June 26, 2015

Knowing the difference between Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism

David Aaronovitch had an article in The Jewish Chronicle a few weeks ago where he commends Sarah Annes Brown for spotting the antisemitism of one of the organisers of the recently postponed Southampton University conference on Israel.  It's a quirky piece but, typically, it ends up taking a swipe at the anti-zionist left.

Let's see how he starts:
What with one thing and another, I followed the spring furore over the "Israel" symposium at Southampton University only rather loosely.....

What I hadn't realised is how far gone some of the conference's animating spirits are in what I can only call the New Judeophobia. The gap in my education was filled this week with the latest edition of the magazine Fathom and an article by Professor Sarah Brown, anatomising the thinking of the Southampton academic and symposium organiser Oren Ben-Dor.
See that?  Maybe you didn't notice but Aaro only followed loosely what had been appearing all over The JC, for which he writes, for weeks before and after the event was postponed and the JC article he linked to no longer appears on the JC site but he snapped up and eagerly devoured the latest edition of the mouthpiece of Israel lobby group, BICOM, for which he doesn't yet write. Strange for a self-styled "non-Zionist" but let's read on:
One of the more unwelcome phenomena of recent life in the broad diaspora has been the appearance of a certain kind of Israeli exile who insists on telling us how bad Jews are.
See that?  In the previous paragraph he hadn't known about what in the next paragraph he describes as "phenomena of recent life".  Fast learner this guy.

And the next paragraph is a flat contradiction of the "recent life" one which, as we've seen contradicted the one before that.
until last week I had imagined that Mr Atzmon was more or less unique
So "recent life" began last week.

But for all that nonsense I think Aaro's understanding of what Sarah Annes Brown wrote was fair and in turn her understanding of Oren Ben-Dor was fair too.  And here is Aaro's take:
his article is entitled "Occupied Minds: Philosophical Reflections on Zionism, Anti-Zionism and the Jewish Prison..... it argues that Zionist and most anti-Zionist Jews are captives of the same primeval Jewish mindset, and that it is this mindset that, in effect, provoked antisemitic reaction, right down to the Holocaust itself.
In other words, Jews have been asking for it throughout history, and in fact quite like it when they get it.
Actually he misses the bit where Ben-Dor says that the nazis had to become like Jews themselves in order to carry out the holocaust but I suppose that's relatively small beer against the central thesis. Actually to give Sarah more credit than Aaro does, she refers to Ben-Dor's methodology such as it is by mentioning his penchant for "dark suggestion" over hard evidence, or indeed any evidence. But anyway, where does Aaro go with all this?
What is depressing about Ben-Dor is that many left-wingers and sympathisers with the Palestinian cause in this country and elsewhere can no longer tell the difference between progressive thinking and "essentialist" bigotry that used to be the preserve of the anti-democratic and racist right.
Now that was the bit that had me sending an email to the JC as follows:
Dear Sir

If nothing else the now "postponed" University of Southampton conference on the legitimacy or not of the State of Israel has raised the profile of one of its organisers, Oren Ben-Dor.

Ben-Dor's antisemitism was noticed and blogged by anti-Zionist Tony Greenstein back in 2008 whereas David Aaronovitch has only just noticed it.

In fairness, that doesn't tell us anything about David Aaronovitch's perception of antisemitism. The Board of Deputies knew nothing of Ben-Dor's warped world view when it lobbied the University of Southampton to cancel the conference using "two lines of attack...legal and health and safety".  Note, not antisemitism.

Zionists John Strawson and Geoffrey Alderman were going to address the conference. Neither of them raised any issue about Ben-Dor.

Even on the Israel advocacy and self-styled anti-antisemitism blog Engage, Zionist academic and racism expert Ben Gidley failed to mention any issue with Ben-Dor.  Engage's Dr David Hirsh simply said that Ben-Dor "has come to the defence of an open antisemite", not that he is antisemitic himself.

Given his low profile, Oren Ben-Dor has flown below the radar of most activists, both Zionist and anti-Zionist.  So why does David Aaronovitch berate the left and Palestine solidarity supporters over a failure to "tell the difference between progressive thinking and "essentialist" bigotry"?

It might even be that in defence of the State of Israel, Zionists have made so many bad faith allegations of antisemitism they can no longer differentiate between the crying of "wolf" and the wolf itself.

Yours faithfully
Now as luck would have it the JC didn't publish my letter.  I say it's lucky because one usually incisive blogger, Louis Proyect, the Unrepentant Marxist, has decided to prove Aaro at least partly correct by publishing a lengthy and tedious defence of quite a high profile American antisemite by the name of Alison Weir.

Now Louis Proyect's take on the various antisemites rearing their heads mostly on the internet has ranged from dismissive (Atzmon) to disgusted (Moon of AlabamaMRZine).  He's never been supportive before and I haven't noticed him being evasive when challenged before now.  Anyway, here's his post, which as I said is a guest post.  When asked why he was defending Weir he asked the questioner to elaborate. I reckon evasion is all Louis Proyect has when challenged over this post but I'll update if anything changes or maybe even if nothing does.

UPDATE 3/7/2015 09:51 - I'm being told by supporters of MRZine that Louis Proyect was smearing by association when he denounced them here.  I really don't know enough of what he was talking about to comment on that - though others may wish to.  What I have noticed in Louis Proyect's post titled, MRZine regular circulates anti-Semitic filth, is the logic he employs could easily apply to his own decision to publish support for an antisemite and a promotion of engagement with white supremacists.

See this from the post itself:
It doesn’t really matter if Chandan did not write this filth himself. He made the decision to publish the article by Muhammad Nasr, a long-time anti-Semite who writes for http://freearabvoice.org/.
And here's Louis in the comments:
I don’t think that MRZine is “promoting” these views, only that one of their favorite bloggers is too stupid to have noticed that an article he put on his blog was garbage.
I still don't know much about this but Louis has certainly published garbage on his blog with the guest post from this Amith Gupta.  He might not have realised what he was posting when he first posted it but when it was brought to his attention that Alison Weir has plenty of form for antisemitism in her own right without getting into her "repeat and friendly" associations with white supremacists he went into denial, blocked critics on twitter, started hurling insults around and ended up simply lying.  I also noticed that in spite of the post being about antisemitism and definitely not about Palestine, he has tagged it to Palestine and not to antisemitism.  It suggests to me that he does have the good sense to want the post buried and forgotten eventually and certainly he doesn't want it compared and contrasted with his usual position on antisemitism.  But given his ducking, diving, insulting, lying and blocking I don't suppose we'll ever know why he hosted a guest post by someone who wants antisemites to enjoy credibility in the Palestine solidarity movement.

All in all I have been shocked by Louis Proyect's sheer lack of integrity. The guest post was at best disingenuous and Louis's defences of it, such as they were, have been worse. I know that many bloggers let their egos get in the way of their integrity but what is genuinely sad is that Louis Proyect has shown such appalling judgement in all this

Access denied at the JC again but why?

David Aaronovitch had an opinion piece in the JC just recently and at the start he linked to an article that seems to have been disappeared.  The article was about the cancellation of the Southampton University conference on Israel and it was titled, Don't rush to welcome cancellation.  Clicking the link I got this:

Access denied

I searched for what I could glean from the url and came to the very useful pressreader.com site and from there to some Ireland based Palestine solidarity site where I found the article in copyable form.  So here it is:
Don’t rush to welcome cancellation
By: Simon Johnson

ONE OF the Jewish Leadership Council’s day-to-day jobs is to co-ordinate the best response and engagement when Israel-related issues impact on the UK Jewish community. In the past fortnight, there have been two issues which required a more sober, more sceptical analysis than the headlines provided. 

The first was the decision by Southampton University to cancel the “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism” conference on the grounds of health and safety and security. There is no doubt that this conference was an appalling example of delegitimisation of Israel, a manipulation of academic freedom to promote hatred and discrimination. Jewish community organisations and grassroots activists had worked closely together to oppose it. 

But the fact Southampton University chose to cancel for health and safety reasons and security concerns represents a double-edged sword. 

Those who seek to undermine the legitimacy of Israel are already accusing Jewish organisations of threatening violence to force the cancellation of the conference. We do not know all of the complicated security considerations of Southampton University, but pro-Israel groups were planning to protest peacefully and appropriately. 

Another problem is that “security reasons” have been used in the past by other universities and student unions to prevent Israel supporters or Israel embassy representatives from speaking on campus. Sometimes these are real fears about violent protests or attacks, but other times we suspect that universities have misused “security” to kick out pro-Israel events. We have emphasised to university authorities that security of speakers is an inalienable element of universities’ duty to protect freedom of speech. 

So, the challenge for Jewish community organisations is this — how can we welcome this security decision and yet condemn others when those same reasons are used against our interests? 

This is why the JLC has not rushed to judgement and is thinking carefully about what this cancellation means in the bigger picture. 

Recently, Amnesty International published a report entitled Unlawful and Deadly: Rocket and Mortar attacks by Palestinian Armed Groups during the 2014 Gaza/Israel Conflict. At first glance, there seemed to be a welcome rebalancing of Amnesty’s previous anti-Israel publications. The report rightly condemned Hamas for its indiscriminate firing of rockets at Israeli civilian areas; its callous disregard for Gaza based civilians in the firing of rockets, and even rightly identified a Hamas rocket as the cause of death of 11 children and two adults in a Palestinian refugee camp in July. That is what made the headlines. 

But, if you study the full report, it is clear that Amnesty tries to explain away Hamas’ actions by referring to the Israeli blockade — a context denied to Israel in its report on Israel’s actions last year. The report contains criticism of Israel for its treatment of Bedouins inside its recognised borders; this isn’t related to Hamas rockets but it’s clearly a theme that Amnesty — with its relentless focus on Israel — is likely to return to. 

And of course, the organisation’s bona fides in its reports on the region are called into question by Amnesty UK’s continued employment of Kristyan Benedict, a man with a track record of provocative social media postings that some have seen as antisemitic. 

That is why we and other organisations have reserved judgement so we can discuss the troubling detail. 

So, a delegitimising conference cancelled and a critical report on Hamas? Behind these headlines lie complex issues that we will be wrestling with for months. We should sometimes be careful what we wish for.
Now why on earth did the JC bury the article?

June 24, 2015

Earl Grey Tea Leaves at Auschwitz

I heard yesterday about two private school students stealing some items from Auschwitz. I'd just come out of a museum.  I managed to resist the temptation to actually steal anything but I certainly know the feeling of wanting to own an exhibit or two.

Here are some links to reports from yesterday and today:


Of course you can always google Auschwitz where you will find the thefts as the lead news item for the time being anyway.

I noticed that the first reports I read focused on the enormity of what had occurred at Auschwitz during the holocaust with the privileged character of The Perse School being considered of secondary importance.  Here's The Daily Mail:
The pair, who attend Cambridge’s exclusive The Perse School where fees are more than £15,000 a year, were spotted acting suspiciously on Monday afternoon.
And here's The Guardian:
Perse school counts the theatre director Sir Peter Hall and Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd among its alumni.
So, posh young men at a posh school.  I'm guessing profit wasn't the motive.  Maybe they were overwhelmed by curiosity.  I can't help feeling sorry for them given the way the news of what they did has traveled round the world but I suppose the law is the law.

June 19, 2015

Spain Grants Jews the Right of Return

As you can see from this earlier post, the idea of descendants of Spanish Jews being granted Spanish nationality is nothing new but now it is a reality, for those who can afford it.  Here's the Jewish Chronicle:
Thousands of Sephardim around the world are expected to request Spanish citizenship after the Madrid Parliament approved a new law allowing descendants of Jews expelled in 1492 to apply for a Spanish passport.
The law, passed on June 11, does not come into force until October 1 but the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities (FCJE) — which is acting as the official intermediary with the Madrid government — has already received 6,000 applications in the past month.
Many younger Israelis are also now seeking a Spanish passport, which would give them freedom to work anywhere in the European Union and to travel freely throughout most of the continent.
And there was me thinking that Israel is a member of the EU.

June 15, 2015

The Curious Incident of the Shoe in the Nighttime

Or why, even  if we think there is a far fetched conspiracy afoot it is probably better to focus on issues that we can all see and agree on.

I'll return to the issue of Asghar Bakhari and his missing shoe later.  Er, no I won't.  See below...

June 12, 2015

Jews and the Right of Return

Here's a very interesting article in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency archive about calls for Sephardic Jews to granted the right of return to the Spain of their ancestors.  Note that the article, pasted here in full, is from 1933:

Ayala Urges Spain Right Wrong of 1492; Asks Citizenship for Sons of the Expelled

A movement for the return of the descendants of those Jews who were exiled from Spain in 1492 has been started by the famous Spanish author and statesman, Franzesco Ayala. His plan, which has a very large measure of support behind it, provides not only for the repatriation of Sephardic Jews, but also for the granting of Spanish citizenship to such of them as care to accept it, wherever they may be living.
Spain has long begun to realize the enormous loss it suffered by the banishment of the Jews, for by this means it lost some of its most intelligent, wealthy and enterprising citizens. The desire to make good this wrong and to receive back at least part of the descendants of these exiled Jews, is not entirely new. But the abolition of the monarchy and the setting up of the republic, and the abrogation of the supremacy of the Catholic Church that soon followed, strengthened this sentiment, and the Nazi persecution of the Jews gave it a new impetus. Franzesco Ayala’s plan has now given it practical shape, and it is all the more important since it has the full backing and support of the Spanish Government.


According to Ayala, there are anywhere from 800,000 to 1,000,000 Sephardic Jews scattered all over the world, but chiefly in the Balkan countries and in Holland. For more than 400 years, down to the present day, they have continued to speak a beautiful old Spanish dialect, they have stuck to their old Spanish traditions and customs, and have kept up their old Spanish culture. No better proof could be required of their loyalty and devotion to their old fatherland, in spite of its cruel treatment of their ancestors. It would therefore be no more than an elementary duty, Alaya says, to thank them and to extend a hearty welcome to them to return to their old home.
Ayala tries to show that the old Spanish anti-Semitism was a very different thing from the present German brand. In Spain in the fifteenth century, anti-Semitism was not political, but purely religious, and it was in accord with the views of the time, and with the laws of the land, for the Catholic Church was at that time the only recognized religion in Spain. Nazi anti-Semitism, however, had no such excuse, for it is based exclusively on political and racial grounds which it is impossible to justify, and it is a breach of the laws of Germany, for the Jews had lived there for generations and had been granted full civil rights.


The new Spanish Republic had abolished the absolutism of the Catholic Church, and the new Constitution provides for absolute liberty of thought and freedom of worship. All religions are now equal in the eyes of the law, and there is now no reason why the Jews should not return to Spain in large numbers.
Ayala realizes the enormous political, cultural and economic benefits Spain would derive from a large Jewish population, and therefore wishes to incorporate the million descendants of those Jews who were banished over 400 years ago in the Spanish people. Since it would be impossible, however, to get them all to come back, he at least wants to make them “Sons of Spain” again, by granting them Spanish citizenship, whether they come back or not.
Ayala’s movement has a great body of support, and is growing form day to day. The Government supports it whole-heartedly. But there are many technical and legal difficulties in the way of its realization.


At the same time its moral significance cannot be overestimated. At the very moment when Germany has turned back the clock of history, and is depriving its Jews of their citizenship and driving them into exile, Spain, which did the same 400 years ago, is doing her utmost to retrieve her error, is welcoming her Jews back, and offering them all the rights of Spanish citizenship.
In Spain, the last act of a great tragedy is being played, the first act of which took place in the Middle Ages. In Germany, it is the first act that is being played now. But there too the last act will come sooner or later.
I wonder what the Zionist movement made of the proposal at the time.

June 03, 2015

Can Stephen Fry be serious?

The trouble with asking comedians their view on a certain thing is that you don't know if their answer is a joke or not.  That is certainly the case with Jews for Justice for Palestinians signatory, Stephen Fry.  See this in the most recent New Statesman.  It's headed "What you can't say. Stephen Fry, Slavoj Žižek, Elif Shafak and more say the unsayable".  Now cop this:
Stephen Fry

Between the intense sanctimonious sensibilities of the left, on the one hand, and the brute moral certainties of the right, on the other, we squeezed liberals find ourselves (as ever) wringing our milk-white hands and wishing it were all otherwise. We don’t want to offend, but we cannot spend our lives walking on eggshells.

An example from each side. The truth has to be told about the genocidal madness of Hamas (read their “covenant” online if you don’t believe me. It’s not just every Jew across the world they want to kill, it’s also – I’m serious – Rotarians).The truth also has to be told about the failure of the west’s “war on drugs”. Not just a tactical failure, but a ­strategic and moral one.

So, from those two, more or less randomly chosen, subjects, here are two things that can’t be said. Israel has every right to resist coming to an accommodation with Palestine while it is led by Hamas. To save lives all over the planet, drugs must be legalised.
I knew I shouldn’t have spoken.

*tiptoes away*

Stephen Fry is an English comedian, actor, writer and activist.
Whether intentional or not, it is a sick joke to suggest, as Fry does, that the words of Hamas are somehow more problematic than the actions of the racist war criminals of the State of Israel but given the stance of most of the mainstream media on Israel and the Palestinians there is always more space for denouncing Hamas and using their ridiculous charter as an excuse for Israel's war criminality than there is to denounce Israel.