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.