The gamble is not to charge £9000 tuition fee

It’s dejecting to observe the drip drip of intentions of higher education institutions with regards to tuition fees. Aston University is going to go for £9,000 on the basis of its graduates comparatively excellent employability prospects. Under the new world order where higher learning is a financial investment, Aston is the equal of any in the Russell Group (Oxford, Cambridge, UCL and our other most successful research-led institutions). More on why Aston is right to charge £9,000 in a bit.

If you are learning a profession in an academic institution, then it is correct to expect some attention to your employability. Beyond that, I consider employability a pestilent agenda now colonising higher learning – and not because it is beneath a university’s mission but because it belongs elsewhere. The new role of inculcating employability, set apart as it is, is clearly conceived as something separate from inculcating academic attitudes and academic practice. Why should a Shakespearian scholar be expected to divert her attention to her students’ employability? Will she even have the same view as our policy-makers about what employability is? And if the employability agenda is hived off into a self-contained department to be taught separately as a subsidiary course, why should a university’s already-stretched budget be diverted into non-academic pursuits? Employability is of great intrinsic worth, and it no less than critical to a dignified life – but when a government forces responsibility for it onto a university and sets things up so that a university is rewarded or punished on the basis of its employability performance, something crucial to the university is at risk – its independence. So, it’s a perversity of the current system that government withdrawal from funding arts, humanities and social sciences, along with its rhetoric about growth and salaries, is less likely to usher in an era of academic independence than an era of narrow consumerism. Hope I’m wrong.

Keep in mind how many breakthroughs have been discovered through the speculative – even whimsical – investigations of scholars unencumbered by worldly concerns or any sense of ‘impact’. Thought-controlled wheelchairs. Penicillin. GPS. DNA. x-ray. A phenomenon is discovered, happened upon. Its properties are explored. Then comes the applied thinking which looks for a fit in the world. Or perhaps a fit in the world is discovered in the process of looking for something else. Only then can the entrepreneurs realise the ideas, get them manufactured and into circulation. So there’s a whole layer of the iceberg of our stuff that is totally unknown to us. That’s just the physical and biological sciences – think of the work of Jeremy Bentham, who thought through the concept of utilitarianism. Think of John Stuart Mill’s concept of free speech. Einstein’s theory of relativity. The Frankfurt School, a group whose thinking is incredibly influential and has spread throughout our society in ways I am still discovering (I could sit down and use this new concept-linking search engine from the University of Bradford to find out how the ideas have percolated). Only the most visionary funders would have bet on these in advance because they were outside the imaginations of their discoverers. You couldn’t put a price on these ideas, because they were yet to be had. We have to allow academics to be free, no matter how unlovable many of them are. Not that being an arsehole while referring to yourself as ‘free thinking’ should be rewarded, but academia isn’t a popularity contest and mustn’t ever be.

A large proportion of my institution’s graduates belong in Pink’s, Page’s and Brin’s free-thinking, experimental, speculative working worlds. But in today’s working world employers tend to be wary of divergent thinkers, particularly at the graduate entry level. They are a bit of a liability to profits. In today’s working world the most employable graduates will be those who show promise in dutifully reproducing the working cultures into which they are admitted. You’ll have to have done your time to be trusted to take a risk. But if you are a thoughtful person who takes an academic interest in the world around you, you may be drawn to an arts, humanities or social science course, and from it you may well emerge – initially – a more troubled, less decisive person than when you began. Ideas are not skills, and you may not on the face of it be very employable, at first. And yet these people are likely to be the holistic thinkers, the social and political reformers, the advocates for change to solve the worlds problems, the social entrepreneurs, the ones who tackle society’s embedded injustices. Think Joseph Stiglitz, Martha Nussbaum. I can’t say for sure but my hunch is that these for the bulk of the people who recognise that high wages are somebody else’s exploitation, and eschew them.

So why should Aston charge £9,000? First, there’s the Ratners effect. Sell cheap and risk being thought of as cheap. What does cheap or budget learning look like to an employer? Like something that will require remedial intervention? Leeds Metropolitan was one of the first of the post-92 group of newer universities to declare, and it said it would set at £8,500 (not such a huge different from £8999.99).

And secondly and more importantly – and apparently a little known fact  – if you set at £9,000 you can charge less for some courses, but if you set at less you can’t charge more. To charge much less than £9,000 is like saying you don’t expect to ever develop to the extent that you can compete with the Russell Group for students. Why would you condemn yourself to a second rate status by pricing yourself out of what has now become a competition?

That’s why it is only logical for higher education institutions to charge as high as they can. And why the Office For Fair Access are going to end up helping the elite universities become more elite and condemning the others to giving students an underfunded education. That is a perversion of the idea of ‘fair’.

It doesn’t have to be like this. In Germany it’s different. Academic and technical side by side but equal, as they should be. Higher education either state funded or very low fees. Good rates of participation. Out of recession like a phoenix. What’s stopping us in the UK?


  • From The Guardian’s Data Blog on 30th March: tuition fees 2012 – what the universities are charging, including Bishop Grosseteste, £7,500 and St Mary’s University College Twickenham, £8,000. I haven’t come across either of those before, which is to illustrate as Sarah observes in the comments below, that it doesn’t cost any less for these newer and smaller institutions to deliver a course, and because of economies of scale, may cost more. So you can look at courses as costs to students, or you can look at them as costs to institutions. The issue of fees seems very different from each perspective.

Moreover, given that the parents will already have paid higher taxes as a result of earning more, this is double taxation.

Defend the Muslims of Redbridge

We won’t stand for this in Redbridge:

“RACIST abuse was shouted at worshippers at a busy mosque.

Police were called to Eastern Avenue in Gants Hill after reports of a group of men causing damage to parked vehicles in the road.

Six men were seen heading in the direction Redbridge roundabout towards Redbridge Islamic Centre, also in Eastern Avenue.

As they reached the mosque they shouted racial abuse and threw bricks at the building, which broke glass in the front doors.

The incident occurred at around 7.45pm on Thursday (March 24), near the start of evening prayers.

A number of worshippers had already entered the mosque but there were still some people outside the building when the attack occurred.

One man suffered a minor head injury but did not need any medical treatment.

Six men were arrested by police and remain in custody at Ilford Police Station.

Chief Inspector Stan Greatrick, of Redbridge police, said: “We would appeal for anyone who was in the Eastern Avenue area and saw the group of males to contact us.

“We have spoken to a number of people in the area and continue to liaise closely with members of the Redbridge Mosque.

“We have already secured additional patrols for Eastern Avenue and we would like to reassure the local community, and those who worship at the Redbridge Mosque, that we are treating this case extremely seriously.”

Anyone with information should contact Redbridge CID on 020 8345 2632.”

From the Ilford Recorder:

“The imam of a Redbridge mosque was injured yesterday after six people tried to smash their way through the front door moments before the final evening prayer.

Windows were broken and a stone was hurled at the imam of Redbridge Islamic Centre (RIC), Eastern Avenue, at about 7.45pm.

The group allegedly shouted racist and islamophobic abuse as they tried to smash their way through to the main prayer hall of the mosque, throwing bricks at worshippers and staff.

Neighbouring homes and cars were also damaged.

The six men are now being questioned by police having been arrested after being detained by worshippers and some passers-by.

The chairman of the mosque Abul Khayer Ali said: “This is a sad day.

“Redbridge is a strong and cohesive community with long standing record of unity and cohesion.

“We will not allow such callous attacks to create a wedge in the community.

“Rather, this will inspire the RIC to work harder to engage and work closely to reduce stigma and discrimination towards Muslims in the borough.”

Environment and community safety cabinet member Cllr Shoaib Patel described the incident as “callous and heinous”, but did not believe it was a premeditated racist attack.

He added: “Redbridge has a very successful diverse, multicultural and cohesive society where residents are able to live in harmony, respecting each other’s faiths and values.

“As the cabinet member for environment and community safety in Redbridge, I assure you that the council and its partners, including the police, will not stand by and let this incident change the very nature of these successes. “

Chief Insp Stan Greatrick, of Redbridge police, said: “We have spoken to a number of people in the area and continue to liaise closely with members of the Redbridge mosque.

“We have already secured additional patrols for Eastern Avenue and we would like to reassure the local community, and those who worship at the Redbridge mosque, that we are treating this case extremely seriously.”

Anyone with information about the incident should call Redbridge CID on 020 8345 2632.”

More at The Islamic Standard. [unlink that one after more investigation – we got ‘Ed Miliband Zionist Jew’ posts, we got swastikas in Israeli flags, we got “WE HATE OPRAH FOR THE SAKE OF ALLAH!” – don’t want to  link to a racist site, oh no. But goes without saying that this unpleasant blogger is as deserving as anybody else of support against Islamophobia]

Time to renew my relationship with Hope Not Hate, I think.

HT Wes Tweeting, Mod and the ever-vigilant Lancaster Unity.


Via Mod, Hugh Muir in The Guardian:

“The first thing Abdul Wahab heard, he says, was the shouting. “Muslim bastards; Paki bastards.” Unpleasant enough in the street. But no one expects to hear such things in a mosque.

What to do? Just six old men there, four of whom were on their knees praying when the hoodlums intervened. Nothing to do but remonstrate, shoo them away and hope.

Why the Redbridge Islamic Centre? Hard to say at this point. No one who worships there seems to know. They think the attack last week was unpremeditated. Why would whoever was responsible want to spout their bile within the mosque itself? Why the ferocity? The snarling. The physical intimidation, the wall of noise, like a swat team flying in through the window. The smashing of the toughened glass; the hurling of the reddish bricks the mosque had bought for building work? One brick, Abdul says, struck the imam, who was also injured by flying glass. He had to go to hospital. By then at least, the terror was over and the assailants were gone. “He was lucky,” says Abdul looking skyward. “God helped him.”

The physical damage isn’t much. Abdul lifts the green metal grill to show me the broken glass; by now it will have been replaced. But there is damage that can’t be covered by insurance. The shock. “We have been here for nine years,” he tells me. “There has never been anything like this.”

He says they have done everything they are called upon to do. They engage with the community. Members of his mosque have visited local Christian churches. Those who follow other faiths have been welcomed through the same door. “It’s usually open,” he says. “It was open when we were attacked. That’s why they got in so easily.””

Update 2 April 7th – today’s Woodford Recorder reports that 6 face trial. Matthew Stephenson and Daniel Leal,19 and of no fixed address, Rockylee Beale of Woodford Green, also 19, and a 15 year old boy are on bail. Ryan Jones, 22, of Ilford and Elliot Jones, 19, no fixed address, are in custody.

Update: Councillors and MP said at a meeting that the attack was not connected with the EDL.

March 26

Eleven until half past four to walk a few kilometres. The speaks were long over by the time we got to Hyde Park.

March 26th 2011, Embankment

I was really impressed by all the Labour and labour groups who joined the march without any pomp or circumstance, added their bodies to the many others on the streets, simply trudging (or sometimes shuffling) with their enormous and lovingly stitched banners, without anybody trying to use the occasion as self-publicity fodder. Good people.

Plus some wits:

placard from March 26th 2011

… a series of historical posters including:

less lust from less protein

And some ambitious hand-crafted efforts:


The less-than-optimal power management on my new £8 per month phone meant that despite unlimited data (see how the capitalists have beaten each other down in price?) I had to ration Twitter, but I did send a number of peeps disowning the violent protesters. It’s important not to shrug about the violence I think, because although it shouldn’t, it could easily come to characterise the movement against the cuts, and has attached itself to us like a voracious parasite.

Violence drives people away. The thugs who committed acts of violence today did so simply because they enjoy violence. They need to fuck off back to the Bullingdon club or Marlborough or Guildsmiths or wherever they’re from and leave us alone. They’re nothing to do with the 500,000 people who shuffled through London today to protest the Conservative-led government’s cuts (and in many cases, the slightly less punishing but still deep cuts proposed by the opposition).

So I thought it an irresponsible and disheartening mistake for UK Uncut, asked in advance on BBC 2’s Newsnight about anticipated violence on the protest, to change the subject. They should have readily disowned it. Non-violent non-destructive occupations and flashmobs are sufficiently newsworthy without any acts of wanton destruction. To see the anarcho-syndicalist flag flying from the window of Fortum & Mason, and to hear that the atmosphere in there was festive, will make me smile for a good while to come.

Fortnum & Mason flies the anarcho-syndicalist flag

Fortnum & Mason sells luxury products to the wealthy at inflated prices and it would be great if people came to feel too embarrassed to shop there (providing a new penthouse home can be found for the honey bees).

And one of the things I like about UK Uncut is something David Mitchell (for one) doesn’t like – when UK Uncut campaign about legal tax avoidance they go for the avoiders as well as the government. They’re not so fixated with legal structures they’d overlook that greed is a culpable attribute of rich bosses. It is the anarchist and libertarian contingent in UK Uncut who rightly uphold the importance of individuals’ decisions – including (though only implicitly) the individual shopper.

Which brings me on to other individual culpabilities. I think that smashing up Lillywhites and Santander is only one step removed from smashing up the shoppers who of their own free will and unaided keep these companies afloat. The row of smashed and defaced shop-fronts on the other side of Piccadilly was a stain on anybody who doesn’t disown the violence. The way you get a high street bank to stop investing in war, the abuse of animals, and generally wrecking economies is, like Cantona, to organise for its account holders to withdraw their money and deposit it in a more ethical alternative. Only a political retard would go for its windows.

The Stop the War protest against attacks on Ghadaffi’s military stocks which was part of the reason it took us so long to get past the pinch-point at Embankment and Parliament Square was an objectively pro-Ghadaffi protest. Why do I say that? Because there was not a single mention of the atrocious man on the banners or the loudhailers. Any campaign against intervention therefore becomes a campaign which helps Ghadaffi.

One thing about the policing. Only towards late afternoon the BBC began to make the right distinctions between the anti-cuts protesters and the thugs. I don’t think the police did this adequately though. I noticed again from the footage that they were prepared to contain thugs with weapons along with non-violent protesters, placing the non-violent protesters at risk. Yesterday I had a conversation with an acquaintance who won’t protest on the streets since his head was opened up with a jagged bit of brick at the poll tax demo. If somebody wields a weapon or throws a missile such as a light-bulb filled with ammonia, they are dangerous and need to be seized. Instead the police leave these violent nutters in with the ordinary protesters, presumably prolonging the need for containment and ratcheting up the tension even further.

And now for some of the literature, and I should say it is a pretty haphazard sample because we didn’t get to Hyde Park until after everything had finished. All I can say is that the splits of the left were out in all their lilliputian force today. A selection from my bag: Socialist Action (“Libya … each missile costing around $1m … military spending … continuing to rise despite government debt”); Trotskyist Posadist IV International (“UCU … ETUC … no place in the movement because they do not oppose capitalism … despite their existence … dockers have intervened … refusing to handle Israeli ships”); the Communist Workers Organisation (“not in competition with other genuinely working class organisations but seeks to unite … prepare the way … throw off … capitalist … bloody imperialist appetites”); and the most audacious of all, the Socialist Equality Party who begin:

“Today’s demonstration was billed by Trades Union Congress head Brendan Barber as the start of a fight-back against the coalition government’s austerity measures. This is a fraud. The TUC will not lift a finger to oppose the most sever cuts in jobs and social services since the 1930s.

Barber has said that until now the TUC has been involved inn a “phoney war”, with the unions deliverately delaying action because “It was important for the cuts to be real.” Now he claims the phoney war is over.

That he can speak in these terms only underscores the indifference of the entire trade union bureaucracy to the appalling situation facing workers and youth.

The trade unions have not merely been keeping their powder dry, but have collaborated to the hilt in a one-sided war waged against the working class. Not a single significant strike has been organised.”

And more like that, culminating in a brattish rejection of both the Labour Party and the trade union movement in favour of “new democratic organisations of working class struggle”. But unions are their members. The bureaucratic layer is accountable and requires support to turn warm words into action. I was talking to somebody in the pub afterwards who pointed out that if there had been a swell of will for action among the membership, even if the TUC had been in bed with the Tory-led government, they would have found it impossible to resist. But there wasn’t one – so how the fuck are we going to become capable of forming “new democratic organisations of working class struggle”? And when we eventually do become capable, we’ll certainly be better off nursing our existing labour movement back to health than pursuing this fool’s quest for a fresh start. I can’t get along with this will on the part of anarcho-syndicalism to fragment at all costs.

I prefer what Workers Liberty says.

Lastly, I was particularly struck this time at how unnecessarily wasteful and throw-away these events are. Among the huge quantities of other litter, the trees of Embankment will be full of metallic University and College Union balloons for some time to come. They’ll be too distant to promote my union, and that is probably for the best because people will simply wonder what kind of environmentally negligent arseholes would have such ridiculous amounts of bright pink non-biodegradable balloons in the first place, let alone allow them to blow into the trees. Stupid bloody hen nights, they’ll mutter angrily to themselves.

UCU balloons released into the trees

For around 3,000 more representative photos, see Flickr. For better analysis, see the post I reckon Bob is about to write, plus some updates tomorrow.

Oh shit, the clocks have gone forward.

Update: I wondered why they’d gone for the windows but not the ATMs.

More update:

Nick Cohen on the Tory Party’s secret weapon.

Christopher Phelps

“Meanwhile the black bloc protester is far too busy with his wonderful self to notice the working classes. He feels brave. He sprays an A on the wall. He hurls paint balloons. He whacks the shields of policemen who earn less in a year than a banker does in a day.

Then he goes home to watch himself on the telly, and scratches his head when the most of the press reduces the day to hooliganism. He laughs that his antics lead the news rather than the massive demo. He thrills that the same police who kettled peaceful students didn’t bother to contain him.

And he wonders why capitalist extremes continue uninterrupted.”

Paul in Lancs – almost up for it (I don’t see the dichotomy as peaceful protest v. direct action – I see it as destructive versus non-destructive. You judge people on how they chose from their alternatives).

Doing something

Like Bright Green, I’m depressed by the realism with which our states will act to prevent carnage at the hands of some homicidal authoritarian regimes and not others. Take Laurence Gbagbo, the squatting president of Ivory Coast who first delayed elections and then, when he lost them, disputed the international observers’ assessment that his opponent Ouattara had won, then arranged for the shelling of civilians shopping in a market in Abidjan. Take Congo. A recent UN report said that the slaughter of a mind-boggling 5 million people in a proxy war by its neighbours could be classified as a genocide. No intervention.  Take the Fur in Darfur, slaughtered in huge numbers by the Sudanese army and Arab militias. Al Shabaab stalk Somalia. No UNSC resolutions.

I think it may have been the Stop the War (No! Not That One) Coalition who warned against military intervention in Libya simply because we feel compelled to “do something”, and probably them who simultaneously argued that if you can’t to everything you shouldn’t do anything. Reading some internal messages from a group I can’t name, funny how people who were prepared to believe news of the systematic targeting of civilians during Operation Cast Lead are skeptical the reports of the same from Benghazi. The ideologically-motivated sowing of doubt is pretty disgusting when lives are at stake.

If you support the (admittedly ambitious) ‘responsibility to protect‘ ethos, when masses of civilians are liable to be targeted by their governments surely the only question should be, what kind of intervention and by whom? The charge of hypocrisy when governments pick and choose their causes does not in itself have any bearing on whether a government should or should not intervene. It’s kind of narcissistic, if you think about it – these interventions are supposed to be carried out as part of a coalition precisely in acknowledgment of the differing interests of states.

The argument that oil is behind our governments’ military adventures in the Middle East have become so axiomatic that it is hardly ever evidenced these days. I haven’t read Stiglitz’s Three Trillion Dollar War but, generally considered a good authority on the economics of war, he leads us to doubt the explanatory power of oil in accounting for war – wasn’t the price of oil calculated to rise in the light of the Iraq war, for example? Yesterday was the 8th anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq, and at this stage in Stiglitz’s analysis the costs (now estimated at up to $6 trillion in money alone) far outweigh the benefits, at least at this stage. Congo, on the other hand, has enormous mineral wealth – including the kinds of minerals a high-tech industry needs – but the UK has kept out of that conflict too. In terms of arms, the UK may be a net weapons exporter, but when it comes to using them ourselves we’ve been making cuts. On the other hand, the world #3 arms exporter according to Wikipedia, Russia, abstained from UN Resolution 1973. The arms trade doesn’t explain this intervention. I find it hard to distinguish a pattern in why this country goes to war and am entertaining the idea it’s a mixture of terrorist threat, calculations about what can best ultimately guarantee stability for the UK, and humanitarian impulse.

Untrained in the art of war as I remain, you’ll have to look elsewhere than here for alternatives to the military strikes underway since yesterday. I also note the absence of alternatives in Jeremy Corbyn’s and Caroline Lucas’ resolutely irrelevant Early Day Motion; it’s clear that military intervention will not bring “peace, justice and democracy”, that it is no more than a tardy scramble to prevent Colonel Ghadaffi, who has already diplomatically defeated the international community, from slaughtering his very populous political opponents. Given that Lebanon (remember Lebanon – the Middle East’s other democracy?) was a co-proposer of the motion which legitimised strikes on Libyan military targets and that the motion was supported by the Arab League, I also find that EDM’s reference to ‘Western’ intervention another example of the silly occidentalism which infests this country’s anti-war left and in the light of an increasingly multi-polar world, has a distinctly racist character.

  • Hisham Matar celebrates the UN’s achievement in The Guardian.
  • The Arabist observes UNSC Resolution 1973 rightly takes sides against Ghadaffi – but what do we know about the insurgents?
  • Obama intends to limit US involvement.
  • Egyptians have just voted for constitutional reform. However, the most of the Christian minority is reported to be among the 22% who voted against. They fear the constitutional changes will allow the Muslim Brotherhood to out-poll all the smaller parties and intensify the discrimination against them. Now the moderates need time, restrictions on funding for political parties, and a generally even playing field.
  • Bob’s qualified support for the UN resolution
  • Modernity points to the BBC live update.

Enough! I should be concentrating on developing a coherent position in relation to the two days of striking my union has planned for me next week (and while I won’t cross a picket line I find the discourse about them dismal to the extreme), and the enormous march against the cuts this Saturday. The cuts have been entirely knocked off the media agenda in recent days by Japan’s nuclear near melt-down and Ghadaffi. I know it’s good to be internationalist – but really, Flesh, do I have to tell you again that your own back yard – your NHS, your schools, your waste reduction, your democracy, your emissions – is your primary and ultimate responsibility.

Which brings us back to this war I now have a small share in.


Al Shabaab

Them and us

On the disgusting murder of most of the Fogel family in Itamar, Melchett Mike writes in the Jewish Chronicle:

“Call me a racist, but no sane Jew, or other human being, could even force himself to stab a baby – or any child for that matter (the expression “cold blood” is entirely superfluous in such circumstances) – to death (never mind while he or she was asleep) however much he believed in his cause. There is, however, a long history of Palestinian acts of premeditated – cf. collaterally-caused (the distinction, morally, is an extremely significant one) – infanticide (even in Itamar).”

and more on “the essential difference between us and them”. Yes, we should call what he writes racist. I think there is more back to front about Melchett Mike than his name – he’s got the wrong ‘them’ – the ‘them’ is the bunch of people who bomb, stone, and knife one another, and who would fight to the death to drive each other out, and who actively seek to escalate the hatred and violence.

The ‘us’ is the people who look past all provocations to keep up a vision of mutual accommodation between the conflicting parties. Not that the extended family of Udi, Ruth, Yoav, Elad, and Hadas should be required to forgive the murderers or those who condone them. It is not for us to demand this forgiveness. But I am bowled over by the spirit of Hussein Rawidi after his son was knifed to death in a racist attack by Israeli Jews (one of many such racist attacks, by other people who feel that there are irreconcilable differences between Jews and Arabs).

I’d say that exterminating Jewish babies and children, who are innocent of any cause for retribution, is a clear statement of intent to genocide. But this intent cannot be laid at the door of an entire people. To hand out sweets on the occasion of a child’s murder is an obscenity and should be noted as such, but it is not a general response, and in any case I think we should be careful about how we relate it to intent to murder.

So I would like to tell Melchett Mike to be very careful, more careful than he has been, not to drive in wedges, lest he bring about a self-fulfilling prophesy. He may have these dark thoughts, he should acknowledge them, and he should keep them to himself out of a sense of responsibility if not respect. Because the logic of his position, no matter how polite, is not so far removed from that of the murderers: segregation and war.

Meanwhile, throw your weight behind OneVoice, the antidote to identity politics.

HT Jess.

Update: while some Palestinians pass out sweets, many others denounce the murders, including Fatah’s military wing the Al Aqsa Martyrs.

Update 2: the consequences? Attacks like these always strengthen nationalism. “Reuven Rivlin, the Knesset speaker, said: “We will live, we will continue to build and to plant, we will continue to grip on to the land of Israel. More construction, more life, more hanging on to the land. This is our answer to the murderers.””

Update 3: that blog post shouldn’t be hosted at the JC, should it. Email with your respectful and carefully-explained request to remove it.

Update 4: The activist left must condemn the murder of the Itamar family. Without a doubt.

Chronicles of Zhdanovism

By email a family friend whose interest in Israel is Catholic and theological relayed some anecdotes from a friend, an academic social scientist in Israel. For this person dissent from the consensus view on the conflict has become more and more difficult. With respect to the loyalty clauses in Israel’s citizenship bill, he asked me, “doesn’t the argument against the boycott then crumble away”? I responded that an academy which is not autonomous cannot claim exemption from sanctions against a state. But I’d just read a piece in the Times Higher: ‘Middle East taps a well of research in STEM fields’. Iran’s research production has rocketed by 11%, and Saudi’s also dominates in the region. These are states whose academics have not been free for a long time, but with whom ours work happily on all kinds of fruitful projects to solve the world’s problems. Why punish only Israel, always Israel, and in ways which nobody thinks will achieve their ostensible aim? I think the boycott of Israeli academia is antisemitic. For me, because it is so clearly futile and singular, the boycott is far more about us than it is about Israel.

Irresistibly attracted by extremists of any stripe, Michael Ezra went to hang out with them at Gideon Levy’s talk for Jewish Book Week. Afterwards, he posted a video satirising the kind of defender of Israel who absurdly changes the subject to antisemitism, which given the previous exchange I watched with interest. I don’t know of anybody who does this, and the video provides no example.

Alan A sets out why the video is cruel: people faced with racism respond in absurd ways (and in fact I don’t think the woman in the video Mikey posted was so much a parody as a spun off caricature). On the other hand, if the wind is in the right direction, Harry’s Place is not above teasing people distressed by racism and responding in absurd ways. Here, for example, Lucy Lips lays into somebody whose response to antisemitism takes the form of grooming her own ‘Good Jew’ credentials to appease anti-Israel/antisemitic persecutors. Think Rabbi Bengelsdorf and Evelyn in Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. Absurd? Yes. Undermining? At least. But no less a response to a racist threat, I think.

Judiciously taking the piss out of pernicious responses to racism is OK in my book. It might even be necessary.

Catching up with the Israeli political right, I read some stuff aggregated by Jewish Ideas Daily, including this open letter to the Arab Street, which I found selective, patronising in tone, not an olive branch, ‘Is Israeli democracy finished?’ by the same author, and this description of pressure on the Israeli left by an unsympathetic Elliot Jaeger. Also encountered the Institute for Zionist Strategies, whose official standing in Israel I am not sure about, but who definitely aspire to one.

Each of those sources led me to Ze’ev Sternell, peace activist and near-fatality of an assassination attempt by the Israeli far right. The first is his analysis is that the Israeli political right cannot get a purchase on Israel’s secular cultural elites because they have no base in Israeli universities.

“In the West, however, the right began regaining its strength and gaining ascendancy in the form of neoconservatism, not especially in the universities but in the world of finance and the media. This has not been true of Israel, where many supporters of economic neoliberalism have fought against the occupation and the settlements and therefore belong to the “political left.” That is why the right’s grip on the secular cultural elite is close to zero; this is the real reason for the recent campaign of intimidation.”

Hence the proto-fascistic clauses in Israel’s Citizenship Bill. He advocates a united front by the Israeli academy against censorship. More the pity that my trade union, the University and College Union, shuns theirs in moral masturbatory boycott and will offer no solidarity.

The second Sternhell piece is on Israel’s right needing perpetual war, a damning indictment of the right’s use of religion as control.

Lastly, the knives are out. Hussein, father of Hossam Rawidi killed by Jewish Israelis in a racist knife attack said: “We believed in living together, Arabs and Jews. We must not remain quiet when racism rears its ugly head.”. He is joining with Israeli Jews to protest the wave of racist violence in Israel. And Udi Fogel, his wife Ruth, their children young children Yoav, Elad, and a baby, Hadas were stabbed to death in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Itamar by, it is believed, Palestinians. The Palestine Authority PM Salam Fayyad condemned the murder unequivocally. Rebecca reports that Hamas approve (sickos handing out celebratory sweets in Gaza again to form pleasant associations with Jewish deaths) and Al Aqsa Martyrs have, perhaps opportunistically, claimed it. Some Israeli media outlets are reporting this in a way I find inciteful against Palestinians. Netanyahu is condemning the Palestinian authority for incitement. Meanwhile Islamic Jihad is shelling Israeli homes from Gaza, and the IDF are striking Gaza in retaliation. It seems as if you can hardly exaggerate how bad things are, and yet my parents, who visited last year, reported being entirely insulated from all this during their trip.

I’m disappointed to find myself sucked into Israel again. Waterloo Sunset has said as much on several occasions: it is wrong to dedicate too much of the attention pie-chart to Israel. It means that things like tuition fees, free schools, Libya, and housing benefit cuts get less than they’re due. But sometimes other people infest your places with their anti-Israel cause until unless you take action, you’ll be answering to a false orthodoxy which tolerates no dissent.

Rees’s peaces

I caught the end of the Moral Maze on BBC Radio 4 this evening, where Socialist Worker Party exitist and Stop the War Coalition officer John Rees made his case against military support for the Libyan population currently being slaughtered in great numbers by its own government.

While Stop the War Coalition is a barely disguised pro-war organisation with a record of race hatred, support for terrorists, homophobia, and sexual discrimination,  and seem to be given a wide berth by the people for whom they claim to speak, Rees is right on several points – for example, the need to sell Libyan assets and make the money over to the pro-democracy forces, and the travesty of this country’s continuing purchase of oil from the regime (I haven’t checked that out, though). I was disappointed he didn’t elaborate on his brief reference to the Spanish Civil War, the solidarity which drew the International Brigades to war in Madrid, Jamara and Guadalajara. Why is it that the identity of the intervenors matters to John Rees more than the calls of the people in need of protection? What would need to be in place for armed UK solidarity with the Libyan people to be acceptable to John Rees? The passage of 100 years? 200? On the Moral Maze, Matthew Taylor’s analysis is that John Rees can’t tell the difference between the colonial powers of the 1800s and the post-colonial federations of today. He’s like some kind of selectively contrite British global public relations freelancer with an extremely long memory (but where – or more specifically, who – does he get his money from?).

He didn’t explain why there shouldn’t be surgical strikes and he was poor at explaining why, while “solidarity with those fighting for their democratic and national freedom is our obligation”, he thinks we should simultaneously throttle any expressions of self-determination which involve appeals to ‘Western powers’ for military assistance. I’m not really convinced by his confidence telling us (“believe me”) what various interventions would “mean” to the Middle East, and what Libyan pilots would do. StWC, the SWP and John Rees have been trying to tell us for a long time that Islamists were the resistance. I’m guessing he’s been out of his depth for weeks with these secular nationalist uprisings.

“Stop the War Coalition is clear that there must be no US or British intervention in Libya or anywhere else in the Middle East under any pretext whatsoever. Such interference over the last century is the root of the region’s troubles, and its continuation will solve none of the difficulties there.”

So then what? Because something has to happen. But then, you think of Congo and Darfur and remember that nothing has to happen.

At least he didn’t say “We are all Gaddafi now”. But “believe me”, to John Rees Iran’s arms to the Taliban scandal will be our fault. Can’t you hear him now, folding it into his narrative of ‘Western’ contrition?

Read Menzies Campbell and Philippe Sands in The Guardian, RtoP, and Terry Glavin. Glavin:

“Is that not clear enough? No massive invasion is necessary, so everyone can just calm down now. It is true that if the agony-pokery and astrological consultations in the NATO capitals carry on much longer, a huge humanitarian intervention may be the only option left. If you expect the Arab League states to properly take charge, you’d be banking on the Arab police states to come to the aid of the rebels who want them overthrown. You’d be an even bigger chump to heed the Arab League’s western apologists and its weapons suppliers.

What to do now, exactly? It is not so difficult to find answers to that question. We only need to make up our own minds, abjure neutrality, and tell the rebels: It’s your revolution, tell us what you need, we’ll help in every way we can. And then prove that we mean what we say. The far more disturbing question is why the Arab revolutionaries’ demands tend to be relegated to the back pages even now, and more importantly, why the “west” has been deaf to their voices all along. This is where Palestine comes into it.”