May 21, 2005

Academic intifada update

Bittersweet news from the Free Palestine demonstration today. Sue Blackwell said that she expects the boycott motion to be lost at the special meeting of the AUT on Thursday 26/5/2005, though she pointed out, as I did in an earlier post, that many gains have already been made. Many people will have heard for the first time that Israel is an apartheid state based on ethnic cleansing, colonial settlement and relentless aggression, many people will see for themselves the power of the zionist movement and now a new expression has passed into the political lexicon of the left: the academic initifada. Already ENGAGE, the anti-boycott blog, is crowing that
Thursday will be a victory for the authentic left over the posturing left

David Hirsh
Goldsmiths College

Without Engage’s efforts, AUT would still have an effectively racist policy, [effectively, not actually, racist. This is an echo of the anti-divestment from Israel campaign in America which was denounced as being anti-semitic in effect if not in intent, so at this point, the author is not accusing the pro-boycott camp of racism, but read on]would be haemorrhaging members at a perhaps fatal rate and would be regarded as a racist union in the UK and worldwide by many people. So AUT activists should be pleased that Engage has rescued our union.[ok then, let's ignore the fact that it was AUT activists who supported the boycott] Over the last few weeks we have been the strongest AUT loyalists around.[mobilising non- and even anti-union people to join up to get an apartheid state off the hook of public disapproval]

There are two pernicious sentiments hanging around AUT at the moment. [hmm, sentiments? How do we recognise sentiments?]One is that all the Jews came out of the woodwork because their ‘communal’ interest was threatened - they don’t really care about the union or about their colleagues - only about their own interest.[all the Jews? Who said this? And which anti-zionist sees zionism as a Jewish communal interest? Didn't a predominantly Jewish audience recently vote in favour of a motion in a debate titled Zionism today is the real enemy of the Jews? Leaving the wilful dishonesty to one side, see now how the author has slipped from using the term "effectively racist" to accusing the boycott's supporters of denouncing Jews as Jews - without naming anybody of course]

The other pernicious sentiment hanging around is that we (we Jews? we Engage?) pretend to be outraged by Israel’s racist treatment of the Palestinians but we really don’t care; we are just some sort of ‘Zionist Front’ (Jewish Front? Board of Deputies Front?) organisation. We are not serious about supporting Palestinians, we have no record of supporting Palestinians and we will not support Palestinians in the future.[I don't think anyone who supports the boycott is suggesting that "we Jews" have no history of support for the Palestinians. "We Jews" have a fine tradition of support for the Palestinians and all pro-boycott activists know so and say so. So who does the author mean? To suggest that Engage has no history of support for the Palestinians is probably a fair comment since I don't think it has much of a history period.]

Firstly, neither of these sentiments are actually based on fact. [which gives them something in common with David Hirsh's allegations] While it is true that some Jewish AUT members were motivated to join with Engage and to attend their own special branch meetings, it is also true that many more non-Jewish members were activated either because they are genuine anti-racists, [who support Israel!] or because they believe in academic freedom or because they believed that their union had been plunged into crisis. The campaign against the boycott has not been a communalist campaign, it has been an anti-racist, and pro-union campaign.[conducted with support from non-unionists and Likudniks]

The victory at next week’s Special Council will be a victory for the authentic left against the posturing left. It will be a victory for those who stand up for Palestinian rights and who stand against the Sharon regime [then why is it supported by Sharon's ambassador to London?] - and it will be a victory for those who do so without allowing themselves to be polluted by the ’socialism of fools’ - antisemitism.[there! he's said it. The dreaded A-word. The word that strikes terror into the hearts of all of us who are offended by ethnic cleansing and segregation. The word that has been so overused of late that it's losing all meaning. Melanie Phillips and Rod Liddle have even said that anti-capitalism is displaced anti-semitism. But this guy's a leftist, says he. But now he has moved from saying "effectively racist" to accusing the pro-boycott camp of anti-semitism. No "effectively" there then.]

Secondly, even if it were true that Jews had come out to defend themselves as Jews from their own union’s antisemitic policy - what would be suspect or unusual about that?[how about the fact that Jews aren't being attacked in the union? Also the author has now come dangerously close to making the generalised allegation of communalism among Jews that he has falsely accused the pro-boycott camp of doing]

If I wanted to detail the track record of support for Palestinians and for the Israeli peace movement represented by each contributor to Engage I could do. [Even though no one's asked him to] Most of us have been involved for many years in arguing and fighting against the racist policies of Israeli governments; many of us have been working in support of the refusenik movements. Many of us have proud records of supporting Palestinian rights and Palestinian national aspirations. Many of us are involved in academic projects and research that links with this record. And the boycott, after all, is a policy designed not for activists but for people who seek some kind of tokenistic way to feel that they are doing something to help.[so it's the pro-boycott camp that has no history of support for the Palestinians nor any intention of doing anything in the future? I should say here that there are anti-occupation campaigners who oppose the boycott, but they don't as a rule call the pro-boycott camp anti-semitic because it's a smear, nothing more. And this is where the sincerity of this particular writer is suspect]

But the point is not our record or our future plans. The point is the validity of what we argue. Opposing a racist policy in AUT does not commit those oppositionists to spending the rest of their lives doing Palestine Solidarity work in order to prove that they have the right to speak. AUT should make and facilitate links with Palestinian and Israeli academics; AUT should help and encourage Palestinians and Israelis who are fighting against the occupation, for freedom and for academic freedom. [it does] Individual Jews in the UK do not have any particular responsibility to do this [who says we do? I know there are many people in the media demanding that Muslims condemn any or every act of terrorism or resistance but who is telling Jews to denounce zionism or the occupation?] – any more than anyone else does – and any more than they have a particular responsibility to oppose China’s occupation of Tibet or Russia’s occupation of Chechnya.

The central point on this, however, is that supporting Palestinians without saying anything about Israeli rights is one sided and counter-productive. The anti-Zionists who (through ignorance) [ignorance of what?] flirt with antisemitism [how so?] do damage to the cause of Palestinian liberation and to the cause of peace in the Middle East. [decades of appeasement of the racist war criminals of Israel has seen a growth in religious extremism on both sides but to consider both the most powerful state in the middle east and a stateless people in terms of "six of one and half a dozen of the other" is as dishonest a stance as one could adopt, but clearly appeasement has been a failure...a deliberate failure]
Anyway, it goes on for a little bit more and the author is quite proud of his work. To me, it reads like a Melanie Phillips diatribe, but if there's one honest thing about Mad Mel, she doesn't claim to be a leftist.


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