December 16, 2009

Global forum for stifling criticism of Israel

I wouldn't know about this conference if it wasn't for a letter in today's Jerusalem Post from Dr David Hirsh, former doyen of the Engage website:
Sir, - David Newman expresses one facet of a complex reality ("Smoke screen strategies," December 15) when he says that sometimes right-wing Jewish voices portray criticism as though it were anti-Semitism. Rabbi Eliezer Melamed's blood libel accusation against Defense Minister Ehud Barak is a case in point.

But by failing to take seriously the anti-Semitic potentiality of the contemporary anti-Zionist movements, Newman does little to untangle the knotted relationship between anger with Israel and hostility toward Jews. We have seen how the campaign to exclude Israelis, and only Israelis, from the global academic, cultural and economic community brings anti-Semitic ways of thinking wherever it goes. We have seen activists accusing anti-boycott lawyers of being financed by stolen Lehman Brothers money. We have seen a man found guilty of hate speech in South Africa being hosted by trade unions in the UK. We have seen "critics of Israel" drawing on far-Right conspiracy theory. We have seen any attempt to raise the issue of anti-Semitism routinely howled down by the cry, "Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic!"

The threat of contemporary anti-Semitism, including when it comes packaged in the language of Israel criticism, is real. There will be a significant stream of opinion at the Global Forum Against Anti-Semitism, which is critical of both anti-Semitism and Israeli human rights abuses. Anti-Semitism ought not to be allowed to appear as a right-wing issue.

Of course, it does not help the fight against anti-Jewish racism that this conference is hosted by Avigdor Lieberman, a man who has done nothing to demonstrate an understanding of how best to oppose racist ways of thinking.

DAVID HIRSH

Delegate to the Global Forum

London

Hirsh wasn't always so averse to accusing the "Israeli right" of "devalu[ing] the coinage of antisemitism". In fact he suggested that Netanyahu himself was guilty of that sort of thing.

Anyway, the conference is being hosted by Israel's foreign ministry and, as I said, chaired by Avigdor Lieberman. The invite is here. And the participants' list is here.

A glance down the list shows a few of the usual suspects when it comes to false charges of antisemitism and I can't see anyone with a reputation for being "critical of both anti-Semitism and Israeli human rights abuses" as per Hirsh's assertion. I did notice, however, that Hirsh isn't using his Goldsmiths University email address. I wonder why that is. Is he still employed by Goldsmiths. Have the university authorities asked him to keep their name out of this hasbara exercise? I think we should be told.

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