November 01, 2012

Has Engage's Dr Hirsh finally come out as pro-Israel?

Here's a turn up for the books.  Engage's Dr Hirsh has long denied being "pro-Israel".  His website still describes itself as the "anti-racist campaign against antisemitism".  I still remember Hirsh's contribution to an angry exchange between himself and Jon Pike on one side and Ernst Benjamin of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), on the other because the latter were publishing pro-BDS arguments in its journal, Academe.  Ernst Benjamin, at the time was the editor of the journal and, for all I know might still be.  He was against BDS as far as I can make out but he thought it important to air both sides of the argument.

This is from Engage way back in 2006:
As I am opposed to academic boycotts--either of Israel or of those who would boycott Israel--I also find it hard to agree with the position that we should refuse to engage those whose arguments we find demonizing or otherwise extreme. Writing for the AAUP, I could only speak to the issue of academic freedom and not to my own views regarding the justice of various positions on the conlict between Israel and Palestine. Nor could I edit the content of the pro-boycott authors anymore than I would have the anti-boycott or pro-Israeli authors. So I would very much have welcomed, and made repeated efforts to secure the high quality response that Jon and others among you could have provided. 

Some of the essays on the Engage site provide this sort of effective and valuable response. But simply labeling arguments as demonizing or anti-semitic without specifically explaining why, or refusing to "engage" such arguments, seems to me the sort of tactic some find appropriate in political campaigns but not a very useful contribution from those, like many of your authors, who can clearly do better. 
And here are some extracts from how Hirsh responded:
We have spent the last two years trying to save our union from this garbage - you have just invited it into yours. We are not having fun fighting with these people - we are forced to waste our time combating idiotic, essentialist, careless arguments because we don't want our union to adopt an antisemitic exclusion......

I am very happy that you have been reading Engage. You will know, then, that we have never simply labeled arguments as demonizing or anti-semitic without specifically explaining why. We have written hundreds of thousands of words trying to formulate our arguments in a sophisticated way. We do not "label" or denounce. We are trying to fight a political campaign against a dangerous set of "commonsense" ideas. Don't play with fire........

One other thing Ernst: please stop referring to us as "pro-Israel". I dont' really know what "pro-Israel" means, but it seems to be a part of the setting up of two sides of a legitimate debate - "pro-Israel" and "anti-Israel". 
So Jon Pike and David Hirsh were trying to have pro-boycott arguments withheld from the AAUP journal's readership, excluded from any debate on Israel.  But whatever you do, don't call them "pro-Israel".  They "dont' (sic) really know what "pro-Israel" means".

Well, the latest post on Engage is an article by Dr Hirsh which appears in the first ever edition of an online publication called Fathom.  It's something about the stupid working definition and zionists' beef with the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) in the UK.  Curiously it was published on 13 September, this year but only appeared on Engage earlier this week.

On the "editorial team" page of the "about us" section it turns out that Dr Hirsh is an advisory editor of Fathom:
Dr. David Hirsh
Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths College, London, founder of the Engage campaign against antisemitism on the UK Left.
But what is Fathom?

In its own words, Fathom
is published by the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, an independent British organisation founded in 2001 to foster a more complete understanding of Israel. BICOM believes in the right of the State of Israel to live in peace and security and in the rights of the Palestinians to statehood. We support a close relationship between Britain and Israel, based on shared values and interests.
Now how does Dr Hirsh square this with his former insistence of not being pro-Israel? The answer, if it is to be believed, might be in the next paragraph of the "about us":
Unusually, Fathom’s contributors and advisory editors will be drawn from across the political spectrum. Our goal is not to push a narrow party line but to build a global intellectual space for serious bi-partisan debate about Israel and the region. We intend to create a more interesting conversation about Israel – more knowledgeable, more nuanced and more challenging (for all parties) than the tired slogans that are shouted in the boring megaphone war. So beware: there will be at least one piece in every issue that you disagree with, perhaps vehemently! Our wager is that you will keep coming back because you value expert analysis, acute commentary and grown-up debate.
And how can that be squared with the vehemence of Engage's opposition of presenting pro-boycott arguments to an academic readership?

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