May 21, 2013

Independent letters: Responses to Howard Jacobson's Negative Hasbara

These letters were published in yesterday's Independent online and in today's print edition in response to a load of tosh, indeed a pack of lies, by Howard Jacobson, published in print on Saturday:

Criticism of Israel or hatred of Jews?

First-rate writer and columnist though he is, Howard Jacobson cannot resist conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Israelism (18 May).
Yet the big question about Israel’s hopes to continue as a Jewish state depend not on boycotts or on motions passed by a university union, but on how Israel will in future govern a non-Jewish-majority population if it fails now to accept a two-state solution when there is still – perhaps – time.
Brian Beeley, Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Israel doesn’t “just happen to be Jewish”, Howard Jacobson. In fact the current demography of Israel results from its policy of replacing Palestinian society with people from a Jewish background.
The building and expansion of Jewish-only illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank is a continuation of this policy.
Janet Green, London NW5
Howard Jacobson is absolutely right that the Palestinian movement has always had its anti-Semitic infiltrators. It is deeply dispiriting because it utterly contradicts the principal motive that drives the movement: the injustice implicit in the progressive dispossession and lockdown of a defenceless people.
A growing number of young Jews support the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign as a vehicle for getting Israel to disgorge the occupied territories, since the US and its allies are so disinclined to compel Israel to respect international humanitarian law.
They seem to do this for a number of reasons ranging from the pragmatic – Israel has swallowed more than it can digest – to the moral – the violation of Judaic morality in which, contrary to Mr Jacobson’s take, they identify the Palestinians as the persecuted party.
David McDowall, Richmond,  Surrey
And in the interests of balance:
Howard Jacobson has had the courage to expose the hypocritical anti-Semitism at the heart of the Israel boycott campaign of the University and College Union.
This will no doubt result in hate mail and worse, but may stimulate some academics to re-examine this highly selective boycott and instead support dialogue with Israeli counterparts, many of whom voice valid criticism of some Israeli government policies.
Ben Marshall, London N11
Not realising the Indie had already published these I wrote and sent this in the small hours of this morning:
Dear Sir

There are three major issues with Howard Jacobson's article, ostensibly condemning Stephen Hawking's decision to boycott an event taking place in Jerusalem.

First, he claims that the Employment Tribunal in the case of Fraser v University and College Union ruled on "a complaint that the Union was institutionally anti-Semitic" and that it "encountered not a trace of any such beast".  The case dealt with not "a complaint" of anything so vague as a "trace" of institutional antisemitism but ten very specific complaints that the UCU had racially harassed a Jewish Israel advocate on account of union activists' stance towards the State of Israel and various of Israel's illegal actions against the Palestinian people.  The tribunal decided that nothing the union had done amounted to harassment and anyway "support for the Zionist project....cannot amount to a protected characteristic.  It is not intrinsically a part of Jewishness.."

Second, having scoured the web for dirt on the presiding judge, Judge Anthony Snelson, Jacobson couldn't find anything and so he misrepresented the closest thing he could find (from 2009!) to suit his purpose: the case of a waitress complaining of sex discrimination on account of a dress she was being ordered to wear.  For Jacobson, the case hinged on the waitress being a Muslim and so he satisfied himself and sought to persuade his readers that Judge Snelson was pro-Muslim and anti-Jewish.  

This is how HR Magazine reported on the judgment:

They said of the dress: "Plainly, it related to her sex. It was gender-specific. The respondents did not introduce a summer uniform for male waiting staff. Unlike the women, the men were not required to switch to brightly coloured, figure-hugging garb."

Third, he makes a false assertion and a serious omission in the case of Stephen Hawking.  It's worth quoting Jacobson:

And now, with Stephen Hawking announcing, by means of an Israeli-made device, that he no longer wants to talk to the scientists who invented it, or to Israeli scientists who invented or might invent anything else, or indeed to Israeli historians, critics, biologists, physicists of any complexion, no matter what their relations to Palestinian scholars whom he does want to talk to, we are reminded that the cultural boycott with which he has suddenly decided to throw in his lot is entirely unJew-related, which is more good news. “Peace”, that is all Professor Hawking seeks, a word that was left out of his statement as reproduced on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign website, presumably on the grounds that everyone already knows that peace is all the PSC has ever wanted too.

But can PSC really be the only site Jacobson viewed to find Hawking's statement?  The following statement is all over the web and I copy it here from the Daily Beast:

“I accepted the invitation to the Presidential Conference with the intention that this would not only allow me to express my opinion on the prospects for a Peace Settlement but also because it would allow me to lecture on the West Bank,” wrote Hawking.

And the omission?  Having listed all those great and good people that Hawking was refusing to meet there were three words missing from Jacobson's article: "Presidential Conference" and "Peres".  This meeting, like the State of Israel itself, is being presided over by a war criminal.  Surely that was worth a mention.

Yours faithfully
I wouldn't normally publish a letter before the intended recipients have a chance to accept or reject it (bad manners and bad luck!) but I think I missed the boat with this one and they're not likely to let me call one of their celeb commentators a liar, are they?

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