Peter Tatchell responds to an accusation of “stirring up antisemitic rhetoric”

Peter has released a statement [pdf format] opposing the organization of a LGBTI conference in Israel.

The statement is long and convoluted and should be read in full. It includes some valid points and others which need to be discussed, but this is beyond the point of this post.

The conclusion, title, and only action point of the statement is simple and clear: “No LGBTI conference in Israel”, i.e. Peter effectively calls for the boycott of events organized by Israeli civil society HR organizations.

The JC reports that Jack Gilbert, the former president of the World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Jews, said: “These statements are deeply flawed and are bound to stir up antisemitic rhetoric.” See the full quote in the JC article where Jack Gilbert argues this opinion.

Peter Tatchell response should also be read in full in the same article. What is remarkable about this response is that it totally ignores the actual points made by Jack Gilbert. Instead, Peter praises his record of opposing antisemitism (which is not questioned) and notes that he has criticised other governments of the region in the same statement (which is true but irrelevant in this specific instance).

Peter argues that organizing a LGBTI conference in Israel could stirr up homophobia, yet does not see why people are concerned that boycotting events organised by Israeli civil society organizations in Israel may stirr up antisemitism.

Update 1 (correction): Islamophobia has been replaced by homophobia in the last sentence; see comment by Alasdair below.

Update 2: The third and last sentences have been slightly modified to address concerns express by Alasdair that I was not fair to Peter (see my comment at 2011/06/27 at 8:02 pm)

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7 thoughts on “Peter Tatchell responds to an accusation of “stirring up antisemitic rhetoric”

  1. Alasdair

    While you’re perfectly free to disagree with Peter’s position, I don’t think this article is entirely fair to him.

    For a start, he doesn’t once mention Islamophobia, he says the conference could stir homophobia in Islamic countries. You may not think that to be true, but it’s a very different argument from the one you attribute to him.

    I also think the statement from Jack Gilbert ignores the points made by Peter. Jack says “It is fundamentally wrong to ask a Jewish or Israeli organisation what their position is and treat them differently from other organisations.” Yet Peter’s statement says “Appropriate, selective and targeted versions of the BDS campaign should apply to all states that violate human rights, not just Israel. Singling out Israel alone is wrong and hypocritical.” I think Peter has been very consistent on these issues, whether you agree with that stance is another issue but he’s not treating Israeli or Jewish organisations differently because of their identity.

    Thirdly, I fail to see how Peter’s call could stir up anti-semitic sentiment. I don’t think that case has been at all well made. Jack says that boycotts of Jewish or Israeli organisation lead to anti-semitism. Not that they can, even. That they do. That’s a very bold statement and one I certainly don’t agree with.

    Finally, I don’t think it’s quite accurate to say that asking for the conference to be held elsewhere is the same as boycotting an Israeli HR organisation. He praises their work and at no point says they shouldn’t attend the conference were it to be held someone else.

    Reply
  2. Raphael

    Alasdair; on Islamophobia versus Homophobia, sorry, that is a typing error, which I will correct immediately. Other points to follow.

    Reply
  3. Raphael

    Alasdair; I agree partly also with your second point, i.e. the fact that Peter as an individual shows some consistency and opposes the singling out of Israel.

    But the simple truth is that while Peter is consistent, there is no other boycott movement in the UK, british unions do not call for the boycott of any other academics than Israeli academics, and there is no call by the Green Party or other mainstream organization to boycott says, Chinese goods or Chinese academics (a move that I would oppose btw). Therefore that point is a little academic: it matters only in terms of Peter’s intellectual integrity (which I do not doubt) – the political outcome given that the other campaigns do not exist is support for BDS (no need even to include Israel in that abbreviation, a good indication of its uniqueness in British society).

    Reply
  4. Alan Howe

    Peter: “It is true that on LGBTI rights Israel is, by far, the most progressive nation in the region.”

    One of the modern [progressive? Green?] principles of behaviour management is to reward good behaviour such that it will encourage similar behaviour in other areas, both in the subject [in this case, Israel] and in others [their neighbours].

    I somehow suspect that the choice of venues for such a conference in that part of the world is currently somewhat limited.

    Reply
  5. Raphael

    I have been thinking a bit more about the points in Alasdair’s comment.

    Jack says “It is fundamentally wrong to ask a Jewish or Israeli organisation what their position is and treat them differently from other organisations.”

    Alasdair contrast it to Peter’s call for a universal application of boycotts and sanctions. But Jack in fact refers to this in Peter’s statement:
    “[…ref to Apartheid …] so we should avoid appearing to sanction Israel’s illegal occupation of seized Palestine territories and not cooperate with Israeli organisations that refuse to take a stand against an occupation that is illegal under international law.”

    I am afraid, I agree with Jack. I do not think that we should indulge in submitting Israeli civil society and individuals to ideological litmus tests to divide between those who are to be boycotted and those who are decent. This ideological litmus test is feature which also accompanies the academic boycott campaign.

    I hope someone else will respond better to this: “Jack says that boycotts of Jewish or Israeli organisation lead to anti-semitism. Not that they can, even. That they do. That’s a very bold statement and one I certainly don’t agree with. That’s a very bold statement and one I certainly don’t agree with.” I will just note that boycott of Jewish organisations cannot lead to antisemitism, but IS antisemitism. I assume you meant boycott of a particular Jewish organization, which of course would not necessarily be antisemitic. Boycott of all Israeli Jewish organizations would also be antisemitic.

    Alasdair also writes: “Finally, I don’t think it’s quite accurate to say that asking for the conference to be held elsewhere is the same as boycotting an Israeli HR organisation. He praises their work and at no point says they shouldn’t attend the conference were it to be held someone else.”

    Peter negotiates a fine line. He makes extensive reference to the BDS campaign that he supports, but does not explicitely justify his call as part of the boycott campaign. Yet reading the statement and its title, it appears that he would not support any event organized by Israeli civil society in Israel (except maybe events related to the I/P conflict with a BDS compatible politics). I agree that there is a fine distinction. It may be and probably be lost by some but I will also update the post to reflect that nuance.

    Reply
  6. Isca Stieglitz

    I can’t do minutiae argument when I’ve not got my head on correctly, but can say this:

    I became aware of Peter Tatchell when I was around 14 years old, via his work at Sandhurst/opposition to the Falklands’ War – I was a military dependent. Love Peter Tatchell. He’s tireless and has a kind face. I haven’t loved everything he’s done and said and parts of this statement fall into that category.

    I can think of two people who would love the opportunity, at least, to attend an LGBT conference in Israel. Two friends of a friend: one Israeli-Yemenite-Jew (Family pogromed from Yemen in the late 1800s) and partner Israeli-Moslem. The latter gent sought ‘asylum’ in Israel from grisly forms of homophobic persecution in Gaza and they found love.

    They’re not trumping others’ rights, they are just ‘being’ and LGBT folk in any arab/moslem country would find it nigh on impossible to attend LGBT conference anywhere, unless they were financially well off. Where else could you hold such a conference in the Middle East?

    Methinks these chaps, (and anyone else), have a right to feel part of a global community and I think their very relationship shows what is possible.

    Reply

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