Westminster University Cancels Gilad Atzomon’s discussion of “Jewishness”

Gahda Karmi had already said she was pulling out.  She’s the one who thought that “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s UN speech on 21 April struck many as obnoxious, but in terms of understanding the 1948 roots of the Middle East conflict he was spot on.”  She also thought that after  ‘the Holocaust and all this business’, as she put it, masses of ‘alien’ Jews started to pour in to Palestine. These Jews were nothing like the Jews they were used to: these new Jews were pale and blue-eyed, but most of all they were ‘complicated’, ‘very difficult to deal with’, and they were bringing ‘their miserable lives’ with them.

John Rose had also said he was pulling out.  Remember John Rose, brought up in a “Zionist home”?

Alan (“some of my best friends are Jewish“) Hart was also billed to speak.

The star of the show was to be the antisemitic saxophonist, Gilad Atzmon.

The event had been promoted by groups including the Stop the War Coalition, the white nationalist Stormfront movement, and the Real IRA, according to the Jewish Chronicle report here.

Under Avraham Burg’s “anti-Semitic rug”

Former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg has written an article of a Eurocentric bent to the effect that antisemitism shouldn’t any longer be thought of as racism against Jews but as a bad-faith accusation made by Israel’s advocates against honest critics of Israel. He argues that for Jews to give any particular attention to antisemitism is both right wing and falls short of the kind of Jewishness to which he aspires.

Saul responds:

“In Israel, the notion of antisemitism has been utilised by the right – it is reactionary use of antisemitism; see the film “Defamation”.

The trouble is that many progressives in Israel – Burg included (recall he wrote on Israel needing to overcome the Holocaust) – are simply arguing the opposite: “If the right say x, we say not x.”

They lack any critical understanding both of the (contemporary) concept of antisemitism and its use outside Israel.

What would be interesting would be to follow the journey this article makes; that is, see who outside Israel quotes it and uses it.

What frustrates me more than anything, though, is the claim that those of us who raise the issue of antisemitism are nothing more than apologists for Israel or non-critics of the Israeli right. Like large parts of the global left, much of the Israeli left has got that wrong. They seem to think that criticism of Israel and the claim to antisemitism are two sides of the same coin, rather than two phenomena linked together through the situation in Israel.

Burg writes

There is an internal Jewish essence that is not dependent on external circumstances. It is buried deep below layers of historical trauma. But its heart still beats; in the form of humanism, responsibility for the peace of the world, universalism without boundaries. Israel’s establishment ought to enable the realization of this potential. For example, the state of those who were ostracized can do everything in its power to assist the present-day ostracized who have taken their place. It can be a partner in the creation of a world coalition against hatred. Precisely because of its memories.

Arendt traces the history of this sentiment and, rather astutely, calls it racist.

For myself, I think it is deeply Christian. A reworking of redemption through suffering. And, the fact that Jews/Israel have not been redeemed is once again fuelling the idea of a great Jewish refusal. So far, they have had two chances at redemption: Jesus and the Holocaust. They have refused to accept it twice. Jews are truly irredeemable, hence their call to universalism over all particularism other than the particularism of suffering, which they are selfishly clinging onto whilst everyone else has moved on. Once again, the Jews are an anachronism (as was said of post-Christ Judaism).


On the need to be specific about discrimination

Cross-posted from Greens Engage.

A few weeks ago the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian & Cultural) of the United Nations General Assembly voted on a draft resolution concerning extra-judicial, arbitrary and summary executions. Every two years, this vote affirms the duties of member countries to uphold the right to life of all people and calls on them to investigate discriminatory killings.

For the past decade, the resolution has drawn explicit attention to sexual orientation among other groups which historically have been targeted for summary execution. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission describes this reference as an important part of:

“… a non-exhaustive list in the resolution highlighting the many groups of people that are particularly targeted by killings – including persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, persons acting as human rights defenders (such as lawyers, journalists or demonstrators) as well as street children and members of indigenous communities. Mentioning sexual orientation as a basis on which people are targeted for killing highlights a situation in which particular vigilance is required in order for all people to be afforded equal protection.”

However, the inclusion of sexual orientation is contested. This year an amendment, sponsored by Benin on behalf of the African Group, called for replacing the words ‘sexual orientation’ with ‘discriminatory reasons on any basis.’ The amendment was narrowly passed with support from countries which criminalise homosexuality.

Peter Tatchell, who suffered a homophobic beating in Moscow which prevented him from pursuing Green Party parliamentary candidacy, expressed his outrage.

Among many others concerned about the deletion is the Association of British Muslims:

“Removing this clause at this time will send quite the wrong signal to those regimes that indulge in these barbaric practices, implying as it does that United Nations is no longer concerned at the maltreatment of people because of their sexual orientation or considers it to be a lesser matter.

Referring to the Nazis, Paster Martin Niemoller once wrote, ‘First they came…’. Have we not learned anything since the tragedies of World War 2? Niemoller started out by saying, ‘First they came for the communist’s, and I did not speak out, because I was not a communist’ Then, the socialists, trade unionists, Jews and other groups until finally he writes, ‘Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me’.

The Committee vote is to be ratified in December. The Association of British Muslims calls on member states of the General Assembly not to endorse the decision of its Third Committee, and to reinstate the deleted clause.”

Reverend Sharon Ferguson of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement said:

“The reference to sexual orientation was part of a list which highlights many of the groups that are targeted by killings – including those belonging to national or ethnic groups, human rights defenders and street children and members of indigenous communities. Until now it has been accepted that the mention of sexual orientation is required to draw attention to the fact that this is often the specific reason why individuals are killed. The removal of this reference sends a message that people do not merit protection based upon their sexual orientation and will further fuel homophobic hatred and violence.”

These arguments are also striking because they are exactly the same ones which can be made in response to ongoing efforts, gradually encroaching from the margins of British politics, to deny or otherwise minimise contemporary forms of persecution and discrimination against Jews.

This ghosting out of antisemitism also seeks to omit it as a consideration in official documents and campaigns, or subsume its specifics into more general statements which shine no light, cannot penetrate, and are destined to become platitudes. Like the UN Resolution on extra-judicial executions which deletes reference to gay people, a decision to remove antisemitism from consideration signals prejudice or an ominous readiness to cement political allegiances by indulging prejudice.

Let us not step backwards.

To end, an aside – it may interest readers to know that every representative from the Middle East voted for this amendment to whitewash persecution of gay people, except one. Israel’s voted to retain explicit reference to sexual orientation. In the alignments around this vote, some commentators will see only the usual confrontations and alliances between blocs of countries. This was Cuba’s official explanation, but it’s a view which is totally aloof from the lives – and deaths – of the people affected. If you are gay, it boils down to this: same-sex relations which other countries call ‘un-Christian’, ‘un-African’, ‘un-Islamic’, are not ‘un-Israeli’. Israel is the best place in the Middle East to be yourself if you are gay.

the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly voted on a special resolution addressing extrajudicial, arbitrary and summary executions. The resolution affirms the duties of member countries to protect the right to life of all people with a special emphasis on a call to investigate killings based on discriminatory grounds. The resolution highlights particular groups historically subject to executions including street children, human rights defenders, members of ethnic, religious, and linguistic minority communities, and, for the past 10 years, the resolution has included sexual orientation as a basis on which some individuals are targeted for death.

BBC World Service Documentary on Contemporary Antisemitism

Part 1 is out now on iplayer and is well worth listening to – click here

With material from Malmo in Sweden, from Vilnius in Lithuania, from Anthony Julius, Howard Jacobson, Mark Gardner, David Hirsh, Brian Klug, Edie Friedman, Deborah Fink and Dovid Katz.

Broadcasts today at 16:32, and tomorrow, Thursday at 16:32, 00:32 and 0432

David Hirsh: The Livingstone Formulation

David Hirsh

David Hirsh (2010) ‘Accusations of malicious intent in debates about the Palestine-Israel conflict and about antisemitism‘ Transversal 1/2010, Graz, Austria

The Livingstone Formulation, ‘playing the antisemitism card’ and contesting the boundaries of antiracist discourse

To download the whole paper as a pdf file, click here

Author:  David Hirsh is a lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London.  He is co-convenor of the European Sociological Network on Racism and Antisemitism.  He has published on crimes against humanity, international humanitarian law and antisemitism.  He is the founding editor of the Engage journal and website and has written on the Guardian’s Comment is Free.

This paper, publised in Transversal, the journal of the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Graz, describes how the Livingstone Formulation operates as a way of de-legitmizing questions about contemporary antisemitism by means of ad hominem attack.  It is possible to relate seriously and rationally to charges of antisemitism but it is interesting how often people refuse to take the charges seriously and instead resort to this counter-accusation of malicious ‘Zionist’ intent. This mirrors the operation against which the Livingstone Formulation originally sets itself – which is the raising of the issue of antisemitism maliciously in order to de-legitimise criticism of Israeli human rights abuses.

The paper describes and analyses more than twenty documented examples of the Livingstone Formulation from public discourse.

This paper is concerned with a rhetorical formulation which is sometimes deployed in response to an accusation of antisemitism, particularly when it relates to discourse which is of the form of criticism of Israel. This formulation is a defensive response which deploys a counter-accusation that the person raising the issue of antisemitism is doing so in bad faith and dishonestly. I have called it The Livingstone Formulation.  It is defined by the presence of two elements. Firstly the conflation of legitimate criticism of Israel with what are alleged to be demonizing, exclusionary or antisemitic discourses or actions; secondly, the presence of the counteraccusation that the raisers of the issue of antisemitism do so with dishonest intent, in order to de-legitimize criticism of Israel. The allegation is that the accuser chooses to ‘play the antisemitism card’ rather than to relate seriously to, or to refute, the criticisms of Israel. While the issue of antisemitism is certainly sometimes raised in an unjustified way, and may even be raised in bad faith, the Livingstone Formulation may appear as a response to any discussion of contemporary antisemitism.

This paper is not concerned directly with those who are accused of employing antisemitic discourse and who respond in a measured and rational way to such accusations in a good faith effort to relate to the concern, and to refute it. Rather it is concerned with modes of refusal to engage with the issue of antisemitism. Those who argue that certain kinds of arguments, tropes, analogies and ideas are antisemitic are trying to have them recognized as being outside of the boundaries of legitimate antiracist discourse. The Livingstone Formulation as a response tries to have the raising itself of the issue of antisemitism recognized as being outside of the boundaries of legitimate discourse.  In this paper I describe and analyse a number of examples of the formulation which come from a number of profoundly different sources, including antiracist, openly antisemitic, antizionist, and mainstream ones.

I focus on the accusations and the counter accusations of malicious intent which are made in public debates around the issues of the Israel-Palestine conflict and antisemitism. It is widely accepted in the sociological literature on racism, and also in the practice of antiracist movements, that racism is often unintended and that social actors who are involved are often unconscious of the racism with which they are perhaps complicit or of which they are unconscious ‘carriers’. Antiracists are generally comfortable with the concepts of institutional, structural and discursive racism and they are comfortable with the idea that discourses, structures and institutions can be racist in effect, objectively, even in the absence of any subjective racist intent on the part of social actors. Yet a common response to the raising of the issue of antisemitism in relation to discourses concerning criticism of Israel is that if there is no antisemitic intent then there can be no antisemitism. Antisemitism is implicitly, then, often defined differently from other racisms as requiring an element of intent.

One thing that follows from this is that the raising of the issue of antisemitism is often conflated with the accusation of antisemitic intent. So the raising of the issue of antisemitism is often claimed to be an ad hominem attack, an accusation of antisemitic intent on the part of the ‘critic of Israel’. Yet while there is fierce resistance to the possibility of unintended antisemitism, those who employ the Livingstone Formulation accuse those who raise the issue of antisemitism of doing so with malicious intent and of knowing that their concerns are not justified, and of doing so for instrumental reasons.

It seems to follow that the use of the Livingstone Formulation is intended to make sure that the raising of the issue of antisemitism, when related to ‘criticism of Israel’ remains or becomes a commonsense indicator of ‘Zionist’ bad faith and a faux pas in polite antiracist company. A commonsense bundling of positions leads to a binary opposition in which either you remain within the bounds of rational and antiracist discourse, and so you are on the left, and a supporter of the Palestinians against Israeli human rights abuses, or, on the other hand, you are thought of as being on the right, a supporter of Israel against the Palestinians, and a person who instrumentalizes the issue of antisemitism. To raise the issue of antisemitism is to put yourself in the wrong camp. Having already indicated the complexities relating to accusations of intent, it is necessary to examine carefully to what extent this charge of intent may be justified.

In the 1990s Gillian Rose identified a phenomenon which she called ‘Holocaust piety’. It was common, she argued, to be unsympathetic to attempts to analyse the Holocaust using the normal tools of understanding, of social
science and of historiography. Instead, people tended to think about the Holocaust as a radically unique event which was in some sense outside of human history or ‘ineffable’ and so unreachable by social theory and by various forms of artistic and scholarly representation.  One of the consequences of Holocaust piety has been the construction of antisemitism itself as being an unimaginably huge and threatening phenomenon, beyond all other ordinary, worldly, threats and phenomena. A by-product of this is that the charge itself of antisemitism is in danger of being thought of as a nuclear bomb, a weapon, so terrible that it destroys not only its target but also the whole field of battle, the whole discursive space in which discussion proceeds. If to raise the issue of antisemitism is to unleash a nuclear bomb, then the issue is unraisable, as nuclear weapons are unusable. Under the conditions of Holocaust piety, it becomes difficult to relate in a measured and serious way to the issue of antisemitism. Either antisemitism is thought of as something radically different from ordinary ‘normal’ racism and then there is a temptation to be less vigilant against those other racisms than one is against antisemitism. Or the discussion of antisemitism is thought of as a weapon instead of an analytic or political question, which may be deployed to destroy ‘critics of Israel’ but which cannot be a serious question in itself. The weapon, instrumentally used, also destroys the very possibility of rational debate and analysis. The standard response to piety is blasphemy. The cartoon of Anna Frank in bed with Adolf Hitler, President Ahmadinejad’s exhibition of Holocaust denial and normalization in Tehran and the increasingly common phenomenon of characterising Israeli Jews as the new Nazis are examples of Holocaust blasphemy.

To download the whole paper as a pdf file, click here

David Hirsh: ‘Accusations of malicious intent in debates about the Palestine-Israel conrflict and about antisemitism

NB some more examples of the Livingstone Formulation and some interesting discussion in the comments box here

NB an article about the Livingstone Formulation from z-word is here

NB there was discussion of the Livingstone Formulation in Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: Cosmopolitan Reflections

The Green Party and antisemitism – Eve Garrard

On Normblog, Eve Garrard responds to Raphael’s ordeal on the Green Party discussion list, correctly connecting it to Green party MP and re-elected leader Caroline Lucas, who brushes aside concerns about antisemitism and praises those who take destructive direct action against perceived Israeli interests.

Misunderstanding what is divisive

Perhaps Antony Lerman supposes he has “creatively exploited and managed” antisemitism “in such a way as to generate vibrant and relevant discussion about issues of the moment”.

Implicating the Community Security Trust (one of the major Jewish organisations which records, investigates and organises against antisemitism) in Jewish community rifts, he opines that calling for research into antisemitism in Scotland is somehow divisive and “grounds for concern seem slight”.

“So while research on antisemitism should always be encouraged, how will it help Jews in Scotland if it throws up the existence of a Holocaust denier on the Mull of Kintyre?”

Well, wouldn’t it be a great relief to discover that antisemitism in Scotland was emanating from a solitary remote Holocaust denier? Those of us who’ve been worrying that there is something more to it could have a hearty laugh at our mistake, pack up, and go joyfully about our business again. It is strange that the former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research has no spirit of inquiry to discover what is behind the incidents.

I’d like to hear from anybody who has the urge to diminish reports of antisemitism, after a week shadowing one of the visibly observant Jews who have approached SCOJEC and The CST. Reading Antony Lerman’s piece, you’d think they somehow didn’t matter. It’s wrong to suppose that community renewal can be achieved through diminishing their experiences and fears. It’s head-burying to attempt to address politicisation of racism by diminishing the effects of that racism on its targets.

The Community Security Trust’s Head of Communications Mark Gardner comments on the post (9 Jun 2010, 3:02PM):

“I stressed that the vast majority of Glasgow’s Jews are not visibly Jewish, and lead a comfy enough existence in largely white middle class neighbourhoods where street thuggery, street crime, gangs, racism and antisemitism were very rare. I noted that many of them would drive to work in their cars and did not have to use public transport.

I then said that antisemitism, like any racism, impacts against the more vulnerable sections of the community – schoolchildren who wear kippot on their heads and use public transport; people who are literally the only Jew in the village, or on the council estate etc.

I noted that these were the people who had felt vulnerable and isolated and had consequently turned to SCOJEC expressing alarm at the atmosphere they perceived during Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza last year. I said that I was proud to work with SCOJEC in representing these people’s concerns to Scottish Govt, Police and others, so that they did not feel alone and so that strategies could be developed to prevent things getting any worse.

In any other context, I suspect that Guardian readers would be horrified to read an article such as Tony Lerman’s: an article that basically mocks people’s fears about racism (eg his line about Holocaust deniers on the Mull of Kintyre, which carries far more strength than his emotion free mantra “any incidents are to be deplored”.)

The frightened contacts to SCOJEC and CST from Scottish victims of antisemitism last year were not figments of our imagination. What do you want us to do? Tell these people to stop being such Zionists, to go put a kilt on, eat a black pudding, drink some Irn Bru, buy a house in Whitecraigs, and then everything will be ok?”

UCU remembers the past but ignores the present

BY Ex-UCU member.

I am afraid that this reference to antisemitism and the Holocaust by the UCU which, in the words of David Hirsh,
focuses on things “a long time ago” not only ignores the antisemitism that is currently rife in its ranks but also acts as a means of legitimising it.

It is, in effect, nothing more than a fig leaf so that when anti-racists complain about contemporary antisemitism within its ranks they can point to this poster and claim that how can they, the UCU, be antisemitic when they have this poster about the Holocaust.

In many ways, this public relations exercise is similar to that adopted by the far-right in other parts of Europe. When asked if they deny the Holocaust, they now tend to say that it did happen and what a terrible thing it is. And, in so doing, they get a pass for the antisemitic bile (often, but not always in the guise of anti-zionism) that they still propagate.

Whilst of course not of the far-right (even if some of the “anti-Zionism” that its activist spout is of the same kind), the function of the new poster serves the same purpose. By recognising past antisemitism, they think they can get a pass for the present.
After all, if they were serious about combating antisemitism then they would begin to wonder on why so many members, many of whom are Jewish, have resigned over the recent boycott issue; why those opposing the boycott have been subject to abuse and bullying; why conspiracy theories about “Zionist Lobbies” and “Zionist power” are a constant topic of discussion; and so on and so forth.

Apart from the far right and other assorted groups, the idea that the Holocaust was a terrible and tragic thing is hardly controversial. More difficult is the recognition of contemporary antisemitism, the antisemitism that attaches itself to anti-Zionism that the UCU against which the UCU nor only fail to challenge, but which it regularly propagates.

Ex-UCU member.

David Hirsh’s talk at UCU

The Legacy of Hope: Anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and Resistance, Yesterday and Today

Chaired by Sally Hunt

We have heard a lot about fighting antisemitism a long time ago and far away.  I wish to turn to events closer to home.

Antisemitism within the UCU started to become a serious problem when people in the union began to support the campaign to boycott Israeli universities, but no other universities in the world.   This campaign has dominated academic union Congresses in 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Normally trade unionists aim to make links with other trade unionists across international boundaries.  Normally academics make links with other academics in other countries.   But in our union Israelis have been treated differently.  Instead of seeking to work with Israeli colleagues for peace and against bigotry, the dominant faction in our union has tried again and again to exclude Israelis from our community.

Since 2003 it has become clear that antisemitic ways of thinking and antisemitic practices have been imported into our union alongside this campaign to punish Israeli academics.

September 2006

Report of the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism (p 41):

“We conclude that calls to boycott contact with academics working in Israel are …   anti-Jewish in practice.”

18 January 2007

The Union response to the Parliamenary Inquiry was

(1)  to conflate the criticism that boycotts were anti Jewish in practice with a charge which was not made, that UCU members hate Jews.

(2)  to declare that criticism of Israel is not antisemitic – although the charge was made in relation to the union setting up an institutional exclusion from British campuses on the basis of nationality – and was not made in relation to criticism of Israel.

(3) the union says that those who raise the issue of antisemitism do so in bad faith in order to silence criticism of Israeli human rights abuses.   It produces no evidence regarding the bad faith of those who raise the issue.

(4) the union replies to a charge of institutional antisemitism in the union by saying that the inquiry ought to have looked into the issue of Islamophobia instead.

76 members of the UCU signed a letter in the Times Higher taking issue with UCU’s denials in the face of criticism by the parliamentary inquiry.  The union did not respond to the disquiet articulated by these members.  Silence.

UCU Congress 2007 passed the following clause as union policy:

“…Congress believes that … criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic.”

This statement is an irresponsible denial of the possibility of antisemitism since ‘criticism of israel’ is evidently sometimes antisemitic and sometimes not antisemitic.

UCU Congress 2008 passed the following clause as union policy:

“Criticism of Israel or Israeli policy are not, as such, anti-semitic”

But nobody has ever heard criticism “as such”.  They have only ever heard this or that particular criticism of Israel.  Some of them are antisemitic and some of them are not.  So again, UCU’s mode of denial was irresponsible for an antiracist union.

19 June 2007
“The boycott… attempts to impose a discriminatory sanction on Israeli academics that its advocates do not seek to apply to any other nation, even in situations of conflict where far greater human rights abuses are being committed. …it is a crude effort to delegitimize Israel as a country and express hostility for its people.”

August 2007

Gert Weisskirchen, a veteran German Social Democrat member of the  Bundestag, antiracist, and official of the OSCE responsible for combatting antisemitism in Europe asked the UCU for a meeting about antisemitism in the Union.  The union leadership could not find half an hour to sit and hear his concerns.   Silence.  39 UCU members signed a letter in the Times Higher asking the union to meet with Weisskirchen.  The Union did not respond.

September 2007
UCU was advised by its own lawyer, Lord Lester QC, one of the foremost human-rights lawyers in the UK, that making a call to boycott Israeli institutions would run a serious risk of infringing discrimination legislation, and that the call to boycott was considered to be outside the aims and objects of the UCU.
13 May 2008
“Stop the Boycott” published the legal opinion given to it by Michael J Beloff QC and Pushpinder Saini QC.  Neither are glove puppets of “the Jews” or of “the Zionists” or any such thing.  Both are senior QCs, specialists in employment and discrimination law, with reputations to safeguard.

1 “…It would be unlawful for the union to pass” a boycott motion at Congress.

The motion purports to be less than a boycott motion but is in fact a boycott motion.

The motion discriminates against Israelis on the basis of nationality and it discriminates against Jews in a number of indirect ways.

2 The motion is “ultra vires” because it is a breach of the union’s own fundamental and foundational commitment to equality.

The motion is therefore unlawful partly because it violates, in a profound way and not in a purely formal or technical way, UCU’s own law and its own core values. This problem cannot be addressed by fiddling with the wording of the union’s Aims and Objects. It could only be addressed by changing the commitment to equality which is at the heart of the UCU.

3 The motion would be a breach of the Race Relations Act because it would impose on Israeli academics (and potentially Jewish academics) the duty to explain their politics as a pre-condition to having normal academic contact.

4 Debating a motion of this kind is a further breach of the Race Relations Act because such a debate creates an environment which normalizes antisemitic rhetoric and which would create a hostile environment to Jewish and Israeli members and non-members of the union.


May 24 2008

Dov Stekel, Letter to Sally Hunt, General Secretary of UCU:
“…this is the only organization with which I have been involved in which I have been made to feel uncomfortable as a Jew…   Repeated calls for boycott of Israeli institutions, the circulation of vitriolic, offensive and untrue allegations, the fact that Jewish members have either been excluded or bullied out of the activists list, have led to a culture in UCU that I have to describe as institutionally anti-semitic. …I am sure that the individuals involved do not themselves mean to be anti-semitic;  but the net effect of these actions is to create a culture in the trade union in which Jews and Israelis feel alienated or excluded.”
May 30 2008
“…Now for the third time our own union has chosen to go down the road of considering ‘the appropriateness of continued educational links with Israeli academic institutions’.   The tones are mellow but they give me a shiver and make me feel my Jewishness in a new way.”
3 June 2008
Deborah Lynn Steinberg, UCU member, University of Warwick wrote:
“It is an infringement of my rights as a member to be co-opted into action that violates anti-discrimination policies and law and that compromises the mission of the Union…”
8 June 2008
Stephen Soskin President Buckinghamshire New University UCU, High Wycombe Branch:
“The lesson we have to draw from this Congress is that the majority of delegates and the leadership of UCU wish to pursue their biased policy against Israel, some of which is in my view racist and anti Semitic, with as little discussion as possible and with the widest possible anonymity.  None of us should allow this to happen and we must continue to speak out, however uncomfortable this is.” 

23 June 2008
Leslie Klaff, a lawyer from Sheffield Hallam University resigns from union:
“The UCU’s adoption of Motion 25 at Congress on May 28th 2008, and the NEC’s subsequent decision of June 13th to refer the question of its implementation to a Union committee, notwithstanding specialist legal advice that it breaches anti-discrimination legislation and Union rules, is further evidence of the UCU’s continuing and relentless obsession with the academic boycott of Israel…”
1 July 2008

“The discussion of the boycott project on the UCU activists’ list … There has been a constant deployment of some of the most traditional stereotypes of anti-Semitism, thinly concealed under the figleaf of anti-Zionism.  Repeated (and demonstrably false) claims have been made that Israel is committing genocide, and is comparable to the Nazis.  Those who have not shared the dominant hostility to Israel have been compared to members of an alien species. It has been explicitly asserted by Union activists that those members who resist this demonising of the Jewish state, and who are concerned about the double standards being deployed in the boycott project, are manipulatively trying to distract others from Israel’s crimes, and are indeed part of a conspiracy to do so.  The Union has failed to protect its Jewish members from this constant vilifying of Jewish self-determination. Formal complaints about the creation of an atmosphere hostile to many Jews have been dismissed by the Union as groundless. Even more worryingly, complaints which have been made about the possibility of institutional anti-Semitism have not even been addressed by the Union.  Silence.

The UCU’s obsessional determination to ostracise and punish Israel, and its persistent indifference to the concerns and fears of its Jewish members, have created an atmosphere within the Union which is hostile  …. I, like many others, can no longer bear the shame and embarrassment of belonging to an institution which is willing to discriminate against Jews, and whose readiness to do so is supported by leading members of its Executive Committee. …This Union is no longer a fit place for those who think that Jews have the same rights of self-determination, self-defence, and national identity as other peoples do, and I hereby resign from it.

7 July 2008
Norman Geras, Political Philosopher, career-long AUT member:
“To be a Jew in UCU today is to be, in some sort, a supplicant, pleading with the would-be boycotters and those unmoved to oppose them …, pleading for Israeli academics to be accepted as having the same status as other academics …, pleading that Jewish supporters of the rights of academics in the Jewish state should not be made to feel isolated in their own union… . Well, not to put too fine a point on it, shove that. Not today, not tomorrow, and not any time.”

21 August 2008

UCU activist Jenna Delich posted a link to a piece of antisemitic conspiracy theory from the website of David Duke, former head of the Ku Klux Klan.  Mike Cushman, one of the leaders within our union of the campaign to exclude Israelis, and only Israelis, from the global academic community, recommended Delich to take legal action against a website in order to keep this story out of the public domain.

October 2008

Physicist Raphaël Lévy resigns from UCU

The union has accepted without being moved the resignation of Jewish and antiracists union members, including philosopher Eve Garrard, philosopher Tim Crane, lawyer Eric Heinze, Professor of English Sarah Annes Brown, and Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies & Judaism Jonathan Campbell.   The union has excluded sociologist David Hirsh permanently from the UCU e-list.   …  I have considered the ethical implications of remaining a UCU member and I thereby resign.

20 February 2009

Mike Cushman posts an article on a public website which lists the number of Jewish people in parliament in order to construct an argument about how Tony Blair required Jewish “Zionist” money to run the New Labour project after he had cut Labour’s reliance on trade union funding.

May 27 2009

BRICUP, the British organisation behind the boycott of Israeli academics, held a fringe meeting at UCU Congress in 2009.

One question came from Sean Wallis, UCL UCU branch secretary. He wanted to speak about how UCU should debate a boycott, whether it’s legal or not.  One of the threats he mentioned was from lawyers backed by those with “bank balances from Lehman Brothers that can’t be tracked down.”  Sean Wallis never explained what he thought was the connection between anti boycott lawyers in Britain and allegedly stolen money from Lehman Brothers in New York.

December 2009

The Human Rights Commission is a national institution of post apartheid South Africa.   It ruled last December that the statements of Mongani Masuku on the subject of Israel amounted to antisemitic hate speech.  He was invited to the UK on a trip paid for by the University and College Union to promote the exclusion of Israelis, and only Israelis, from the global academic community.

The Human Rights Commission does not makes its judgments frivolously.  The Human Rights Commission is aware of the distinction between criticism of Israel and antisemitism.  The Human Rights Commission is not pro-Israel and is not concerned with defending the reputation of Israel.  It is concerned with racism.

Masuku has openly and repeatedly stated that South African trade unions would target Jewish supporters of Israel in South Africa and “make their lives hell”.  He urges that “every Zionist must be made to drink the bitter medicine they are feeding our brothers and sisters in Palestine”.

The Human Rights Commission recognized unequivocally that using anti-Israel rhetoric, Masuku has attempted to mobilize South African trade unionists against Jews in South Africa.  Masuku believes that Jews who are not anti-Zionist are “agents of apartheid and friends of Hitler” and he proposes to relate to them as though they were both.

UCU has paid for this man to tour Britain’s campuses to make the argument for a boycott of Israeli universities.

Surely, when it was explained to UCU that Masuku was here to use antisemitic hate speech then it would have realised that it has made a mistake?

But no.  The distinction between criticism of Israel and antisemitism has been explained to UCU countless times over the past decade but UCU is not interested and it continues to turn a blind eye to antisemitism.

A UCU spokesperson told a journalist from the Jerusalem Post that the sources of the evidence against Masuku were not credible.

The UCU spokesperson did not understand who the South African Human Rights Commission is or the significance of what it judged.

But there is nothing new about this.  UCU has demonstrated repeatedly that it is simply not bothered by antisemitism if it comes packaged in the language of criticism of Israel.

Jews in UCU have been bullied, have resigned, have been pushed out and have been silenced.  The situation is so serious that at the last UCU Congress there were no Jews left who were prepared to oppose the boycott campaign.

June 4, 2009

Jon Pike,

Resignation letter from UCU National Executive.

“We have a union that has allowed the distribution of antisemitic material on its internal lists, and the peddling of antisemitic conspiracy theories by some of its members, whilst banning anti-racist and Jewish members who have objected to such material.

We have a union from which hundreds of members – many of them Jewish – have resigned in protest at the unwarranted exceptionalism of its attitude to Israel.  I believe that many more will do so.

We have a union that entirely refuses to investigate concern about institutional antisemitism when raised through the proper channels, by members. The UCU is now the most complacent public institution in Britain with respect to the current rise in antisemitism.”

David Hirsh

Goldsmiths, University of London, UCU

David Hirsh’s response to the film ‘Defamation’

This piece, By David Hirsh, is cross posted with Comment Is Free.

The Bolsheviks used to aim to hit an enemy hard at its strongest point in the belief that a telling blow there would bring down the whole edifice. By contrast, Yoav Shamir, the Israeli director of the film Defamation, shown on More4 this week, chooses mainly easy targets. He presents some interesting material but he does so in a way that does not make the most of it.

The first easy target, queasily enough, is the film-maker’s own grandmother who lives in Jerusalem. She says that Jews don’t come to live in Israel because they are too busy swindling the non-Jews among whom they live. When I saw the film at the London Jewish Film Festival the audience laughed at Shamir’s silly grandmother. If I was a film-maker I wouldn’t use my grandmother in this way.

The next easy target of the film is the Anti-Defamation League. I thought the ADL’s autocratic but also slightly charismatic leader Abe Foxman didn’t come across too badly, but his staff allow themselves to be portrayed as entirely incapable of explaining how contemporary antisemitism works and one of his rich donors is encouraged to make a fool of herself for the entertainment of the audience. Foxman and his entourage are shown being hosted as though they were heads of state in Rome and Ukraine. Foxman says that one reason why the ADL is treated with such deference on these trips is that its hosts are under the impression that the ADL is part of some hugely powerful global network. Which of course it isn’t. The film itself though is tempted to trade on this old myth.

Shamir finds further easy targets in the street in Brooklyn. He talks to black people who live alongside ultra-orthodox Jewish communities there and he shows them rolling around in the stories of antisemitic conspiracy. He finds old Stalinist Jews to say there is no antisemitism in Russia and he finds orthodox rabbis to say antisemitism is exaggerated by secular Jews so that they can continue to feel Jewish.

The next easy target that Shamir chooses to portray as ridiculous is a group of Israeli 15-year-olds and their teachers on a trip to the sites of the Holocaust in Poland.  Difficult and complex questions are being grappled with by serious people but Defamation does not really engage in a sophisticated way. How should Israelis educate their children about the Holocaust?  What is the relationship between the Nazi project to wipe the world clean of Jews and the fact that half the world’s Jews now live in three cities along the coastal strip of the eastern Mediterranean? How should Jews and Israelis educate their children to be aware of the ways in which their own family, communal and national histories are connected to the genocide, without creating an unbearable feeling of being universally hated? How does the Holocaust relate to Israeli notions of national identity? All big and important questions.

I was talking to an Israeli teacher recently who runs some of these trips. I suggested to her that it would be interesting to bring Israeli children together with Polish ones to discuss issues relating to the past and the present. I was disappointed that she did not seem interested and could not see the potential value for the children of such encounters. It seems that the content and structure of these “rites of passage trips” is not set mainly at the level of individual teachers or schools but tends to be rather more politically scripted from above. Shamir succeeds in suggesting that these trips are troubling, and that they should be run more thoughtfully. I think it is right that Israeli teenagers should be educated about the Holocaust and I think it is entirely understandable that the stories they learn about these huge events should feed into their own personal and national identities. Indeed, this is true not only for Israeli and Jewish children.  Holocaust education always has to do two things. It has to bring out the universal lessons of the Holocaust, that racism can lead to genocide and that it must never be allowed to happen again, anywhere. But Holocaust education must also tell what happened specifically to the Jews, and it must teach specific lessons about antisemitism. Perhaps in Israel the first is too often neglected while in Europe it is the second which is sometimes forgotten.

Another of the film’s easy targets is Norman Finkelstein, the bitter and defeated American anti-Zionist. Shamir gives Finkelstein enough rope to hang himself and Finkelstein meekly obliges in a rather sad and pathetic way, culminating in his performance of a Nazi salute for the camera.

Shamir makes me into the hero of the film. Normally I would enjoy being the hero but in this case he constructs my heroic status by misrepresenting what I do and what I say.

I am shown making criticisms of the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians as though this was something controversial. I am shown arguing that contemporary antisemitism is in part a mystification of the real conflict, transformed by racist language and grotesque narratives. I actually said more that day than the one-sided soundbite that Shamir wanted to hear.

There were some hard rightwingers at the conference who hated what I said and who heckled me. There were some anti-racists who liked what I said and congratulated me. Like in any other movement against racism, there are significant political differences in the global struggle against antisemitism. Dina Porat, who is shown angrily arguing with me is not all that scary! I gave a presentation at her own centre at Tel Aviv University the following day and we had a serious scholarly discussion.

Three of the key figures at the Global Forum are genuine liberals and antiracists: John Mann, the British Labour MP, Gert Weisskirchen, the veteran German Social Democrat and Irwin Cotler, the Canadian human rights lawyer and politician. The overwhelming majority of the Israelis at the conference were two-staters, people who have been committed for decades to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Shamir preferred to present the story as a group of dishonest rightwing defenders of Israel being confronted by one heroic British sociologist. Very nice, but not a true picture.

Since that conference Israel has lurched to the right, as has the ministry of foreign affairs, which is currently headed by Avigdor Lieberman, a man who garnered votes in the general election by rhetorically threatening the position of Arab citizens of Israel. I suspect somebody in the ministry saw Defamation, because although I was invited to the conference this year, I was not asked to speak. Here is my report of this year’s event.

What worries me is that many who see the film will come away with the impression that contemporary antisemitism is basically invented by “Zionists” in order to de-legitimise criticism of Israel. If that is what his film encourages people to think, or if it allows people to come away with that impression, then it is a worrying film, even if it does raise some interesting issues.

Who was the film for? Why was an Israeli film-maker making a film in English? It wasn’t for Israelis. It wasn’t an Israeli journey of self-discovery, it was a performance for an international non-Israeli audience which lapped it up, at the Berlin film festival, the London film festival etc. As a film about contemporary antisemitism it fails to get to the heart of any issues. As a polemic, it fails to hit any of its enemies’ strong positions.

The truth is it doesn’t require much courage at all to stand up and oppose Israeli human rights abuses. People do it all the time. Israelis do it all the time. It is the illusion of the moment, pushed by films such as Defamation, pushed by the self-promotion of the anti-Zionists that there are fearsome prices to be paid for supporting Palestinian liberation. Personally, I find it much more frightening to stand up for a democratic and genuinely liberational kind of criticism against the current British orthodoxy of casting Israel, and the Jews who support it, as uniquely and especially threatening.

This piece, By David Hirsh, is cross posted with Comment Is Free.

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