Israel, Unison and antisemitism


5:56 pm - June 13th 2009

by Conor Foley    


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The news that Unison has banned Trade Union Friends of Israel from having a stall at its annual conference is disturbing.

I keep meaning to write a piece here about why the left should support a two state solution to the Middle East, but I never get around to it because the arguments just seem so obvious. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the creation of the state of Israel sixty years ago, it now expresses the legitimate right of its people to self-determination. This right should be exercised alongside the right of Palestinians to live within their own state, the precise borders of which need to be negotiated by the two parties. Pressing both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian’s elected leadership towards mutual recognition and supporting the forces of moderation on both sides is the only way to get that agreement. This seems to me a no-brainer.

Given that it is the Palestinians who are currently being denied their right to self-determination, it is correct for the left to concentrate their criticisms on the Israeli Government. The appalling conditions in which the people of Gaza are living, the war crimes committed during Israel’s recent assault there, the illegality of the wall being constructed across the West Bank, and the attempts to change the demographics of East Jerusalem are all issues on which progressives should speak out loudly and clearly.

Yet in voicing these criticisms we need to also show that we understand that – as in all conflicts – there two sides, both of which have committed human rights violations and both of which have often behaved with stubborn unreasonableness. I can fully understand how the conditions in which people are living in Gaza has led them to support Hamas, but I also understand why the people of Israel have just voted for Benjamin Netanyahu. Too often the left seems to only be able to contextualise the former and not the latter.

This could partly be down to the sheer unpleasantness with which some supporters of Israel argue their case. Harry’s Place website, for example, is notorious for its ad hominem attacks and the gross distortions that it puts on other people’s views. Reading the comments beneath some its articles is like contemplating the contents of an un-flushed toilet. Yet just as we can distinguish between the need to defend ordinary Muslims who are been victimized in the current political climate and supporting the vile views of Islamic fundamentalists so we should surely be able to see why so many ordinary Jewish people regard attacks on the existence of the state of Israel as attacks on their own identity.

I am not Jewish and it is always difficult to write about issues of race, gender, ethnicity or other forms of identity from second-hand experience. I am also not a Zionist, in that I have no fixed opinion about whether or not the creation of the state of Israel was the best response to the situation in which Jews found themselves in the late 1940s. However, I do not find it all difficult to understand why so many Jews after centuries of dispossession, discrimination and persecution – which culminated in the Nazi Holocaust, should have concluded that their rights, interests and safety could best be safeguarded through the creation of a Jewish state. I can also understand why the Jewish diaspora remain concerned about the safety of that state – and their friends and relatives living in it – surrounded, as it is, by hostile neighbours one of which may soon have nuclear weapons.

My strong view is that it is in Israel’s own best interests to trade land for peace and I hope that President Barack Obama can succeed in making that case where so many others have failed. There are genuine liberal, moderate voices in Israel, although the size and influence of this group is clearly diminishing. We need more critical engagment, open debate and dialogue. Bans and boycotts achieve precisely the opposite effect.

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About the author
Conor Foley is a regular contributor and humanitarian aid worker who has worked for a variety of organisations including Liberty, Amnesty International and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. He currently lives and works in Brazil and is a research fellow at the Human Rights Law Centre at the University of Nottingham. His books include Combating Torture: a manual for judges and prosecutors and A Guide to Property Law in Afghanistan. Also at: Guardian CIF
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Reader comments


Have you read TUFI’s and Histadrut’s statements on Operation Cast Lead? It’s stretching ‘forces of moderation’ to its limit!

“Land for peace.” After reading a basically intelligent and well reasoned article, I am SHOCKED at the author’s conclusion. Israel haas given away TONS of land won when Arabs attacked them, and in return they have gotten hit by THOUSANDS of Ketushas in response for their taking the noble first step toward peace. “Land for peace” is a misnomer and an outright lie

“Israel haas given away TONS of land won when Arabs attacked them”

Excuse me? You are seriously stating that Israel has some God-given right to seize whatever land they want from other nations, and the fact that they may have debatably given some of that land back is some great act?

We are no longer in the times of the Crusades. Just because Israel successfully fought a war to conquer these lands, doesn’t mean that they have any damned right whatsoever to take them for their own benefit!

Rick B: No I haven’t and would be interested to see it if it is on-line.

Jon: ‘a basically intelligent and well reasoned article’ – you mean the bits that you agreed with.

Let me also then add that I think Israel should talk to Hamas and that no US aid should be given in ways that directly or indirectly support settlement activity.

This is a very rare thing indeed – a sensible article on the Israel/Palestine situation. Obviously, the situation is nuanced in all sorts of ways, but there’s no way you could fully reflect this in a blog post.

However, I notice that TUFI refused to condemn the acts of the Israeli government, which clearly went well beyond anything which could be regarded as necessary or proportionate – in this sense, UNISON’s decision seems reasonable. The article you link to doesn’t say whether the Palestinian groups who were allowed stalls at the conference were willing to condemn Palestinian rocket attacks and suicide bombings – if they weren’t, then UNISON’s decision seems inconsistent and therefore unreasonable. Does anyone know whether the Palestinian groups have condemned Palestinian violence?

“Given that it is the Palestinians who are currently being denied their right to self-determination, it is correct for the left to concentrate their criticisms on the Israeli Government.”

This maybe so, but the left do tend to make an enormous fuss about Israeli atrocities but express barely a peep about Palestinian ones. If the left wants to make a positive contribution to resolving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it should, as you go on to argue, be scrupulously fair.

http://petespolitics.wordpress.com

6. Alex Higgins

“Whatever the rights and wrongs of the creation of the state of Israel sixty years ago”

I agree with most of this piece, Conor, but would quibble about the euphemism used above. You can still make the argument above without crunching the Palestinian experience of dispossession and violent expulsion into a sentence beginning “Whatever…”.

In addition, the creation of a bi-national state is not currently politically feasible and, as such, not something the left should waste energy calling for now, but it is a legitimate aspiration for progressives and it reflects our general belief in overcoming national and ethnic divisions.

7. Alex Higgins

“Israel haas given away TONS of land won when Arabs attacked them, and in return they have gotten hit by THOUSANDS of Ketushas in response for their taking the noble first step toward peace. “Land for peace” is a misnomer and an outright lie.”

I should be wary of responding to comments like this on an Israel/Palestine thread, particularly ones that use CAPITAL LETTERS and do not acknowledge any suffering on the Palestinian side, perceiving only violence committed against Israelis.

But it is John’s claim which is a lie. The “TONS of land” given away could only refer to the Sinai Peninsula, which was returned to Egypt and the people who lived there (after Israeli efforts to expel them) in 1979 and for which Israel has enjoyed an eduring peace settlement with its most powerful enemy, Egypt, ever since.

Negotiated land for peace has only been tried, fully and completely, once – and it worked.

Alex,

The reference to “tons of land” would also apply to Gaza, which like the Sinai was won from Egypt.

I don’t mean to state the blindingly obvious, but the transfer of the Sinai back to Egypt was successful because the Egyptians were prepared to negotiate acceptable terms with Israel.

9. Chris Baldwin

There’s a regrettable tendency among some of Israel’s champions to blame the Palestinians for everything “Arabs” in general have ever done, even though they had no power over the actions of Arab countries and were often treated rather badly by them.

10. Alex Higgins

@kojak

As you probably know, the withdrawal from Gaza was not a complete withdrawal in any meaningful sense and was combined with military encirclement and an extremely harsh economic siege following the election of Hamas. Nor was there any attempt to negotiate with the Palestinians over the terms, as Sharon and other like Dov Weinglass explicitly insisted. Weinglass is on record as saying exactly what was intended by the Gaza withdrawal (you can do the Googling yourself).

Nor does it makes sense to separate Gaza from other internationally recognised Palestinian territories. If you are pushing this as an example of a land-for-peace deal that was tried but failed, you are in a very weak position indeed.

The Israeli-Egypt deal was negotiated with considerable reluctance from both parties, largely through the cajoling of the Carter adminsitration, which had rejected the Nixon-Ford position of ignoring Egyptian feelers.

11. Tom Stratton

Conor,

I for one would welcome your proposed article on the reasons why the left should champion and push for a two-state solution. I think it is always worth restating the rational balanced argument which is often lost amongst less constructive comments in what is a highly emotive debate.

I would like to briefly pick up on your point about the contextualisation of Netanyahu’s election. I truely believe an understanding of the Israeli psyche and a rationalisation of the decisions a state accountable to its people makes is central to working out a sustainable peace settlement. The Israeli electorate has proven itself willing to elect progressive leaders in the recent past. However, the support for Netanyahu and Lieberman, coupled with the public’s endorsement of the Gaza offensive, illustrates that many people beyond Israel’s ultra conservative wing harbour concerns about short and long-term security. There is a responsibility for moderates outside of Israel to adopt a balanced approach and demonstrate an understanding of the siege mentality which Israel has felt forced to adopt. Currently, those people inside Israel who are struggling to marry their desire for a two state solution and Palestinian self determination with their own security concerns are being drowned out by the conservative lobby who point to lack of international recognition of the problems Israeli’s face on the ground . It is up to us to contribute to an international constituency that is wholeheartedly behind a two state solution while acknowledging the concerns of BOTH sides. Only then will people with a similar agenda inside Israel be able to assert with some authority that there is a wider sympathy with their dilemma and that negatiations won’t be solely framed within a narrative of Palestinian suffering on the international stage.

Since its inception the state of Israel has shown nothing but contempt and aggression toward its neighbours and the international community as a whole. The number of UN resolutions against Israel, passed despite the almost automatic veto of the US, speak volumes about the situation.

Any criticism of Israeli policies and aggression result in charges of anti-semitism. An odd claim as the Palestinians are also semites.

The fact that people living under such intolerable conditions, as the international community either ignores or actively supports their oppressors, often resort to terroristic methods is understandable. This is not to condone such methods which are to be deplored whoever is responsible for them.

Were any other nation to act in the way Israel has for the last 61 years there would be overwhelming cries for, at least, severe economic sanctions. Instead we see the US funding Israel while calling for sanctions against Iran for developing nuclear power facilities, as it is entitled to do under the terms on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Israel, remarkably, goes un-criticised for developing its own nuclear weapons arsenal. Let us not forget that Iraq was, and continues to be, devastated on the grounds that it failed to comply with a single UN resolution. Despite the fact that it clearly had complied by virtue of it not possessing the WMD it was alleged to have.

I do not see why any group that proclaims support for such a state that behaves in the way Israel has consistently done should be given a public platform. If these people genuinely want peacefully co-existence with Israel’s neighbours they should focus their efforts on changing the policies and actions of the Israeli government and its supporters and call for Israel to comply with the many UN resolutions passed against it.

I do not anticipate this happening any time soon.

13. Shatterface

I knew as soon as the word ‘anti-Semitism’ was used we’d get some smart-arse claiming that Palestinians are also ‘Semitic’ as if we don’t know EXACTLY what we are referring to when we use the term, and as if fatuous arguments about it’s origin of had ANY relevance at all.

There are writers on Harry’s Place who see anti-Semitism EVERYWHERE, including, notoriously, a pizza topping but there are plenty on the Left who will excuse any amount of anti-Semitism if it comes from the Palestinians.

14. Shatterface

Oh, and can anyone remind me who else Unison is boycotting?

Good article, the left are so often caught out on this issue, so desperate to jump on the anti-Israeli bandwagon. The two-state solution is the only solution, everything else is conflict.

Alex. Yes, you are right on point six that was an unfortunate sentence. The article that I keep meaning to right would take more of an historical look at the issue and try to engage with those who still call for a democratc secular state – which I think may have once been an option, but can no longer be treated as one. That was what I meant about the historical context.

Tom: I think that Obama has taken the kind of balanced approach that you are calling for. Bush and Blair were almost completely uncritical of the policies of Israel’s government. What we need to be clear about is the difference between policies that we disagree with and Israel’s basic right to exist in security.

17. Chris Williams

Conor’s main point is right. My view of the Israeli/Palestine conflict is _very_ different from his. But that doesn’t matter: the key issue here is that if Unison members want to advocate something, they ought to be allowed space at their union’s conference to push their position. The only exceptions to this should be those advocating positions (like institutionalising racism, frinstance) which would undermine the union in itself. Everyone else should have the same platform on which the argue their case. And if they lose the motion, whatever it may be, they should have the democratic right to argue for union policy to be changed.

@shatterface

“I knew as soon as the word ‘anti-Semitism’ was used we’d get some smart-arse claiming that Palestinians are also ‘Semitic’ as if we don’t know EXACTLY what we are referring to when we use the term, and as if fatuous arguments about it’s origin of had ANY relevance at all.”

OK I’ll take the bait.

I understand that in common usage the term is used to mean anti-Jewish (which I suspect is what you are trying to say), but i strongly believe that this is a defense mechanism used to distract those listening to a debate by implying that criticism of Israel’s actions equates with Nazism.

The word semite refers to a language group and the people who use those languages. It’s origins are biblical (the Semites being the descendants of Shem according to Genesis) and therefore open to debate. However as the people who have historically used those languages include the people who live in the Levant region I think it is reasonable to classify the Palestinians as semites. If that makes me a “smart-arse” then so be it. I’m open to criticism and correction but there’s no need for name calling is there?

The charge of “anti-semiteitism” is used liberally, and largely unquestioningly, against those who criticise Israel’s activities. This is a particular problem in the US where academics have been refused jobs simply for pointing out that some of the things Israel has done are a bit questionable.

“Oh, and can anyone remind me who else Unison is boycotting?”

Well you could always ask them, but I suspect the BNP and the government of Columbia won’t be getting an invite in the near future. The French National Front are also unlikely to have a stall.

The situation in the Levant is a consequence of some very messy history and we could debate it for ever. The only solution is either for all those involved to accept the rights of others to live in peace, or for one of the parties of completely eliminate all opposition. Unfortunately, for reasons that I do not claim to fully comprehend, Israel is allowed to conduct itself in a manner that goes against all international law, and is supported by nations that claim to be believers in democracy and human rights.

“there are plenty on the Left who will excuse any amount of anti-Semitism if it comes from the Palestinians.”

And there are plenty of all political persuasions who are prepared to turn a blind eye to the actions of Israel. As I I tried to imply I believe that terrorist activities against non-combatant persons are reprehensible, whoever is doing it. Gandhi overthrew the British Empire without chucking bombs at people, but there are few people with his degree of tolerance and self restraint.

@Chris, 17

Good point re freedom of speech and the rights of Unison members to hear the debate. Must confess that I’m not sure what the group concerned stand for, so if they have been banned simply for associating with Israeli trade unions I think that would be a difficult position for the union to justify. There is a big difference between recognising and supporting a peoples’ right to live and supporting the action of those peoples’ government.

Perhaps didn’t make that last point clear in earlier posts. I fully respect the right of Israeli citizens to live in peace, it’s their government’s actions i take issue with.

Conor, read this

http://www.tufi.org.uk/2009/01/histadrut_statement_on_the_situation_in_gaza_and_southern_israel.html

It is a basic principle of trade unionism that all men and women arr equal brothers and sisters, the TUFI believes that some are more equal than others. The Histadrut is a racist pseudo trade union which for most of its existence denied Arabs membership and actively sought to deny them employment too. The TUFI agreed with the Histadrut’s support for the mass murder of Palestinians in Gaza. No real trade unionist should have anything to do with either of them.

Remember there were similar ‘trade unions’ in South Africa under apartheid that supported the racist regime.

http://www.sahistory.org.za/pages/governence-projects/organisations/Tucsa/tucsa-history.htm

Very good. Except Israel won’t actually be trading land, will it? Not land it rightfully owns, but land it has annexed and violently occupied.
And regardless of Iran, let us not forget that Israel has had nuclear weapons for yonks. Hypocritical? Israel? Never!

Alex,

The issue you refered to in your first message was an earlier comment that ‘Isreal had given away tons of land’.

So, if I may summarize your response, the question is:
‘When is a withdrawl not a withdrawl?’

And the answer is:
‘When Israel does it!’.
Because it can always be made out not to be ‘meaningful’.

Emily,

Who did Israel ‘annex’ the land from? Egypt and Jordon ….. who annexed the land earlier on.

The legal status of the land was never resolved in 1948 when the Palestinians did not choose to form a State on the land themselves. It was never formally adopted by the Palestinians as land for their State and in many instances the legal title to the land is still covered by the terms of the British Mandate.

Put simply, the Palestinians preferred not to take control of the land (therefore it was not their’s), instead the Egyptians and Jordanians did, and Israel took it from them.

This is not an attempt to say that the Palestinians should not have the land, they definately should.

Why do we never hear angst towards the Palestinian leadership who chose not to form a State when offered by the British and UN? Why is this situation made out to be the fault of Israel alone? It’s a fair question.

24. Chris Williams

Yabbut, ‘resistor’, if a union takes any foreign policy position which supports group A against group B, it’s deciding that some people are more equal than others. They may or may not pick the ‘correct’ side – that’s up to them to decide. But if the people who are winning the argument at any one time decide to ban their opponents from the basic right to get their argument across, how are they ever going to know when they’ve called it wrong? If your arguments are sound, then why be scared of allowing your opponents basic democratic rights?

This is not an argument about the rights and wrongs of Israel/Palestine, it’s an argument about whether the leadership of a trade union thinks that the delegates _to its own conference_ are grown-ups or not.

25. Alex Higgins

So, if I may summarize your response, the question is: ‘When is a withdrawl not a withdrawl?’ And the answer is: ‘When Israel does it!’. Because it can always be made out not to be ‘meaningful’.

No, Kojak, you may not summarise my response like that. You chucked out the bit about military encirclement and blockade and replaced it with ‘You just hate Israel, and we all know why that is, don’t we?’

Congratulations for trying to prove Dave W right.

Let’s just see your summary works:

Me: Israel has withdrawn meaningfully from the territory of another country in the case of Egypt.

You: When does Alex declare military withdrawal meaningless? When Israel does it!

I think everyone can see what you did there. This isn’t the Harry’s Place comments thread, that stuff won’t work here. Try honesty next time.

Alex,

Thank you for implying that I’m dishonest. How kind of you.

Now back to the facts:

Military encirclement.
As you know Gaza has a border with Egypt as well as Israel. Therefore it cannot be encircled by Israel in the true meaning of the term any more than Finland is encircled by Russia. All you are doing is stating the border with Israel is the longest one to Gaza.

Blockade.
As Egypt has a border with Gaza accross exchange can take place, if both sides so wish, the decision by Israel to close it’s border with Gaza. Blockades only exist where there is no alternative land based route.

I must say that in pointing this out I’m rather surprised you think I’m accusing you of hating Israel or something else. It’s a shame because Conor has started a thoughtful conversation and taken care to avoid calling names.

PS: What’s with this Harrys you are on about?

27. Alex Higgins

Thank you for implying that I’m dishonest. How kind of you.

Not implying, stating – I’m not the one resorting to insinuation here. You made a claim that I would always criticise Israeli policy no matter what it was even though this was expressly contradicted by what I had written. And you know full well what you were implying by it.

Do you accept that your claim was false?

If not, I don’t think you should claim the mantle of thoughtful conversation. And no, I’m not going to discuss the Gaza blockade with you, when you resort to that kind of bad faith. It’s a shame, but there you go.

Alex,

So you have decided not to discuss Gaza with me on the pretext of bad faith after I addressed the points you made earlier. It really wasn’t necessary to explain your reasons at such length. I stated the facts and you’ve sought a motive to ignor them.

Oh well, some people discuss and disagree amicably, whereas others take umbridge at those who don’t conform to recieved wisdom and dare to challenge their opinion.

It beats me why some people come onto a forum like this, make statements, then insult those who answer them?

Alex,

Sorry to be a bore but I forgot to answer your question;

As I didn’t make a claim that you would allways criticise Israel no matter what there is no claim for me to accept that was false.

I have checked our orriginal postings to try and see where any offence may have arrisen. Can’t see where.

(By the way the Egyptian / Israeli peace deal negotiations was instigated by them and hapless Jimmy Carter certainly didn’t cajole them into it, though he played a good role as host at Camp David)

The word semite refers to a language group and the people who use those languages. It’s origins are biblical (the Semites being the descendants of Shem according to Genesis) and therefore open to debate. However as the people who have historically used those languages include the people who live in the Levant region I think it is reasonable to classify the Palestinians as semites. If that makes me a “smart-arse” then so be it.

Yes, a smart-arse and terrible company at parties.

When someone says “I didn’t mean to not do it” do you say “Aha! So you did do it?”

When someone says “the attack decimated their forces” do you say “what eliminated 1 in 10 of them?”

When someone says “I’m knackeded” do you say “ooo, you are a horse that has been rendered for glue?”

When someone says “Prime Minister” do you say “ooo, that’s an offensive term dating from the 17th century for the first lord of the treasury, why you being so mean to Gordon?”

I’m sorry to go so off topic but this sort of argument must stop. If you want to argue then argue with the person and with the point they were making. Don’t tell them what they “actually” meant, they already know.

It’s you that doesn’t understand language. It’s an evolving living thing and if anti-Semitism means (roughly) “racism against Jews as a race, religion etc., both historic and contemporary” then that is how it should be discussed.

(If you want to explain why you think the meaning of anti-Semitism needs to be changed then start a blog and argue it, write letters to newspapers, form a band of like minded activists but don’t try and sideline debates on the Arab/Israeli conflict)

“This could partly be down to the sheer unpleasantness with which some supporters of Israel argue their case. ”

Which is matched by the unpleasantness with which some opponents of Israel argue their case. yet for some on the left this is ignored.

Sorry if I appeared pedantic. I’m not trying to take the debate about this very serious matter off topic or to cause offense. What I admire about this site is the quality of debate and I would hate to pull the standard down. Promise to try harder in future.

On topic:
One of several points I was trying to make (badly apparently) is that any criticism of Israel tends to result in the charge of anti-semitism, which in turn has connotations of fascism. Similar charges can be made against supporters of Palestine, as others have mentioned. This detracts from the issues at hand.

I would not be surprised to see Unison accused of anti-semitism because of this boycott. If there is evidence of racism on the part of TUFI or its affiliates it would have been helpful if Unison had made this clear from the outset. Perhaps they did. Anybody seen a statement from Unison on this matter? I have asked TUFI for their version of events and am awaiting a response.

People with a point to make do their causes a disservice by resorting to language and behaviour that they object to their opponents using e.g. chucking eggs at the BNP. I suspect Unison are caught in a dilemma here. If their regional membership objects to the presence of TUFI they presumably have to respect their members’ views. However, if elements of the membership are threatening that there could be violence against TUFI, as the link in Conor’s post suggests, I would be interested to know what measures the union is taking to identify those members.

I think Conor sums it up admirably in his final paragraph; “We need more critical engagment, open debate and dialogue. Bans and boycotts achieve precisely the opposite effect.”

I couldn’t agree more. (yes I know I either agree or not, but you know what I mean).

34. John Meredith

“One of several points I was trying to make (badly apparently) is that any criticism of Israel tends to result in the charge of anti-semitism”

This is oft repeated, but I don’t think it is true. No doubt there are some extremists who shout down all opponents with the charge of antisemitism, but they are very fringe and generally crticism of Israel is welcomed from all sides, including those of us who are, by one definition or another, Zionists. It’s just that some ‘anti-Zionists’ really are antisemites and some people are enraged when this is pointed out.

John: I don’t think I agree with you on that.

Harry’s Place ran this story with the headline ‘Antisemitism Out of Control in Unison’ and focussed on a remark by the conference organiser that the stall’s presence could lead to violent incidents.

http://www.hurryupharry.org/2009/06/13/antisemitism-out-of-control-in-unison/

As I say in my first sentence, I disagree with the ban. I also think the logic is disturbing. Feelings about the Israel/Palestine conflict run high (as we can see even on this thread). Arguments could turn to fist-fights and Unison seems to have decided that it did not want to run the risk of these at its conference. It is undemocratic because it is not giving people a chance to express a legitimate point of view and it also makes reasoned debate about the topic more difficult.

According to Harry’s Place, though, both the ban and any possible violence would be purely motivated by the antisemitism of Unison activists. Just think about that for a moment and you realise that it is not true. You first of all have to make two leaps of logics to get from: many Jews passionately support Israel’s right to exist therefore people passionately supporting Israel’s right to exist are likely to be Jewish and anyone who physically attacks someone who passionately supports Israel’s right to exist is therefore an antisemite. But even accepting that, you also have to ask whether the behaviour of said supporters of Israel might in any way be contributing to the antagonism with which they are perceived.

Go four comments down and you find the following:

“What I want to know is what about the Palestinian policies?

For example the death penalty to any Palestinian who sells land to a Jew? For example throwing people from roofs? For example attacking innocent Israeli civilians?

Can we attack UNISON people for supporting those hateful policies?
How do they even get the nerve to accuse Israeli policies, when Palestinian policies are based on terrorism and violence since their very beginning to this day?

I have yet to see a single real moderate Palestinian who doesn’t write a Holocaust Denying thesis, doesn’t consider Schindler’s list “Zionist propaganda”, or doesn’t support suicide bombers because they are intrinsically bad, and not because they are not useful to the Palestinian cause.”

Now would you not consider those statements a bit provocative?

Every day hundreds of similar comments get posted on Harry’s Place. One poster used to regularly refer to Sunny Hundal as Chimp Boy. The same person wrote a comment expressing the hope that I would be physically attacked in Afghanistan the night before I went there last (four of my colleagues were killed and a bomb killed over 100 people a few streets away from me while I was there). When I complained to the editors one of them, Neil Dean. told me that Afghanistan was not that dangerous a place for aid workers and that if I could not handle that sort of comment I should either change my profession or keep my opinions to myself.

If I had been able to get hold of Neil straight after reading that message I am fairly sure that I would have punched him. Would that have been an antisemitic attack (I have no idea whether or not he is actually Jewish) or just me responding to an insensitive, stupid and provocative remark?

That is the problem with the way that the debate about Israel/Palestine is currently being conducted and the juvenile childishness comes from both sides.

There are a number of websites which seem to consider it to be there mission in life to scour the media – with a particular fixation on the Guardian – to rebut articles criticising Israel and, wherever possible assign an antisemitic motive to those who wrote them. Even the last time I wrote a piece here about left antisemitism the Harry’s Place thread was almost entirely dominated by a discussion about whether my article was in fact an attempt to promote a Zionist world conspiracy thesis.

Could someone please help this poor old confused Jew. The British right now tell me to get back to Israel, the British left say Israel has no right to exist. Where the f**k do I go. Unison should concentrate on workers rights full stop.

Conor,

Thank you for starting this conversation and contributing so politely.

I’m not sure if your reply to John’s message 36 which had contained the opinion “some anti-Zionists really are anti semites and some people are enraged when this is pointed out” is something that can be disagreed with, because it requires an enourmous act of faith to believe it might not be so in some instances. But if I have misinterpreted the opening of your last comment please accept my appologies.

One of the reasons that Jewish people suspect or identify antisemitism im some of the conversation about Israel/Paliistine is the term anti-Zionism itself. The term ‘anti-Zionist’ seems to have slipped into common usage without proper consideration of what it actually means – to be oposed to any form of Zionism – rather than, as I suspect some people use it as a term to describe opposition to the activities of the Israeli Government and settlers in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The term seeks to delegitimise Israel in the same way that many nations refuse to recognize Israel also does. As such the term is a deliberate affront to Israeli identity and by extension to Jewish identy to some degree. Feeling supportive of Palestinian aspirations and their identity, shouldn’t in my opinion lead onto a denial of that of Israelis or Zionists.

The opposite side of the coin is for a person to describe themself as ‘anti-Palestinian’ as a way of expressing disapproval of the Palestinian approach to achieving national statehood.this would more obviously be construed as being in opposition to Palestinians per se or even anti- Muslim / anti-Christian / anti-Druze etc etc. I wouldn’t use such a term for this very reason.

just had a reply from TUFI, here it is;

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Dear Dave,

Many thanks for your comments.

We were told that they had taken an executive decision not to let us
take a stand this year. Different reasons/excuses have been made but it
I think it is in reaction to the Gaza conflict and several members
stating their views.

We have made our complaints about this and many members have. We are
still having a fringe on Wednesday this week at the Conference (please
see website) and work with many good Unison members who support our aims
and objectives.

Best regards
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What justification has been presented for TUFI being denied a platform at Unison conference? Concerns about violence should not, and yes I know that’s easy to say, prevent people from voicing their opinions. Any event organiser has a duty of care to those attending but Unison do not appear to have given a credible justification for a ban.

Unison has principles of respect for others. I know this as I am a member of Unison and the principles of respect are read out at every course and large meeting/conference. If TUFI have done something that breaches these principles then that should be stated openly. Such a statement would only help to confirm Unison’s belief in its own guiding principles. I will ask Unison why they have taken this decision.

To block debate about the Israel & Arab situation is naive, and executive decisions without explanation do nothing to further the search for a peaceful resolution.

39. just visiting

Thanks Conor, for a nicely balanced piece and kicking off an unusually sensible and unemotional thread on what is nearly always a super-heated theme.

40. just visiting

Just read this and wondered if Netanyahu’s call for a dis-armed Palestine is sensible.

“Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on Sunday called for creation of a limited Palestinian state for the first time, saying it would have to be disarmed….”In any peace agreement, the territory under Palestinian control must be disarmed, with solid security guarantees for Israel,” he said.”

Gabor: Thanks for illustrating my point.

You see is if you were staffing a TUFI stall at a conference and you said something like “your false claims about totally discredited and unsubstantiated “war crimes” and other cheap mischaraterisation of the “Gaza war”, which clearly unable to stand up to the test of scrutiny, shows pure ignorance at best, anti-Israel feelings at worst” to someone who had been in Gaza during Israel’s recent operation (as many of my friends were) it is quite possible that he or she might punch you.

Regretable as that act of violence would be, I don’t think that you could actually describe it as an antisemitic attack. It would be someone getting punched because he had said something incredibly stupid, ill-informed and grossly offensive about a deeply sensitive and emotional subject. If your idiocy was isolated then it would not be such a problem, unfortunately I do very often read similar types of statements from apologists for the worst excesses of the Israeli government. I wonder if the reason that you make such statements is precisely to get that type of reaction?

“One of several points I was trying to make (badly apparently) is that any criticism of Israel tends to result in the charge of anti-semitism”

Hirsh demolishes this argument with The Livingstone Formulation and there’splenty of examples here http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/03/27/the-livingstone-formulation/

“There are two elements to the Livingstone Formulation. Firstly a conflation of something which is arguably, at least, connected to antisemitism into “criticism” and secondly an accusation (usually implied) that the “critic” is being characterized as antisemitic knowingly and in bad faith by the Jews or by the ‘Israel lobby’ (usually implied) in order to try to de-legitimize criticism of Israel.”

Connor , i think you’re generally on the right lines with regard to being against the boycott and antisemitism. But i think your examples of people throwing around the accusation of antisemitism are pretty weak. I think you need to look at pro-Israeli and Jewish communal organisations and you won’t find examples of people throwing around the accusation of antisemitism with regard to just being pro-Israeli.

After all you yourself falsely claimed that the organisers of the Euston Manifesto had been briefing against you and calling you an antisemite. There was no substance to your accusation (as i seem to remember to your credit you admitted).

Lastly it amazes me how people who are used to robust political discussions all of a sudden claim intimidation when it happens during the discussion of Palestine / Israel. All of a sudden they become so fragile. Jews are used to being accused of intimidation when they respond to political attacks , the difference being in the past it was a tactic used by the right and not the left.

Conor – Sorry , i’m still mis-spelling ur name !

No worries Shachtman.

What actually happened was that an anonymous comment was posted on Harry’s Place website accusing me of a 20 year history of lying about various issues, supporting the IRA and being an an antisemite. The comment was posted under a pseudonym and removed after I threatened legal action. At around the same time Brian Brivati posted a comment about me at CiF in which he also said that I was previously a supporter of terrorism. When I asked him why he had said that (given that it is not true) he said he had been ‘heavily briefed against me by organisers of the Euston Manifesto. I can’t think of any reason why he would have made that up.

I know a few supporters of the Euston Manifesto from student politics days when they were members of a Trotskist group called Socialist Organiser (I think you also used to be a member of this). One of them is Simon Pottinger – who sometimes posts comments at the DSTFW – another is Paul Gamble who was a year above me at Manchester University. Another is Alan Johnson who co-wrote the EM and was doing a post-graduate at Manchester when I was a first year student.

The DSTFW has ran occasional abusive pieces about me in which Will repeats the same sort of shit. Simon pops up in the comments there and at Harry’s Place and also makes silly insinuations. Sometimes I respond to them and sometimes I can’t be bothered.

As I think I have previously explained the last time I saw Simon, Paul and Alan was over 20 years ago at the time that Socialist Organiser was ‘changing its line’ on the issues of both Ireland and Israel/Palestine. When I had first met all of them they took a fairly standard ‘Trot position’ on these issues and so I have always find it slightly weird that they attribute views to me which I never had but which they used to.

Thanks for the David Hirsch link.

Perhaps Unison needs to sit on some positive two-state solutions from prominent Israeli politicians before it changes its mind. After all, who wants to be associated with educators who work in schools that discriminate against Arabs? I’m sure you naysayers will all find its more than it seems, and its not in the least anti-semitic (that all-too-easy charge) since its not a racial distrust, but, rather, a political discrepancy with policy on Gaza by the State of Israel.

Connor – Will and the DSTFW are not Eustonites , Will is an anonymous blogger who represents only himself (and he hates Harry’s Place).

Two useful books / papers to read on antisemitism on the left. STeve Cohen’s book was written just after the 1982 Lebanon war. Steve had been active protesting against the war and started to write a book on it. However after reading much of what the far left wrote he ended up writing a book on left antisemitsm (while still remaining highly critical of Israel and zionism)
Sadly Steve passed away earlier this year (there’s going to be a one day memorial for him very soon)

http://www.engageonline.org.uk/ressources/funny/thats_funny.pdf

For a recent paper on antisemitism Hirsh’s paper is worth reading (long but well worth it).

http://tinyurl.com/232n3u

Interestingly enough neither paper apologises or defends Israeli policies or actions.

47. Chris Williams

Is ‘Gabor’ for real? He reads a bit like someone from one side of the argument pretending to be on the other, but over-stating and mis-stating his case to such ludicrous extent that he discredits it. Bad news for QMUL if he’s not joking, of course.

Schactman, the problem with Hirsh is that he’s suspended his critical faculties and decided that people who don’t agree with him over Israel/Palestine are ‘not Jews’. This seems pretty crazy to me, to the extent that I find it very hard to take anything that he says seriously. YMMV.

Anyhow, I’m not in Unison, but are any Unison members attempting to protest against this decision to exclude TUFI? If so, they need our support against the union leadership. The excuse that the TUFI stall might be a focus for violence is piss-poor. Hire more security, then. Make clear to all members that the conference hall is a place for debate not intimidation, and sling out anyone who misbehaves. These things can be managed.

48. Shachtman

Chris – I presume ur talking about Hirsh’s disgust at claims by a Jewish boycotter about UCU Congress being zion ist free. Hardly the same as what you are implying. Anyway is there anything specific you disagree with in Hirsh’s paper that i posted the link to ? It’s by far the best current analysis of the subject.

49. Shachtman

It’s Hirsh not Hirsch , it’s Conor not Connor and it’s Shachtman not Shactman.

Rgds , Max.

50. Chris Williams

Shachtman, I’m specifically referring to this thread on the Engage website, which may or may not be worth 20 minutes of your life. Usually I steer clear of the great I/P argument whenever possible, and this thread reminded me why:

http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/05/28/michael-cushman-and-the-jew-free-ucu-congress/

[I am now completely sure that either Gabor’s taking the mick, or some poor sods at QMUL are in for a very tough time.]

51. Shatterface

Gabor, you are ranting like an lunatic on PCP and anyone who punched you in the face would be doing you and the Israeli cause a favour.

Why the fuck would you come to a country you regard as no better than Nazi Germany except out of masochism?

In my experience, anyone who uses the word ‘sir’ as incontinantly as you do has probably been institutionalised from a very early age.

Shachtman: I remember reading Steve Cohen’s book back in 1983 and probably have it in a packing case somewhere (alongside Quite Right Mr Trotsky an absolute gem of a book albeit written by a Stalinist nutcase).

To take Chris’s point up, maybe we should do something to try and persuade Unison to re-think its position.

Perhaps Gabor and Will are the same person.

“Anyhow, I’m not in Unison, but are any Unison members attempting to protest against this decision to exclude TUFI?”

See 40.

I’m not going to protest without hearing the case for the decision. Event organisers are responsible for the safety of attendees and exhibitors. Can you imagine what would happen if the BNP where allowed to have a stall at conference? In principle everyone should be allowed to state their opinions. In practice it gets a bit tricky. I don’t condone bans, boycotts or violence but we have to accept the reality of the risk of things turning ugly. Additional security is certainly an option. Perhaps NHQ are factoring in the potential for adverse publicity?

If there are members of Unison threatening, or implying the threat of, violence toward TUFI I want to know what measures NHQ are taking to identify and reprimand those members.

And i think it’s only fair to point out that TUFI do not make any claims of anti-semitism in their public statement. They refer to a “discriminatory decision”.

54. Chris Williams

Dave, I wasn’t accusing TUFI of claiming antisemitism. I think that they’re being pretty restrained under the circumstances.

As for ‘would you let the fash in?’ well, no. This is because most trade unions already have a robust set of procedures that allow them to ban active purveyors of organised racism from actual membership, which ought to be enough to get them banned from having a stall. They do not, nor should they, impose a similar test with regard to foreign policy positions like this.

If we follow your logic, then in order to delay complaints until its too late to overturn their duff decisions, all the leadership needs to do is sit on their explanation for a few weeks.

While I’m in the conversation – Gabor, if you are reading this, I think that you need to remember that the Internet is for life, not just for the early hours of the morning. There’s a reasonable chance that your MA tutors (your potential PhD supervisors?) are going to read those amazing rants above. They are less likely to take issue with their basic political positions (since it takes all sorts to fill a university) than with their breathtaking disregard for fact and logic. In 2019, perhaps your father-in-law will find this thread and cut you out of his will. In 2035 your promotion committee might read it and decide that you are too crazy to keep.

If you’re planning on staying this crazy, angry, ignorant and stupid for the rest of your life, then keep it up. If, on the other hand, you want to leave space to moderate at least one of those faults in the future, it might be worth shouting at the screen a bit more and bashing the keyboard a bit less.

55. Shachtman
56. Shachtman

Also Eric Lee from Labour Start and his treatment by Unison.

http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/06/12/come-to-the-fringe-meeting-unison-tried-to-ban/

57. Shachtman
58. Shachtman

Conor , isn’t ur LC colleague Cath Elliott involved in Unison (i think Cath’s an elected rep) as Cath may be able to do something and may be uneasy with Unison’s decision)? Hi Cath if ur read this !

You are very right Gabor, you have already been threatened with violence. Thus proof of your comments. Unison by the sea, just one big piss up. Your just 3 drinks away from an anti-semite. How they love their drink.

Shachtman: “i think your examples of people throwing around the accusation of antisemitism are pretty weak”

You are delusional. Look at this thread, look at any thread on this subject.

Presumably you are going to apologise for your your previous point about the idiot liars who wrote the Euston Manifesto?

61. Shachtman

Conor – A couple of idiotic anonymous commenters represent only themselves and nobody else. Give me examples of Jewish organisations or people who actually represent people.

62. Shachtman

And here Conor is the thread where you made your false allegations against Euston Manifesto supporters

http://www.haloscan.com/comments/dstpfw/117028320997486969/?a=22977

If people read the thread they will see you made false allegations that EM people had called you an anti-semite. They hadn’t and you were wrong.

Keep digging Conor.

63. Shachtman

Conor. As you said urself “My first comment was simply that I had been subject to a number of personalised atacks from people who I took to be supporters of the Euston Manifesto. Various people have now said (both here and in private emails) that neither Will nor ‘Richard Baines’ are in fact supporters of the Manifesto so I have no problems withdrawing the remark if that is the case.”

No but Alan Johnson is a fairly important supporter of the Euston Manifesto – he wrote it.

Shachtman: I have just gone back in time a couple of years and read through that whole thread.

I think there are two separate issues here:

1. A long forgotten feud from student politics
2. My sensitivity to being wrongly accused of antisemitism and your sensitivity to people hurling false claims that they have been accused of antisemitism around.

To deal with the first point, Alan Johnson is a friend of Brian Brivati and at some point they had a conversation about me in which Alan said some things that were factually untrue. I am guessing that he attrbuted opinons to me that I never in fact had based on our very limited contact when we were both students at Manchester. Brian subsequently described that to me as being ‘heavily briefed by supporters of the Euston Manifesto’. At the same time, soon after I started writing at Comment is Free a number of fairly stupid and childish accusations began appearing about me at both Harry’s Place and DSTFW – which, from the context, were clearly written by people who were in the same Trotskyist organisation as Alan (and you). I obviously can’t name names because most people write under pseudonyms, but if you trawl through the comments of the DSTFW (yuk) you will be able to find one exchange I had with Simon Pottinger about our respective views on Northern Ireland in the 1980s in which he finally confesses to ‘memory loss’.

The second point is more serious. I have been accused of antisemitsm dozens of times in various comment threads. It is a stupid accusation and I have learned to ignore it. I agree with you that most of the people who make it are lone nutters. However, I disagree with your comment that:

‘But i think your examples of people throwing around the accusation of antisemitism are pretty weak. I think you need to look at pro-Israeli and Jewish communal organisations and you won’t find examples of people throwing around the accusation of antisemitism with regard to just being pro-Israeli. [sic]’

The HP article that I link to throws exactly that accusation at Unison. Look at the thread here and you can see why the argument is so weak. I completely agree that Unison were wrong to ban the TUFI stall, but immediately accusing them of being antisemitic for doing so is a knee-jerk response. You see it again and again in the comments at CiF and HP. I was once the subject of a targeted letter writing campaign because I had placed an advert describing the shelling of Qana refugee camp in 1996 as an ‘atrocity’. At least half the letters (all of which I politely replied to) accused me of antisemitism. It is a deeply offensive accusation and a cheap debating trick.

your examples of people throwing around the accusation of antisemitism are pretty weak.

66. Shachtman

So Conor. You’re examples are anonymous commenters on the internet. So let me try and hep you Conor. Organisations involved in fighting antisemitism – the CST , the All Party Parliamnetray Enquiry Into A-S , Engage , The Board of Deputies – give me examples where they falsely accuse people of antisemitsm or throw about the charge recklessly ?

But you don’t , you can’t and instead you have to resort to anonymous individuals on website comments or vague tittle-tattle.


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