A Question of Academic Freedom

Nick Riemer

This article first appeared in Jacobin Magazine and is reproduced by permission of the author

BDS opponents are wrong — boycotts are well within the bounds of academic conduct.

Many academics have objected to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel on the grounds that it violates academic freedom — an accusation that has been remarkably successful in gaining traction.

Zionists denounce those who would disrespect the “free flow of ideas within the international scholarly community,” as Russell A. Berman puts it, but refuse to recognize that, in Palestine, ideas (not to mention people) face severe restrictions. The apparatuses of settler-colonial violence — which BDS’s opponents typically show little interest in dismantling — brutally contain thought in Palestine. This self-evident truth hasn’t yet exposed the academic-freedom argument for the hypocrisy it is.
The claim gets much of its force from the false notion that boycotts represent an exception to the academy’s normal functioning. Opponents don’t just want liberals to see BDS as an attack on a fundamental principle of scholarly exchange — they also want to shock them with the scandalous breach of academic politesse that BDS supposedly represents.But this vision of academic life is a chimera: a closer examination reveals that restricting the flow of ideas constitutes much of the daily conduct of research and teaching, and indeed, of the working life of universities in general. Academic exchange is not intrinsically bound up with the free exchange of ideas, but rather, with their regulation. That’s perhaps why many of the boycott’s fiercest opponents themselves regularly try — illegitimately — to restrict ideas they disagree with.
Continue reading “A Question of Academic Freedom”

How Not to Fight Antisemitism

On Monday 24 June Haringey Council gave a masterclass in how not to fight antisemitism. And indeed how to give local democracy a bad name.

On 15 June the agenda for the Council’s meeting was published. One item was the proposal of a motion, by the Council Leader on behalf of the Labour Group, for Haringey to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) ‘definition’ of antisemitism. (Those blissfully unaware of what is wrong with this sorry document can catch up here.)

Professor Haim Bresheeth addresses the protest outside the Council Meeting, in front of the FSOI banner
Professor Haim Bresheeth addresses the protest outside the Council Meeting, in front of the FSOI banner

A slow-motion car crash in action

Continue reading “How Not to Fight Antisemitism”

PalExpo organisers resist hate campaign

Richard Kuper

Palestine Expo 2017 is the largest social, cultural and entertainment event on Palestine ever to take place in Europe. It runs on 8th and 9th July at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London. Food, live entertainment, academic discussion, shopping, photographic exhibitions and much, much more are on offer.

PalExpo leaflets
PalExpo leaflets

Too much, it seems for some. A hate campaign has been launched on social media maliciously accusing the organisers of having terrorist links in an effort to stop the celebration/exhibition in its tracks. Unjustified legal action, lawfare, has been launched by RHF Solicitors in Manchester representing Jewish Human Rights Watch (JHRW). They are trying to pressure the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre into cancelling the event. They have manufactured accusations against two of the organisers of PalExpo, Friends of Al-Aqsa (FOA) and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), claiming they have clear terrorist links and support

Lawfare letter from RHF solicitors
Lawfare letter from RHF solicitors attacking PalExpo

“Jew Hate across the UK”. The solicitor’s letter alleges that “the recurring anti-Semitic themes promoted by the above groups is deliberately intended to intimidate and discriminate against Jews.” It continues: “Our client is certain that this event is a front for Jew hate and that the main groups (Friends of Alaqsa & Palestine Solidarity Campaign) are organisations promoting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in relation to Israel, a known anti-Semitic movement.”

Both FOA and PSC have robustly rejected these absurd allegations. In an appeal for support, FOA has said in a statement on 2nd June:

“FOA and our Chairman, Ismail Patel, have been slandered and defamed by JHRW who accuse us of spreading  ‘Jew hate’ because we support Boycott Divestment and Sanction of Israel. The promotion of BDS is supporting freedom of Palestinians and has nothing to do with being anti-Semitic!

They have also outrageously claimed that Palestine Expo should not be allowed to take place so close to Westminster, in a disgraceful attempt to exploit the recent horrific Westminster incident for their own gain. The malicious attack is a tactic to deter supporters of Palestine from attending.”

PSC Director Ben Jamal, cited in an article by Yvonne Ridley, called the allegations “false and disturbing” and explained:

“Palestine Expo will be a celebration of the rich Palestinian culture, with traditional dancing, food, artisan goods, art exhibits, and children’s entertainment alongside talks on the current political situation… We are sure that reasonable people have no issue with any national group celebrating their heritage.”

The two organisations are seeking legal redress against these slanders. They urge everyone to show their support for PalExpo by going along on 8th or 9th July! You can book tickets in advance here.

Further reading:

Ben White, “Israel and friends battle the boycott in Britain” Middle East Monitor, 1 March 2016

Yvonne Ridley, “An online hate campaign is trying to get a Palestinian cultural festival cancelled”,  Middle East Monitor, 26 May 2017

Far-right Islamophobes unite with pro-Israel lobbyists in European Parliament antisemitism debate

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

A debate in the European Parliament on Wednesday (May 31) exposed pro-Israel lobbyists as the natural allies of far-right Islamophobes supporting a definition of antisemitism designed to defend the state of Israel.

Ostensibly about a motion on “Combating Antisemitism”, the discussion in fact revolved around one clause calling for institutions of the EU and all member states to adopt the controversial “International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism.”

This document, based on an earlier “working definition” abandoned by the now defunct EU monitoring centre on racism and xenophobia (EUMC), broadens the widely understood concept of antisemitism as hostility towards Jews, to include criticism of Israel.

In Thursday’s vote, 101 MEPs voted against its inclusion in the motion, but 479 voted in favour while 47 abstained. The motion including the contentious clause was passed.

Continue reading “Far-right Islamophobes unite with pro-Israel lobbyists in European Parliament antisemitism debate”

UCU Congress rejects “confusing” definition of antisemitism

Press Release from Free Speech on Israel and BRICUP (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine)

for immediate release – 29th May 2017

UCU Congress rejects “confusing” definition of antisemitism

Support for Palestinian professor denied entry to Israel

Free Speech on Israel, a Jewish-led organisation which defends the right to criticise Israel, and the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, which campaigns for academic and cultural boycott of Israel, today welcomed the vote by the University and College Union (UCU) to reject the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

Motion 57, submitted by UCU branches at the University of Leeds, Goldsmiths, and the University of Brighton, along with two strengthening amendments from Queen’s University Belfast and London Retired Members Branch, was carried overwhelmingly in the closing minutes of UCU’s annual Congress in Brighton.  Only one delegate spoke against the motion.

UCU Congress delegates standing up to racism
UCU Congress delegates standing up to racism

UCU had previously, in 2011, rejected the “Working Definition of Antisemitism” of the EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).  The IHRA definition strongly resembles the EUMC version.  Today’s vote strengthens UCU’s existing policy. Continue reading “UCU Congress rejects “confusing” definition of antisemitism”

If you thought the IHRA (mis)definition was bad enough…

… the version that Luke Akehurst is peddling is even worse

Mike Cushman

Luke Akehurst of ‘We Believe in Israel’ has been circulating an amended version of the IHRA definition of antisemitism to Local Authorities and encouraging them to adopt it. A letter sent by Akehurst, former Labour Leader of Hackney Council and failed NEC candidate, has been urging councils to pass a motion that subtly, but significantly, toughens the suppression of pro-Palestinian voices. Worse it tries to pass off this new version as the same as the original. The letter has been circulated in the name of a previously unknown front organisation ‘Local Government Friends of Israel’.

The IHRA definition is in two parts: a flawed core definition and a series of exemplars that link the definition to criticism of Israel. The IHRA definition describes the exemplars as:

“Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:”

Akehurst's motion to intensify the IHRA definition
Akehurst’s motion to intensify the IHRA definition

Akehurst’s model motion amends this to:

“The guidelines highlight manifestations of antisemitism as including:”

This makes criticism of Israel such as “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.” an absolute offence; regardless of whether there is any evidence of antisemitic intent.

Continue reading “If you thought the IHRA (mis)definition was bad enough…”

Lib Dem leader Farron ducks questions over sacking of David Ward

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi.

Farron ducks questions as David Ward fights to clear his name

On April 26, Liberal Democrat party leader Tim Farron caved into McCarthy-style pressure to dump one of his own parliamentary candidates, former Bradford East MP David Ward, who had been unjustly accused of antisemitism.

Ward is fighting to clear his name and has said he will stand as an independent candidate in the forthcoming general election.

The day after the sacking, I emailed Mr Farron offering to introduce him to Jews who could explain the widespread misuse of politically motivated antisemitism allegations. His reply, received on May 2, made no reference to any of my discussion points and was in fact a carbon copy of the reply he sent to others who had protested at the sacking of Mr Ward.

In a follow-up email, I challenged Mr Farron to justify the vacuous arguments in his message point by point. Having received no response, I am publishing our correspondence for the edification of students of the political art of evasion.

To tim.farron@libdems.org.uk

April 27, 2017

Dear Mr Farron,

I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked (when people discover that I am Jewish) questions along the lines of: “How is it possible that the Jews, who suffered such terrible persecution during the Holocaust, could go on to commit atrocities against Palestinians in the state of Israel, and continue to do so in the West Bank and Gaza?”

I recognise these questions for what they are – regretful expressions of bafflement at a seemingly inexplicable state of affairs. They are questions which usually lead to a discussion about the history of Israel and Palestine, during which I invariably have the opportunity to explain that despite the claims of the state of Israel to represent “the Jews”, actually many of us do not identify with Israel and resent the assumption that we all share its ideology.

If the people making comments like the one in my first paragraph above, which is almost word for word what David Ward wrote on his website in 2013, express any hostility to Jewish people or give any hint of harbouring hateful feelings against us, I have no hesitation in chastising them for their antisemitism. But there is nothing in such comments of themselves that even hints at hatred of Jews – which is what antisemitism is. Nor is it antisemitic to refer to Israel as an apartheid state. It’s controversial, yes, and it makes some people very cross, but it is decidedly not an expression of hatred of Jews.

I am, quite frankly, horrified that you have bowed to pressure from apologists for Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, such as Eric Pickles, in blocking David Ward’s candidacy.

If you have been influenced by the government’s enthusiasm for a new definition of antisemitism which deliberately conflates it with criticism of Israel and Zionism, then I recommend reading a piece on the subject by Sir Stephen Sedley, a distinguished judge, himself Jewish, in the latest London Review of Books. Sir Stephen gives short shrift to the definition so ardently embraced by Pickles and Theresa May, warning that attempting to act upon it could result in legal suits for denial of free speech.

Once you’ve read it perhaps we could meet and you could explain to me why you have departed from Nick Clegg’s view that what David Ward said was neither racist or antisemitic.

Seriously, I would like to propose a discussion between you and other parliamentary colleagues, and some of my many Jewish friends who share Sedley’s understanding. We are on dangerous ground when we allow proponents of a partisan political (in this case pro-Israeli) stance to determine what may and may not be spoken about. Freedom of expression is seriously at risk here and you, as a Liberal Democrat, should be defending it, not conniving in its demise.

I look forward with interest to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

 

From: tim.farron.mp@parliament.uk

Tuesday, May 2, 2017 4:02 PM

Subject: RE: David Ward and antisemitism

Dear Ms Wimborne-Idrissi,

Recently David Ward was removed as the Liberal Democrat candidate in Bradford East.

Despite assurances to the contrary, David has consistently made remarks and statements which have been considered as inflammatory by people on both sides of this contentious debate.

I have been clear that I believe in a politics that is open, tolerant and united.

I am also clear that this is part of a pattern of behaviour that is not consistent with those values, and therefore David has lost the right to seek to represent our party in Parliament.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Farron, MP

Leader of the Liberal Democrats

 

To: tim.farron@libdems.org.uk

Date: 4 May 2017 at 00:17:19 BST

Subject: David Ward and antisemitism – your disappointing response to my detailed concerns

Dear Mr Farron,

I am deeply disappointed with your formulaic response to my detailed and personal concerns about the removal of David Ward as a candidate.

I addressed you sincerely as a Jewish human rights activist who is increasingly alarmed at the alacrity with which people in positions of authority, such as yourself, cave in to demands to deny freedom of expression to supporters of justice for Palestine. You sent me in return the same letter that I have seen on social media, posted by other people who wrote you entirely different messages.

I ask you now to do me the courtesy of responding specifically to my questions.

1.You talk about Mr Ward “consistently” making certain remarks and statements. But the abuse hurled at him is based almost exclusively on deliberate distortions (as I explained in my letter) of two comments made in 2013, neither of which deserve to be labeled antisemitic. Can you explain why you believe those remarks to justify exclusion from your party’s list of parliamentary candidates? And I do not mean why you believe these remarks are upsetting to a certain politically motivated group in society. I mean – what is fundamentally wrong with the things that he said? On what grounds do you discount the arguments that I put to you about this?

2.You assert that his remarks “have been considered as inflammatory by people on both sides of this contentious debate.” I am at a loss to understand what you mean by this. Those who have publicly denounced him are all very clearly on one side of the Palestine/Israel issue. For those of us on the other side, who are struggling to defend our right to speak in support of the Palestinians, it is the arguments of those who denounce us as antisemites that are inflammatory. It is they, not David Ward, whose views are “considered as inflammatory” by us. On what grounds do you suggest that David Ward has inflamed opinion “on both sides?” Who, apart from those who wish to defend Israel from criticism, has been “inflamed” by David Ward’s words?

3.You assert your belief in “a politics that is open, tolerant and united” and allege that David Ward’s behaviour is inconsistent with those values. Can you show me any evidence of your openness and tolerance towards people campaigning for human rights of Palestinians? In what way does forcing out a candidate supported by his local party, solely because of his views on one contentious area of politics, serve to bring about unity?

I reiterate my offer to introduce you to other Jews who can help you and your colleagues understand the complexities of this issue, explained in depth at the launch on March 27 in the House of Lords of an authoritative legal opinion about the definition of antisemitism mistakenly adopted by the government and some other bodies.

I have so far kept this correspondence private but I will feel obliged to make it public if you are unable to satisfy me on the above points. I look forward to hearing from you in the coming week.

Sincerely,

Naomi Wimborne Idrissi

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Mike Cushman talk about the FSOI journey

Film maker Jon Pullman interviewed Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Mike Cushman to produce this video on the FSOI journey to playing a vital role in defending the space for action in support of Palestinian Rights.

The Orwellian defenestration of David Ward

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

The Orwellian defenestration of David Ward

It was inevitable that antisemitism smears would be deployed against supporters of Palestine at some point during #GE17. Even so it was a surprise to hear Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat party leader, cornered by pro-Israel lobbyist Eric Pickles in the House of Commons on Wednesday, appeasing the witch hunters by declaring that one of his own parliamentary candidates would be banned from standing.

The language used to denounce David Ward, former Lib Dem MP for Bradford East, as in so many of the cases we have seen in the Labour Party, the National Union of Students and elsewhere, takes us deep into Orwellian territory.

David Ward
David Ward

While Ward could probably sue the Jewish News for calling him “the Israel-hating, Jew-baiting former MP David Ward”, other media have been less hysterical but equally dishonest. Continue reading “The Orwellian defenestration of David Ward”

Walter Wolfgang speaks about fake accusations against Ken Livingstone

Walter Wolfgang, Former member of Labour NEC, speaks about fake accusations against Ken Livingstone

 

Walter Wolfgang, a 93 year-old survivor of the Holocaust, speaks of his deep regret after the Labour Party National Compliance Committee finds Ken Livingstone guilty of putting the party into disrepute by his comments about specific acts of collaboration between the Nazi regime and Zionist organisations during the 1930s.

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