September 09, 2006

Richard Bartholomew on that "antisemitism" report

This is a bit upsetting. I have plenty of time for the blog, Bartholomew's notes on religion and so it was with some dismay that I saw that Richard Bartholomew found anything to commend the recent "Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism." I am grateful that he read it because a mere glance at the "witnesses" had me reaching for the sick bag. And he does eventually get round to criticising it in his own understated way:
However, this is where the report becomes problematic:
The EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism, quoted in full on page 6, identifies some of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel:

• Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, for example by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.

• Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

• Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (for example claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis.

• Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

• Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

The EUMC Definition goes on to state that criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.


But how exactly do we define “double standards”? What does “self-determination” mean? For example, I support the right of return for Palestinian refugees, but I’m told by some that that would dilute the Jewish character of state, and therefore undermine Jewish “self-determination”. I think that’s probably the case, but I don’t see why justice for Palestinians should therefore be denied, since I would not accept this as a legitimate ground for my own dispossession. Does that make me an anti-Semite? And the “double standards” complaint is often no more than a smokescreen. Rather than deal with a criticism of Israel, the response is often: “ahh, but what about Islamist terrorism and anti-Semitism? Why do you criticise Israel when China occupies Tibet? etc. etc.” Yes, those injustices should also be opposed, and on some sort of scale may be “worse” than Israel’s behaviour. But why should it be necessary to reel off a litany of all these other ills before one can reasonably expect a complaint about Israel to be taken seriously?

The report goes on to quote Shalom Lappin:

Professor Shalom Lappin submitted to us that the conflict itself is not reported with the detachment applied to other areas of conflict such as Darfur or Chechnya:
“The Israel-Palestinian encounter has been largely denaturalised and removed from its political and regional context. It is no longer seen as a political and military struggle between two nations with a long and complex history...Instead, it has been endowed with the peculiar status of an iconic clash between good and evil. Israel has increasingly come to be construed as the purest embodiment of imperialism, racism and oppression whose sole national purpose is to dispossess the Palestinians.”
Such interpretations of the conflict no doubt do exist, and are regrettable – but shallow and “denaturalised” approaches do not, of course, invalidate analyses critical of Israel that do not share this flaw. And if we transpose the words “Israel” and “the Palestinians” in the last sentence, we have a reasonably useful description of the same vice as it appears in a fair bit of pro-Israel discourse.

There’s also a section on the academic boycott debate, where all attempt at discursive discussion goes out the window. The inquiry takes the line of the “Engage” anti-boycott organisation, without seeking any input from academics such as Steven or Hilary Rose, the Jewish academics who first proposed the idea of breaking links with Israeli institutions:
We conclude that calls to boycott contact with academics working in Israel are an assault on academic freedom and intellectual exchange. We recommend that lecturers in the new University and College Lecturers Union are given every support to combat such selective boycotts that are anti-Jewish in practice. We would urge the new union’s executive and leadership to oppose the boycott.
The boycott is termed “anti-Jewish in practice” because it would supposedly have its biggest impact on Jewish academics, and on the discipline of Jewish studies. But a bit more context is needed: one issue raised by the debate was links between Israel’s higher education system and the infrastructure of the occupation. The motion that was passed by the (now defunct) union NAFTHE was in the context of “academic responsibility”, and
invites members to consider their own responsibility for ensuring equity and non-discrimination in contacts with Israeli educational institutions or individuals, and to consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies.
I think this formulation was flawed, and I would certainly have much preferred a more impersonal approach asking academics to consider how their links with particular institutions or projects might be ethically compromised through association with the occupation. But this is hardly “an assault on academic freedom”. Rather than deal with the text of the motion that was actually passed, the Inquiry instead relies on lurid accounts from Engage about Jewish academics facing the prospect of having their emails to foreign universities monitored.There is also a more general discussion of the availability of racist and anti-Semitic material on the internet, and a disturbing suggestion from a former minister:
The former Home Office Minister Paul Goggins MP gave evidence of a model which could possibly be applied to racist material on the internet. In the case of child pornography it is now an offence to download images from the internet, and it may be possible to develop a similar law in regard to material which could incite racial or religious hatred.
As someone who has trawled through a few far-right websites for research purposes, that seems to me to be a very bad idea. And surely the current offence is not so much “downloading” child pornography as possessing it, whether electronically or on paper? Are the owners of racist books (or their own manuscripts, even) also to be targeted?

Of course, these are just a few of the things from the report I happened to find the most interesting: it’s worth reading the whole thing.
So go on, read the whole thing. And inscribe on your banner that "Israel simply has no right to exist" before it becomes illegal to do so.

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