Online discussion on antisemitism

The current battle about antisemitism in the UK has centred on the EUMC working definition of antisemitism.

In my Diigo I have a tag titled “monumental thread” where I bookmark and snippet from important online discussions. The most recent is this one on Engage, further to Jonathan Hoffman’s review of antisemitism on Comment Is Free. In the comments, you will find Chris Bertram (from Crooked Timber) implying that everybody who proposes a single-state solution experiences aggravated charges of antisemitism and that the EUMC definition facilitates this. He doesn’t like it that the people who experience racism get to define what is racist. This is the basic underpinning of anti-racist law – not to mention the guidance provided by trade unions throughout the world – and to contest it is basically saying that Jews exploit antisemitism for their own ends. Nice, Chris. Richard asked him for examples of aggravated charges of antisemitism points out that it is rarely the case that people can provide examples when they complain of aggravated charges of antisemitism. Richard also outlines the most important questions for a binationalist / single state proponent to answer. Chris, more interested in demanding rights for single state advocates to speak than in antisemitism on CiF, does not himself answer these. Put up or shut up – is he shutting up? I don’t think he has examples answers.

You will also come across something quite normal these days – an ever-so-polite-and-reasonable purveyor of antisemitic ways of thinking, Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf, coming out (like the BNP) in favour of repealing anti-racist law. Ibn Yusuf believes “the creation of Israel as a Jewish state to be a major, but reversible, historical mistake” and his pursuit of this reversal obliges him to deny not only antisemitism but the legitimacy of anti-racist law. Anti-racist law is a trade unionists best friend – isn’t it? Except UCU activists, that is, who are quite probably looking for ways to jettison their own – these days self-incriminating – guidance on discrimination because it scrapes against their cherished boycott campaign in such an irksome way.

Richard, Zkharya and Hoffman respond to Ibn Yusuf. Inna has a good mutatis mutandis. You’ll also find three brilliant pieces of advice from David Galant and some good analysis from Saul (nice to see somebody around who doesn’t feel obliged to dignify polite racism for polite response. I think Saul is a luminary.)

Ibn Yusuf isn’t very good, as you can see. It’s easy to take his self-righteous arguments apart because they have nothing to do with sticking up for Palestinians and everything to do with hating Israel. Trouble is, people with his views are growing in influence round here. (Update: Observer in the comments below points out that he might be an agent provocateur who aims to encourage readers to associate these everyday double standards with Arabs.)

Another very important thread on the subject of antisemitism is the one which brought practically everyone who is publicly involved in these debates flocking to Andy Newman’s post on Socialist Unity. Hoary old antisemites, obsessive anti-Zionists who can’t help crossing the line, people who don’t know any better – and the anti-racists who try to bring them sense and limit their influence. Mercifully I think the Independent Jewish Voices worthies Brian Klug and Antony Lerman stayed away so the argument was a few degrees less contorted than it could have been, deeply unpleasant though it was.

Because I was mightily impressed by all the messages I took-home from the email seminar the other day, here are three simple take-home messages about antisemtism for the doubters and deniers of antisemitism:

  1. People don’t fabricate antisemitism – if you find an example it will be an exception that proves the rule. If you, from a position of influence, want to criticise Israel about its conflict with the Palestinians and at the same time you don’t really give a hoot about finding a solution that gives Israel’s Jews appropriate assurances, this will show in your selective knowledge, double standards, and hectoring. It would be highly irresponsible for you to do that, and people would rightly find you ideologically, rather than philanthropically, motivated. They will perceive bias against Jews, and indeed you would be arguing from an antisemitic premise which, purely and simple, is a premise that undermines the best interests of Jews. Basically, the more contentious the topic, the more open-minded and committed to finding out the truth you have to be. The debate around climate change is like this, ditto genes.
  2. It is probably the case that when you do something racially discriminatory you are being racist but are not a racist. I.e. it’s not running in your veins nor part of your constitution – it’s just something you did. But that’s neither here nor there because the identity of the person spreading the racism doesn’t make much difference to the people on the receiving end. It might be relevant but it’s impossible to ascertain. What is important to them is that the acts stop. So repeat after me: “It’s the impact, not the intention, that matters. It’s the impact, not the intention, that matters. It’s the impact, not the intention, that matters”.
  3. So you’ve failed as an anti-racist? Get a grip, racism is an easy trap to fall into, it’s not the end of the world. Do some damage limitation and make it a brief lapse. All you have to do is know yourself, apologise, work on it, most importantly, stop, and nobody will hold it against you. Just don’t be one of those cliche racists who are so unable to handle their own guilt that they have to go full throttle with the demonisation to turn it into a just cause and square it with their conscience. As Hoffer observes, there’s an “intimate connection between hatred and a guilty conscience”. So go easy on yourself – for all our sakes.

OK, they weren’t simple. There’s a reason for that. But I hope they were pretty much clear. Thanks for listening, you’ve been a great group. Please hand in your name badges on the way out.

Making ‘Zionist’ a dirty word

Why is this blogger, who is prepared to criticise the SWP for their unconditional support of resistance movements, so extravagantly but inexplicably disappointed that anybody left-wing would describe their opinions as Zionist?

“While reading down the different articles from the last few weeks and months, I came across one on Palestine. As one might expect, I did indeed groan – and was then aghast at someone left wing describing their opinions as Zionist.”

In the piece he refers to, the writer describes himself as a Zionist and then goes on to carefully explain what he means. Then, as well as criticising the SWP, he identifies the Left’s need for a positive project. He weighs in with some ideas for peace and unity between Palestinians and Israelis and between the British Left. It’s a thoughtful, responsible, qualified piece which avoids the dualistic pitfalls of Simple and a number on his blogroll.

In the world of anti-Zionists (those who believe in a single state between Jordan and the Mediterranean and the dissolution of Israel) if you identify as Zionist then you’re either not left or you’re wrong about yourself. Where does that leave progressive Zionist movements like Meretz-Yachad?

When are people like going to realise that Zionism – a complex of attitudes admittedly – is an entirely understandable response to past and present threats to Jews and threats to Israel?

But then, the title of the piece contains the phrase ‘correct Marxism’. Enough said.

What kind of spider is this?

I told you we have all kinds here in Barkingside. But I’ve never seen one like this before. Any ideas (Barkingside 21)?

What kind of spider is this?

Other information – found in the evening in the sink, seemed sluggish but after 15 minutes under a glass on a fairly warm window sill it dashed away into the grass.

Apologies for bad shot – light was fading and camera battery running out.

Hard cheese, sour grapes and they want to make me eat them

Via Engage. Socialist Worker reckons the academic boycott has fallen victim to a “well-funded Zionist campaign” and recommends a vindictive kind of climb-down. Which will in all probability leave those who oppose the boycott (in the most unedifying ‘debate’ I’ve ever had the shame to participate in) dealing with undiluted diehard nutcases.

The left faces two problems here. The first is that the boycott is an issue that divides critics of Israel. Even as sterling an anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist as Noam Chomsky opposes it.

The second is that any ballot would be dominated by a well-funded Zionist campaign that would enjoy the overwhelming support of the mass media. Under such pressure, the boycott would almost certainly be heavily defeated. Such an outcome would set back the cause of solidarity with Palestine in British universities for many years.

The left should refuse to walk into Hunt’s trap. We should make it clear now that we do not intend to propose an actual boycott of any Israeli academic institutions at the next union congress.

We should do so in order to achieve the maximum unity over the question of Palestine.

Many opponents of the boycott have been fulsome in their support for the Palestinians. We should put them on the spot and demand to know, if a boycott were off the agenda, what they intend to do help the Palestinians.

And, rather than apologising for raising the issue of a boycott, we should go onto the offensive. Not only should we put the spotlight on places like Ariel, but we should argue that UCU campaigns against the complicity of the British government in the US-Israeli policy of dividing the Palestinians and blockading Gaza.

Which david t interprets.

What do I intend to do to help the Palestinians, ask the SWP members. (Using, incidentally, the only instance of the world ‘fulsome’ on the entire SWP Online site. Fulsome: “unpleasantly and excessively suave or ingratiating in manner or speech”. Well. They really know how to make you want to work with them.)

In UCU? Nothing. I’ll be regarding UCU activists who claim to want to help Palestinians with suspicion for a long time to come. Just can’t seem to envisage myself settling down to business with them. Just seeing certain names in my inbox gives me recoiling pavlovians. They can’t be trusted to deal sensitively with Jewish issues, is the thing. Well, OK, depends what kind of ‘help’ is on the table. Never say never.

In my institution? Will help with initiatives as required (after vetting for the wrong sort of enthusiastically antisemitic kind of stuff which masquerades as ‘helping the Palestinians’ in UCU) and take any opportunity that presents itself. But I think there are more urgent causes for an institution than the Palestinians – most people realise this and I predict that, denied the opportunity for Israel bashing, there’ll be very little in the way of positive initiative from so-called pro-Palestinian activists.

In my personal life? As before but perhaps more intensively.

Is that too fulsome, or not fulsome enough?

Two good things have come out of this ‘debate’ though – I understand Jewish and Arab Israelis’ points of view a lot better and I can spot antisemitism at 50 paces.

Edward Alexander on antisemitism denial (old but relevant still)

Edward Alexander’s article on Antisemitism denial in Frontpage Magazine, December 2004.

He’s principally responding to a 2003 piece by Judith Butler titled No, it’s not antisemitic. London Review of Books;25(16).

Both are good and comprehensive reviews of the themes of antisemitism charges and antisemitism denial which have come out of the recent debate about Israel, including one hosted by the LRB which is well worth watching (HT Engage) not least for its exemplary use of video.

I particularly liked this bit from Antisemitism denial:

Josef Joffe, editor of the German weekly DER ZEIT, has succinctly defined the linguistic difference between “criticism of Israeli policy” and antisemitism:

Take this statement: ‘Demolishing the houses of the families of
terrorists is morally wrong because it imputes guilt by
association, and politically wrong because it pushes more people
into the arms of Hamas.’ Such a statement is neither anti-Israel
nor anti-Semitic; it might even be correct. By contrast, ‘the
Israelis are latter-day Nazis who want to drive the Palestinians
from their land in order to realize an imperialist biblical
dream’ inhabits a very different order of discourse, ascribing
evil to an entire collective and, in its equation of Israelis and
Nazis, revealing an obsessive need for moral denigration.

One of several illuminating things I probably should have known but only now learn from Alexander relates to a phenomenon I’ve noticed repeatedly over the past few months – somebody writes something like “You’re chilling debate by calling us antisemitic” and their opponent appropriates the charge with “In fact, it’s denial of antisemitism which is having a chilling effect on debate.” Logicians, I’m pleased to learn, have given this a name: a tu quoque argument.

Hypophora (or anthypophora)

Raising questions and answering them yourself.

“You ask, what is our policy?  I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and all the strength that God can give us;  to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalog of human crime.  That is our policy.  You ask, what is our aim?  I can answer in one word: Victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror; victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”  (Winston Churchill, 13 May 1940)

What a lot of political interviewees do on The Today Programme to prevent John, Sarah, Edward, Carolyn or James raising any.


If blogging is going to rival professional journalism (and the NUJ puts another nail in the coffin of its own credibility when it stages international boycotts), then we need to engage in fisking.

Free Dictionary and Dictionary.Com are too slow and forget the OED – for a definition of fisking, see Wikipedia (which references Jargon File):

[blogosphere; very common] A point-by-point refutation of a blog entry or (especially) news story. A really stylish fisking is witty, logical, sarcastic and ruthlessly factual; flaming or handwaving is considered poor form. Named after Robert Fisk, a British journalist who was a frequent (and deserving) early target of such treatment.”

This fact-checking has at least two aspects, the activity and the consumption of the product of the activity. We can’t all check all facts but we can check some, and we can read reports of more. That’s what discussion boards are for, and that’s a very large part of the promise of Web 2.0.

Disambiguation: folksonomies, collabularies, constructivism and constructionism

This type of thing is worth a whole nother category of its own (see the disambiguation tag).

Folksonomies and collabularies (online ontologies)

Says Paul Anderson (2007) in a recent report for JISC Techwatch:

One outcome from the practice of tagging has been the rise of the ‘folksonomy’. Unfortunately, the term has not been used consistently and there is confusion about its application. More will be said about this in the section on network effects, but for now it is sufficient to note that there is a distinction between a folksonomy (a collection of tags created by an individual for their own personal use) and a collabulary (a collective vocabulary).

Constructionivism and constructivism

Constructionism … shares constructivism’s connotation of learning as “building knowledge structures” irrespective of the circumstances of the learning. It then adds the idea that this happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity, whether it’s a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe.” (Papert, 1991, p1)


Anderson, P (2007). What is Web 2.0? Ideas, technologies and implications for education. A JISC TechWatch Report, February 2007. Available from:

Papert, S. (1991) Situating Constructionism. In Harel, I. and Papert, S. (Eds.), Constructionism. Norwood, NJ: Ablex