June 26, 2015

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?

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