Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Olive Branch

The Olive Branch

As I have said before, the way to tackle the Middle East conflict is to encourage co-operation from the bottom up and build trust.

The olive groves where peaceful solidarity grows.

“Organisations such as Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) and Humans without Borders (HWB) tirelessly organise groups of Israelis and internationals to aid the farmers, and in doing so break down suspicion and distrust on both sides of the border. I accompanied a group of HWB volunteers on Friday to see firsthand the way in which Jews and Arabs come together under a banner of peaceful coexistence, and was more heartened by the experience than any other I’ve had in Israel/Palestine in a long time.”

“Into the breach stepped the HWB group, made up of 20 young Israelis; some native-born, others immigrants from the UK, America and Australia. Meeting at an ungodly hour at Arlozorov train station in Tel Aviv, they had given up their weekend to perform the ultimate mitzvah (commandment): love thy neighbour – though religion was far from the prime motive for the majority of the volunteers. Instead, their own brand of Zionism – one which promotes, rather than tramples on, the human rights of all inhabitants of the region – was the catalyst for their quest.”

Alan Howe

Update: HT Mod, another Humans Without Borders initiative ongoing despite the boycott campaign.

“A government leader just signs a peace agreement, and a year later he’s not in that position,” she says. “But if you make a relationship with a family, those people will never forget you. You can see that in the interactions between the kids and the volunteers.” Indeed, at a Day of Fun last Sunday for five of the children who receive weekly dialysis, Yehiya smiled brightly and ran into the arms of volunteer Yehudit Warschawski, who drives him and his father to Shaare Zedek twice a week. “Shalom, hamud!” Warschawski cooed, sweeping him into her arms.

GPRC statement on the use of antisemitic language

Update – we have just been notified that the copy of the statement we have is subject to some minor corrections and other amendments.

We have been asked to take it down pending these, and a consensus has emerged that we should do that. We will post the guidelines once they are completed.

The guidelines reproduced the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC)’s WORKING DEFINITION OF ANTISEMITISM, which you can read yourselves meanwhile.


Gaza’s religious hardliners

I don’t need to remind most Green readers about the effects of the blockade of Gaza on life in Gaza. Gisha’s Freedom of Information request to the Israeli government has revealed more about this policy. B’Tselem has been testifying before Israel’s Turkel Commission to investigate May’s Gaza flotilla incident.

“Punishing a million and a half persons because some of them voted for Hamas is not legitimate. At any rate, the siege policy has not achieved its declared purpose: toppling the Hamas government and bring about the release of Gilad Shalit. There is, in fact, evidence that the opposite is true: in the absence of controlled foreign trade via Israel, a Hamas-controlled economy of smuggling via tunnels has developed, through which many kinds of goods are brought into Gaza, including weapons. Both the injustice and the futility of the siege policy are exemplified by the fact that, following international pressure in the wake of the flotilla incident, the government of Israel immediately announced that it would ease restrictions on entry of previously prohibited materials, including items that had been defined as potentially dangerous to state security.”

What we hear less about, because it complicates the dominant stories about Palestinians as barely-surviving victims of Israel alone, is this kind of thing about Gaza City’s Crazy Water Park from Guardian correspondent Harriet Sherwood. Despite its popularity and political correctness – in Gaza this means sex segregation, with only girls aged below 12 permitted to swim – it became the target of religious hardliners with tacit government support.

“The theme park, on the fringes of Gaza City, had suffered a previous arson attack on 20 August during Ramadan, following false rumours that it was hosting mixed-gender parties, and had to close for three days because of the damage.

Then, on 5 September, the Hamas attorney-general ordered the resort’s closure for another three weeks. “We were informed there was an unlicensed water whirl,” said Ala’aeddin al-Araj, one of the park’s five investors. “But it was not the real reason, because there are about 20,000 unlicensed water whirls in the Gaza Strip.”

On 19 September came the biggest attack. Despite the lockdown that Hamas security forces have on Gaza City, a large group of gunmen moved unhindered through checkpoints and, according to Araj, spent considerable time setting fires at the resort. “It was well organised,” he said. “We know the attack took place under government eyes.””

Most people accept that the isolation of Gaza (as distinct from other possible enactments of security, which most of us who purport to care should take the trouble to understand better) exacerbates the problem of religious extremism. Palestinian Centre for Human Rights representative Hamdi Shaqqura:

“The broader picture of isolation in Gaza – international sanctions and closure – is a recipe for extremism to flourish,” said Shaqqura. “We are gradually moving to a monolithic society as interpreted by the ruling party. Their ideology flourishes in poverty and isolation. You can see the impact of this clearly.”

The Green Party has policy on liberating and emancipating Palestinians from Israelis but not from other Palestinians – in other words, building Palestinian civil society. And despite its avid interest in Palestinians, Green Party policy doesn’t acknowledge the threat posed by religious hardliners to women and regional minority groups such as Jews at all.

See also Playing Politics: Gaza’s Summer Camps.

Green Left’s guest urges support for the English Defence League

When Green Left were looking for a bona fide ‘Jewish perspective’ on anti-Zionism at their 2008 autumn conference fringe, one of the people they platformed was Tony Greenstein.

This week, Tony Greenstein in conversation with a Palestine Solidarity Campaign chair urged rabbis to support the English Defence League and suggested rigging a poll so that he could then falsely paint Jews as racists.

Bob From Brockley comments:

“The Jewish Chronicle, true to form, has a poll: should rabbis be involved in the EDL? Anti-Zionist Tony Greenstein urges people to vote yes, to show they are as bad as each other. This, it seems to me, is an act of unbelievable and unforgiveable stupidity, because it will fuel the idea that Jews in general hate Muslims in general, and thus feed the kind of venomous politics represented by the [E]DL. As with his earlier dishonesty about the Zionist Federation, Tony is playing a dangerous game here, with very serious consequences which he ought to be mindful of. Update: since I wrote this, HP picked up the story. Lippy [commenting on the HP post at 15 October 2010, 2:03 pm] sums up why this is so wrong: “Rabbis should support EDL – and rabbis are Jewish, not Zionist. So, the opposition to that would be antisemitic, not anti-Zionist. The more Jews join the EDL, the more that justifies Muslim backlash against Jews. (Not Zionists.) The more Jews join the EDL, the easier it is for EDL to say they are not racist, Nazi etc. So, the more other people (be they white, Hindu, whatever) will join the EDL. So, Greenstein’s deceit is a recruiting sergeant for EDL and incites more antisemitism and more Islamophobia. And this from an “anti-racist”???” Later, the JC themselves noticed, and eventually suspended the poll.”

The overwhelming majority of respondents had voted against support for the EDL.

Tony Greenstein’s approach is a dangerous current in pro-Palestine campaigning today, and I continue to wonder what it will take to persuade the Green Party to dissociate from the euphemistically named Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

(I will never understand the power anti-Zionism has to addle the wits of this many people.)

Update: no place on our platforms.

Forgot to mention the role of PSC in this.

Will TUC look kindly on their new partner of choice stirring antisemitism and Islamophobia?

On the English Defence League

Cross-posted on Engage.

In June, Ben Gidley’s Dissent blog post characterised the aggressively pro-Western, anti-Islamic, anti-multicultural English Defence League as currently ideologically diverse and unstable, but capable of becoming a politically sustainable movement under certain circumstances.

Conditions now seem conducive to this. Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas observes that the English Defence League is coalescing into a movement with more purpose, and now constitutes a bigger threat than the BNP.

Ben’s post gives consideration to how to respond to the EDL:

“I genuinely have no suggestions then about the best way to respond to the EDL in the short term, but the nature of the EDL seems to me to have clear implications about how to defeat them in the long term.  In the long term, we need a politics that mounts a robust defense of the best elements of the Western enlightenment tradition against the genuine threat posed by Islamism. If we leave this defense to arch-reactionaries, we’ve failed in advance. One aspect of this is surely to engage with those forces within the communities targeted by the EDL who also care about Western democratic values, which is why campaigns like One Law for All and grassroots organizations like Southall Black Sisters are so important.

Second, we need to foster an ethics of hospitality and solidarity, so that the communities which the EDL seeks to inflame and divide are immunized against their provocations. This means we need to actually make the arguments for the value of immigration, cultural diversity, and religious tolerance. Since 2001 we have generally failed in this. Within Guardian-reading enclaves these values are just taken for granted, while in local and national politics the mainstream Left has been reticent about defending them to the point of silence. The absence of a debate has enabled the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim Right to dominate the discourse while claiming an underdog status in relation to the liberal elite. People who are concerned about the impact of migration in their areas or about the threat Islam might pose are made to feel vaguely ashamed (as with Gillian Duffy, confronted with the prime minister calling her a bigot), but the counter-arguments are simply not articulated. The moment to articulate them is now long overdue.”

Jon Cruddas ends his piece with intent:

“The threat of the EDL and the wider cultural war must be taken seriously. That is why we will soon be establishing a broad-based group to formulate a response. The right has become very organised; it is time for those of us who believe in a decent progressive society to do the same.”

My hunch in the meanwhile is get down to your local pub and start striking up conversations.

Two important reads on how we talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

This post summarises two sociological articles which analyse the debate about Zionism and Israel. Although only one of them briefly discusses a Green Party member, they shed light on conversational moves and arguments present in Green Party campaigning, and the way the Green Party treats members who raise the issue of antisemitism. They also come from a perspective of seeking a better debate.

Hirsh, D (2010). Accusations of malicious intent in debates about the Palestine-Israel conflict and about antisemitism. Transversal, 1/2010.

The paper is about a common manoeuvre in debates about Israel:

“When somebody is accused of setting up an antisemitic exclusion or of making use of antisemitic discursive forms, it is often the case that they do not respond by examining the justification for the claim. Instead, they often launch an ad hominem counter-attack which accuses the accuser of acting in bad faith but which leaves the substance of the accusation un-examined.”

For reasons set out in the paper, David Hirsh refers to this as the ‘Livingstone Formulation’. He argues that the Livingstone Formulation harms debate about Israel and Palestine by placing it outside the realm of rational conversation.

“This paper is not concerned directly with those who are accused of employing antisemitic discourse and who respond in a measured and rational way to such accusations in a good faith effort to relate to the concern, and to refute it. Rather it is concerned with modes of refusal to engage with the issue of antisemitism. Those who argue that certain kinds of arguments, tropes, analogies and ideas are antisemitic are trying to have them recognized as being outside of the boundaries of legitimate antiracist discourse. The Livingstone Formulation as a response tries to have the raising itself of the issue of antisemitism recognized as being outside of the boundaries of legitimate discourse.”

Caroline Lucas furnishes an example:

“The Livingstone Formulation variant used by the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, a member of the European Parliament, also posits a strong and clear claim about intent: ‘…Israel has been able to act with relative immunity, hiding behind its incendiary claim that all who criticise its policies are anti Semitic.’ Here the dishonest claim behind which Israel hides is intentionally made by the state, for the purpose of enabling it to act with immunity. It covers all who criticise the policies of Israel. The implication is that everyone who raises the issue of antisemitism in relation to discourse which takes the form of criticism of the policies of Israel is doing so out of malicious intent and as an agent of the state (Lucas 2008). Note also the term ‘incendiary’ which implies that the act of making the claim that something is antisemitic is hugely damaging to the whole terrain.”

David Hirsh implicates highly intentionalist understandings of antisemitism (i.e. privileging our speculation about motives for a given act over that act’s effects) in the problem. He describes how some anti-racists are so confident of the righteousness of their motives that they refuse to engage with arguments about the effects of their actions:

“Antiracists who are accused of antisemitism in connection with their statements about Israel find themselves in an unusual position. While often it is difficult to look into the heart of a person in order to discover whether they are a racist or not, it feels very easy when the person in question is yourself and when you are a sophisticated antiracist scholar or activist. Often antiracists who are accused of antisemitism seem to forget the importance of understanding racism or antisemitism objectively as being something which exists outside of the individual racist. They find it easier to look within themselves. When they do so, they find that they are not intentionally antisemitic but on the contrary, they are opponents of antisemitism. When they look at their own ‘essence’ they have no doubt, and I do not doubt it either, that they are not motivated by a hatred of Jews. Unusually intimate access to the object of inquiry yields an apparently clear result and it seems to make it unnecessary for the antiracist in question to look objectively at how contemporary antisemitism functions independently of the will of the particular social agent.

When accused of antisemitism you can look within yourself or you can look outside of yourself. Users of the Livingstone Formulation look within themselves, find themselves not guilty, and then find it unnecessary to look at the actions, speech, ideas, institutions or practices themselves.”

The second paper is: Fine, R  (2009). Fighting with phantoms: a contribution to the debate on antisemitism in Europe. Patterns of Prejudice;43(5).

Robert Fine’s paper is about how Europeans think about the antisemitism that once played such a murderous role in Europe’s past. He identifies an unnatural polarisation into ‘alarmists’ and ‘deniers’ – respectively, those who worry about a new antisemitism and perceive a structural similarity between hatred of Zionism and the old antisemitic tropes, and their critics.

“Alarm and denial become symbols of divergent discourses each made up of multiple elements, each drawn from plural sources, each containing a variety of political accents, societal diagnoses, theoretical presuppositions and normative conclusions, each, in short, less unitary than it appears. Each develops a sense of its own unity by constructing the other as its adversary. Each views the other through a network of negative typifications and caricatures. Each fires polemics at more or less phantasmagorical representations of the other. Each makes the other into its Other.”

Robert Fine explains the temptation in either camp to extrapolate an entire world view from one position or demand, for example to treat support for Jewish nationalism as if it were fascism, or to treat Muslim identity as if it were Jew-hatred. With examples, he illustrates how critical theorists and campaigners such as the Matti Bunzel and the EUMC have constructed imaginary coherent adversaries where in fact there is great diversity and little coherence, and he examines how they respond to their critics.

In a discussion of the critical scholarship of the ‘denier’ camp, he takes a fresh look at the polarisation as an opposition between universalism and particularism:

“The normative premise of critical theory … is resolutely universalistic. Memory of the Holocaust ought not to be used to privilege the suffering of Jews at the expense of other sufferings. The cry of ‘never again’ ought not to be converted into an injunction that this crime should never again be done to Jews. The memory of the Holocaust ought not to protect Israel from criticism. The incidence of antisemitism in Europe ought not to be exaggerated. Concern over antisemitism ought not to blind us to other racisms. Critical theory defends the claim to universality against what is perceived as the particularism inherent in new antisemitism theory and in the practices of combatting antisemitism in Europe. This claim to universalism is indispensable as a regulative idea but, if there is one thing to learn from postmodern and postcolonial critiques, it is the difficulty of realizing the claim in practice.

Should we, for example, buy into the notion that collective memory of the Holocaust now consumes our capacity for compassion and makes us blind to the suffering of others? Compassion is not a fixed quantity of capital, and memory of the Holocaust can equally serve as a ‘fire alarm’ alerting us to the destructive capacities of the human species wherever they come to the surface. Reference to the particularity of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust, no more or less than reference to the particularity of the suffering of others, does not subvert the universal; it substantiates it. As Hannah Arendt observed, there is no contradiction in principle between treating the Holocaust as a Jewish question and as a question of universal significance: ‘the physical extermination of the Jewish people was a crime against humanity perpetrated on the body of the Jewish people, and … only the choice of victims, not the nature of the crime, could be derived from the long history of Jew-hatred and antisemitism’.”

Robert Fine argues that the adversaries tend to imagine each other as representative figures of particularism, but that if concerns about antisemitism are dismissed, then antisemitism will become excluded from the list of racisms which the European post-national project must tackle, and this would itself constitute a form of particularism. With reference to the transnational racial project of the Nazis, he cautions against exclusively associating antisemitism with nationalism and consequently neglecting antisemitism in the post-national European project. He is concerned about the conceptual dichotomy between nationalism and post-nationalism because the tendency to view post-nationalism as the key political struggle of our age makes it easy to stigmatise nationalism as a pathological evil. Through some post-nationalist eyes ‘Israel’ and ‘Zionism’ become burdened with evil:

“… not so much as names for a particular society and political ideology, changing and developing historically as a result of both endogenous factors and exogenous relations with others, but as vessels into which Europe can project all that is violent in its own past and present, and preserve the good for itself. In the undercurrents of European thought there has long existed an essentially nihilistic conviction that, if we can only rid ourselves of some alien element on to which we project the ills of society – be it the bourgeoisie, parasites, terrorists or Jews – then all will be well with the world. The representation of Israel as a pariah state or pariah people can perform a similar mythic function for a European consciousness anxious to divest itself of the legacy of its own past. This is not to say that Europeans should not have a role in criticizing manifestations of nationalism and racism in Israeli state and society, in criticizing Israeli military actions, in calling for an end to the occupation and support for an independent Palestinian state, or in advocating the renewal of cosmopolitan values in both Israel and a future Palestine. But this is a long way from a demonizing logic through which antisemitism can wheedle its way back into the new Europe.”

Thank goodness for sociologists. In keeping with the public funding the universities which employ these authors receive, and their own mission statements about public good, I’m hoping these papers will soon be available on Goldsmiths’ and Warwick’s eprint (i.e. open access) repositories, at which time I’ll update this page with links.

Insisting on a highly intentionalist understanding of antisemitism,