April 10, 2013

UK Zionism at the crossroads?

Metaphorical crossroads are funny old things. They usually amount to a fork in the metaphorical road rather than a four way crossroads that you'd intuitively visualise. The crossroads at which UK zionists are at, thanks to the FUCU case, is the one you'd visualise.

There appear to be four possible ways zionists can go.  Only two have manifested themselves so far but one, the usual one, intellectual dishonesty and bullying opens up a new one of accusing the judiciary of antisemitism and even antisemitic conspiring or conspiracy theorising.  And the other, admitting the game is up for the lie that anti-zionism is itself racist opens up another one, that of abandoning zionism altogether or going over to a benevolent form of zionism which doesn't involve Jewish statehood at all.

The denial road consists of denying that in bringing the FUCU case, the zionists did nothing wrong.  It can consist of pretending that what the Employment Tribunal (ET) decried as hopelessly factually flawed, was simply technical or that sound facts were badly expressed.  A kind of better luck next time approach.  Zionists have been very badly stung by this and there aren't many introspective pieces on this.

The Jewish Chronicle ran a front page last Friday, which contained the seeds of three out of four possibilities:

Here's the denial approach:
communal organisations which had supported the lawsuit closed ranks. A spokesman for Fair Play, the anti-boycott campaign founded by the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, said: “Years of campaigning inside UCU had convinced us and many union members that the union was incapable of fairly tackling complaints of antisemitism by itself. Supporting Ronnie was the right thing to do.”
Here's another try by Paul Usiskin on The Daily Beast's Open Zion:
Ronnie lost his case. Reading the 50-page Tribunal Finding is a multi-faceted emotional experience. The Employment Tribunal is just that, and it is clear that its members felt their context was being overwhelmed, if not abused, for a matter so vast. But when law is confronted with matters as passionately contested as these, it produces conclusions that are constrained by law and law alone.
Completely false, of course. Words like "untrue", "without merit", "preposterous", "arrogant", "unmeritorious", "disturbing" are not legalese.  They are English and they relate to the facts of the case.

This first course involves redefining Jews as people who either practice or are the descendants of people who practiced Judaism together with a commitment to the zionist project or the State of Israel.  This was touched on in the JC front page article:
Eric Moonman, co-president of the Zionist Federation, said that this was a “wrong and worrying interpretation. It presents a very real issue for a different campaign to make sure there is an accepted definition of Jewishness which highlights the integral nature of Israel to Jews.”
The idea here of course is that if they can have Jews redefined as zionists, anti-zionism will then become antisemitism.

Actually the ET already dealt with this fight against reality:

150 It seems to us that a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel or any similar sentiment cannot amount to a protected characteristic. It is not intrinsically a part of Jewishness and, even if it was, it could not be substituted for the pleaded characteristics, which are race and religion or belief.

So even if they redefine Jews, it shouldn't help them falsely accuse people of antisemitism.  It won't stop them trying.

A more extreme form of denial is that of Dr David Hirsh of Engage.  He had two opinion pieces in the same edition of the JC, here and here.  They are basically a restatement of his "preliminary response", the funniest version (going by the comments) of which appears at Jim Denham's Shiraz Socialist blog.

Let's just take one allegation from Fraser's complaint (h/t Philip Roth) as related by Hirsh:
Gert Weisskirchen, responsible for combating antisemitism for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) asked the union leadership for a meeting to discuss antisemitism relating to the boycott.  The union did not meet with him.  When 39 union members protested publicly, the union ignored them.
Remember, this was after the FUCU ET judgment had been published and read by Hirsh.  Let's look at how the judgment deals with the Weisskirchen affair (which is actually worth a dedicated post of its own.):

161 Complaint (4) is palpably groundless. On our primary findings, Professor Weisskirchen was not ‘rebuffed’. Mr Bennett reasonably challenged the arguably intemperate accusation of anti-Semitism levelled at the Respondents. The evidence does not substantiate the allegation that the Respondents refused to
meet Professor Weisskirchen. No ‘unwanted’ objectionable conduct capable of supporting a complaint alleging a statutory tort is made out. 
Hirsh is close here to alleging, not just antisemitism on the part of the ET. but a conspiracy involving the ET and the UCU to make out that a failure to meet with this Weisskirchen chap amounted to a "rebuff" by the UCU and not the other way round.

So there is denial and denial plus counter-allegation.  Hirsh represents the latter.

Then there is a the far more honest approach taken by Adam Wagner in Cartoon Kippah:  As the ET judgment oozes contempt, so Wagner's case oozes dismay.  He sees the crossroads ahead:
I imagine some will even accuse the Judge of anti-Semitism. But assuming for a moment that he was right, we should, as a community, be embarrassed by this ruling. It involved not just the looney fringe but central figures in the community, who have been branded exaggerators, manipulators and arrogant liars. More importantly, the ‘anti-Zionism equals racism’ argument is plainly bankrupt and has no purchase in wider society. We should move on to something which might actually work. 
Now often I say there is no such thing as an honest zionist. This guy seems to prove me wrong.  And I'm glad to be wrong.

These are three of the roads.  The one of denial means ignoring the ruling as simply bad news, the road that could lead to, if Hirsh et al are followed means widening the net for those falsely accused of antisemitism.  It's not just trades unionists and activists but also judges, the state itself, in our case, the UK.  It seems a risky strategy to me.

The third road means an abandonment of the lie that anti-zionism is racist.  But if the critics, opponents and victims or Israel are making fair comments, might they also be true comments?  And if that is the case, might this untried road of zionist honesty find itself on the fourth road, which is the fact that there is no case for Israel?

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