July 06, 2011

New antisemitism card starts to fold

First Deborah Lipstadt expressed partial support for the scrapping of YIISA by Yale on account of YIISA's clear agenda of Israel advocacy, now Irwin Cotler has said that it is not, that is not, antisemitic to label Israel an apartheid state. Antony Lerman points to the fact that Cotler has clearly changed his mind on this.

Professor Irwin Cotler, the former Canadian Minister of Justice and Chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Commission for Combatting Antisemitism, recently told Ha’aretz journalist David Sheen:
‘You can criticize an Israeli policy or action as having been not only a violation of human rights and humanitarian law but also, you could even say it was a war crime,’ the former Canadian justice minister said. ‘It may be, as I say, distasteful to see that, or witness that, but I don’t regard that as being anti-Semitic content. I think that that’s part of what is called rigorous criticism and discourse.’
‘Where you say that Israel is an apartheid state, even then – that to me is, it’s distasteful, but it’s still within the boundaries of argument’.
Cotler’s remarks seem to have been received in relative silence by the blogosphere and others who comment regularly on antisemitism. This is curious to say the least given that Cotler is probably the most significant and influential international figure in the propagation of the concept of the ‘new antisemitism’, a key example of which is calling Israel an ‘apartheid state’. That what Cotler now says is a fundamental change in his position is clear from his past articles and speeches. In an ‘Alert Paper’, New Anti-Jewishness, written for the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute and published in November 2002, Cotler gave examples of ‘new antisemitism’ under 13 headings. Under the third, ‘Ideological antisemitism’, he wrote:
This finds expression not only in the ‘Zionism is Racism’ indictment – and the singling out of Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people and Israel’s ideological raison d’être, for discriminatory treatment – but the further criminal indictment of Israel as ‘an apartheid state,’ and the calling for the dismantling of this ‘apartheid state’ – a euphemism for Israel’s destruction.
Although he has never said that all critiques of Zionism are antisemitic, Cotler has avoided foregrounding this view. But in the Ha’aretz interview he is clearly keen to redress the balance. He says:
I think we’ve got to set up certain boundaries of where it does cross the line, because I’m one of those who believes strongly, not only in free speech, but also in rigorous debate, and discussion, and dialectic, and the like. If you say too easily that everything is anti-Semitic, then nothing is anti-Semitic, and we no longer can make distinctions . . .
I think it’s too simplistic to say that anti-Zionism, per se, is anti-Semitic. It may cross the line into being anti-Semitic where it ends up by saying, ‘Israel has no right to exist’, or ‘the Jewish people have no right to self determination’, or, that the Jewish people are not even a people.
I can imagine that many who have rightly seen the Canadian MP and law professor as the standard bearer for exposing the ‘new antisemitism’, and have lauded him for coining the phrase ‘Israel is the Jew among the nations’, will be bitterly disappointed by this change of mind. And at the moment they are keeping quiet about it.
In a separate but related development, an Israel advocate activist within the UK's Universities and Colleges Union, Ronnie Fraser, has enlisted the support of Anthony Julius to try to threaten the UCU into retreating from various of its positions on Israel including the recent decision to dismiss, ignore, avoid or denounce the former EUMC's bogus "working definition" of antisemitism.

Antony Lerman points up the difficulty in making Ronnie Fraser's charges stick given that a professor from Ben Gurion University, Professor David Newman, charged with opposing the boycott in the UK has said that he doesn't believe the boycott movement or idea to be antisemitic and that the charges become even more obviously tenuous now that Cotler, a far more staunch Israel advocate than Newman has concurred with Newman. Just an aside here, note the not so staunch Israel advocate actually lives in Israel unlike Cotler. But here's Lerman again:
Julius’s letter to General Secretary Sally Hunt setting out UCU member Ronnie Fraser’s case against the UCU is written in the strongest terms. It accuses the union of breaches of the Equality Act 2010, threatens that unless a series of demands by Fraser are met – including the abrogation of the resolution rejecting the EUMC ‘working definition’ and a ‘commitment to sponsor a programme (for a minimum of ten years . . . ) educating academics concerning the dangers of anti-Semitism, with special reference to the relationship between anti-Semitism and what now passes for “anti-Zionism” ‘ – Fraser will make an Equality Act claim to the Employment Tribunal.
The letter is full of bombast and ridiculous hyperbole, and in places is just factually incorrect, but my concern here is not to analyse or critique the entire text. Rather, I simply want to draw attention to the fact that in two paragraphs listing the causes for Fraser’s complaint – i.e. the evidence of institutional antisemitism – the first item in each is the constant ‘anti-Israel boycott resolutions’, and it’s clear that the issue of boycott is a central bone of contention.
Whatever position you hold on boycotting Israel as a means of bringing pressure to bear on it to fulfil its international legal obligations, end the occupation and so on – and I have always opposed boycotting as a means of achieving this – it’s difficult to regard boycotting Israel as a priori antisemitic. Professor David Newman of Ben Gurion University, who spent two years in the UK as the Israeli universities’ official coordinator of the campaign against the academic boycott, was adamant in remarks he made before finishing this assignment that it was both wrong and counterproductive to fight the boycott proposals on the grounds that they are antisemitic. If it reaches the point where the UCU had to defend itself against charges of institutional antisemitism at a tribunal, citing Professor Newman alone would be a strong defence.
Now that Professor Cotler has so publicly concurred with David Newman, UCU have an even stronger voice to use in their defence. It wouldn’t surprise me if Julius tried to use Professor Newman’s often strong criticisms of the Israeli government and his very dovish position on Israel-Palestine peace as a way of discrediting his view on boycott, notwithstanding the incontrovertible fact that Newman is a Zionist, heart and soul. But such a tactic would be impossible to use against Professor Cotler whose record as a defender of the Israeli status quo is impeccable and whose efforts to embed the concept of the ‘delegitimization’ of Israel in the international consciousness have been long-standing and sustained.
This folding of the antisemitism card by Cotler recalls a debate between Israel advocate, David Hirsh and anti-boycott academic Martin Shaw where the latter argues against calling the campaign to boycott Israel antisemitic.  You can see Dr Hirsh opening argument here and the debate which ensued here.

And in another development, the South African Advertising Standards Authority has issued a ruling that it is ok to brand Israel an apartheid state following a complaint from the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. Here's PACBI:

This afternoon, in a bold ruling defending the right to freedom of expression and political speech, the South African media watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), unequivocally dismissed all complaints relating to a radio advert on 5fm that called for the boycott of Israel and compared Israel to Apartheid South Africa.

In February this year, during the South African tour of the international dance band, Faithless, a radio message featuring Dave Randall (lead guitarist of Faithless) was broadcast on the popular SABC radio station, 5fm. The advert was in support of a local group, the South African Artists Against Apartheid collective. In the advert Randall says:

“Hi, I’m Dave Randall from Faithless. Twenty years ago I would not have played in apartheid South Africa; today I refuse to play in Israel. Be on the right side of history. Don’t entertain apartheid. Join the international boycott of Israel. I support  southafricanartistsagainstapartheid.com.”

In an official complaint to the ASA, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) attacked the radio advert and alleged that the view expressed that Israel is an Apartheid State is “untrue, not supported by any evidence… and contains a lie which amounts to false propaganda”.

The SAJBD sought an order requesting the SABC to apologise for broadcasting the radio advert.

Today the ASA dismissed each and every complaint made by the SAJBD against the advert and instead ruled in favor of the submissions made by SA Artists Against Apartheid, who were represented by Webber Wentzel Attorneys.

The ASA also refused to provide any sanctions in favor of the SAJBD. Reggae DJ, “The Admiral”, and member of the SA Artists Against Apartheid collective, welcomed today’s decision:

“The ASA decision is significant due to our own history of Apartheid. The decision sends a clear message to the Zionist lobby that the time has come for an end to the baseless accusations of “discrimination” and “hate speech” whenever criticism of Israel is voiced. Calling Israel an Apartheid state is legitimate because Israel practices Apartheid. The boycott of such an oppressive regime should be supported as it was in our own Anti-Apartheid freedom struggle.”

South African Palestine solidarity groups have celebrated the ASA ruling claiming it as a “legal victory” for the boycott of Israel movement. Fatima Vally from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Working Group said in a press release:

“This is the second major boycott of Israel decision coming from South Africa in less than six months. The first being the historic decision by the University of Johannesburg to sever its Israeli ties. The boycott of Israel campaign is the new Anti-Apartheid Movement, and its growing rapidly.”

The SA Artists Against Apartheid collective welcomes this positive decision, an adverse ruling could have had detrimental consequences for freedom of expression in general, and Palestine solidarity in particular.

The full ruling is attached this email. The original advert flighted on 5fm is available for viewing here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpE5AjsBiqw

So the false charge of antisemitism appears to be on the ropes and it is a particularly good time to be exposing Israel as an apartheid state but don't forget to mention the ethnic cleansing and the fact that the State of Israel simply has no right to exist.  Thanks!

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