Monday, May 30, 2011

Reactions to UCU Congress motion on antisemitism

From the Jewish Chronicle:
By Martin Bright, May 30, 2011

The Universities and Colleges Union has voted to distance itself from the European Union's working definition of antisemitism at its annual congress in Harrogate. Delegates overwhelmingly supported the move on the part of the union's leadership, which believes the definition from the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia prevents open discussion of Israel. The union has a history of anti-Israel activism and on Sunday voted through a boycott motion. The definition includes any attacks on the Jewish people's right to self-determination.

Last week, the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust wrote to the union and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission urging a rethink on the issue. The Jewish organisations urged the union to adopt the definition of racism contained in the Macpherson report on the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence. This defines a racist incident as one which is viewed as such by the victim or a third party. EHRC chair Trevor Phillips wrote back saying he was surprised the lecturers' union had not consulted him before taking action on the issue. Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council said: "After today's events I believe the UCU is institutionally racist."
Sarah AB at Harry's Place:
Although the result was fully expected, it was still extremely depressing to read David Hirsh’s report of the debate which has just taken place at Congress. 
Fair Play Campaign Group:
Today, UCU voted to reject the EUMC working definition of antisemitism, leaving nothing in its place.
David Schraub at the Debate Link:
The UCU, perhaps embarrassed over continuing allegations that it harbors a culture of institutional anti-Semitism, has finally agreed to investigate complaints from Jewish members and a torrent of resignations by Jewish academics.

Just kidding! Actually, they just decided to redefine the meaning of anti-Semitism itself, rejecting the commonly held EUMC definition (which affirms the possibility -- though, of course, not the inevitability -- that criticism of Israel could constitute anti-Semitism) in favor of, well, it appears in favor of no definition at all. So I guess it's not a "redefinition" of anti-Semitism so much as an erasure of it entirely -- which, when you think about it, is at least more in line with the UCU's general practice.
From the World Union of Jewish Studies (WUJS):
The World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) condemns the British University and College Union (UCU) in the wake of its passing a motion rejecting the European Union Monitoring Committee’s (EUMC) definition of anti-Semitism. This definition of anti-Semitism is used on a day-to-day basis by the National Union of Students to combat anti-Semitism, as well as by every major British Jewish communal body.

WUJS Chairman Oliver Worth said; “The UCU has consistently shown a total disregard for the welfare of Jewish students over an extended period of time. WUJS completely rejects the assertion that Jews cannot be trusted to define the ways in which they feel discriminated against, and that the Jewish community is incapable of defining anti-Semitism. The University and College Union stinks of institutional anti-Semitism, and as an organization that exists to protect Jewish students all over the World, we are deeply, deeply concerned.”

University and College Union, UK, endorses antisemitism

David Hirsh live-blogged the discussion and vote today in the UCU Congress to reject the EUMC definition of anti-semitism. Very depressing.

(From his report) Sue Blackwell on the EUMC working definition:
Sue Blackwell to propose the motion against the EUMC. definition adopted by NUS, parliamentary inquiry, US State Department. In Jan 2010 Denis Mcshane tried to have Azzam Tammimi banned from speaking. [Tammimi is Hamas's guy in London - DH] Blackwell goes on, McShane argued that an external speaker should be rejected if they have a history of antisemitic language in line with the EUMC…” EUMC comes from the American Jewish Committee, European Jewish Congress, self confessed lobby groups for Israel. Ken Stern, author of EUMC is deeply concerned about “politically based antisemitism” otherwise known as antizionism which treats Israel as the classic Jew…. antisemites seek to qualify israel from membership of the community of nations.” In other words, if you are for a boycott, you are an antisemite. These influences are evidenced by American spellings in the document. Definition is not fit for finding Real antisemitism but is ideal for those who want to blur boundaries between antisemitism and antizionism.
Where to start with this incoherent verbiage in favor of antisemitism? Because the definition has American spelling it should be rejected? American and European Jewish defense organizations exist solely to lobby for Israel? Blackwell is deliberately ignoring the bloody history of antisemitism (how she can, as a European, escapes me!) which necessitates the existence of such groups as the AJC and EJC! What is "real antisemitism" to Blackwell? Since she's opposing the use of the EUMC definition, what definition does she propose instead? From reading Tony Greenstein's repulsive response to the Engage report of the debate, I get the feeling that only someone like Gilad Atzmon qualifies as a "real antisemite" to these people (and I suspect that for some of them even Atzmon, who spouts classic antisemitic rhetoric, is not antisemitic).

(From Hirsh's report) Ronnie Fraser's opposition to the UCU motion:
I, a Jewish member of this union, am telling you, that I feel an antisemitic mood in this union and even in this room.
I would feel your refusal to engage with the EUMC definition of antisemitism, if you pass this motion, as a racist act.
Many Jews have resigned from this union citing their experience of antisemitism. Only yesterday a delegate here said ‘they are an expansionist people”. It is difficult to think that the people in question are anything other than the Jews.
You may disagree with me.
You may disagree with all the other Jewish members who have said similar things.
You may think we are mistaken but you have a duty to listen seriously.
Instead of being listened to, I am routinely told that anyone who raises the issue of antisemitism is doing so in bad faith.
Congress, Imagine how it feels when you say that you are experiencing racism, and your union responds: stop lying, stop trying to play the antisemitism card.
You, a group of mainly white, non-Jewish trade unionists, do not [have] the right to tell me, a Jew, what feels like antisemitism and what does not.
Macpherson tells us that when somebody says they have been a victim of racism, then institutions should begin by believing them. This motion mandates the union to do the opposite.
Until this union takes complaints of antisemitism seriously the UCU will continue to be labelled as an institutionally antisemitic organisation.
It’s true that anti-Zionist Jews may perceive things differently. But the overwhelming majority of Jews feel that there is something wrong in this union. They understand that it is legitimate to criticise Israel in a way that is, quoting from the definition, “similar to that levelled to any other country’ but they make a distinction between criticism and the kind of demonisation that is considered acceptable in this union

Sunday, May 29, 2011

UPDATE: UCU academic boycott of Israel motion passes


It appears I jumped the gun - the motion on antisemitism was not up for a vote today, but rather the boycott motion. The antisemitism motion will apparently be discussed tomorrow. This is the wording of the motion which passed UCU Congress today, and which David Hirsch was live-blogging for Engage. See: Live Blogging from UCU Congress.

International, paragraph 30
SFC8 Composite: Threats to academic freedom in Israel and Palestine

National Executive Committee, LSE

Congress notes:

1. Israel’s continued illegal occupation of Palestine and daily oppression of Palestinian teachers and students

2. the restrictions on the free movement of Palestinian Academics within the Occupied Territories and crossing between the Territories and Israel and on foreign travel

3. Israel’s ongoing construction of settlements

4. the current witch-hunting of Israeli academics, civil rights campaigners and NGOs who
are deemed to be damaging Israel’s economic interests by their political activities

5. the recent alarming moves in the Israeli Knesset to penalise Israeli academics who support boycott action or even just provide information which may assist boycotts; this law will lay academics open to fines of £5000 with ‘no need to demonstrate that injury was done’ and to unlimited damages if losses are caused.

6. the petition from 155 Israeli academics expressing their “unwillingness to take part in any type of academic activity taking place in the college operating in the settlement of Ariel”, calling Ariel an illegal settlement whose existence contravenes international law and the Geneva Convention.

Congress deplores these attacks on the academic freedom of our Palestinian and Israeli colleagues.

Congress instructs NEC to:

a. circulate to all members
  • the call by the Israeli academics
  • the PACBI call for academic and cultural boycott of Israel
  • information about the current legislation passing through the Knesset threatening heavy fines and other penalties on Israelis taking non-violent action against the occupation.
b. seek a delegation to meet the Israeli Ambassador to raise our concerns

c. press the Foreign Office to protest to the Israeli Government

d. raise the issue with Education International and press them to seek similar action by all affiliates

e. publicise these threats and our actions in response.
Note that legal counsel to the UCU several years ago already notified them that supporting the academic boycott is illegal under the UK's Race Relations Law. Yet they persist in disobeying the law. 

Original Post

The UCU Congress (University and College Union is the trade union for UK academics) is once again debating an anti-Israel motion (actually, in this case, an anti-Jewish motion), which refuses to admit that the EUMC working definition of antisemitism is relevant to the UCU. David Hirsh is live-blogging the meeting, and the motion has just passed. See: Live Blogging from UCU Congress.

For the text of the UCU motion, see UCU proposes to change the definition of antisemitism:
Congress notes with concern that the so-called ‘EUMC working definition of antisemitism’, while not adopted by the EU or the UK government and having no official status, is being used by bodies such as the NUS and local student unions in relation to activities on campus.

Congress believes that the EUMC definition confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine antisemitism, and is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus.

Congress resolves:

1) that UCU will make no use of the EUMC definition (e.g. in educating members or dealing with internal complaints)

2) that UCU will dissociate itself from the EUMC definition in any public discussion on the matter in which UCU is involved

3) that UCU will campaign for open debate on campus concerning Israel’s past history and current policy, while continuing to combat all forms of racial or religious discrimination.
Note that UCU doesn't propose any other definition of antisemitism, nor does it propose to deal with the many charges that UCU itself has engaged in antisemitic actions in the past few years, when it has been so obsessed with trying to take part in the academic boycott of Israel. Note also that this motion does not even openly oppose antisemitism, subsuming it under the umbrella phrase "all forms of racial or religious discrimination." Disgusting.

Eve Gerrard is now advocating that Jewish members of the union resign because it does not represent them and in fact operates directly against their interests.
The UCU (the academics' union) is now trying to change the definition of anti-Semitism in order to maintain a policy which discriminates against Jews, without having to acknowledge that it is indeed discriminatory. The policy in question is the proposed boycott of Israel: the UCU singles out Israel, and Israel alone, for special condemnation and punitive treatment. The Union has form in this matter: I resigned from it three years ago when it displayed that same intense desire to select Israel, and no other country in the world, for boycott, even in the face of legal advice that such a practice would fall foul of anti-discrimination law in this country. Now it is so determined to maintain its stance, and so cocksure about its own moral and political superiority, that its Executive proposes to reject the EU definition of anti-Semitism, since according to that definition the UCU's singular and selective hostility to Israel may indeed be anti-Semitic.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What's Up With the Jews?

An interesting New York Times column from Stanley Fish online: What's Up With the Jews?

I'm not often a fan of Fish (especially when he writes about academic freedom - I think his definition is far too narrow). He often writes with the intent to offend, in my opinion. This article, however, is an interesting meditation on how whatever Jews do is read through prepackaged narratives that don't have much to do with reality. many before me have observed, the Jew as a cultural/ historical figure is oversaturated, which means that the meanings that accrue to him (or her, but mostly him) are in excess of any empirical record and accumulate like barnacles without any regard for the law of contradiction. Attitudes, especially negative ones, toward Jews flourish whether there are Jews around or not. Anti-Semitism survives in Poland even though most of its Jews have either fled or been killed. There is anti-Semitism in China, but few actual Jews.

An important part of the protean and shape-shifting history of anti-Semitism is illuminated by Matthew Biberman’s brilliant book “Masculinity, Anti-Semitism, and Early Modern English Literature.” Biberman traces the intertwined careers of two characterizations of the Jew — the Jew as devil, an impossibly strong alien being who blocks and destroys everything that is good, and the Jew as sissy, an effeminate, slight, pasty figure who stays in the background and assimilates, but who, because of his having disappeared into the woodwork, is able to rot it out from within. (This quick summary does not do justice to the richness of Biberman’s analysis.) So you can have the fierce barbaric Jew (Israel as the atom-bomb wielding destroyer of Arab armies, at least in 1967) and the insidiously bland Jew, the obsequious figure who, while no one’s looking, takes control of everything. That means that whatever a Jew does there are a number of pre-packaged, and often mutually exclusive, narratives in which to place him, and, by and large, they are not positive ones.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mahmoud Abbas - Liar

I've been steaming since I read PA President Mahmoud Abbas' disingenuous - no, let's be honest, lying manifesto in the New York Times, so instead of grading my students' final exams, I'm going to grade his essay.

He writes:
It is important to note that the last time the question of Palestinian statehood took center stage at the General Assembly, the question posed to the international community was whether our homeland should be partitioned into two states. In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative. Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued. Indeed, it was the descendants of these expelled Palestinians who were shot and wounded by Israeli forces on Sunday as they tried to symbolically exercise their right to return to their families’ homes.
Now, what important historical facts does Abbas leave out?

1) The General Assembly, on November 29, 1947, voted to partition Palestine into two states, one Arab, one Jewish. That is correct. (To see a map of the partition plan compared with the armistice lines of 1949, see here). But what happened after that vote?

2) The Zionist leadership accepted the partition plan, despite their misgivings.

3) The Arabs did not accept the partition plan. Why does Abbas leave out this one extremely important fact? Does he imagine that because he left this fact out, his readers would also forget it?

4) The British, who held the mandate for Palestine, abstained on the partition resolution, and did nothing to help implement it.

5) Immediately afterwards, fighting broke in Palestine between the Haganah and local Arab militias (not yet Arab armies). The Zionists were more successful than the Arabs, and by the end of the mandate period, had succeeded in taking over a number of Jerusalem neighborhoods that had originally been Arab. (The Arabs, however, eventually held on to the entire Old City, forcing Jews to leave the Jewish quarter). When the British pulled out, armies from surrounding Arab countries invaded Palestine.

Gershom Gorenberg writes:
The conflagration began on November 30, 1947, the morning after the United Nations voted to partition British-ruled Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. A band of Arab fighters fired the first shots at a bus east of Tel Aviv, killing five Jews. The last military operation ended on March 10, 1949. In those fifteen months, Jewish forces defeated first the Arab irregulars of Palestine, then the invading armies of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan. The new Jewish state’s borders, and its survival, were a product of victory. Yet in those same months, somewhere around 700,000 Palestinian Arabs became refugees....

By April 1948, Jewish Jerusalem and other communities were under siege by Arab irregulars, and the neighboring Arab countries were preparing to invade when British rule of Palestine ended in mid-May. Palestine’s Jewish community, the Yishuv, turned to offense. As Jewish forces advanced, [Benny] Morris wrote, Arab society disintegrated amid a “psychosis of flight,” a contagion of panic. However, “a small but significant proportion [of that flight] was due to direct expulsion orders.” The mix of panic and expulsion continued after Israel declared independence and began repelling the invasion. By June, Morris estimated, 200,000–300,000 Arabs had fled their homes.
In the war’s third stage, beginning that summer, there was “a growing readiness in [Israeli] units to expel” Arabs from towns and villages, even when General Staff orders discouraged such action, Morris said. One reason for the shift, he wrote, was that the unexpected exodus in previous months created hopes for a Jewish state that would have few Arabs. Another reason was a desire for vengeance against those seen as imposing a harsh war on the Jews.
Even more important, the new country’s government decided that those who left would not be allowed to return. That policy was the turning point. Combined with the increased expulsions, it transformed what happened in the chaos of a war into a lasting reality. Afterward, the two sides told such different stories of the war that they could have been describing separate planets....
Both sides committed atrocities. Morris estimates that in the course of the war, Jews murdered about eight hundred civilians and POWs. He found written evidence of about a dozen rapes by Jewish soldiers. Though he suspects that some cases were not reported, he says that relative to other wars, 1948 was marked by “an extremely low incidence of rape.” Arab forces also expelled or massacred Jews or prevented their return to places they had fled— but they could do so rarely, for the simple reason that the Arabs had few opportunities. They were losing on the battlefield. Nonetheless, Jordan’s Arab Legion emptied the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City; Arab fighters massacred about 150 Jewish defenders of the religious kibbutz Kfar ‘Etzion after they surrendered....
As Morris concentrates on the events leading to civil war, the pervading theme is that both Jews and Arabs lost control. In a “fatal twist,” the British cabinet decided not to help implement partition, and to keep the UN commission that had been assigned that task out of Palestine. The leaders of the weak Arab regimes feared popular fury if they did not stop partition, and they also feared each other’s designs. Both Egypt and Syria, for instance, suspected that Jordan wanted to annex all or part of Palestine. Within Palestine, Arabs and Jews shared feelings of dread. An Iraqi general, Ismail Sawfat, warned the Arab League that Arabs living in the territory destined for the Jewish state faced “destruction.” Jewish leaders thought they faced a second Holocaust.
The difference was that the Jews were organized and had a trained militia, the Haganah, that could be transformed into an army—and had nowhere to flee. The Arabs had village militias, and the option of flight. “Demoralization” set in among the Arabs, Morris writes. Yet by March 1948, the Jewish position was also desperate. The road to Jerusalem had been cut by local Arab forces; starvation loomed in Jewish areas of the city....
When the British withdrew, the Arab armies invaded. They had not agreed on a plan of attack. Arab leaders said they were protecting Palestinian Arabs, but they intended to exploit the cause for their own ends. They had no intention of creating a Palestinian state. Jordan wanted the West Bank; Egypt wanted to grab the southern half of the West Bank first.
The initial Jewish goal was not to be overrun. Once Israel gained the upper hand, it sought defensible borders, which meant gaining territory. At least some Israeli leaders, including Ben-Gurion, wanted to “reduce the number of Arabs.” The policy of not allowing refugees to return was partly defensive, to avoid a fifth column. But in a crucial cabinet meeting on the issue in June, Foreign Minister Moshe Shertok also described all “the lands and the houses” as “spoils of war,” and as compensation for what Jews had lost in a fight forced on them. He was not alone in seeing the exodus as an unplanned benefit of the battles. On the other hand, leaders of the socialist Mapam party objected to razing Arab villages, and said that once the fighting ended, the refugees should be allowed home. In a subsequent meeting in September, the cabinet rejected an immediate return and left the refugee question to be resolved when formal peace was achieved. In practical terms, this was a decision to make the exodus permanent. It was the critical moment when confusion, panic, and ad hoc choices gave way to a deliberate, fateful policy. For, as Morris writes, “peace never came, and the refugees never returned.”
6) Israel declared itself a state on May 14, 1948, and the next day, the Arab armies invaded. Israel was immediately recognized both by the United States and the Soviet Union.

7) Over the course of the fighting, from November 1947 to May, 1949, Israel gained more land than it had been granted in the partition plan. For example, Jerusalem itself was partitioned by the fighting, with Israel keeping control of the Jewish neighborhoods in the western part of the city as well as taking control of some Arab neighborhoods, like Baka and Katamon, and some Arab villages, like Deir Yassin, where the Irgun and the Lehi committed a massacre on April 9, 1948. (Jerusalem was originally supposed to be a "corpus separatum," belonging to neither the Jewish nor the Arab state - see here for a map of Jerusalem according to the partition plan).

About 700,000 Palestinian Arabs became refugees - some fled the fighting to avoid being caught in a war zone, some fled because of Israeli atrocities like the massacre at Deir Yassin, and some were expelled by Israeli forces. For details, see Gorenberg's article excerpted above, and the three books he is reviewing in his article: 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, by Benny Morris, Making Israel, edited by Benny Morris, and A History of Palestine: From the Ottoman Conquest to the Founding of the State of Israel, by Gudrun Krämer, translated from the German by Graham Harman and Gudrun Krämer.

8. Abbas presents the very complicated events of 1947 to 1949 as if they were only a tale of Palestinian victimhood. Notice how he erases any Palestinian agency. There is no mention of Palestinian Arab militias fighting against the Haganah. I find that surprising, since there are heroes of the fighting whom Palestinians still remember, such as Abd al-Qadir Husseini, who fell at the battle of the Castel on April 8, 1948. There is no mention of atrocities that Arabs committed against Jews (such as the massacre of a convoy of doctors and nurses to the Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus on April 13, 1948, a revenge attack for the Deir Yassin massacre). I understand that no one wishes to point out the atrocities his own side committed, but for the sake of intellectual honesty one must acknowledge them, as I have tried to do here in this essay.

9. If Abbas is capable of blatant lying about the history of the conflict in an article that is being published in the New York Times, surely one of the most public and prestigious outlets one could hope to find, how can he be trusted in any way? I had hopes for Mahmoud Abbas, but after the agreement he came to with Hamas and after this highly deceptive essay, I don't see why anyone should pin their hopes for peace on him.

10. None of the above should be taken to absolve the current Israeli leadership, especially Prime Minister Netanyahu, for their dismal lack of effort in trying to make peace with the Palestinians, and for their active obstruction of any such effort. There's a reason why George Mitchell resigned from trying to mediate between the Israelis and the Palestinians - neither side really wants to talk peace.

11. Mahmoud Abbas' essay grade: F for disingenuous lying, and A for misleading rhetoric. I hope that none of my students have taken such liberties with historical truth as he has.

12. For another response, see Jeffrey Goldberg in his Atlantic blog:
"Reciting this history is depressing, of course, because it means the two sides are still battling it out over what happened in 1948. A more constructive discussion would center on the aftermath of the 1967 war. Mahmoud Abbas won't be returning to Safed. But he could be president of an independent state of Palestine on the West Bank and Gaza with a capital in Jerusalem. If only he - and, of course, Prime Minister Netanyahu - could find a way to avoid rehearsing old grievances and instead work toward a future in which both parties don't get all that they want, but get enough to live."


13. Marc Tracy of Tablet Magazine has a good outline of why Abbas' account of the 1948 history is wrong, and why it's so dangerous - because it eviscerates the right of the state of Israel to exist. 

Pat Buchanan watch

Once again, Pat Buchanan is defending a convicted war criminal: The persecution of John Demjanjuk. He seems to think that serving as a guard at Sobibor, a death camp, did not necessarily involve one in the process of mass murder.

His duty card says that on March 27, 1943, he was ordered to Sobibor.

The judge in the case, Judge Alt, "said that it was impossible for anyone to have worked at Sobibor and not be part of the Nazi death machinery. Every one of the guards 'knew he was part of an organization with no other purpose but mass murder,' the judge said."
Some 64 years after the end of World War II, there were no witnesses to testify to Mr. Demjanjuk's presence at the camp or the specific crimes he stands accused of committing there.

Prosecutors turned instead to an SS identity card and the orders sending Mr. Demjanjuk to Sobibor from the Trawniki training camp for Nazi guards. Mr. Demjanjuk's lawyers questioned the authenticity of the documents.

Because Sobibor was an extermination camp — devoted almost entirely to killing — rather than a concentration camp, work as a guard there meant assisting in mass murder, prosecutors argued.

Mr. Demjanjuk, who was born in Ukraine, was a soldier in the Soviet Army, fighting against the Germans, until he was captured in the Crimea in 1942.

He says he spent most of the remainder of the war as a prisoner. But according to prosecutors, he went to an SS training camp in Trawniki, Poland, where foreign nationals were trained to work in the death camps.

The Sobibor Camp

Some 250,000 Jews were killed at Sobibor, most of them poisoned with engine exhaust fumes containing carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. The camp was closed after an uprising in 1943.

According to the indictment, Sobibor was staffed at any given time with between 20 and 30 German SS members and between 100 and 150 former Soviet prisoners, known as Trawniki men.

The case against Mr. Demjanjuk involves some 15 transport trains known to have arrived between April and July 1943 from the Westerbork concentration camp in the Netherlands, carrying 29,579 people. Prosecutors charged Mr. Demjanjuk with 27,900 counts based on the theory that some must have died in transit or been spared for a time to work at the camp.

Monday, May 16, 2011

We get hate mail

Wow, I guess I'm getting important enough to receive some hate mail. Someone with the handle elsuaver crawled out from under a rock and commented on my post ""Religious Leaders for 9/11 Truth" (!)":
"israel did 9/11 all you lieing devient christ killers can start telling the truth now or a real holocost is going to manifest itself out of your anti-humanity"
So many problems with this short missive! First of all, if you're going to post a comment, try spelling words correctly. I count four misspellings, and they're all in important words! Secondly, Israel, of course, did not attack the US on 9/11 - Al Qaeda did, as Osama bin Ladin himself admitted. Also, I did not kill Christ (the Romans did that, try reading the Gospels).  And finally, if you actually want your comment to be published without being mocked, you shouldn't threaten the author of the blog with a new holocaust - it's a sign of really bad manners!

Nakba Day protests - what do they mean?

I don't really know what to say yet about the Nakba Day protests today. I find what happened today to be really frightening - the idea that thousands of protesters could cross the Syrian and Lebanese borders with Israel, without using arms, and surprise the Israeli army. Did the IDF have any idea that this was going to happen? Earlier this week I was reading articles online that they were preparing for riots in Israel and the West Bank - and they seemed well-prepared for them. But I don't remember anything being mentioned about their preparations for possible protesters coming over the borders. If they had, they might have had less lethal methods for dealing with the protesters, like water cannons or using rubber bullets instead of live rounds.

This is the report from Haaretz about what happened in Magdal Shams, on the Golan:
This was the first serious incident on the Israel-Syria border, Israel's calmest frontier, in 36 years. Despite extensive preparations, IDF intelligence anticipated the main point of friction would be the Quneitra border crossing, which was beefed up with reinforcements, while only two jeeps with 10 soldiers were securing the fence when it was breached.

The army estimated that the demonstration taking place on the Golan's "Shouting Hill," a popular place for protests in recent years, would proceed without unusual incident, and was taken completely by surprise when some 1,000 people, including women and children, began sliding down a steep slope towards the fence.

The unit had clear orders not to shoot without authorization by the brigade commander.After using their few riot control munitions, the army said the soldiers held their fire until the demonstrators began surrounding the jeeps. The order to fire live rounds was given by the brigade commander, Colonel Eshkol Shukrun, who arrived at the scene.

He said yesterday he feared situation would get completely out of control, and ordered the troops to fire toward the lower body of the protesters. One person was killed on the Israeli side of the fence and three on the Syrian side, 40 were injured, and all but the 137 already on the Israeli side fled.

"I realized that this was spinning out of control and that we needed to do something before 10,000 infiltrators made their way to Majdal Shams," said Shukrun, who was injured in the face by stone throwers. "It became clear that we needed to shift it into higher gear."

Shukrun gave the order to his soldiers to shoot at the lower extremities of those who crossed into Majdal Shams.

"That was when the whole [flow of infiltrators] stopped," he said. "Whoever was on the fence ran away in fear and those who crossed into Majdal stayed there."

After the infiltrators protested in the main town square, the IDF sought to coordinate their return to Syria with UN forces stationed on the Golan Heights. By 5:00 P.M., all of the infiltrators were loaded onto buses and taken back to Syria via the Quneitra crossing.
I'm also suspicious about the protesters coming from Syria and Lebanon. As Jeffrey Goldberg and others have mentioned, this couldn't happen without the Syrian government or Hezbollah permitting it. Goldberg writes:
Consider: These borders, in particular the Syria-Israel border, have seldom, if ever, seen demonstrations like this. The Syria-Israel border is a notably quiet place; Hafez al-Assad, the late dictator, and his son, Bashar, the current dictator, have kept the border quiet for decades. But now there is widespread revolt in Syria, which threatens not only the Syrian regime, but its ally, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. So far, Bashar's security forces have slaughtered almost a thousand Syrian citizens. So what would you do if you were a cynical Syrian dictator, or a cynical ally of the cynical Syrian dictator? Change the subject. To what, you might ask? Well, Israel, of course.
Andrew Exum, whom Goldberg quotes, also has an interesting analysis - "Just Another Sunday in the Levant." See also Michael Totten, whom I always find gives insightful analysis on what is happening in the Middle East, especially Israel/Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria - "Nakba Day's Deadly Political Theater."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Gilad Atzmon benefit in Oakland a failure

The Facebook page for San Francisco Voice for Israel has posted some photos of the Gilad Atzmon fundraiser last week, showing that very few people showed up. Here are three, two showing the vigil outside and one of the interior of the church with Atzmon speaking.

Vigil outside church

Vigil outside church

Gilad Atzmon inside church. Note how few people are in the audience.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

US Boat to Gaza and Gilad Atzmon

This morning I received another one of the delightful missives from the US Boat to Gaza, reminding me of upcoming events in advance of the sailing of the flotilla in "the third week in June from a number of European ports," and asking me for "help." Well, here's the help I plan to give them.

They are asking their supporters to send them letters to carry to the people of Gaza. I don't quite understand this, since Gaza has a postal service too, as well as internet access. Why put them on a boat?

US Boat to Gaza, Fellowship of Reconciliation, US Campaign to End the Occupation, and CodePink are organizing a conference in Washington May 21-24 called "Move Over AIPAC!" Apparently AIPAC are to blame for everything bad that's happened in Gaza, especially since they are responsible for US support for Israel. If you go to the website you'll find the usual gang of anti-Israel organizations sponsoring it. One of the individual supporters is Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, someone I used to respect. The keynote speakers are Charles Freeman, John Mearsheimer, and Stephen Walt.

And, they're advertising two fundraising events, the first of which will occur tonight in Oakland: "On May 10, world renowned jazz saxophonist Gilad Atzmon will give a concert and talk to benefit the Bay Area passengers who will be on board The Audacity of Hope."

To me, the prominent notice of Atzmon's concert is a red flag - the organizers of the US boat to Gaza do not care if they are receiving the public support of a notorious anti-semite. They may claim not to be anti-semites, and merely to be anti-Zionist, but working with Atzmon gives the lie to that claim.

UPDATE: A commenter to Adam Holland reports that there will be a vigil today opposite the church, put on by San Francisco Voice for Israel.
May 10 4- 5pm
Vigil against Anti-Semitism in Oakland: Lake Merritt United Methodist Church, 1330 Lakeshore Ave, Oakland

Tomorrow, Tuesday night, May 10 the Lake Merritt United Methodist Church in Oakland is hosting a talk by Gilad Atzmon as a fundraiser for the US boat to Gaza. Atzmon is an ex-Israeli who now resides in the UK; he has renounced not only being Israeli, but his membership in the Jewish people and now writes and promotes classically anti-Semitic remarks.....

San Francisco Voice for Israel will hold a vigil outside the church from 4-5

Suggested signs:

"Hate speech: not welcome here"
"Hate speech is unjust"

Please invite your non-Jewish friends to this event. This is about hate speech in the Bay Area, and decent people of all religions and (almost) all political orientations should be justifiably concerned about this type of extremism being welcomed into our community.

StandWithUs/ San Francisco Voice for Israel

for further information or questions: e-mail us at

Join the SF Voice For Israel group on Facebook!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Gilad Atzmon benefit for US Boat to Gaza

As reported initially by David Adler a couple of weeks ago, anti-Jewish agitator Gilad Atzmon, who recently put on a panel discussion in London on "Zionism, Jewishness, and Israel," is currently traveling around the US making mischief. Adam Holland reports today that he will be doing a benefit for US Boat to Gaza in Oakland, California. US Boat to Gaza is sending a boat to Gaza, which they have named the "Audacity of Hope," in another attempt to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza. From their statement of purpose:
We are planning to launch a U.S. boat to Gaza, joining a flotilla of ships from Europe, Canada, India, South Africa and parts of the Middle East due to set sail in September/ October of this year. [Now scheduled for Spring 2011.] In order to succeed in this essential but costly human rights project, we need significant financial support.
Signatories of this statement follow below. I think that they should be held responsible for working with Atzmon, who is a notorious antisemite who has been rejected even by other British anti-Zionists like Tony Greenstein and Sue Blackwell.
Nic Abramson, Middle East Crisis Response
Elliott Adams, Past President, Veterans For Peace
Ujju Aggarwal
Laurie Arbeiter, Activist Response Team
Anna Baltzer, Human Rights Activist and Author
Russell Banks, Writer
Kahlil Bendib, Political Cartoonist
Medea Benjamin, Co-founder CODEPINK
Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies
Elaine Brower
Naomi Brussel, Activist Response Team
Allan Buchman, Founder and Artistic Director, The Culture Project
Leslie Cagan, Co-Founder United for Peace and Justice
Henry Chalfant, Film Maker
Kathleen Chalfant, New York
Cindy Corrie
Craig Corrie
Ellen Davidson, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions-USA
Angela Y. Davis, University of California, Santa Cruz
Noor Elashi, Writer
Basem Emara, Gaza Freedom March
Kathy Engel, Poet
Hedy Epstein, Palestine Solidarity Committee, St. Louis, Missouri
Mike Ferner, National President, Veterans For Peace
Lisa Fithian, Alliance for Community Trainers
Felice Gelman, Gaza Freedom March
Jenny Heinz, Activist Response Team/Granny Peace Brigade
Jane Hirschmann, Jews Say No!
Jennifer Hobbs, New York City Attorney/Gaza Freedom March
Nubar Hovsepian, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies, Chapman University
Mary Hughes – Thompson, Free Gaza Movement
Abdeen Jabara, Past President, American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Civil Rights Attorney
Tarak Kauff, Veterans for Peace
Kathy Kelly, Co-Coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Eleanore Kennedy
Michael Kennedy
Mona Khalidi
Rashid Khalidi, Columbia University
Naomi Klein, Writer
Ramzi Kysia, Free Gaza Movement
Iara Lee, Cultures of Resistance/Freedom Flotilla Survivor
Richard A. Levy, Labor Lawyer
Karen Malpede, Playwright
Helaine Meisler, Hudson Valley BDS
Gail Miller, Women of a Certain Age
Fatima Mohammadi, Attorney at Law/Freedom Flotilla Survivor
Donna Nevel, Jews Say No!
Michael Ratner, President, Center for Constitutional Rights
Mariam Said, New York
Najla Said, Actor/Writer
Hannah Schwarzschild, American Jews for a Just Peace
Bert Shaw
Moira Shaw
Kathy Sheetz, Free Gaza – USA/Freedom Flotilla Survivor
Ann Shirazi, Granny Peace Brigade/Women of a Certain Age
Starhawk, Alliance of Community Trainers
Eleanor Stein, Albany Law School
Michael Steven Smith, New York City Attorney/Author
Vivian Stromberg, MADRE, Executive Director
Yifat Susskind, MADRE Policy/Communications Director
Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Syracuse University
Alice Walker, Author
Naomi Wallace
Darlene Wallach,  Free Gaza Movement, Justice for Palestinians
Donna Wallach,  Free Gaza Movement, Justice for Palestinians
Sarah Wellington, Activist Response Team
Diane Wilson, Writer/Activist
Ret. Col. Ann Wright, Freedom Flotilla Survivor
Rebecca Vilkomerson, Jewish Voice for Peace
Dorothy M. Zellner, Veteran Civil Rights Activist
David Zirin, Sports Correspondent, The Nation Magazine
Adam's report:
Anti-Jewish activist Gilad Atzmon will be speaking in Oakland, CA on Tuesday evening on behalf of the organization US Boat to Gaza - West. (Read here.) The event will raise funds for American participants in a planned convoy of boats to Gaza. It will take place at the Lake Merritt United Methodist Church, recent hosts of an ersatz seder with an anti-Israel theme. (Read here.) A leftist local paper with a reputation for disproportionate and biased coverage of Israel, the Berkeley Daily Planet, is promoting the event. (The paper essentially features local news and anti-Israel editorials.)  A front page notice in the paper describes Atzmon as "worldwide-renowned [sic] jazz saxophonist par excellence (who) holds a PhD in philosophy and is a prolific writer and speaker on Israel-Palestine". 
The poster advertising Atzmon's event. Note that it's being held at a Methodist church. I would have thought they would have learned to reject anti-semitism since the Second World War, but apparently not.

Monday, May 02, 2011

So now he's dead

So now he's dead. I've been thinking about it all day, but I haven't talked to very many people about it, except in two of my classes this morning.

It brings back all the emotions I felt on that day - that great blue-sky day - September 11, 2001. The feelings of shock, and fear, and grief, and then anger. The realization that we had been attacked. And then the days and weeks and months and years afterward. The having to listen to fools who blamed the United States. Anger burning in me. The feeling of "and you go your way, and I go my way." (That's what Dumbledore said when Fudge wouldn't believe him that Voldemort had come back - I know it's ridiculous to mention the Harry Potter books in this connection, but it captured how I felt). I supported going into Afghanistan, and screamed at a friend of mine who thought that this was a law-enforcement problem, and that Muslim nations should take care of bin Laden.

Supporting the war in Iraq, when hardly any of my friends did. I even thought of voting for George Bush in 2004, until the Abu Ghraib revelations early in that year.

It just brings back all of the rotten, twisted up, angry, grief-ridden feelings of that "low, dishonest decade," the 2000s. W. H. Auden's poem, September 1, 1939:
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
I don't know if bin Laden's death will change anything materially - how could we know yet? It feels to me as if his death might be part of a spiritual cleansing. He was an evil man, who did evil, knowingly, and he deserved to die.