Friday 3 June 2011

Moving the goalposts

This was the week that my union, the University and College Union, responded to criticisms that its obsession with Israel was effectively anti-Semitic - by trying to change the definition of anti-Semitism. As Eve Garrard writes in an excellent post over at Norm’s blog:

This Orwellian resolution of political disputes by way of linguistic fiat is particularly contemptible in an academics' union, since academics are supposed to have some knowledge of how argument works, and how intellectually empty it is to support an argument by distorting the meanings of the terms you use.  

Ben Gidley, in a long and thoughtful piece at the Dissent blog, agrees:

As an academic who studies racism, I find it bizarre that my union cannot accept that there is even the faintest possibility that institutional racism might exist in our own ranks, even after a series of clearly documented incidents and a shocking number of resignations by Jewish members who perceive it as such. This motion, if passed, will in fact legitimate racism in the union and stop any allegation of anti-Semitism—in debates or in the workplace—from being taken seriously.  

And Ben provides this pithy summary: ‘By alleging that Jews are merely crying anti-Semitism to stop people talking about Israel, the UCU leadership cries Israel to stop people talking about anti-Semitism.’ Over at LabourList, Rob Marchant adds: ‘the subtext is crystal clear: anti-Semitism is often not genuine and raised merely to win arguments as matter of bad faith.’ Rob sees the UCU motion as worrying evidence of a wider trend:
We spend a lot of time rightly criticising the white racists of the BNP and the EDL. But it’s high time we confronted those who condone those other kinds of racism around us. Before they really start to hurt the credibility, and the ethos, of the whole Labour movement.
Or before decent leftists, and union members, give up on the UCU completely, as some have already done - like Goldsmiths historian Ariel Hessayon who announced his resignation from the union today:

For my own part, I am an historian whose research interests and writings include studies of attitudes towards Jews and secret Jews in early modern England.  I have also looked at the ways in which modern histories of Jews and antisemitism reflect the present day concerns of their authors.  Based on my professional expertise, I have no doubt that the politically motivated rejection of the EUMC working definition has antisemitic implications.  
Accordingly, I cannot in good conscience remain a member of a union that countenances the antics of such extremists; fanatics who seem at best oblivious and at worst disdainful of the consequences of their single-minded obsession: Israel.

Meanwhile, from north of the border comes news that West Dunbartonshire Council has decided to ban books by Israeli authors from its libraries. Like the campaign against Ahava, this boycott has some pretty nasty historical overtones: after all, who were the last people to close down Jewish shops and ban books by Jewish authors?

And finally, on a similar note, I was angered and saddened by this report on the peddling of virulent anti-Israel propaganda by ‘progressive’ Christian groups such as Pax Christi (of which I was once, in a half-remembered life, a member). The one-sidedness of ‘liberal’ Christians in their response to the Israel-Palestine conflict is something I’ve written about before and plan to analyse more fully in a forthcoming post.


Eve Garrard said...

Thanks for the kind words, Martin. I can't quite believe what the UCU is prepared to do in pursuit of its obsession with Israel, nor can I think of any non-malignant explanation of it. I'll be very interested to see your comments on the kind of liberal Christians you describe.

Left-footer said...

Anti-Semites should also hate Arabs and the Maltese, both Semitic peoples, speaking Semitic languages.

The terms 'anti-Jewish' or anti-Israel are more accurate and honest.

The attitudes are, of course, foul.