Financial Times mistitles its Israel Lobby review

Money is the god of the Jews - antisemitic cartoonOn Engage, Kathryn Benjamin takes issue with the title of a Financial Times review of The Israel Lobby – “Cents and Sensitivity”.

When somebody asked me what I thought of this earlier I wasn’t convinced there was anything wrong. What went some way to convince me was this:

“Would a profile of Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, make it to the printers with the word “inscrutable” in the headline? Would Mike Tyson, who beats people up outside the ring as well as inside, be called a “savage”?”

She makes two points here – about stereotypes and about editorial process.

If you acknowledge the suspicion wealthy Jews in particular come under, the undue scrutiny for their attempts to exert influence in the ways other groups exert influence, and the contemporary tendency to dismiss Jews’ concerns about antisemitism as touchiness or, as somebody disagreeable says, “hypersensitivity”, then this is pretty convincing.

But in case it’s not, search the Web for “wealthy Jews”, “rich Jews”, “Jews and usury”. Among other things you’ll find:

Jews have an inordinate amount of wealth (due largely to their high intelligence) and they are extremely cohesive or ethnocentric (that is they belong first to the nation of Jews)
(Stephen Silberger’s barmy NeoEugenics page.)

The Jews have not changed since the days when Jesus Christ took up a whip and drove “the money changers out of the Temple.” Jews have always united to form monopolies. Today they control all the department store chains and speciality shops along with the lucrative jewelry and animal fur trade. Jews dominate the fields of all precious metals such as gold, silver, platinum, tin, lead, etc. They will always ban together to drive Gentile competitors out of business.
(A piece of claptrap on Stormfront)

The God of the Jews is gold. There is no crime he would not commit to get it. He has no rest till he can sit on the top of a gold-sack. He has no rest till he has become King Money. And with this money he would make us all into slaves and destroy us. With this money he seeks to dominate the whole world.
(Julius Streicher in his piece ‘Money is the God of the Jews‘)

They rush to trade because it suits their character and natural tendencies.
The 1940 Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew

The wealth accrued by Jews has long been associated with ill-gotten gains. There’s also a tendency to believe that all that wealth is going into a central pot to be spent on furthering Jews’ common plan to ‘dominate the whole world’ – Jewish riches, not individuals with their own wealth.

Jews’ riches therefore remain susceptable to more suspicion and disapproval than other people’s riches. You don’t get the above kind of sinister stuff said about the wealth of Hindus, Muslims, or Christians. Most of the references here are anodyne, even congratulatory. So Jews can be forgiven for being ‘sensitive’ to scrutiny of their finances which departs from the normal forms of scrutiny. In this context the FT title is provoking.

To overlook this is ignorant and if not ignorant then callous. The FT should apologise for allowing a sub-editor’s infatuation with a pun drag their paper into a sorry show of insensitivity, and one which, Benjamin is right, at first glance confirms the above canards.

Cue the Anti-Israel-Lobby Lobby: “So, what – can’t we ever refer to Jews, their money, and their sensitivity about the way they’re seen to spend it? This is trampling all over our intellectual curiosity – typical!”

Benjamin’s point about editorial process is the same point that Bernard Harrison makes in his book Resurgence – that editors (such as the New Statesman’s Peter Wilby who presided over the Kosher Conspiracy debacle) are better-placed than, say, bloggers or pub pundits, to assess the kinds of phrases that will stir up old antipathies and old fears.

So talk about Jews’ wealth and Jews’ sensitivities all you want (if you find the subject particularly consuming you may well be a sicko, a journalist making a living out of a sicko, a worried anti-racist or an academic – possibly more than one of these at once). Just give the matter sober, unprejudiced consideration and avoid provocative titles which play on bad myths about Jews while simultaneously jeering about Jews’ sensitivity to these.

Small, mind-numbing bits of news from Barkingside

Watch out – I thought they didn’t in this neck of the woods but fireworks do go off horizontally at knee level after all. One narrowly missed me and another woman last night and exploded in the doorway of the newsagents opposite the pool. The woman was apoplectic but I couldn’t persuade her to come across the road and take it up with the little darlings who’d fired it and I wasn’t about to get my head kicked in without a witness, so until next time…

The people who designed the flats built on the site of the charming bungalow near the corner of Fullwell Avenue have designed little boxy projecting windows jutting out of the pitched roofs. I don’t understand – is this supposed to be in character with the other loft conversions in Barkingside? Weird.

There’s a newish coffee shop on the High Street where Hi Juice used to be. But why does it have to be called ‘Elite’? Sexual prowess with your coffee? Er, no thanks.

The clairvoyant’s place has been replaced with a nail parlour called Love Nails. I’m torn about this only because I can’t work out whether I hate clairvoyancy more than false nails.

To end where we started but on a marginally higher note, the vacant place next to The Chequers which this time last year was taken over by fly-by-night firework vendors is now a fly-by-night fruit and veg stall.

Puffballs and parasols

If I don’t show at work tomorrow it’s because I’ve made myself ill with ‘wild food’ from Hainault Forest. And if I die I’d like teachers to use my story as a cautionary tale in local schools.

Puffball mushrooms from Hainault Forest

These look alright, don’t they? Cooked them and what I’m pretty sure were shaggy parasols up in a bit of olive oil and ate them on their own – delicious.

On John Dugard, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights in the Occupied Territories

Joel Pollack (Harvard academic lawyer?) reports John Dugard’s recent warm-up for the “Israel=Apartheid” conference in Boston.

Dugard’s rhetorical strategy is to make false and facile equations between Israel and apartheid South Africa. When challenged, he backs down, but not before placing another false analogy on the table, or simply making up facts. His big lie tonight was to claim that the Jewish Agency pioneered the use of suicide bombings. He cited Walt and Mearsheimer as his source; even they make no such claim.

When I challenged him, Dugard backtracked, but added that the Irgun had used terrorism in the 1940s (not mentioning that the Jewish Agency had condemned it). Dugard also said the following about Palestinian suicide bombings: “Without justifying it, I think one can understand it.” He also dismissed Palestinian terror, saying the South African government also once labeled its opponents “terrorists.”

(Incidentally, John Dugard doesn’t support the academic boycott.)

In support of withheld identities on the Web

Daphna Baram would like to curtail anonymity for commenters like those on Comment is Free:

“…we have just waltzed, blind-eyed, into the populist celebration of “the great democracy of the internet”. There’s nothing democratic about a state of affairs where people put themselves and their opinions on a public platform only to be confronted by a hooded, faceless crowd, often armed with rotten eggs and over-ripe tomatoes.”

This doesn’t wash. She should choose another platform where she can moderate comments or turn them off entirely. This is her prerogative. She could even use pingback to follow the debate raging about her posts elsewhere on the Web. But to advocate interference with people’s ease of anonymity on a site she doesn’t even have to use, well…

She says:

“Think about it, will you? Are you about to say something you are ashamed of? Something that does not represent your opinion? Is there any reason for you to conform to the ethos of anonymity of the internet? Let’s make this revolution happen without it being imposed on us.”

This reveals an oversight of the the ways in which discussion forms opinions, brings about commitment to a set of values, and also changes minds. It accounts for her willingness to surrender the kind of environment where commenters can stick their necks out, get things wrong, and revise their opinions without risking their reputation and career prospects. She seems to overlook the near-indelibility of the mark we leave when we venture an opinion on the Web.

The implication of her suggestion is that the Web becomes a kind of portfolio of accountable opinions. But her notion of ‘accountability’ doesn’t acknowledge the distance the passage of time can insert between people and their opinions. Quite simply, people change. Moreover, people often become ashamed of the person they were. It follows that it will become important for them to control what they might come to perceive as incriminating marks they leave on the Web. Why should they be documented when face-to-face conversations which may be just as informal are treated as ephemeral?

So, in Daphna’s world, do people have the right to selectively request deletions, amendments or notation to their Web contributions so that they can present themselves in ways which reflect their current values and correspondingly will not haunt the social or working lives they hope to pursue?

Probably not, because this would be both wrong and close to impossible. Impossible because public-access Web stuff can be reproduced and proliferated in a couple of clicks – you can’t control it and even if you could the burden would be enormous. The Google cache has incriminated many a revisionist. Impossible because people having conversations tend to respond or refer to each other’s views in ways which endure even if one party modifies or deletes their original post – since a view reflected back like this is inevitably subject to interpretation, Daphna’s idea of accountability is compromised. Also wrong because it ruptures the integrity of discussion threads, conversations which are far more than the sum of their individual parts and to which people contribute in the expectation that their contributions will make sense as long as they remain*. Also wrong because some revisionism is surely inevitable in any life course, why foreground it? Finally, wrong because impossible and therefore a deterrent to people participating in online conversations for fear of becoming personally accountable, for the rest of their life, to a view they may wish to disown in future. And if like me you have a very unusual name? (After all, who’s called Flesh these days?)

So in Daphna’s scenario, I suspect, you’re accountable for your juvenilia, your losses of equilibrium, your most radical dissent, your most unacceptable confessions for all time. In which case it’s worth noting that in some states, or in time to come, allowing your opinions to be linked to your identity might cost you more than your reputation. Bashar Al-Sayegh, Hao Wu, Ali Sayed al-Shihabi, and Rami Siyam can testify to that.

Daphna mistakes the rancidity of comment on CiF for the Web in general. Rather than demanding accountability from commenters, she should choose a platform she can control.

*This is why it’s better, if you’re receiving or interacting with comments, to use strike-throughs rather than deleting or overwriting your original text.

When nothing but a boycott of Israel will do

The latest in the series of diversions created by the academic boycott campaign to draw attention away from the decision that their boycott and therefore the union was wide of the law is Hammam Farah’s UCU: Between Boycott and Apartheid.

The title is a fair indicator of the article – if you’re not in favour of the boycott then you’re a supporter of “apartheid, oppression, and colonial aggression” and moreover, according to the narcissistic strap, history will judge you that way. There’s hardly any need to read on, except it’s an indication of the direction the boycott campaign is taking since being derailed at the end of September. Basically, mutiny and – you may be surprised to learn that it’s possible – a pledge to intensify condemnation of Israel.

Firstly it was common knowledge that UCU leaders were seeking legal advice and boycotters didn’t complain at the time. Possibly they assumed, like everyone else, that the advice was intended to help UCU avoid falling foul of anti-discrimination law. Maybe some believe that the principle of union freedom trumps the law, but were prepared to turn a blind eye to the advice as long as it went their way. But when the boycott turned out to be unsupportable legally as well as ethically, Farah inexplicably accuses the leadership of “hypocrisy” and being the “sole violator of academic freedom”. He, like many other pro-boycotters, hastily dismisses advice he hasn’t even seen, and advice which there is good reason to take seriously.

No more persuasion – this piece is a snap to heel for any waverers who might be entertaining the idea that the boycott is racist in effect and, in the singular devotion it inspires, sometimes even in intent. “No, no, no, no, don’t let the anti-racists pull the wool over your eyes, look over here – look at the injustice, the homelessness, the blood, the guns, the children. Are you furious? Yes? Well forget peace talks – we have to boycott the Zionist devils*. Entirely. Now.”

The piece then attempts to disengage us from our critical faculties with another long list of Israel’s alleged evils. It’s right to be angry about the dispossession of Palestinians and the harassment, interference and violence they have to endure, and right to protest the enormous disparity between their life prospects and those of citizens in neighbouring countries, as well as how comparatively poorly Palestinian Israelis fare on many social and economic indicators. It’s right to scrutinise the role of Israeli policies in these circumstances. Like Farah, the anti-boycott campaign Engage has drawn attention to the student occupational therapists denied the right to travel to their placement sites, as well as other cases of interference with Palestinians’ right to participate in higher education.

But campaigners like Farah try to persuade us that we have no choice about how our protest should be channelled. To boycotters, opposing the separation wall is just cosmetic. They regard peace and trust-building efforts as suspect. Campaigning for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, a dispicable sell-out. To them, any contact whatsoever with Israelis constitutes ‘normalization’. All they say and do implies that they want one state but, undermining as it is to all efforts to bring reassurance, trust, and coexistence to the region, their boycott strategy can only lead to conflict. And signficantly, they won’t be drawn into discussions about Hamas or Hizballah.

It’s obvious that the efforts of people like Farah to agitate us are not for the sake of stimulating creative anti-occupation thinking – they’re part of an exclusionary and hate-filled agenda to make us boycott Israel. This is why boycotters ignore assaults on Palestinians by entities other than Israel, such as Lebanon’s repeated and fatal incursions to rout Fatah al-Islam from the Nahr el-Bard Palestinian refugee camp, the violent repression prosecuted by Hamas, the condemnation by Amnesty International of the conditions in which Palestinians are forced to live in neighbouring states. And it’s also why they find positive links and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, such as One Million Voices and York University’s Stop The Hate event so intolerable.

Boycotters also realise that it’s wrong to ignore, among other situations, the violence and displacement in Darfur, the repression of Burmese, Chinese and Zimbabwean dissidents, and the intimidation and imprisonment of ‘collaborating’ academics in Iran. To cement our special concern for Palestinians and to ensure that it’s expressed only as condemnation of Israelis, boycotters exaggerate a case for Palestinians which should and does speak for itself. Consequently a proportion of the claims in Farah’s piece are false and others are spurious.

It isn’t true, for example, that UCU’s lawyers recommended that “even debates on the issue at the union’s meetings should be silenced” – UCU Trustee Fawzi Ibrahim disillusioned us of this nearly four weeks ago. UCU members remain free to continue the debate and hold regional meetings ans even the speaking tour is going ahead, rescheduled for Spring. Farah’s references to “muzzling” and “suppression” are groundless.

Equally groundless is his “fair demand” to know who provided the legal advice – since October 1st we’ve known that it came from Anthony Lester QC (architect of the 1976 Race Relations act, co-founder of the Commission for Racial Equality) and Anthony White QC of Matrix Chambers. A third legal opinion may have been sought in addition. It is fair, however, to ask to see the advice.

As well as inveighing against non-existent UCU policies, Farah reheats old charges against the Hebrew University of Jerusalem whose expansion was exaggerated in 2005 to strengthen that year’s boycott campaign. These charges were thoroughly refuted by HUJ and boycott was consequently abandoned. Why do Hammam and others irresponsibly persist in making them? His other charges against Israeli institutions are unsubstantiated – does he imply, for example, that Haifa is discriminatory in applying its own regulations and this is why there is such a high proportion of Palestinian Israelis facing disciplinary action? He takes no responsibility for clarifying this.

So when Farah grandly offers us a place in history if we only “dedicate more time to disseminating the painful details of this … apartheid” we should avoid following his bad example. And it’s probably a good idea to note that, in the absence of any improvements for Palestinians as a result of this series of boycott campaigns in recent years, for UCU it has wasted time, wasted money, wasted effort and risked us being taken to court. The discriminatory boycott proposed would have made the UCU vulnerable, and the decision to request and take legal advice and prevent it – effectively making it the responsibility of individuals – should be recognised as the right decision by everyone. It also leaves UCU free to pursue more constructive ways of supporting Palestinians.

*See Nicola Teixeira’s 2006 coverage of York University’s ‘Stop the Hate’ event for the university’s Excalibur magazine, ‘Stop the hate’ campaign turns hateful.

If I had a child

At the risk of coming across like the Food Lobby, if I had a child I’d be tempted to anticipate the rumoured obesity warnings as follows:

Dear Council,

I’m concerned that my daughter Kylie is becoming unfit. I feel that her school, as the place where she spends one third of her waking life, is significantly responsible.

The healthy lunches you introduced last term are an undeniably good start. But I’m afraid she’s developed a marked preference for the pizza and chips you’ve been serving her for the previous five years.

What with her father’s near brush with death and the absence of bike lanes round here, you’ll understand why she’s afraid to cycle. She does walk to and from school including a 500m detour to avoid the notorious gang which congregates every evening at the top of the High Street.

I understand that the 2 hours of exercise her school is obliged to provide for her each week is whittled away to a little under 90 minutes after the bus journeys and getting changed. It’s such a shame you decided to sell the playing field to Barratt.

I probably don’t have to remind you of the health implications of physical inactivity and overweight. I look forward to hearing the measures you propose to take to help Kylie avoid them.

Yours sincerely,

Flesh

cc. School