I am not antisemitic because I don’t feel antisemitic

No matter how sincere you perceive me to be, all the above sentence can confirm is my beautiful intentions. It doesn’t tell you anything about whether or not I am antisemitic. To discover that, you’d have to look for a difference between intent and effect in what I say and what I do. Perhaps I’d be the last person to realise, and react with vehement indignation if accused of antisemitism.

This kind of response is summarised in the MacPherson Report’s definition and description of unwitting, unconscious and unintentional racism (6.13-17).

Of course, my intentions matter. Somebody who openly intends to be antisemitic is clearly much more of a direct threat than somebody who doesn’t. But somebody who holds a view of herself as constitutionally incapable of racism is an irrational liability to any multiracial society.

George Orwell wrote:

“To study any subject scientifically one needs a detached attitude, which is obviously harder when one’s own interests or emotions are involved. Plenty of people who are quite capable of being objective about sea urchins, say, or the square root of 2, become schizophrenic if they have to think about the sources of their own income. What vitiates nearly all that is written about antisemitism is the assumption in the writer’s mind that he himself is immune to it. “Since I know that antisemitism is irrational,” he argues, “it follows that I do not share it.” He thus fails to start his investigation in the one place where he could get hold of some reliable evidence — that is, in his own mind.”

Modernity excerpts this from Stephen Sizer, Surrey-based evangelical pastor:

“It is true that at various times in the past, churches and church leaders have tolerated or incited anti-Semitism and even attacks on Jewish people. Racism is a sin and without excuse. Anti-Semitism must be repudiated unequivocally. However, we must not confuse apples and oranges. Anti-Zionism is not the same thing as anti-Semitism despite attempts to broaden the definition. Criticising a political system as racist is not necessarily racist. Judaism is a religious system. Israel is a sovereign nation. Zionism is a political system. These three are not synonymous. I respect Judaism, repudiate anti-Semitism, encourage interfaith dialogue and defend Israel’s right to exist within borders recognised by the international community and agreed with her neighbours. But like many Jews, I disagree with a political system which gives preference to expatriate Jews born elsewhere in the world, while denying the same rights to the Arab Palestinians born in the country itself. Jimmy Carter is not alone in describing the Zionism practiced by the present government of Israel as a form of apartheid.”

The rest of Modernity’s post demonstrates that while Stephen Sizer proclaims that he is against antisemitism, he’s actually rolling in it.

Here is Farid Essack shrugging off the good question “Why Israel only?”. He says:

“And to ask Jews to remember their past is hardly anti-Semitic. Jewish activists do this all the time.”

The point is, it depends what this edict to remember the past is in service of.

Jews, remember your past:

  • because it’s your only defence against the future
  • so that you can empathise with other oppressed peoples
  • because people oppressed by Jews are your particular responsibility
  • so that you realise it’s pointless to try to integrate
  • so that you understand why Israel must carry on existing
  • so that you think of yourself as one of the chosen people
  • because the Nazis tried to obliterate your future
  • because Jewish history is special
  • so that you understand how to contribute to the continuation of world Jewry
  • so that you learn from your mistakes
  • so that you know how to recognise the fascism that’s coming round again sooner or later
  • so that you can defend humanity against fascism
  • because otherwise you won’t understand enough to be fully Jewish
  • because antisemites are trying to rewrite Jewish history
  • because it’s an empowering history of survival against all odds

Some of these reasons are trivial, some politicise Jewish history, some mystify it, some politicise Jewish identity, and some are antisemitic.

Farid Essack’s piece was part of a correspondence debate summarised on Engage – see in particular Robert Fine’s response on the ongoing construction of Israel as an absolutely culpable incarnation of negative properties. He doesn’t say that this way of painting Israel is antisemitic, but I would strongly argue that in effect it is. Most Jews find the prospect of cancelling the state of Israel, and Israel alone, hard to explain in any terms which are not extremely ominous to Jews.


Note to self: actually read these, and after the comprehensive spending review, check these places again.

*Update: a little more on the deficit. On 21st May Tim Harford broke down the national debt in the BBC Radio 4 programme More Or Less, as follows:

  • Official debt: £776bn (£30k per household) and rising
  • Under PFI the private sector pays for e.g. hospitals, and in return the government promises a stream of future revenue – another £5k per household
  • Public sector pensions cost another £770bn of unsecured debt, or a further £30k per household
  • Bank bailouts are not included and have an uncertain costs depending on future share prices of perhaps only a few hundred pounds per household. Any profits on the nationalised parts are of course not costs.

Here’s the bailout in a nutshell:

“Royal Bank of Scotland … and Lloyds … had to be part-nationalised as they ran up huge losses during the credit crisis, and others, such as Barclays … and HSBC, have benefited from cheap credit provided by the central bank.

UK banks have a January 2012 deadline to repay 185 billion pounds they borrowed from the Bank of England against 287 billion pounds of illiquid assets, mostly residential mortgage backed securities, under the BoE’s Special Liquidity Scheme.”

But our investment in the banking system amounts to £1.2 trillion, according to the Bank of England’s Mervin King (p8 of the aforementioned nef report):

“The sheer scale of support to the banking sector is breathtaking. In the UK, in the form of direct or guaranteed loans and equity investment, it is not far short of a trillion (that is, one thousand billion) pounds, close to two-thirds of the annual output of the entire economy. To paraphrase a great wartime leader, never in the field of financial endeavour has so much money been owed by so few to so many. And, one might add, so far with little real reform.”

My unemployed boyfriend went to listen to Amar Bhidé at the RSA last Thursday developing the idea people summarise as separating Main Street from Wall Street.

I am still thinking hard about what ordinary people should expect of themselves when it comes to understanding this stuff. Conclusion so far: more than we currently do.

The dangerously narrow outlook of the Browne Review

Lord Browne was born in Germany as it struggled to its knees after the second world war, in advance of an unprecedented swing towards redistributing wealth into public institutions across the developed world. Yesterday his Independent Review of Higher Education and Student Finance was published. It began by saying some very inspiring things, such as:

“Higher education matters. It helps to create the knowledge, skills and values that underpin a civilised society. Higher education institutions (HEIs) generate and diffuse ideas, safeguard knowledge, catalyse innovation, inspire creativity, enliven culture, stimulate regional economies and strengthen civil society. They bridge the past and future; the local and the global.”

Then on to uncapping tuition fees. Tuition fees encourage individualism and are presented as a quality-enhancing measure when it’s clear that tomorrow’s students will be paying more for less. Chimerica and the credit crisis tell us that debt repayments with interest are income for the lender – essentially these fees privatise our national debt. However, deferred and indexed to graduate incomes as they are, it would be wrong to allow the matter of fee repayments to divert attention from a much more radical thing about the Browne Review – its recommendation that Britain stops or drastically cuts public funding for students to enrol on arts, social sciences and humanities courses.

Lord Browne’s Wikipedia entry lists his interests as 17th- and 18th-century illustrated Italian books, pre-Columbian art, contemporary art, music, opera and the theatre, and yet the Browne Review envisions undergraduate learning exclusively as fodder for “high performing, high value added sectors” of a competitive economy. This basically means science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) courses. This is a dangerously narrow outlook, particularly when it ignore the arts, humanities and social sciences. From p25:

“There is a critical role for public investment even if students are investing more. There are clinical and priority courses such as medicine, science and engineering that are important to the well being of our society and to our economy. The costs of these courses are high and, if students were asked to meet all of the costs, there is a risk that they would choose to study cheaper courses instead. In our proposals, there will be scope for Government to withdraw public investment through HEFCE from many courses to contribute to wider reductions in public spending; there will remain a vital role for public investment to support priority courses and the wider benefits they create.”

This is crazy. Fine art graduates, for example, are proven contributors to the economy and highly employable. The Browne report has undertaken to protect employers from having to share the costs of university tuition with the graduates they employ, ostensibly so that they can pay higher salaries. However, according to the University and College Union, “[a] medic[al] degree yields on average nearly ten times the extra lifetime earnings of an arts degree, with the premium provided by the latter making a decision to study based on purely financial terms marginal”.

If we want to play this game of instrumentalising learning for employment, then here is what we could say fine art graduates are for:

  1. They have attitudes and skills that are conducive to innovation
    • Many fine arts graduates describe themselves as boundary spanners, brokers across disciplines
    • They demonstrate the traits of lifelong learners, including frequent use of informal and formal training throughout their working lives
    • They single out their own consumption of art as a stimulus for their own work
  2. Artistic labour impacts on innovation in the way that it is organised – project work and portfolio working are the norm
    • Artistic labour impacts on innovation in the way that it is organised – project work and portfolio working are the norm
    • ‘Crossover’ takes place throughout artists’ working lives, bringing opportunities to learn new skills and flexibility
  3. Artistic labour impacts on innovation through its contribution to the widespread ‘culturalisation’ of activities (whereby cultural ideas are becoming desired as part of traditionally non-cultural goods and services)

As a colleague who teaches fiction and creative writing, sometimes in Creole, yesterday observed to me of her students “They do it for the love, not the money”. Arts graduates, whose courses tend to cost less than STEM courses and whose rich contribution to society receives little remuneration compared to their STEM counterparts, will have to shoulder a debt which is a much higher proportion of their income than their STEM counterparts. This is not progressive.

Martha Nussbaum recently published a book Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs The Humanities (and you can catch her – and me catching her – at the British Academy on 16th December). From its opening:

“The profit motive suggests to many concerned leaders that science and technology are of crucial importance for the future health of their nations. We should have no objection to good scientific and technical education, and I shall not suggest that nations should stop trying to improve in this regard. My concern is that other abilities, equally crucial, are at risk of getting lost in the competitive flurry, abilities crucial to the health of any democracy internally, and to the creation of a decent world culture, capable of constructively addressing the world’s most pressing problems.

These abilities are associated with the humanities and the arts: the ability to think critically; the ability to transcend local loyalties and approach the world’s problems as a “citizen of the world”, and, finally, the ability to imagine sympathetically the predicament of another person.

When practised at best, moreover, these other disciplines are infused with what we might call the spirit of the humanities: by searching critical thought, daring imagination, empathetic understanding of human experiences of many different kinds, and understanding of the complexity of the world we live in.”


Bonus links: Chris Bertram. There’s money around – doctors know it, untaxed businesses know it. I dream of seeing higher earners campaigning insistently for their own pay to be cut. I dream of a less pusillanimous response from university managers.

Update – Steve Smith, President of the university heads representative body Universities UK wrote to university heads on Friday as follows (my bolds and links):

To: Principal

Subject: Message from Steve Smith Universities UK

Dear Colleague

I wanted to write personally to each of you to let you know what we’ve been doing today since the launch of the Browne Review and to inform you of the key lines we have been following in all the interviews we have undertaken.

The first point to stress is that we have been concentrating on the CSR more than Browne over the last few weeks, because the potential cuts have been getting worse and worse. You can see from para 6.2 on page 47 of Browne what awaits us in the Spending Review next week. Browne explicitly says that HEFCE will have T[eacing] funding of £700m; the current sum is £3.9bn. This implies a cut of around £3.2bn of state funding. I hope many of you picked up the clear warnings in my Cranfield speech about this potential level of cuts. We have never broken any embargoes on confidential figures, nor have we leaked to the press, but Browne’s figures confirm our worst fears. Cuts in the order of £1bn for research also appear to be proposed.

In that light, our primary response to Browne has been framed by trying to do all we can to replace as much of this lost funding as possible, and to do it in a way that matches increased graduate contributions to decreasing HEFCE funding. We fear that this may not be possible, and that 2011/12 could see major cuts imposed before any income from Browne (or a replacement) comes in.

In everything we’ve said and done with the press, and in all the briefings, we have insisted that Browne has to be seen in the light of what is coming on 20 October, and that it is one way of replacing in a large part the removal of band C and D HEFCE funding, though we are extremely aware of the differential impact on universities. We have always (as far as I can remember) said that we are open to other ways of filling this massive gap, and that we would judge all proposals against the principles agreed unanimously by the UUK Board in May 2010 (see page 10 of our second submission to Browne). There are 9 of these, and Browne and other proposals need to be assessed in terms of these principles, and that is precisely the points we are making. This does not mean that every member will approve of Browne, but we have to evaluate Browne against other proposed ways of how to deal with the massive CSR cut coming our way.

The biggest worry is simple to state: if Browne fails to get through the Commons, or gets un-picked, or gets accepted but only after major changes are made, we will simply not be able to replace the unprecedented reductions in state funding that are coming in the Spending Review. My judgement is that UUK’s primary role is to protect the level of investment in universities. I am trying to do that, and that is what is in my mind every time I speak to the media or to politicians of all parties.

Do let me know if any of this reasoning is wrong in your view. I know there are lots of very different views (and several of you have e mailed or phoned me with what are, taken together, literally incompatible responses).

I hope this gives you a clear view of how we see things today. There remains is a terrible danger of the valley of death becoming a reality for all institutions, and avoiding that is our core concern.

With best wishes


Professor Steve Smith

President, Universities UK

Update 2 – a positive response to Browne which is supportive of the idea of markets, accepting of the idea of failing universities closing or merging (rather than turning round), and does not address the issue of removing T-funding from arts, humanities and social sciences. BenSix feels that students will continue to register on these courses because a) you need a degree to get a decent job these days and b) it is easier to pass these kinds of course. I know what he means on the latter count (would say it is also harder to excel at them) but I think that allowing this to happen will lead to serious problems.

10:10 – having a bad day, going nowhere fast

10:10 inspires me, and The Guardian’s environmentalism has been one of its few redeeming features. But this:

It’s a bit like Joel Schumacher’s film Falling Down.

Bill Foster has become monomaniacal about reaching his destination. He abandons his car on the free-way and takes a direct route on foot through the most troubled part of L.A., enacting summary justice on transgressors he encounters. He’s not an unsympathetic character – just embittered to the point of violent misanthropic insanity. You know he has to die.

But while you’re relishing the carnage over at Harry’s Place or (more than likely) Spiked, keep in mind that inertia and targeted discredit are bigger forces for harm than shrill environmentalism. For those who haven’t noticed, there’s the bloodiest of wars going on between climate scientists and various agents whose interests are entrenched in greenhouse gas emissions, and in general, we-the-public are not helping.

Watch University of Plymouth Professor of Geosciences Communication Iain Stewart’s BBC series Earth: the Climate Wars. Read sociologist Anthony Giddens, listen to ethicist Clive Hamilton, and follow Open University geographer Joe Smith’s Creative Climate initiative. If organisations like 10:10 fail, we’re going down.