Alan Johnson on his recent debate with Norman Finkelstein

Professor Alan Johnson, senior research fellow for Bicom and editor of Fathom journal, writes in the JC about his recent debate with Professor Norman Finkelstein at Kings College.

He did not mention the antisemitic murders in Toulouse, Paris, Brussels or Copenhagen. Instead, he told the audience that the opinion polls that have been reporting a rise in antisemitism were stupid. How so? Well, he said, agreement with statements about Jews do not indicate antisemitism if those statements are… true.

You see, he informed the students, Jews do think they are better than anyone else and Jews do bang on about the Holocaust too much to gain sympathy (“doesn’t every sane person think that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust?” he asked, mockingly, to laughter). And so on.

The taboos fell like nine pins. “Jews are tapped into the networks of power and privilege,” he said. “You marry a Jew, it opens doors,” because Jews are “the richest ethnic group in the United States”. Maybe there was some little stigma, sometimes, directed at some Jews, but so what? It’s not nice, but it is “socially inconsequential”. In fact – he actually said this, I have the tape – it is more socially consequential to be short, fat, bald or ugly than to be Jewish. “Look,” he said, “most people carry on in life, bearing these stigmas. It’s called life. Get used to it.”

How bad was it? So bad that, during the discussion period, the press officer from the Stop the War group stood up and objected: “Hold on, we do need to take antisemitism

Read the whole article here.

David Icke pays a lot of money in damages


David Icke

While David Icke was a Green Party Principal Speaker in the late ’80s, others in the party such as David Taylor (a subsequent Principal Speaker) took the lead in raising the alarm about his conspiracy theories. The main focus of criticism was Icke’s book ‘The Robot’s Rebellion’(1), which used the well known antisemitic text ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ as a major source to repeatedly link Jews with a global elite of Illuminati.

Although Icke was no longer Principal Speaker, he was still associated with the party, not least by the media. The campaign to expose his antisemitism spread beyond the Green Party. There was some success persuading venues not to host him.

Icke retaliated by accusing David Taylor of being one of the reptile humans who were conspiring to take over the world. He also libelled one of the activists, Canadian human rights lawyer Richard Warman.

From Warman’s site:

“British conspiracy writer David Icke and co-defendants have paid Canadian human rights lawyer Richard Warman $210,000 CDN (117,000 GBP) in damages and legal costs to settle a libel action against them.

In 1999-2000, Warman had worked with various Jewish and anti-racism groups to notify public venues in Canada of discriminatory elements within Icke’s mishmash of conspiracy theories. After being provided with material from Icke’s own writings, a number of these venues withdrew permission for Icke to use their facilities in his tours.

In retaliation, Icke included false allegations in his 2001 book Children of the Matrix that Warman was seeking to suppress Icke’s purported exposure of Satanic child abuse and murder.

Warman said “This settlement exposes Icke’s argument that no one had ever sued him because his allegations were true as nothing more than a fallacy.””

Read it all.

Richard Warman

This may be less a triumph over antisemitism than a triumph over defamation, but it is very helpful in discrediting a still-popular political character with antisemitic views. And for those like David Taylor and Richard Warman who stood up to Icke on antisemitism and suffered for it, this is justice. Spread the word.

But in case you’re thinking we’re out of the woods, you should know that politically-experienced Green Party supporters are still instinctively amplifying David Icke on Twitter. And does anybody know if Steve Mason (who I love) is still leaving the Ickey bit at the end of ‘Fight Them Back’ out of his live shows? Conspiracy beliefs and their devoted adherents are the outriders for hard right thinking.


Unlinked because I don’t want this crap going even a tiny bit up the search engine rankings. Copy and paste into your browser address bar.


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50 Days in the Summer: Gaza, political protest and antisemitism in the UK

This very clear and measured report was commissioned to assist the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism. Ben Gidley, a Senior Researcher at the University of Oxford’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, explores the impact of events in the Middle East on antisemitic discourse in the UK.

It seems certain that last July’s spike in antisemitic incidents was connected to Operation Protective Edge. This report sets out to investigate trickier questions about the nature and degree of antisemitic discourse associated with protests against Israel, and the effects of the way the media reported both on the conflict and the demonstrations (p.2).

The report emphasises the importance of context in determining antisemitism. Whereas a Palestinian flag is not antisemitic if carried in a protest outside the Israeli embassy, the presence of the same flag would have a clear antisemitic charge outside a kosher deli or synagogue (p.4)

Some cases are more complex. Gidley suggests that the phrase ‘child murderers’, if directed at Israel, is ‘potentially legitimate criticism’ (p. 5). But it may trigger sensitivities due to the antisemitic blood libel trope. Inevitably there are grey areas where sincere disagreement or misunderstanding may occur.

In fact most of the placards visible at demonstrations against Israel were not antisemitic, the report concludes (p. 6). However there were some exceptions, mostly focused on familiar tropes:

Variations on the historic blood libel, malicious uses of Holocaust comparison, attributions of Jewish collective responsibility or dual loyalty, and images of Jewish power.

Many children did die in Gaza, and it’s not surprising that Israel’s critics focus on this issue. However, it’s equally unsurprising that ‘British Jews, sensitive to the use of the blood libel in triggering pogroms historically, may be likely to experience accusations of antisemitism through this lens.’ (p. 7) And, when the phrase ‘child murderers’ moves away from the street protest and is pinned onto a synagogue – then clearly the boundary has been crossed.

Holocaust comparisons are another common vector for antisemitism. ‘Holocaust inversion’ casts Israel as the new Nazis, Palestinians as the new Jews, and, just a little more subtly but hardly less offensively, Jews are blamed for not learning the correct lessons from the Holocaust (p. 8).

There’s some very precise analysis of the mechanisms at work in the cross-pollination between far left anti-Zionism and far-right antisemitism.

In many cases, anti-Israel activists in perfectly good faith recirculate material from far right provenance. Thus casual and unwitting low-level forms of antisemitism circulating in the wider culture can reinforce and draw people towards more ideological forms of antisemitism.

Presumably this re-circulation occurs without antisemitic intent, but it legitimates and normalises ideologically antisemitic discourse. Those already exposed to casual forms of Holocaust inversion in anti-Israel context are more receptive to Holocaust denial; those already exposed to casual forms of Jewish power allegation are more receptive to complex ideologically driven conspiracy theories. (p. 10)

Gidley then expands on the importance of recognizing that actions or words may have no antisemitic intent yet still be ‘objectively’ antisemitic in their impact (p. 11).

In its discussion of the media, the report emphasises the need for the Jewish press to report antisemitism responsibly, and not use hyperbole to create unnecessary tension. But it also rightly insists on the need for ‘mainstream Britiain to understand and take seriously the insecurity of the community.’ (p. 13)

Finally, a worrying tendency to overlook or dismiss accusations of antisemitism is analyzed, and identified as a particular danger when Israel receives such disproportionate scrutiny in the media, particularly the left wing media.

Book Review | Jews and the Left: The Rise and Fall of a Political Alliance – David Hirsh

This review, by David Hirsh, is published in the fathom1832718529

Social theorists sometimes enjoy treating the ‘now’ as the key turning point of history; they like it because it puts their own intellectual work of understanding centre stage. With this often comes nostalgia for a past which exists partly in their own imagination, extrapolated from a few fixed points of fact and anecdote. And it looks to a future, either rosy or apocalyptic, depending on the extent to which the theorist’s understanding is taken on board.

We tend already to have pictures in our heads of the relationship between Jews and the Left which fit comfortably with our own worldviews. Jewish conservatives tend to see the Left as a constant threat which is always tempted to position the Jews as being central to what is bad in the world; they see the Left as being ever hopeful that Jewishness itself will wither away alongside the other vestiges of oppressive society. The Jewish left, on the other hand, is nostalgic for authentic ‘Jewish values’ which, naturally, mirror its own; it pictures the Jews as being forged as a radical people by oppression and exclusion, and it emphasises a coincidence of interest between the Jews and all of the diverse oppressed in the world.

Philip Mendes’s book informs and challenges our happy processes of narrative construction with scholarly research and it offers a more detailed study of how things have actually been in particular times and places. It gives us more fixed points which discipline and shape the stories we tell ourselves; it offers us a more complex and human picture than some of us would like to assimilate into our schemas of history.

An interesting imbalance which Mendes describes is that while a significant minority of Jews were influential within the radical left, a substantial majority of Jews remained outside of it. Most Jews did not commit themselves to changing the world such that antisemitism, as well as other forms of injustice were eradicated; more of them embraced one variant or another of Jewish nationalism, or they emigrated to more hospitable places such as the USA, Canada or Britain, or they remained inward looking, focusing on their own religious communities. The Jews who either eschewed or performed their Jewish identities in relation to their membership of the radical left were not typical. A contemporary imbalance follows: while a large and influential proportion of left anti-Zionists are Jewish, only a very small percentage of Jews are anti-Zionists.

On the other hand, argues Mendes, the Left, broadly conceived, did have a number of contact points with the wider Jewish communities. The Left’s universalist tradition of equality coincided with the interest in emancipation of the Jews; many Jews in Europe and Russia were poor and the Left championed the poor; there was a Jewish tradition of literacy and intellectualism which fed easily into the Left and that attracted some Jews; Jews moved toward the towns and cities early and the Left was a significantly urban movement; Jews often had an ambiguous place in relation to the identities of the emerging nationalisms amongst which they lived, as did the Left, so notions of cosmopolitanism had the potential to become a shared value, as well as a source of particular hostility from the outside.

Many who have witnessed, or even experienced in themselves, the angrily disproportionate and highly emotional hostility which some instantiations of radical Jewish identity can engender towards the mainstream of the Jewish community, have wondered if there might be some psychological explanation for the phenomenon; Jews who loathe Israel, Jews who cannot smell antisemitism, Jews who long for assimilation, Jews who themselves seem to repeat or endorse antisemitic stereotypes, Jews who find justifications for the antisemitism of others; Jews whose special loathing is reserved for other Jews. Is there something about their own Jewish heritage, something within themselves, part of their own identities, which they hate? Mendes says no. He argues that these are political questions and not psychological ones and that the phenomenon of Jewish anti-Zionism requires political, not psychological analysis.

But Mendes outlines some significant and, for many Jews, deal-breaking chapters in the relationship between the Jews and the Left. There were always streams of anarchism, socialism and anti-capitalism which thought of hostility to ‘Jewish capitalism’ and ‘Jewish banking’ as being educative for the would-be socialist masses on their journey towards hostility to capitalism and banking in general. When movements came to power in Russia and Eastern Europe which described themselves as socialist, they were also pioneers of state-imposed antisemitism; the experience of Nazism did little to inoculate Communist states against antisemitism, it only drove them to articulate it in slightly different formulations. Slansky, the (himself viciously anti-democratic) President of ‘socialist’ Czechoslovakia was driven out of power by an antisemitic witch-hunt and he was found guilty of ‘bourgeois Jewish nationalism’. Stalin, towards the end of his life, was more and more committed to an outright war of annihilation against Soviet Jews, the start of which was discernible in the ‘Doctors’ plot’ trial.

In times when how we feel about the relationship between Jews and the Left is allowed more significance than it really deserves, Mendes’s book is a scholarly seam of research and measured analysis. In particular, we live in a time when young antiracists and scholars are socialised to feel that Israel, and the Jews who are held to support it, are at the very centre of all that is bad in the world. We should use this book to teach them something about the actual histories of Jews in the world and about the harm which can flow from a worldview which appropriates the image of the Jew as a universal symbol. This book substitutes fact for feeling and analysis for symbolism.

This review, by David Hirsh, is published in the fathom

Jews are allowed to talk about the Holocaust without being accused of acting in bad faith – Alan Johnson

This piece, by Alan Johnson, is published on

‘The Livingstone Formulation’ is a term coined by the academic David Hirsh to refer to the practice of responding to claims of antisemitism by alleging that those making the claim are only doing so to prevent Israel from being criticised. In other words, the Jews are accused of “playing the antisemitism card”.

On Tuesday, with the Israeli Prime Minister still on his feet addressing a joint session of Congress, the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen, lip curled, tweeted “#NetanyahuSpeech He acknowledges Elie Wiesel in audience. Once again Netanyahu plays the Holocaust card. Don’t repeat mistakes of the past”.

Mr Bowen’s idea is that when an Israeli leader mentions the Holocaust he is being tricksy, manipulative, acting in bad faith, “playing a card” to get narrow advantage in contemporary politics, not really expressing a genuine thought about the Holocaust itself or a genuine fear about a second, nuclear, Holocaust.

And that idea, of the Bad Faith Jew, is unmistakably dripping in the assumptions and myths of classic antisemitism.

Mr Bowen did what only the antisemitic extremists used to do, reduce the invocation of the Holocaust to a common sense indicator of ‘Zionist’ bad faith and something to disdain.

Well, the Holocaust happened. It happened to the Jews. And now the Jews are threatened again by a genocidal regime. These are facts.

Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth”.

On 23 July 2014, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenai wrote: “This barbaric, wolflike & infanticidal regime of #Israel which spares no crime has no cure but to be annihilated.”

Benjamin Netanyahu had every right — nay, a duty — as Israel’s Prime Minister, to remind the world what happens when we appease murderous tyrannies that promise genocide against the Jews.

To sneer and attack him for doing so, to dismiss his words as “playing the Holocaust card”; well, it was a bloody disgrace.

Shame on you, Jeremy Bowen.

Prof Alan Johnson is a Senior Research Fellow at Bicom

This piece, by Alan Johnson, is published on

SOAS is not boycotting Israel – Colin Shindler

This piece, written by Colin Shindler, is published on

The Qatari-owned website Al Araby proudly proclaimed that “SOAS becomes the first UK university to boycott Israel”.

This was patently untrue. It was not “SOAS” the institution that voted – not the governing body, not the administration, not even formally the lecturers’ union, but an invented “SOAS community”. Anyone could vote who wanted to – including the SOAS cleaners and security guards.

The results of the student-led BDS referendum by this “SOAS community” demonstrated that 74 per cent of students did not vote for the motion- and this stretches to 86 per cent if the distance-learning students are included.

SOAS is unusual in London colleges in that its first-class programmes rightly attract many students from the Arab and Islamic worlds – and they would understandably vote for BDS.

It is patently untrue that the school has backed a boycott

On the other hand, the administration itself is neither pro-nor anti-Israel, but strongly defends freedom of expression and the right to a different narrative. When there were calls to ban a series of lectures by Tel Aviv University academics, which coincided with Operation Cast Lead in 2009, the SOAS administration steadfastedly refused to capitulate.

While Israel is certainly not the flavour of the month at SOAS, the institution is also one of the leaders in Israel studies in this country and is the headquarters of the European Association of Israel Studies.

Attending SOAS forces Jewish students to examine their Jewish identity and their relationship to Israel. They emerge stronger and better informed than their elders and peers. Many SOAS students leave to work for Jewish and Israeli organisations, including the Zionist Federation and the Israel Embassy.

Even so, selective outrage about the Israeli presence on the West Bank has instigated saturation coverage by the SOAS unions for many years. The local lecturers’ union was formerly a stronghold of the far left Socialist Workers Party. The SWP founder, Yigael Gluckstein, opposed conscription into the British Army to fight Nazism in Mandatory Palestine in the 1940s. His approach followed the Trotskyist line that World War II was a conflict between two rival imperialisms – one as bad as the other.

Such convoluted thinking has characterised other campaigns. It is therefore not surprising that there has been union silence at SOAS on the Charlie Hebdo killings as well as the Syrian tragedy.

The referendum organisers’ congratulatory self-deception at the results masks the inability of the BDS movement to make a breakthrough in changing the political reality in Israel.

Successive right-wing governments are elected. Periodic conflicts with the Islamists continue. The settlement drive moves forward. And BDS advocates preach the same mantra.

BDS has been very successful in attracting celebrities to its standard who bemoan the Palestinian plight. But public relations is not public reality. It entrenches positions and reinforces the politics of stagnation that is debilitating for Israeli and Palestinian alike.

Colin Shindler is an emeritus professor at SOAS. His book The Rise of the Israeli Right will be published by Cambridge University Press later this year

This piece, written by Colin Shindler, is published on

The Palestine/Israel question and racialised discourses on Jews – Robert Fine

Robert Fine’s talk at ‘Anti-Jewish and Anti-Muslim Racism and the Question of Palestine/Israel’.

Robert Fine

Robert Fine

The aim of this panel is to discuss ‘the role of the Palestine/Israel question in racialised discourses on Jews’.   The starting point of my contribution to this discussion is to say simply that antisemitism is not caused by the behavior of Jews any more than Islamophobia is caused by the behavior of Muslims or anti-Black racism is caused by the behavior of Black people.  This may seem obvious but I feel it is worth restating because the temptation to lay the blame for racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia on the victims often sneaks in through a back door.

In terms of the Palestine / Israel question, this means we should no more attribute antisemitism to the Israeli occupation of Palestine than we would attribute the cause of Islamophobia to the fact that Hamas has an antisemitic constitution or the fact that some politically fundamentalist Muslims murdered journalists, Jews and police people in Paris.

Hannah Arendt put the matter in a typically robust way when she wrote that to treat the behaviour of Jews as the source of antisemitism is ‘the malicious and stupid insight of antisemites, who think that this vile tenet can account for hecatombs of human sacrifice’. Arendt added that ‘the foundations of antisemitism are found in developments that have very little to do with Jews’. This does not mean that some people do not use the actual behaviour of some Jews as material for their antisemitic phantasies, just as other people use the actual behaviour of some Muslims as material for their Islamophobic phantasies. Racism is a versatile beast that grabs hold of what it can. The history of every category of people contains misdeeds that can serve as fuel for the racist imagination, although the racist imagination is not limited to such real or imagined misdeeds.

Arendt acknowledged that in the late nineteenth century the pioneers of antisemitism picked up on the actual history of European Jews, especially rich European Jews, to feed their antisemitic imagination. However, she maintained that the antisemitic movements, which emerged in the wake of the First World War and paved the way for the Holocaust, became increasingly remote from any social reality. Eventually, in Arendt’s words, antisemitism ‘emancipated itself from all specific Jewish deeds and misdeeds’; it became ‘severed from all actual experience concerning the Jewish people’.

Similarly, we can acknowledge that today antisemitism sometimes draws its material from the actual behaviour of Israel and its supporters, even if it grossly distorts these experiences, and at other times it emancipates itself from all specific ‘Zionist’ deeds and misdeeds and becomes pure phantasy. For the sake of time, I ask you to fill in examples of each, but I hope we can agree that, whatever we think of Zionism or the actions of Zionists, it is no more responsible for antisemitism in the 21st century than rich Jews were responsible for antisemitism in the nineteenth century.

This may be more important to say than we realise, since the history of socialism offers significant examples of Marxists and other radicals ascribing hatred of Jews to the actual harmfulness of ‘the Jews’ themselves. This is why some Marxists were as critical of philosemitism as they were of antisemitism.

Jews do not have to behave like saints to be free from responsibility for antisemitism. Again we can take a leaf out of Arendt’s book. Arendt was critical of the political behaviour of ‘Court Jews’ for financing European monarchs in the 17th and 18th centuries and then of Jewish banking houses in financing reactionary states after the French revolution. This did not, however, diminish her repudiation of antisemitic stereotypes that exploited these practices to portray Jews as ‘a secret world power which makes and unmakes governments’, as ‘the secret force behind the throne’, or as possessors of a wealth that held Europe ‘in its thrall’. These stereotypes converted a particular moment of Jewish history, one that was normatively ambivalent, into the fictitious form of a noxious Jewish essence.

Arendt was also critical of a coterie of middle class Jews in the modern period who, she felt, valued assimilation so highly that they were ready to assimilate even to the antisemitism of the society around them. She wrote with some scorn of the indifference to antisemitism or even the complicity with antisemitism that was to be found among some highly educated Jews. She wrote of a tendency within the Jewish intelligentsia that was prone on the one hand to ‘slavish’ expressions of exaggerated patriotism and gratitude to ‘whatever government happened to be in power’, and on the other hand to dismiss concerns expressed by Jews about antisemitism on the grounds that antisemitism was an outmoded prejudice inexorably coming to an end in the present. She was dismayed by the eagerness of a certain wing of assimilated Jewry to close their eyes to the new forms of antisemitism arising around them. Arendt commented repeatedly on the political failure of such ‘assimilationist’ currents to acknowledge, understand or confront the rise of a new antisemitism, and on the advantage this gave to antisemites.

Following Arendt, we do not have to paint Israel in pastel colours, as it were, to relieve it of responsibility for racialised representations of Israel. We ought to criticise the occupation of another people’s land, the abuses committed against Palestinians who live on that land, the human rights abuses that flow from the occupation, the discrimination aimed at the Palestinian minority inside Israel, the recently enhanced rendition of Zionism as an ethnic form of nationalism, the new constitutional emphasis on the Jewish rather than ‘Jewish democratic’ character of the state, the disregard for civilian life that was shown by certain elements of the Israel army, the growth of anti-Arab racism inside Israeli society, and persecutory practices like destroying the houses of families of Arabs (but not Jews) suspected of terrorism.

In resisting antisemitic representations of these oppressive actions, we should try to understand the conflictual social relations in which they are inserted rather than present them as ‘results’ of the original sin of Zionism. Israel is by no means the only or the worst perpetrator of these abuses and Zionism is by no means the only or worst nationalism. It is true that criticism of Israel is not necessarily antisemitic but what passes as ‘criticism’ of Israel certainly can be antisemitic.

Criticism of any ‘country’ can be racist in one way or another. In my own old research there was much to criticise about the Mugabe regime in postcolonial Zimbabwe, but the notion that ‘Africans cannot rule themselves’ certainly put criticism on an unacceptable raciological terrain. It seems to me that collective stereotypes about ‘the Muslims’, ‘the Arabs’, ‘the Jews’, ‘the Germans’ are all at risk of expressing racially charged forms of ‘criticism’. When I hear collective stereotypes about ‘the Israelis’ or ‘the Zionists’, I appreciate everything depends on the context in which these expressions are used, but the risk of racialisation seems to me the same.

In the 1960s and 1970s a refrain we heard within the left was that whereas all other capitalist societies could, as it were, be ‘saved’ by socialist revolution, the innermost nature of Israeli society was so wrong, so ill founded, that it was beyond rescue. This is why some of our fellow leftists declared that Israel had to cease to exist and demanded the destruction of the Israeli state. We should not lose sight of our abnormal and dangerous this demand is. Even if we put on the Marxist glasses of those times and look at Israel as a colonial state, colonial states were to be won for socialism through the path of revolution. Their existence as states was not questioned. They were not condemned to be annihilated.

It only makes sense to demand the destruction of the Jewish state if one treats its deficiencies as innate and eternal. This is why the idea of a two-state solution, that is, the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, was treated as anathema by the antizionist left, since it implied that Israel as a Zionist state would still prevail.

Today we often hear expressions of support for civic rather than ethnic nationalism, for postnationalism rather than nationalism, for anti-colonialism rather than occupation in leftist discussions of Israel. I agree with these demands, but I cannot agree that a failure to meet these demands means that Israel is not allowed to exist. Nowhere else except in relation to Israel would this conclusion be drawn. It does not involve much imagination to think about the advantages antisemitic movements would be keen to take from singling out the state of Israel for delegitimation.
I am pessimistic about the way antisemitic conclusions are being drawn from the Israel-Palestine conflict. I take some heart from the show of popular outrage expressed in France in part against the murder of four Jewish shoppers simply because they were Jews. The current election in Israel also offers some opportunity for more liberal forces that exist in Israeli society to gain political representation, but there is plenty of reason to think that this opportunity will once again be wasted – in part because of the weakness of international solidarity in Europe and America.

My sense is that the struggle for democracy and social justice in Israel and in Palestine is getting tougher, not easier. Tendencies toward military authoritarianism, inter-communal forms of violence, the disintegration of nation states and to the triumph of superstition over reason and law raise really difficult questions for democracy in the Middle East generally. It seems to me that these tendencies cannot easily be contained and that their echoes can be heard both in Israel and in Europe. I feel that a radical rethink is needed in how we understand the role of the Israel-Palestine conflict in encouraging racialised conceptions of Jews. Rightly or wrongly I would still look to a two-state solution, and also a more nuanced and troubled relation between victim and victimizer than we are currently exposed to. Our solidarity with those who reject both racism and antisemitism is more urgent than ever and I want to end by commending Nira and the other organisers for taking this initiative.

Robert Fine

Warwick University



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