Tricycle Theatre and the UKJFF – no quiet for quiet

Even from this one article I can think of several possible angles to take on the decision by the board of Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre not to host the UK Jewish Film Festival unless the organisers refused funding from the Israeli Embassy cultural department and accepted instead an equivalent amount from the theatre itself.

 The first is that the Tricycle acted very late. It had come under pressure last year, from a group which openly seeks an end to Israel’s existence, and you get the impression it craved a quiet life. Although the films of the UKJFF are famously open minded about Israel’s conflicts, Israel’s boycotters, seemingly always short of creative ideas or recreational outlets, have taken to wrecking anything that could conceivably be linked to Israel. So I’m guessing the Tricycle decided to jettison Israeli Embassy funding, create a bit of distance, buy itself some quiet. It doesn’t seem to have much zeal for boycotting Israel, but it did so anyway. If this speculation is right, then that is a milestone in the boycott campaign.

The second is that if the Tricycle were set on excluding Jews, I don’t think it would have offered to shell out from its own pocket. Linda Grant says “I’m happy to press war crimes charges against politicians and generals, but not punish ballerinas and actors because you can’t get at the powerful”. The Tricycle is not punishing Israeli film makers with exclusion – it is attempting to substitute for an Israeli Embassy funder. So I can’t see that there’s any antisemitic intent here. As for antisemitic effects, that’s another matter (update: Nick Cohen on the racist nature of discriminatory double standards). But it doesn’t have to be antisemitic to be plain wrong.

The third is that refusing Israeli funding is indeed a measure towards ‘neutrality’. But, reading the statement, the neutrality they seem to be referring to is between opposing British partisans, not between Israel and Hamas. Because if the Tricycle were to accept Israeli funds, there would be a tornado of rage from British anti-Israel activists which would bring a response in kind from the supporters of Israel, and there would be an almightly fight all over the festival, driving away the tender punters and draining the energies of the director and board.

Another is that the Tricycle cannot be neutral in the actual conflict by refusing to take Israeli Embassy money when Hamas has no intention of giving it money. The Israeli Embassy is not even in the same league as Hamas. We clearly need to revisit who Hamas are – even if you think that Israel’s strategy is ill-fated, Hamas are a self-declaredly implacable and legitimate enemy. Who will actually cheer the Tricycle’s decision? My prediction is Israel-eliminationists, pro-Hamas activists, Islamists, Arab nationalists and those who are combinations of each. You can judge a controversial action by what the people who like it stand for.

Another is that the ‘plague on both their houses’ approach of not “accepting funding from any party to the conflict” makes me ache for a Hamas that did actually want to fund the kind of arts which theatres like the Tricycle host. What a genuine bridge to understanding that could be. Then the Tricycle could fund both, and the supporters of each would flock to watch. As militant Islamists, I doubt Hamas likes artists because artists tend to be resolutely independent-minded. Israel, on the other hand, is a hothouse for critical films about Israel.

Another is that it’s a big development for boycotting Israel to be considered ‘neutrality’ when it has always been the acceptable front of a longstanding campaign to end Israel’s actual existence. Is the Tricycle’s decision a sign that the boycott is changing its identity to something more constructive? Perhaps but I am a long way from being convinced.

Another is that there is something penetrating about the equal treatment of Israel and Hamas, because it is a neat way to expose differences and inequalities. So when the BBC reports equally, it throws into relief the discrepancies between Gaza and Israel – the number of deaths, the affluence, or the amount of firepower, or the protections available to ordinary residents. When the Tricycle boycotts both Israel and Hamas, you realise that Hamas doesn’t like the arts at all although – as we now know – it has plenty of spare cash.

Another is that the Tricycle caused a self-boycott on the part of UKJFF, because its quest for a quiet life on the home front was interpreted by the Jewish organisers as a wedge to part Jews from the world’s only Jewish state. A few things about this. Though my knowledge about UK Jewry is slim, I know that it is normal for most Jews to have family ties to Israel – that’s the way the cookie crumbled for European Jews after the Holocaust. I also know that in countries where antisemitism is waxing – France, for example – Jews are more susceptible to come-hithers from Israel. I haven’t mentioned the (more positive) spiritual and emotional connection between Jews and Israel, but I understand it’s pretty strong. Under the circumstances, I doubt that attempts to pry apart Jews and Israel will have much success – although without these pressures I’m certain that Israel would come to feel more and more distinct. It is after all, its own place, and it has never given much support to Jews who live outside Israel. And for the moment it has an awful government. But for now, for many Jews, if even at the back of their mind, Israel is their insurance against a resurgence of expulsions, statelessness and physical attacks.

Another is that I hope I’ve exposed as a black joke Nicholas Hytner’s comment that it’s the UKJFF who, though they have always been funded by the Israeli Embassy “have unwisely politicised a celebration of Jewish culture”.

The UK Jewish Film Festival will take place, but keep an eye out for the new venues.

Update 9th August

It’s looking worse and worse for the Tricycle. Adam Wagner of 1 Crown Office Row barristers’ chambers examines has a UK Human Rights blogpost examining whether the Tricycle Theatre has broken the law. He draws attention to the Tricycle’s self-description as an organisation that “views the world through a variety of lenses, bringing unheard voices into the mainstream” (ringing hollow right now). he also sheds light on the tiny amount (should have realised it would be tiny if the Tricycle were offering to cover it) which was probably also a tiny proportion of the overall funding. Nick Cohen points out that the Israeli Embassy did not impose any conditions on the donation. He also points out that the money the Tricycle proposed to substitute for the Israeli money comes from the UK state, which has gone to war in Iraq with drastic loss of human life. The double standards on Israel are unjustifiable. We need to get to the bottom of why only Israel? It is not far-fetched to suppose that at the heart of this is latent unintentional bias against Jews.

Update 16th August

Despite 500 artistic signatories to a letter defending The Tricycle against allegations of antisemitism, the theatre decided to revoke the conditions on the UK Jewish Film Festival. This was a happy outcome, but one which for me was marred by worry that it didn’t represent any change of heart on the part of the Trike. On Twitter the campaign to boycott the theatre – including @TalOfer and @BoycottTricycle – was elated. They should be proud of a well-organised campaign, but they seemed to care more about touting the decision as their victory than celebrating it as an victory of anti-discrimination activism. Maybe they were right – other funders had begun to pull out of the Trike, so maybe it had no choice. In which case, the new decision is not enlightened but forced. Better forced than nothing, but I’m left with a feeling of disquiet and questions about the Trike’s motives. Could they have been persuaded, or was money and the most strident voices the only thing that talked? Are they still susceptible to this antisemitic variety of anti-Zionism which singles out Israel alone for special penalties? The anti-Zionists are livid and mystified, and determined to be the loudest voices and the biggest sticks. For its part the Tricycle’s and UKJFF’s joint statement did nothing to illuminate the situation, or really explain its take on reconciliation. It needed to be clearer about its principles in order for the decision not to be seen by the increasing number of people with antisemitic instincts as a capitulation to Jewish power. As Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles remarked on Twitter, “The Jewish film festival ban/un-ban by Tricycle Theatre” has been a disaster from beginning to end. I wonder if there is still space for reason, persuasion, empathy, and compassion.

Is it pro-Palestinian?

Not in my name

For example Laurie Penny says that although Jews aren’t responsible for Palestinian deaths, their opinions carry extra weight and could “make a difference” when raised in opposition to Israel. “It is not anti-Semitic to say “not in my name””.

Picking through that, she’s obviously not expecting to make a difference with the Israeli government since they’re not even taking a steer from the US government at the moment. And she’s not addressing Palestinians (who may by now understand the limits of moral support – very nice thanks but here we still are, cooped up and dying). She’s definitely exhibiting her own political credentials, which matter only within her political bubble. And she may be hoping to inoculate herself against the now prevalent antisemitic view that all Jews should be assumed to support child-killing unless they say otherwise. Isn’t that a bit like urging Muslims to speak up against ISIS massacres? Don’t Jews held to political tests deserve solidarity?

Conclusion: self-centred cop-out.

Palestinian flags

For example, the “gesture of solidarity” from Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman is a stunt which exceeds his office and misuses a local government institution. How can a Palestinian flag have any impact as a symbol of peace when the Israeli flag is absent? It’s a partisan nationalistic symbol.

Conclusion: competitive, vicarious nationalism.

Writing a letter, as a Jew

Plenty of letters have been written by people and groups who wish to ostentatiously set themselves apart from the Jewish establishment.

I don’t get it. If you have a Jewish background but you’re not part of a Jewish communal organisation then you don’t get to send a representative to the Jewish Board of Deputies, the organisation which was formed to allow UK Jewry to make official, democratically negotiated representation to UK government, or its equivalent for your country. That’s understandable – so go and publish your own letter, as long as you don’t make out that your local group of elected Jewish representatives is invalid (I realise this needs more examples, but it’s late…). It probably has its tribulations and gets through them OK. Or if your Jewish communal organisation decides not to send a representative to the BOD but prefers to use the BOD as a counterfoil, then you’re in an anti-establishment clique which represents a cliquey, niche kind of Jewishness. But well done you for being so fresh and diverse. You’ll stand out really nicely against the silent, confused, hurting majority of Jews who feel unable to speak up for Gazans if it’s anti-Zionists and Jew-baiters trying to make them, and who understand enough to hate what Hamas stand for as much as they hate the sight of smashed up Palestinians.

Conclusion: loathsome identity politics from the dullest radicals.

Calling it a Holocaust

Telling Jews that they of all people should have learned from the Holocaust not to treat other people like the Nazis treated them is vindictively stupid. If I think of them as ignorant,  and beside themselves with grief, fear or rage, I can just about bring myself to explain Palestinian men drawing Hitler moustaches and swastikas on pictures Netanyahu and burning them, but when this is picked up by social media with such evident enthusiasm, Bob From Brockley explains the significance.

Conclusion: casual antisemitism of moralising simpletons influenced (maybe unwittingly) by Hamas &tc media strategists.

Fake pictures and other exaggerations

So many fake or misunderstood pictures and so much misinformation that people begin to doubt any of the reportage. On that, read this. Passing off artistic interpretations of a terrible situation as documentary evidence only sends the message that the truth isn’t actually very impressive and we can all relax.

Conclusion: lying and careless retweeting betrays any cause.

Boycotting Israel

The call is to boycott Israel in its entirety until it fulfills a list of requirements. The poorly hidden agenda is to wipe Israel off the map. “Colonization”? By whom? Nobody. “All Arab lands”? If they meant end the occupation they’d say it. “Dismantle the wall”? Not so fast – remember all those suicide bombers and all that Israeli civilian blood? “the right of Palestinian refugees to return”? That’s 12 or so million people who are designated refugees only because the countries where they live (many of whom made life unbearable for local Jews) refused to give them citizenship to keep up pressure on Israel. Imagine any politician even attempting to pull off that scale of immigration at home.

Conclusion: simple partisanship – Palestinian nationalism good, Israeli nationalism evil.

Blaming Israel for antisemitic attacks on Jews in the name of Palestinians

A seriously depressing and disturbing form of Palestine activism – particularly since so many on the Israeli left find it convenient to instrumentalise these attacks on Jews outside Israel as evidence that the Israeli strategy of confinement and bouts of force is failing.

I’m missing it out cos I’m going to bed.

Anything positive, whatsoever?

For those who are genuinely interested, plenty – but I can’t see any low hanging fruit. The easiest is reversing the empathy deficit – so hard to do in Israel or the occupied territories. Also easy, trying to understand, giving consideration to all sides from the religious Israeli settlers to the genocidal jihadis. Refusing to be in a bubble. Paying attention to honest reportage from brave journalists, and commentary from experts who are interested in peace rather than winning. Insisting that humans at risk of harm are at the centre of all conflict considerations. Insisting that every death is investigated, amplifying alternative plans for ending the conflict. Finding ways to drive a wedge between Israel and the expanding settlements, which might include selective boycott. Not leaving it to pro-Israel partisans to hold Hamas to account. Not leaving it to pro-Palestine partisans to hold Israel to account. Refusing to import the conflict. Rejecting zero-sum game politics. Pursuing a vision of peace which doesn’t involve punishing and demeaning one or other of the parties in the conflict. Being careful not to damage the credibility of Palestinian or Israeli politicians by folding them into your own agenda.


Brave, principled Scarlett Johansson and the boycott bullies

The bottom line is Sodastream is not profiting from the occupation and is not exploiting Palestinian workers. Workers in occupied Palestine do not support the boycott of Sodastream and until they call for and lead a boycott, and UK boycott campaigns in the name of solidarity should be scrutinised carefully. I doubt Scarlett Johansson needs this Sodastream deal. She’s probably taken it because her career success has freed her from having to curry favour. At any rate, she’s done something that perhaps only a few people will grasp, because hardly anybody stands up so directly and magnificently to the bullying tactics of boycott activists.

That’s it really. Read on, or not.

Nobody likes being pushed around. Certainly the Israeli occupation of the West Bank requires people with guns and state power saying where other people will or will not go, and when. The occupation pursues a building project which expropriates land to populate with anybody but Palestinians. Israeli society is hardening towards Palestinians and among Palestinians a militant, nationalistic Islam is growing. These feed each other and peace recedes. On other blogs I have argued that boycotting produce from the occupied West Bank may be the right thing to do, but it depends. More below.

There’s a solidarity movement of boycott activists with which I’m familiar. It takes a little while to grasp that in fact they aren’t for Palestinians but are using them as a pretext. Most boycott activists know and care little for Palestinians, to the extent that they give every impression of depending on Palestinian civil society to remain as weak, riven, corrupt and lacking in governance as it currently is. An astonishing number of them have something against Jews, to whom they attribute great power and malevolence. The anti-Jewish character unites a broad political spectrum in the boycott cause. Many boycotters are also extremely aggressive, attempting to push people around by banding together in intimidating campaigns of character assassination.

Scarlett Johansson was a target of one of these campaigns. She was an Oxfam ambassador who also took on a role as brand ambassador for the soft drinks company Sodastream. Sodastream has a factory in the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in occupied Palestine, and so its vendors and faces have come under attack from boycotters.

One of the ways to tell that boycott activists aren’t interested in Palestinian emancipation is that they aren’t working with the Palestinian or Israeli labour movement. These local organisations, which should be leading any solidarity movement, are completely sidelined. This is ludicrous, given that trade unions are the parts of both societies who are furthest to the political left And more bizarre – several big UK trade unions actually formally boycott their Israeli counterparts and all but ignore Palestinian trade unions. The will to boycott Israel comes first – and if you don’t fall in with that, then you’d better be prepared to fight. Boycott activists are usually vicious.

With some brave exceptions from Kristin Davies, Editors, Jethro Tull and Madonna, targets of the boycott campaign capitulate. Perhaps they don’t have the knowledge to understand the principles at stake, or perhaps they don’t have the stomach to go against them. At any rate, they usually cancel on Israel and it’s hard not to. But instead of rolling over, Scarlett Johansson says,

“I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine.”


“SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma’aleh Adumim factory every working day.”

And Sodastream’s CEO says they wouldn’t mind moving out of the territories if anybody could demonstrate how it would help Palestinians. “We will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone’s political agenda”.

So, when is it right to boycott produce from the West Bank? I’d say it has to be instigated and led by the Palestinian labour movement – the trade unions. I want to look for precedents but I’ve run out of time.

I may buy a Sodastream out of gratitude and admiration for Johansson. This is very odd of me, but it’s strength of feeling talking here. As for Oxfam, I wonder if their board has been hijacked as Amnesty’s was. For now my direct debit to Oxfam stands but it’s not unconditional. I will investigate further remind them that there are other humanitarian charities, and try to monitor them.

People like Scarlett Johansson who don’t let themselves get pushed around get respect – even from their enemies.

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.

10:10 – the ethical purchase of a microwave is not straightforward

I’m a car- and plane-avoiding, local-holidaying, good energy-buying, recycling, ecos paint-using, FSC-buying vegan, currently sitting in a sleeping bag to write this because I feel bad, in the knowledge that national domestic emissions far outstrip the individual ones I’ve just outlined above, that I haven’t done the recommended draught exclusion (I will!).

Interested readers will have followed my tribulations trying to live up to my 10:10 campaign pledge to cut my emissions by at least 10% by October 2010.

Well, this weekend our faithful old microwave went crunk and a burnt smell invaded the kitchen. We have a small baby, just on solids, and a little girl coming to stay next weekend, and no way of hanging round the house waiting for a weekday delivery, so we wanted to move fast. How were we going to choose a microwave?

Here’s the problem: the ethics-oriented consumer guides (e.g. Ethical Consumer, Good Shopping) don’t care about quality and the quality-oriented consumer guides (e.g. Which) don’t care about ethics.

A further problem – Ethical Consumer’s Ethiscore for microwaves is at least three years out of date, and doesn’t tally at all with the Good Shopping score.

A further problem – the most recent issue of Ethical Consumer mag had a sunny ‘Boycott Israel Special’ news roundup, in which the only dissenting voice was a tiny expression of dismay from David Miliband. In this jolly little special, they promoted the academic, social and material boycott campaign without setting out what they hope to topple with the boycott (end Israel?), nor the ways in which they expect the boycott to effect this (clerical fascists win?), nor the endpoints for the boycott (Israel is cancelled), nor the difference between avoiding helping the settler movement on the one hand and boycotting all of Israel on the other (the difference is enormous), nor any history of the conflict (i.e. that there are two sides). I found Ethical Consumer deeply unethical, and am almost certain that they would have been promoting a boycott of Jews in 1930s Germany, simply because it was going on at the time and consumer boycotts make them happy. So I find this unsettling, as would you if you were trying to buy in such a way that you did the right thing by people, animals and the planet, and the organisation you turned to for serious input revealed some rather squalid practices of its own. To put it another way – I no longer have confidence Ethical Consumer’s judgement. Good Shopping’s write-ups are undated. Incidentally, I haven’t analysed the difference between Ethical Consumer and Good Shopping. Perhaps they split back in the day… rivalry at the top or something.

So, after toying with a Whirlpool model which cost £100 more and didn’t seem to promise any extra quality, we ended up going for a simple £64 Sanyo model. Sanyo’s a good company according to Good Shopping, and a medium scorer according to Ethiscore back in 2006, with a good score on the environmental side of things. Although Which said ‘Don’t Buy’, that was because the Reheat function wasn’t achieving 70% in the required time, or without considerable loss of the food’s volume. We figured that you’d only care about that if you are worried about being poisoned by the water-injected animal flesh you shouldn’t be eating. If we want to find out if something’s hot enough, we tend to put our finger in it.

We got the new microwave from Curry’s because they recycle our old one – less car trips (should we have waited and recycled via council facilities, though?).

All this took a while. I’m not happy. Do I really have to check everything in this life? In the absence of good ethical international law about manufacture, distribution and investment, can somebody sort out a merger between, for example, Which and Good Shopping?

In other news, when we gutted our house I kept a working fireplace so we could eat and keep warm in the event of the power cuts I predict. This year, because of 10:10, I have finally got a draught-excluding chimney balloon. (Why not a bin-bag filled with bubble-wrap, you ask? Too dirty when you take it out and hard to store when you want the drafts in summer.) Pathetically, half of my procrastination was down to a dread of putting my hand up the chimney to take its dimensions. To do – end the drafts in our still-gutted kitchen, including the terribly windy keyhole. Get sausage dogs for the doors (but are they too much of a trip hazard?)

10:10 is living proof of the power of a pledge.

Update: I should mention work too. Last week I prevented the purchase of a laminator by lending ours (which is mostly unused). A setback though – a new colleague prints out emails for me even though I’m one of the addressees, and uses fresh paper as scrap paper, and I’m not sure what to do about that. Well, I offered to do his recycling (it’s on my way). Maybe if he realises somebody is concerned about such things he’ll also be concerned, out of natural supportiveness. It’s easier with my other colleague – I just use his daughter’s future well-being as a stick to beat him with (we have a very married-couplish relationship, so I can get away with it, moreover he is a big-minded kind of bloke who rises above the discomfort of a guilt trip and considers the issues at hand). Also at work I successfully suggested a recycling scheme for a certain type of oil-based product which, though very durable, is thrown away nearly-new on a horrifying scale as if it were disposable, but which is always in demand. It went to the top, they liked it and apparently there will now be boxes for these objects in each department. It remains to be seen how long it will take (I’ve been warned). But it feels very urgent… landfill tax…

Vanessa Redgrave won’t stand for the anti-Israel boycott

It’s been a while, and it’s my third post of the day (work avoidance) but it’s worth restating the above.

Of course Egypt’s culture minister Hosny Farouk, who offered to burn Israeli books in Egyptian libraries, was not a fit candidate for UNESCO’s Head of Culture. Of course he wasn’t. And if, when he blamed ‘Zionists’ for his defeat, by ‘Zionist’ Farouk means ‘people who think that Israel should exist’, then he is correct. The vast majority of people are Zionists, and UNESCO is no different.

Even avowed anti-Zionists smell a rat about this boycott. Oscar winner Vanessa Redgrave, former Workers Revolutionary Party member of sufficient radical cachet to feature in Redemption, Tariq Ali’s masterpiece satire on Trotskyites (or to be precise, Trotskyite men), is one. She has a long-term concern – backed by hard cash – for the Palestinian people (she funded two films about the PLO; in The Palestinians, she danced with a PLO gun). She is familiar with the practice of using cultural events for political ends. She is violently averse to Zionism. In short, she is no friend of Israel – but at the same time she has long said that she pledged “to fight anti-Semitism and fascism for the rest of my life”. Of course, everybody who hates Israel uses their solicitude for Jews as the pretext, but her letter of opposition to the boycott co-authored for the New York Review of Books lends her pledge some credence. At the heart of the letter:

“In their letter the protesters say that “Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages.” True. Just as much of America is built on obliterated Indian property. Are they implying that Tel Aviv should not exist? At least not in its present form? Which would mean that the State of Israel (the original State of Israel, not including the occupied territories) should not exist. Thousands of Palestinians have died through the years because the Israeli government, military, and part of the population fervently believe that the Arab states and, indeed, much of the world do not want Israel to exist. How then are we halting this never-ending cycle of violence by promoting the very fears that cause it?

The injustice and cruelty inflicted upon the Palestinians over decades are immense. Many great powers, most notably the Soviet Union and Great Britain, have collaborated in this injustice, just as, if only by their silence, they played havoc with the lives of Jews during the Third Reich and the ensuing Holocaust.

Many Israelis are aware of this history. Many citizens of Tel Aviv are particularly cognizant of the situation of the Palestinians and are concerned about their government’s policies and their country’s future. And none more so than the Tel Aviv creative community. This is exemplified by Israeli films that criticize their government’s behavior, and some startling Israeli theater pieces, such as the Cameri Theatre’s Plonter, seen earlier this year in London. The Israeli peace bloc, Gush Shalom, and many Israeli human rights groups and advocates are based in Tel Aviv. Some 10,000 Israeli citizens demonstrated in Tel Aviv against the military attack on Gaza in January this year, a fact not reported by the BBC World News or CNN.

These citizens of Tel Aviv and their organizations and their cultural outlets should be applauded and encouraged. Their presence and their continued activity is reason alone to celebrate their city. Cultural exchanges almost always involve government channels. This occurs in every country. There is no way around it. We do not agree that this involvement is a reason to shun or protest, picket or boycott, or ban people who are expressing thoughts and confronting grief that, ironically, many of the protesters share.

If attitudes are hardened on both sides, if those who are fighting within their own communities for peace are insulted, where then is the hope? The point finally is not to grandstand but to inch toward a two-state solution and a world in which both nations can exist, perhaps not lovingly, but at least in peace.”

This is a letter which pits boycott campaigners against the interests of the progressives and peace makers, and which reminds them about the role of fear in the conflict. Most prominently it is a letter which will not tolerate the singularity and double standards of the boycott campaign. The letter itself is simply common sense. What I take from the fact that somebody with Vanessa Redgrave’s views has written it, is confirmation of something I already know: that even passionate supporters of the Palestinian struggle understand that sometimes to stand against antisemitism you have to stand for Israel – even if you have to hold your nose because you detest Israel’s government. And this attempt to exclude Israel from the world’s cultural life seems to me to be a time like that.

Hence this letter. Redgrave’s co-authors were Julian Schnabel, director of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, whose on-location film about Hind Husseini, a Palestinian woman who rescued children orphaned by Israelis at Deir Yassin during Israel’s war of independence in 1948, titled Miral, will preview soon, and Martin Sherman, best known for his film Bent, about the treatment of homosexuals by the Nazis.

But I think that Israel has its reflective dramatists to thank for this show of solidarity. If anybody asks themselves “Who are we hindering by boycott, who are we helping by not boycotting”, it’s them. The trio of Israeli war films about Lebanon, Joseph Cedar’s Beaufort, Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir, and Samuel Maoz’s and Maoz Shulmik’s Lebanon.  Yael Ronen’s Plonter. Keren Yedaya’s Jaffa. And I don’t think it’s relevant if, say, Haim Tabakman’s Eyes Wide Open, Tali Shalom Ezer’s Surrogate or Eran Kolirin’s The Band’s Visit aren’t examining Israel’s conflicts or Israel’s occupation – by no stretch could these be called escapist films. They are provoking, deft and insightful. Their loss would be our loss. And anyway, why shouldn’t Israelis get to make, watch and show escapist films?

I have colleagues who are calling for the exclusion of Israel – and only Israel – from the worlds academic and cultural life. I hope this makes them think. I hope Ken Loach, the Israel boycotter whom nobody wants to censor any more, may one day come to realise how badly he is mistaken

Pro-Palestinian campus activism forcing Jews out

Maybe the majority of pro-Palestinian activists in this country aren’t terrible but pro-Palestinian activism is famous for being terrible: irrelevant; futile; distorted; bitter; hostile to Jews; anathema to peace – no help whatsoever.

As at least one of my readers may recall, I had a long conversation last night in the pub near where I work with somebody I like, a very clever and compassionate anti-Zionist who doesn’t understand the problem with comparing Zionists to Nazis. I could hear my voice rising until, as my Matt would put it, only dogs could hear. Luckily my interlocutor was patient. He was trying very hard to understand, but he didn’t understand.

It’s some consolation that more knowledgeable and articulate people than me also face this problem. Imagine having these conversations every day because it’s your academic area and because there’s an intensification of activity and you understand the threat. David Hirsh, an immensely patient and forbearing person, does.

Here he is trying to communicate the point once again, and further to an awful event on his campus where a woman posing as a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto was invited by the Student Union to propagate fear and hatred of Israel and build for a boycott. It is a great piece. He ends:

“It is false to say that Israel is trying to achieve a ‘final solution’ by killing the Palestinians. We should not educate students in London to believe what is false.

It is true that conditions in Gaza are extremely difficult. The borders are tightly controlled by Israel and by Egypt. The de facto government in Gaza, elected in January 2006, which later took total power in a coup against the Palestinian President, promises war against the Jews of Israel to the end. The Israelis pursue the Hamas fighters into the streets and housing estates of Gaza, resulting in the inevitable and routine deaths of civilians. In Gaza there is agonizing poverty and shortages, for example of medical supplies. There is little freedom of movement for Gazans. But talk about Gaza being a prelude to a ‘final solution’ is just false.

But it is more than false. It is vile. Why can’t you see that the designation of ‘Zionists’ as Nazis is vile? Why don’t you feel it in your political bones? Why doesn’t it set your internal racism alarms ringing?

I think the reason is that too many radical people no longer understand irrational and disproportionate hostility to ‘Zionists’ to be a form of racism. They have internalized a commonsense notion that demonization of ‘Zionists’, in Jennifer Jones’ sense, while perhaps not entirely right, is neither entirely wrong. ‘Zionists’ are thought of as being at the centre of bad things that happen in the world. ‘Zionists’ oppress the Palestinians and the Palestinians stand for the oppressed everywhere. ‘Zionists’ are in favour of war and they are responsible for sending America to war in Iraq and perhaps in Iran. ‘Zionists’ have lots of power – in the media, in Hollywood, on Wall Street. ‘Zionists’ failed to learn the lesson of the Holocaust as we learnt it so well in Europe. ‘Zionists’ failed to learn the lessons of imperialism as we learnt it so well in Europe. ‘Zionists’ are behind Islamophobia, which eats at the heart of the new Europe.

Can you see it now?”

Background to the event in the Jerusalem Post. Petra Marquardt-Bigman comments.

The Facebook event promotion said that Suzanne Weiss survived the Warsaw Ghetto:

“Suzanne Weiss is a member of ‘Not In Our Name: Jewish Voices Against Zionism’ and has flown all the way from Canada to speak to us at Goldsmiths.

Suzanne will be speaking about her time in the Warsaw ghetto in Poland as a child and her experiences in the ghettos of the Gaza Strip.”

But she wasn’t in the Warsaw Ghetto.

I’m not sure who is responsible for this Holocaust survivor impersonation, Weiss herself or the twinning organisers, but she certainly capitalised on this status to pronounce that Gaza is like the Ghetto and Zionists are like Nazis, and then to shout for boycotting Israel out of existence. What depths.

It listed Jennifer Jones as a contact. Jennifer Jones gave a statement to the Jewish Chronicle in which she voiced hopes that:

“the few vocal Zionists on campus become involved in a more positive capacity to support those suffering under the occupation”

Personally I hope that the few vocal Zionists (see Hirsh’s definition on the end of the above link) on campus are joined by the hitherto silent ones who comprise the majority of the student and staff body and develop a better practice of pro-Palestinian activism.

David T and Harry’s Place commentariat developed the episode into an allegory with an entire cast of characters. As Mark G from the Community Security Trust observes in the comments, the humour has a brittle quality. How could this woman have been invited onto that campus?

What people talk about when they talk about Zionists

It looks as if Muslim member states of the U.N. (these days the Organisation of the Islamic Conference) will try to pass a resolution determining that Zionism is a type of racism again. As well as being an act of solidarity with Palestinians under occupation and a gesture of protest at the way Israel militarises its relations with them, this is also calculated to make a pariah of Israel. Israel is a state at war, and while the extent to which failure to reach a peace settlement it its own responsibility is a legitimate topic for debate, vilifying Zionism is the same as saying that Israel shouldn’t exist. We wouldn’t say that about any other state.

I’m with Muffin – the University and College Union kept telling me I was a Zionist when I objected to antisemitism and whaddaya know, for the first time in my life I started seriously regarding Jewish nationalism as a sensible and relevant precaution. Particularly for Israelis.

Two good, snappy bits of analysis from Norm.

Is the Israel boycott over?

Sue Blackwell can bin that dog-eared old letter from the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions from back in 2005, supporting her efforts to bring about an academic boycott of Israel.

As of 2008, that old lady doesn’t want to cross the road. What she wants is help getting some  intruders out of her back garden and, you might hope, her own house in order.

I await with interest the assiduous efforts of the anti-Israel campaigners to establish that everything from Israel is ultimately a product of the occupation.

Are Jews a people?

I don’t go out of my way to think about my (irreligious, outside a community and without strong social ties) Jewish identity because when I do it gives me a bit of a headache. I have this headache in common with many secular Jews. After an early induction to Judaism against considerable odds (I come from a part of my home town where everybody was from somewhere different but where there were hardly two Jews to rub together) failed to ‘take’, I was content to let my Jewish background slip into exactly that – the background. Before the campaign for a total boycott against Israel began to interfere with my sense of security in Britain, the only thing that would have induced me to try to pin it down would have been finding out that I was pregnant.

The reason I have to think about it now is because the boycott campaign is playing havoc in my trade union and also in Britain’s fourth political party. Now I want to stick up for Jews. The call for boycott, divestment and sanctions is, whether boycotters realise or not, a call for Israel’s end because the criteria it imposes for lifting the boycott are criteria Israel cannot meet while remaining the Jewish state approved by a majority of countries, for good reasons, in the United Nations partition plan of 1947.

The thing is, the connection Jews have with the Jewish state are complicated and the difficulties I have locating myself in Jewishness are related to the anomalies with Jewishness that the boycott theorists are exploiting and relating to the existence of a Jewish state. To tackle boycotters, it is necessary to tackle this question of Jewishness and what it comprehends.

To gain an overview of the anomalies and make a dent in the ignorance, listen to this highly engrossing MP3 of a lecture by Michael Walzer, titled “Are We A People?” (direct link to MP3 – right-click or apple-click if you want to download to your filespace rather than listening in a browser). If you want to see him delivering the lecture, there is also a video on the site of the Institute for Jewish Research, the organisation which hosted it.

I have always been comfortable with the idea of anomalies and after listening to Walzer I still am. I credit the BDS boycotters in the organisations of which I’m a part for making me feel more Jewish already – although I doubt it is in any way they would approve of. Oona King had the same kind of experience after being politically molested by Galloway supporters.

Philip Weiss, who is a critic of Zionism, has an overview and some reservations about the Walzer presentation. Weiss, as is common among Jewish anti-Zionists, is a compassionate person who seems to assume responsibility for Israel’s conduct as a Jew and, as is also so common, fails to acknowledge responsibility for peace on the part of the Palestinians. I would speculate that he, as a Jew, considers Israel to be a stain on his conscience. My response – which I hope does not sound too glib – would be to support political process and the anti-occupation movement, support human rights for all, and also support an Israeli Arab advocacy organisation of the calibre of The Abraham Fund.