December 04, 2011

A word about the "A" word

Many people will have already read about the recent Question Time style debate at Birmingham University. I only just found out about the fact that a question about whether or not Israel can be described as an apartheid state was banned from even being asked.  Apparently this was at the request of the World Zionist Congress affiliated Jewish Society.

Anyway, here's Ben White, on the banning of the "A" word from the proceedings:
The whole debate can be watched on YouTube, but one of the talking points of the evening came when, barely half an hour in, an audience member asked the panel if Israel is an apartheid state. The chair’s unexpected reply was that this was not a subject that could be discussed: “I’ve been told I can’t have that as a question”, she stressed (watch here). Inevitably, all the panellists then proceeded to address the issue – Victor Kattan said he’d refer to “A”.
What the audience didn’t know is that in the run up to the event, members of the Jewish Society had pressured the Debating Society to prohibit my book ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’ from being available for purchase. Despite the fact that J-Soc was free to make available any of their own literature without restriction, J-Soc students threatened to withdraw their official association with the event, if I brought along copies of my book to sell. Eventually, they backed down when the Debating Society refused to concede the point.
Ben smartly links the debate and the attempted suppression of one side of it to the Birmingham University students' union's adoption of the bogus EUMC working definition of antisemitism:

Further crucial context is the adoption by the Birmingham student union in 2010 of the notoriously politicised and discredited ‘EUMC working definition of antisemitism’. This 2005 document, left to gather dust by the EUMC’s successor body the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), has been ably critiqued by Richard Kuper herehere, and here, and also by Antony Lerman here.
In fact, earlier this year, the Universities and College Union (UCU) voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion that criticised the way in which the working definition “is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus”.
Thus after the J-Soc attempts to prevent the sale of my book, the debate organisers were understandably anxious about encouraging a question on apartheid that could see them accused of racism, according to an interpretation of the student union policy.
This was the first time that the Debating Society had held an Israel-Palestine debate since the EUMC motion passed; it was, in effect, a test case. What transpired on Thursday not only showed the extent to which groups will go to stifle discussion of Israel’s crimes, but also how such efforts  can so often spectacularly backfire.
I presume it was the students' union's adoption of the working definition which led to the attempted ban on the "A" word. The problem here is that zionists will claim that the working definition has not been used to stifle debate because the debate was had. Of course this will be a lie as the video attests. I wonder if the WZC's affiliates in Birmingham will use their humiliation as an excuse to ban future debate on Palestine altogether.

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