has been wielded by Jewish-interest groups (badly scared by the malignancy of the loudest Palestine solidarity campaigning in this country) to try to shut down events where Israel is criticised, then that is regrettable and to be opposed in its own right. But I can’t see that it is the fault of this highly qualified definition. It’s the venue authorities who are responsible for distinguishing between free speech and racism. And Palestine solidarity campaigners need to be better.

At Congress Sarah Annes Brown, professor of English Literature at Anglia Ruskin (who I think holds a less favourable view of the working definition than mine) spoke against the motion. Her statement:

“I acknowledge that there is some evidence of the IHRA definition being invoked in the context of preventing some university based events going ahead. In the interests of free speech it would be reasonable to conduct research about this.

However I would like Congress to consider whether it is necessary or desirable to disassociate itself from the definition completely in order to do this, to make it anathema in the way the QUB amendment suggests.

This whole issue has been a very polarising debate for years. I’d like to urge more nuance and a focus on what is really important here – protecting free speech. I quite understand why people have misgivings about the definition and some of the ways it seems to have been used. But it concerns me when people accuse those who think differently of acting in bad faith, as seems to be the case in a letter in the Guardian signed by many academics.

‘It is with disbelief that we witness explicit political interference in university affairs in the interests of Israel under the thin disguise of concern about antisemitism.’

The definition has been backed by Jeremy Corbyn and has been adopted by the NUS and the Union of Jewish Students. The government’s adoption has been welcomed by mainstream Jewish groups such as the Community Security Trust and the Board of Deputies. That’s not a reason for embracing it or ignoring any possible bad impacts, but it might perhaps give pause before an absolute repudiation.”

Update: A spiteful amendment (57A2) to the motion referred to Ronnie Fraser’s earlier legal case against UCU as “spurious accusations of antisemitism”. This prompted another delegate to speak up in objection to that, since she found it a disingenuous and offensive representation of the case and recognised the likelihood that UCU would treat any concerns about antisemitism as spurious. Her intervention changed a number of minds.

Unnaturally but predictably, the motion and the amendment were overwhelmingly carried by UCU delegates.  The other anti-racist, solidarity and inclusion motions, of which there were several, were carried or in a few cases, remitted. Isn’t it great that UCU is only soft on antisemitism.

~~~

Update 

From one of the members opposing the motion in my branch:

“My only quibble is that the attempt to ram the motion through the branch meeting is even worse than you have indicated.

The chair didn’t just want to push it through in 90 seconds while there were three of us opposing it. After you had both left because you had 2pm meetings, with the meeting already overrunning (it was gone 2pm) and people waiting outside for their lecture (a huge breach of both institution and branch protocol) he still wanted to push it through, and only my vociferous objection prevented it from happening.

He then tried the tactic of ‘you’d better vote for this because otherwise there will be something worse at conference’.

Most encouragingly, the feeling of the meeting seemed to be supportive of my argument that a hugely controversial and divisive motion like this needed the time to be debated properly.”

A statement to sign on antisemitism

Shalom Lappin, Brian Bix, Eve Garrard, Matthew Kramer, Hillel Steiner and Stephen De Wijze have a wide-ranging statement on contemporary European antisemitism which they invite you to sign.

It begins by summarising the the recent increase in antisemitism. It then highlights the complacency of those who don’t recognise how antisemitism interferes with the lives of Jews, especially those who participate in organised Jewish life or as Jews in wider public life.

At the heart of the statement is a rebuke to “many who flatteringly present themselves as liberals, human rights advocates, and progressives” who recognise and react sharply to the antisemitic threat of the white nativist far right, but are prepared to accept bigoted positions on Jews coming from the Islamist far right. Turning to politics about the Middle East, the statement gives several cases of exceptional treatment of Israel’s conduct and exceptional treatment of Jews in relation to Israel. It sets out and counters the defences most often made by progressives charged with being soft on antisemitism, before concluding with advice against fragmented discreet appeals to the authorities and a call to people committed to liberal democratic values not to treat antisemitism as a Jewish issue but to include it in a universal fight against racism and bigotry.

I think the statement is a good, needed rallying point, and a benchmark, which is why I signed. To sign yourself, click on the About link at the top and scroll to the green button.

The Context of Boycotts

‘Liberal Delusion’ wrote this comment ‘below the line’ in an earlier thread. We thought it worth reproducing.

The BDS movement places the boycott in the context of SA (and so have to inflate Israeli human rights contraventions as ‘apartheid’). However, the vast majority of Jews place the idea of a boycott against Jews in a very different history; a history in which Jews have been singled out for allegedly unique crimes and unique wrongs despite the fact that they were no worse than many, if not all others and/or were total fabrications, and, as a consequence of these claims suffered ‘boycott’ – see e.g. the 1904 Limerick boycott where Jews were accused of price manipulation.

The problem is that when Jews raise these concerns, especially through the question – why Israel? – no sensible answer is given – the ASA’s comment, that ‘we have to start somewhere’ begs the question. (Despite the above response, the BDS movement is not supported by the PA or Hamas, and was, far from emanating from Palestine, devised by two members of the SWP here in London – and even if it did emanate from Palestinian civil society, that does not involve an immediate and unmediated response – what is right in Palestine, may not appear so right in a different context, and for very good reasons).
Rather than recognising this history and this sensitivity in its critical dealings with Israel, many BDSers simply claim that Jews are abusing this history of antisemitism (and anti-Jewish boycotts), of using ‘real’ antisemitism (and the Shoah) as a magic talisman to ward off ‘criticism’ (which is conflated by the BDS movement with exclusion) and of acting in bad faith.

In so doing, the BDS movement show that along with their support for Palestinians is an attempt to antagonise and confront non-Israeli Jews who, for those who disagree with their boycotting (what Claire Potter confused with scrutiny) are transformed into ‘supporters of Israel’ and for whom no quarter must be given.

If those in the US and Europe were serious about antisemitism and its history as well as being serious about Palestinian solidarity, they would actually realise what boycotts mean to Jews (and progressive forces in general). They would need to think of a new strategy, one that is not hostile to Jews, but which at the same time allows them (and many Jews) to move forward to achieving a just and equitable peace in the Middle East; a move forward that does not rely, replicate and bring into the present the antisemtism of the (not so distant) past.

“Echoes of the Past into the Present”: Arguments in support of the ASA Boycott.

This is a guest post by Saul:

Reading through the arguments of those proposing and supporting the ASA’s boycott of Israel, one can only be struck by the correspondence of the structure of argumentation with those of what some today like to call ‘real’ antisemitism as well as racism and Islamophobia in general These correspondences appear in the following way.

First, they begin with a list of the litany of Israel’s crimes. Many of the crimes of which Israel is accused they are indeed culpable. However, in the context of boycott two points come to the fore. The first point turns on the widely debated question of ‘Why Israel’? As many have shown and many more acknowledged, none of the crimes committed by the Israeli state are either unique nor their most terrible expression. As many of those opposing the boycott have argued, this is no excuse not to bring them to light. Yet, many of these same people are uncomfortable with the fact that of all states who commit these and worse crimes, only Israel is singled out for boycott. The response to this concern is that it is being used to ‘deflect attention’ from Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and constitutes the diversionary tactic of ‘whataboutery’.

As with so many other areas of the boycott discussions, the battleground of ‘whataboutery’ is neither new nor novel. It has been a component part of debates about Jews for a very, very long time. The lines of this debate have more or less remained the same. On the one hand, there are those that say that there is something ‘innate’ about Jews, Judaism and Jewishness and, more recently Israel, that sets it apart from the rest of the world and, as a consequence, deserves special or, if that word is now too emotive, unique treatment. More often than not, such allegations of uniqueness are presented as the reason or cause that, with the best will in the world, Jews or Israel should be denied the rights of those granted to non-Jews or states that are not ‘Jewish’. On the other hand, there are those that say that the differences that distinguish Jews from other religions and peoples and Israel from other states, are no reason, no excuse, to deny such rights, rights freely available to everyone else.

Perhaps the most famous instance of this contestation is Karl Marx’s polemic against Bruno Bauer around the question of Jewish emancipation in the 1840’s. As is well known, Bauer argued against Jewish emancipation. He argued that as long as Jews remained Jews they were to barred from being granted the same rights as those among whom they lived. There was, he declaimed, something unique, something special about Jews and Judaism that prevented them from the benefit of emancipation into the emerging nation-states of his time.

Bauer has posed the question of Jewish emancipation in a new form, after giving a critical analysis of the previous formulations and solutions of the question. What, he asks, is the nature of the Jew who is to be emancipated and of the Christian state that is to emancipate him? He replies by a critique of the Jewish religion, he analyzes the religious opposition between Judaism and Christianity, he elucidates the essence of the Christian state……..

Marx’s devastating response to this exclusive and reactionary focus on the alleged nature of Jews and Judaism and only Jews and Judaism is perhaps the most succinct and positive use of what is now excoriated as pure whataboutery,

Man, as the adherent of a particular religion, finds himself in conflict with his citizenship and with other men as members of the community. This conflict reduces itself to the secular division between the political state and civil society. For man as a bourgeois [i.e., as a member of civil society, “bourgeois society” in German], “life in the state” is “only a semblance or a temporary exception to the essential and the rule.” Of course, the bourgeois, like the Jew, remains only sophistically in the sphere of political life, just as the citoyen [‘citizen’ in French, i.e., the participant in political life] only sophistically remains a Jew or a bourgeois. But, this sophistry is not personal. It is the sophistry of the political state itself. The difference between the merchant and the citizen [Staatsbürger], between the day-laborer and the citizen, between the landowner and the citizen, between the merchant and the citizen, between the living individual and the citizen. The contradiction in which the religious man finds himself with the political man is the same contradiction in which the bourgeois finds himself with the citoyen, and the member of civil society with his political lion’s skin.

As with Bauer’s antisemitism, one of the consequences of demanding sole focus on Jews and only Jews, and, correspondingly today, Israel and only Israel, is exclusion, from the state and, today, from the community of states. As in the past, the call for boycott opens up an abyss between, on the one side ‘Israel’ and on the other side, the rest of the world. In contemporary terms, by placing the call for boycott of the need for international solidarity as a means of resisting Israeli criminality, the radical antisemitic vision of the division between Jews and humanity is re-articulated in the divide between Israel/Jewish Israelis and the rest of the world. Like Jews of the past, Israel is now recast as the ‘other’ of ‘humanity’.

The second main structural element of arguments made in support of the ASA boycott and one visible particularly in Claire Potter’s account of her Damascan moment, is the old tale of Jewish privilege. Of all the states in the world who receive US funding and financial assistance, Israel, it is said, is the most ‘privileged’. Israel receives more than any country in US military aid. Israel receives more support in the UN and security council than any other of its allies, etc.. These facts are, of course, true. But they are presented not as a consequence of past and present political considerations (for example, that US funding and support for Israel began, originally from the prior recognition of Israel by the then Soviet Union (the first country to recognise the Sate of Israel in 1948), the divisions of the Cold War, the rise of Arab pan-nationalism, the Iranian Revolution, the rise of Islamicism and anti-Americanism, the obsessive focus of Israel in some of the UN instiutions, and so on). Instead, they are presented as instances of a specifically Israeli privilege (often, but not always, an argument connected to the alleged omnipotence of the ‘Israel’ or ‘Jewish Lobby’). Needless to say, this idea of Jewish privilege by the state is not new in the annals of both the history of antisemitism or of racism in general. For example, it was common currency in the debates surrounding and following Jewish emancipation. It also forms a core component of contemporary Islamophobia; that somehow the British state ‘prvileges’ the concerns of British Muslims.

This notion of Jewish/Israeli privilege connects with the third point; that one cannot say a bad word about Israel without being labelled an ‘antisemite’, See also Clare Short’s letter in support of Rev Stephen Sizer in the Jewish Chronicle, 20th December, 2013.

Other formulations in which this arguments is presented is the idea of the Shoah as a magic talisman warding off any and all negative comments about Israel. This theme is presented in its most crystalline form by Alex Lubin in this article in The Nation. He writes there that, ‘Israel’s creation in the violent crucible of the European Holocaust allows it always (!) to appear vulnerable, regardless of its oppressive actions’`1. Here, we can but note the sheer nastiness of the claim that Israel and those labeled its ‘supporters’ are guilty of cynically manipulating the most terrible event in the history of Jews and inverting it into nothing more than a ‘strategic advantage’. This belief in Jewish cynicism is again, an updated variant of the accusation leveled against Jews from the time of their emancipation onward that they exploited their past discrimination to wheedle those ‘privileges’ noted above from the State at the expense of all others. Even more relevant in the present context, however, is that this idea replicates almost exactly the antisemite Willhelm Marr’s claim in the late 19th century that ‘one cannot today criticise Jews [i.e. by which he meant his and others antisemitic assertions] without being called an antisemite’.2

The BDS movement constantly respond to accusations that its call to boycott Israel and only Israel taps in to antisemitic ways of thinking by claiming that, first, one must distinguish between ‘real’ antisemitism and ‘criticism of Israel’, and secondly, that they are free from the seductions offered by antisemitism in forwarding their own aims. As the structure of their arguments show (both in form and content) neither claim is sustainable.

1. The reference to the term ‘European Holocaust’ is interesting in the specific context of ASA. Not only does the term ‘European Holocaust’ imply denial of the uniqueness of the ‘Holocaust’ or Shoah – as opposed to the concept if genocide – but chimes in with a rather nasty debate a little while ago when US academics claimed that the studying and recognition of the genocides and brutalities suffered by the First Nations in what was to become the United States were being hindered by the mal fide of scholars of the Holocaust. (See Dan Stone; ‘Histories of the Holocaust, OUP, (2010) p. 210

2. See on this point, Moishe Zimmerman’s ‘Wilhelm Marr: The Patriach of Antisemitism,OUP, (1986)

Nisht ahin un nisht aher* – Saul

This is a guest post by Saul:

Just when I thought the long 20th century was over, up it pops again in the shape of the Daily Mail’s attack on the memory of one of the most humane Marxist thinkers of the 20th century, Ralph Miliband. From one perspective that century can be defined as one enduring ‘Jewish Question’. In the present context, that question can be defined as what to do with the Jews? It was with the demise of the three ‘great’ Empires and the rise of increasingly hostile nation-states in which the nation came to dominate the state, that the Jews came to be recast as a specifically modern ‘problem’. To quote Zygmunt Bauman, as ‘non-national nations’ and despite all references to ‘assimilation’ nationalists never accepted ‘their’ Jewish citizens as ‘true’ nationals, as truly belonging to the new national communities. Their allegiance – their ‘love of country’ – was always already in doubt. Indeed, the more they assimilated, the more they became just like everyone else, the more their loyalty came to be questioned. The resonances of this nationalist way of thinking contained in the attack on Miliband is clear for all to see.

However, it is also clear that just as the nationalist right calls into question Ralph Miliband’s inclusion within the English (or is that British?) nation, so too I should imagine would sections of the current internationalist, ‘anti-imperialist’ left. According to Colin Schindler in this week’s Jewish Chronicle, in a typically intense discussion following the ‘six day war’ in 1967 with the Belgian Jewish Marxist Marcel Liebman and co-author, Miliband not only defended Israel’s right to exist but also its right to self-defence. Needless to say, in today’s climate, Miliband would be recast in the (increasingly loose use of the term) as a ‘Zionist’. As such, he would be open to hostile vilification, elements of which would include the accusation that his ‘Zionism’ meant that his commitment to internationalism was nothing more than mere appearance, cloaking nothing more nor less than the ‘truth’ of his Jewish nationalism and his support for ‘Zionist imperialism’ and the ‘Zionist colonial settler state’. As someone who would not agree with the idea of the ‘original sin’ of Israel, his loyalty to and ‘love’ of the working-class as well as to the oppressed peoples of the world (including, of course, the Palestinians) would be ‘unmasked’ as nothing more than a fraud and a lie.

Just as the nationalist right refuse Ralph Miliband a place in the ranks of ‘the English’ and characterise him as a man ‘who did not love England’, so sections of the contemporary anti-Zionist and ‘anti-imperialist’ left would exclude him from the ranks of the International Labour Movement and correspondingly present him as a man ‘who did not love humanity’. Excluded from England by the nationalist right and excluded from humanity by the internationalist left, Miliband would be nish’d to hin and nish’d to he(a)r, neither here nor there. Taken together, he would, as Hannah Arendt phrased it, be denied a place in the world.

* (Yiddish) [trans: Neither here nor there, in limbo.)

 

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

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

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

David Ward, Israel, the Holocaust and the Jews – by Sarah AB

Many have already written eloquently and thoughtfully about David Ward’s indefensible comments about Israel, the Holocaust and ‘the Jews’. Mark Gardner and Paul Evans, for example, have explained exactly why these comments are so offensive, although David Ward still doesn’t seem to get it.

I was struck by this misleading headline in the Huffington Post.

Lib Dem MP David Ward ‘Condemned’ By Own Party For Criticising Israel Ahead Of Holocaust Memorial Day”

This completely misses the point, and implicitly supports those who argue either that accusations of antisemitism are deployed strategically to silence criticism of Israel or else that those making the accusations are quite extraordinarily sensitive.

Although Sara Nelson (who probably didn’t write the headline herself) goes on to offer a reasonable account of the incident, her piece reveals further ill-judged responses to Ward’s remarks. She links to a supporter of Ward, blogger Mark Valladares. He has now edited his article after coming in for some criticism.

It’s welcome that he reflected further and tried to express his views with more nuance. However I still see (and I didn’t catch the earlier version, though I gather it referred to the angry response to Ward as a ‘bandwagon’) problems in the edited post:

As usual, in any matter related to the Israel/Palestine debate, elements of the pro-Israel lobby, (or troublemakers in Guido’s case) have chosen to interpret these remarks as being a direct comparison of the holocaust with modern events in Gaza and the West Bank. If you’re minded to do so, you probably will. On the other hand, if you lean towards a pro-Palestinian position, you might welcome any recognition by a politician that the Israeli government is behaving in an unacceptable manner.”

 Although Ward did not absolutely state that Gaza was another Warsaw, the parallel was still implicit and Valladares does not even pick up on the way Ward refers to ‘the Jews’ as an undifferentiated group. Also – to offer just one counterargument to Valladares’s assertion that politicians never criticize Israel – the Chair of Labour Friends of Israel spoke out against Netanyahu’s controversial announcement on settlement building last month, as did Conservative Friends of Israel.

There’s then this confusing passage:

For me, David’s words act as a reminder that some pretty dreadful wrongs have been committed against both sides (and there are those who seek to equate them in terms of scale), and suggest that past events should influence future behaviour.”

 Is he now suggesting that the sufferings of the Palestinians might indeed reasonably be compared to the Holocaust ‘in terms of scale’, or is he rather weighing up the sufferings of Israelis and Palestinians?

 Then he asserts:

 It’s called nuance, and in an increasingly black and white political discourse, I welcome his attempt to demonstrate some respect towards both sides in this seemingly never-ending dispute, even if he has failed to express himself well.”

 Now, this is ridiculous. Many commenters, from a range of perspectives, demonstrate ‘respect towards both sides’, and it is very easy to do so without trivializing the Holocaust.

Returning to the Huffington Post piece, the comments were depressingly dominated by those who thought Ward had made a jolly good point, and those who thought it was somehow all the fault of ‘the Muslims’. 

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