June 30, 2007

Letters on the boycott

Tony Greenstein has a letter in this weekend's Jewish Chronicle. The JC is pay for sub but has a freebie section which, this week, includes the letters page:
Not one of the opponents of the Unison motion even tried to defend Israel’s actions in the occupied territories. Their argument that it was better to maintain dialogue was reminiscent of the arguments that were used against the boycott of South Africa and merely reinforced the image of arrogance and intolerance. What does it matter if Israel is the site for the production of Intel chips? Did the fact that Hitler built the autobahns make his regime any the less murderous? The suggestion that Israel is being “singled out” omits the fact that Israel has laid claim to being the Middle East’s only democracy.

I was overwhelmed by the reaction of delegates, especially black members, to my contribution at the Unison conference, because it is black people above all who see the similarities between the treatment of the Palestinians and what happened in South Africa. How can anyone justify Jewish roads in the West Bank or different laws for Jews and Arabs?

In recent months, Israeli opinion polls have shown that 61 per cent of Israelis consider a Jew marrying a Palestinian as “treason”. Two-thirds of Jewish respondents have said they don’t want to live with an Arab and that they want to see the transfer of Palestinians out of Israel. This is what is mobilising support for a boycott, not antisemitism.
Richard Kuper, of Jews for Justice for Palestinians also has a letter in the same section.
May I, as a member of the UCU opposed to the boycott, take issue with the Chief Rabbi (JC, June 15). UCU is a democratic union. The resolution merely commits it to a discussion of the issues in every branch. There will be no boycott until a majority of members vote for one. The Chief Rabbi’s knee-jerk, hysterical misrepresentation of what is the opening-up of a debate is unlikely to garner support for voices of reason. His comparison of UCU with Hizb ut-Tahrir is scurrilous, and a textbook example of the demonisation he so strongly opposes.
Richard's letter in the JC print edition refers to the Chief Rabbi's article in the June 15 edition but the Chief Rabbi's own site refers to a JC article on June 22. Anyway, here's that article and the chunk that has the "Chief," in Richard Kuper's view, misrepresenting what the UCU has actually voted on:
There was a curious incident at the UCU Congress the day its members voted to call for a boycott against Israel. That day, the union voted unanimously to oppose government plans urging them to fight extremism on campus. They had been asked by the government to monitor potential terrorists. They refused, saying that it amounted to a "witch hunt".

They then proceeded, seemingly unaware of the contradiction, to start a witch hunt of their own against Israeli academics who, they deemed, were guilty of "complicity" in the policies of their government. Why, I wondered, is this witch different from all other witches? Why is "demonisation" the language of the earlier resolution, permitted in one case (Israel) and forbidden in another? It is a question that haunts me, as it should haunt everyone who knows the history of witch hunts and where they lead, in this case straight to an assault on academic freedom.
Quite honestly, I'm enjoying this boycott stuff so much I don't even check the details of the various resolutions but the logic alone here is atrocious. How can he compare a request for academics to spy and report on their colleagues and students to a boycott? Oh never mind. Anyway, here's another case of the same kind of misrepresentation of what the UCU is actually proposing for the time being. It's on the Engage site where Sue Blackwell has been falsely accused of seeking to exclude Israeli academics from UK campuses. Sue has threatened to er sue so Engage is now jumping through hoops to demonstrate that whilst academics of any nationality could be affected by a boycott of Israeli institutions, they were right to say what they were wrong to say. Something like that, go check. This latest spat between Engage and Sue Blackwell began with a post by Jon Pike. Now the thing I find interesting about Jon Pike is that he came very close to calling the Engage campaign a bit "over the top." It was a throwaway line in the Engage comments but it had David Hirsh nervous enough to don the "Alf Green" mantle to take issue with my reference to it. What John Pike actually said was:
Probably a fair few think that ENGAGE is a bit over the top.
It now looks like Jon Pike may be guilty of the over the top-ness that "probably a fair few think that Engage is".


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