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Special report: A day of anti-Israel hatred at the University of Warwick

This is a cross post from David Collier’s blog Beyond the Great Divide

On Thursday, 4th May, I spent the day at the University of Warwick. Warwick forms part of one of my favourite areas of the UK. Close enough to visit from London in a day, and containing both Warwick castle and Shakespeare’s town, Stratford upon-Avon. As is proving to be a recurring theme, the romantic relationship I have with the country of my birth is being torn apart piece by piece. This is my report:

The conference was a full day event. It did not seem to have been long in the planning. Advertising for the event suddenly appeared about two weeks ago and I only saw the event promoted via social media on some university related Facebook pages, and of course, on the pages of the local anti-Israel activist groups.

Logistically , the conference was made up of three panels, three speakers in each and a final ‘keynote’ conversation between a lawyer/activist at an anti-Israel NGO and a Palestinian legal academic. Apart from the final keynote, each academic would present a ‘paper’ and have 15-20 minutes each to speak. Each of the four sessions was chaired by a University of Warwick academic. Fifteen participants in total. ‘Coincidentally’, all four of the chairs (Sara Salem, Alice Panepinto, Teodora Todorova & Nicola Pratt) are all University of Warwick academics who have engaged in anti-Israel activism.

The room was small, attendance peaked at about 45 people. Fifteen participants, alongside a few other organisers. A small number of other Warwick academics were present. Fifteen or so activists from the local Leamington Spa and Warwick Palestine groups also turned up, to have their fetish fed. Perhaps a handful of ‘others’. There was not much of a student presence at all.

A second-rate conference

Because of my experience, I am probably more capable of rating a university conference than most. This one was bad. The organisation was weak, most of the speakers were dire, the time keeping was woeful. Then there was an issue with sound. Audience members not at the very front were left lip-reading, as entire speeches were almost unheard. Several times attendees had to remind people to speak up. A microphone was eventually deployed and even then only partially used. In the final session, in exasperation, one delegate commented that it was like watching people have a private conversation without being able to hear them. Just so people do not think this it is personal:

Warwick unorganised event

For me, as I sat near the front, the sound wasn’t as big a problem as the time-keeping. Almost none of the speakers kept to time, and not a single ‘Chair’ proved capable of maintaining control. In a conference that is built around a tight schedule, this results in compromise. So what the entire audience lost was the opportunity to ask a lot of questions. Every single session over-ran and every single session had the Q&A element cut back to a bare minimum. As nobody in the audience challenged any of the central themes, perhaps this is an empty complaint. But this was a university event that was to present a deluge of lies to an audience, at the very least it should have ring-fenced the opportunity to challenge, and if necessary reduce the amount of time that lies could be propagated. Instead it operated the other way around.

Discrimination

Shortly before the event began, at just after 11:00am, I was approached by someone who seemed to view me with suspicion. I was on my phone. Others in the room were also on their phones, but only I was approached. I was asked if I was ‘recording something’, I said no. Shortly afterwards, the event began and everyone was told recordings were not permitted. This is a new and sweeping tactic at anti-Israel events.

I saw others around me taking photographs as the day progressed. Nobody was challenged. Some had MacBooks open and may even have been filming. Nobody bothered to check. One of the university security men sat directly behind me. But I still wasn’t sure if I had been identified. Then, at the first break, ‘War on Want’, Senior Campaigns Officer, Rivka Barnard said ‘hello David’ firmly, as she walked passed. Although this a sign that the work I do has a real impact, it also meant they knew who I was.

Then in the afternoon, I took a photo of a slide that was of interest to me. I heard whispering behind me and after a short while, the security man informed me that he had been told to request I delete that photo. The instruction in the morning had mentioned recording, not photos, and several people had been taking images all day. The request was firm but polite, and as a researcher who never seeks to cause trouble, I immediately followed the request.

I was in effect the ‘unwanted’ in the room. And treated as such. This discrimination is becoming more and more frequent. At UCL recently I had been forced to stand up and openly accuse the organisers of blatantly singling out Jewish people for ‘special monitoring’. I am a Jew, inside the University of Warwick, and for whatever reason, I was singled out. Whether it was because of my religion, my background or my beliefs, I cannot say, but it is 100% accurate to suggest this was blatant discrimination on unacceptable grounds. An unfortunate disease that is spreading and going unchecked and unchallenged by university authorities.

The University of Warwick has form

It isn’t as if the University of Warwick doesn’t have form. Speaking to two Jewish students I had arranged to meet on campus, quickly highlighted how intimidated they feel at times. They do not feel intimidated because there are so many ‘haters’, but because small aggressive groups have ‘taken control’. Looking further afield, there is the interesting and relevant case of Smadar Bakovic.

Israeli student, Bakovic, who was studying for a Masters at the university, was having her dissertation supervised by academic activist Nicola Pratt. Bakovic felt uncomfortable with an anti-Israel activist supervising her, and complained. The complaints were ignored, her final mark didn’t match expectation and Bakovic appealed. The work was eventually reworked, re-marked and Bakovic obtained a distinction, with a score 11 points higher than the original. Bakovic is also a case that highlights how a student at the university felt politically intimidated when studying. It is highly relevant to this particular report, because Nicola Pratt was present throughout the event I attended, asked several questions and was chair of the final session.

In Pratt’s feedback for Bakovic was this sentence “Bakovic had a tendency to adopt Israeli/Zionist narratives as though they were uncontested facts”. Given the one sided nature of the conference I saw, and the tendency, indeed compulsion, to adopt the anti-Israel narrative as an uncontested fact, one wonders whether Ms Pratt wouldn’t give herself and this conference a big fat fail.

Then, last year, student Aysegul Gurbuz who had wanted to be the ethnics minority officer on the Warwick campus, was found to have posted several deeply antisemitic tweets:

At the time, Gurbuz was part of the ‘Friends of Palestine’ society on campus. Also last year there was a successful attempt to derail and cancel a pro-Israel event because “inviting Israeli officials to speak on campus ignores Palestinian calls for solidarity”. Like in other universities where this form of ‘red fascism’ has taken hold, the demand for free speech only operates one way. Dissenters are intimidated into silence.

Recently the university ‘noted‘ no further antisemitic incidents despite a growth of complaints elsewhere. This is hardly surprising on a campus that intimidates. Most research on abuse of any kind, suggests intimidation and fear, invariably results in under-reported cases of abuse. Congratulations then to the University of Warwick, on successfully silencing those victims I spoke to.

The activists meeting

As I viewed the program it became clear that this was ‘activist driven’ rather than ‘academically driven’. The themes listed just as they are in an anti-Israel recruitment event. It was to prove far worse however, than even I had feared.

When the introductory remarks began, we were told not to record the event. As it turned out this meant no photos either. This is a direct import from the regional anti-Israel activist groups, who have been harmed by having disturbing incidents during the events, come back to haunt them. Because of this, those groups seek to ‘control the flow of information’. As the activists on campus and activists off campus effectively are the same group of people, we now see this attempt to ‘control the flow of information’ infest academic grounds. I am at an ‘academic conference’ and I am not allowed even to take a photograph.

So those activists who used university funds to put together this event, got up to speak about how wonderful it is that their university gave them such support. Several of these people, with backgrounds from nations that truly persecute their own citizens, were all clearly happy, that they could have a whole day of ‘paid for’ Israel hate. To celebrate a free speech that they deny to others. To talk of difficult debate, where they have no intention of debating at all.

Teodora Todorova was one of the organisers. I have no idea what Teodora’s underlying motive is. I do know, like other activists such as Hilary Aked, the activism pre-dates the academic fetish with Israel. This is how Todorova’s bio ran, when she wrote anti-Israel articles for Ceasefire Magazine in 2011:

“Teodora Todorova is a writer, political activist and aspiring critical theorist.”

So now, she is an activist at university. She was one of the central figures behind this conference. I have heard from elsewhere that Teodora is trying to create anti-Israel networks on campus. As she speaks, she translates that activism into academia:

“we hope that this will be the first of a series of events, that are going to create a network in Warwick”.

Panel one: from revisionist history to outright lies

The Warwick conference began and perhaps the role of the first panel was to provide some context. Peter Shambrook took to the floor. Shambrook’s expertise was originally Syria, but for several years, he has been part of the Balfour Project. He wants the UK to apologise for the Balfour Declaration. Like many modern historians, Shambrook seems to have been selective with his interpretations. Anti-Israel activism is proving fertile ground for those who wish to rewrite history. Simply piece together carefully selected snippets, insert your own prejudice and voila! For instance on two occasions he stated that the McMahon / Hussein correspondence categorically included Palestine. This from his own website on the matter:

“There has been much disagreement as to whether this promise included Palestine. ”

So from an academic perspective, this type of acknowledgement might have added a certain professionalism to the occasion. No such luck however, Shambrook is an activist pushing for an apology against a ticking clock. Like a football fan discussing a possible penalty appeal when his team is losing, Shambrook’s history only operates in favour of one narrative.

Shambrook’s suggestion that the Balfour Declaration was little more than a bribe is refuted by the simple fact that if this were the case, there would be absolutely no reason for the British to go ahead with it once payment had been made. Shambrook cannot have the British as being so vile and nasty as to renege on a concrete deal with the Arabs, and then have them unable to do the same to the Jews. It is such a weak argument. As is the suggestion that it was about seeking Jewish influence on the US, months after the US had already entered the conflict.

He also trips up over himself as he describes Zionist connections with British officials, lamenting that the Palestinians had no such influence. At this point in time, the entire notion of ‘Palestinian Arab’ is farcical in historical terms. He walks down the road that desperately attempts to squeeze independent Palestinian identity into a pre-Zionist world. In truth, as I said, one can write history such as this whichever way your own bias leans. Shambrook wasted little time before doing so.

Then came Heba Youssef from Brighton University. Yet another Muslim who for whatever reason only has eyes for Israel. Youssef began with a history entirely removed from context, implying through omission, that the Jewish immigrants all came from Europe and only came on mass after the Holocaust. When discussing the situation at the time, she said that the Zionist leaders “were not interested in cooperation” with the Arabs. One wonders what books she reads. In truth, the Arabs had resisted all attempts at co-operation with both the British and the Jews, and for thirty years the darkening Zionist attitude had been forged by Arab violence.

Youssef went on to show exactly how easily the anti-Israeli cause has been able to infect truth with absolute distortion. Heba discussed the 1947 Anglo-American committee of Inquiry into Palestine. This historically was part of the final throw of the dice by the British, before they turned the problem of the mandate over to the UN. Heba chose to focus on one member of the team, Bartley Crum, and quoted highly racist comments from a book he had written in 1947.

This is the way it is done. You find one man, one quote, one event, and then spend your time talking solely about this. In this manner, you avoid the central issues. You make one man guilty, and by extension cast guilt on an entire movement, people, nation. The essence of the anti-Israel strategy.

When during the Q&A, she was asked if that particular case study was representative of the people on the committee. Her answer was ‘no’. Then why waste everyone’s time? Simply absurd.

Then the final speaker on panel one was James Eastwood from QMU. Eastwood was disturbing. I have no idea what drove James down this road, beyond being unfortunate enough to engage with politics at SOAS. James wanted to focus on racism inside Israel. Eastwood was also unfortunate enough to have anti-Israel activist Laleh Khalili as his supervisor. Remembering that this is an academic in charge of educating our youth, I found these comments on Khalili’s social media page:

Laleh KhaliliLinks to 9/11 truth sites, and claiming it is ‘plausible’ Baghdadi is a Mossad agent (and therefore by extension, ISIS and their attacks become Mossad actions). Stunning.

But Eastwood no longer needs guidance. He is fully equipped to make stuff up all by himself. His paper focused on ‘anti-Mizrahi’ racism, looking at the friction that can still exist in part between ‘European Jews’ and ‘Arab Jews’. This was the first of several talks during the event that proves it is about Israel and not Palestine. As Hamas and Fatah are still locked in a 10 year civil conflict, as Palestinian prisoners still need factional separation in Jail, as clan warfare in PA areas can kill more Palestinians than the conflict with Israel, Eastwood talks about low level racism in Israeli society. Racism that has a mirror in most nations in the west.

As someone who is married to an Israeli Jew of Egyptian / Moroccan descent, I can only imagine as Eastwood rambles on that he is talking about a different planet. At one point he used an image of a left-wing protest in Tel Aviv against border police. The girl on the left in the photo (sorry, university rules dictate I was not permitted to capture evidence of their lies) did not seem to be of east European Ashkenazi stock. As if Mizrahi Jews cannot engage in a Tel Aviv protest. Yet this is the way it was presented in the talk. Ashkenazi v Mizrahi.

He goes on as only an activist can. Using the Lior Azaria shooting as a baseline he said that “incidents such as the Azaria shooting are happening week in, week out”. Nonsense.

When discussing social mobility and the way the army is used to facilitate it, he suddenly claims this is the reason Arabs are not forced to do military service. To restrict their social mobility. This is an activist talking. A propagandist. Not an academic. At one point, someone asked Eastwood to translate ‘back into Hebrew’ a specific word. Eastwood was unable.

At the break I asked James if he speaks Hebrew. He ‘gets by’. I point out that must be an enormous impediment to conducting this type of research. He says he cannot scan, nor is he comfortable reading Hebrew newspapers. Yet he has the arrogance to deliver a paper on something so nuanced, so intimately Israeli, whilst possessing only his inherent bias. Can you imagine someone looking at the relationship between Geordies and Scousers without a good command of English?

I also asked him about the accusation that Israel restricts Arabs from joining the army because of social mobility. When alone he admitted that security was the number one issue. When I asked why he hadn’t mentioned it, he mumbled something about context. I asked him if it were not true that Arabs could (and do) volunteer. More mumbling. He then said he believed Israel would reject the Arabs from army service if they did so in numbers (that’s just his ignorant blind bias talking). These weren’t the worst parts of his speech though, and that deserves a section all of its own.

The vile Jew hating lies at Warwick

James Eastwood brought to the room the image on the left. Using a Haaretz article based on a Channel two news piece, Eastwood was about to engage in a vile attack on Israeli society. An Israeli, Luna Dayan, dressed up her grandson as Azaria for Purim. Within the context of the talk by Eastwood on Ashkenazi to Mizrahi racism, the suggestion was made that this image, is of an Ashkenazi Jew doing a ‘black face’. Or as Eastwood put it

“It is clear that this child has been given a black face, basically”

Audible gasps rose from the audience as this was pointed out. Put aside the politics. The Azaria shooting has nothing to do with the way this image was used to smear Israeli society as a whole. There are several claims being made here at the same time. That the child is not a Mizrahi Jew himself, that his family holds racist views, and that the face paint, was indeed placed on the child’s face to make him resemble a dark Mizrahi Jew.

It seemed pretty obvious to me that the face paint was just a harmless part of the fancy dress. A simple internet search turns up 1000’s of images of children with such ‘dirt’ on their face. None of them one expects, are Ashkenazi Jews pretending to be Mizrahi. But I wanted more, because from the image, the grandmother doesn’t look Ashkenazi either. So I searched for Luna Dayan online and in an exchange yesterday (6th May) I sought to find the truth (that by the way, is what is called research. Something of which Warwick activist academics do not seem to be capable).

Luna Dayan is in fact a Jew of Turkish / Kurdish origin. One child married an Iraqi Jew. I prefer to think of them all as Israelis, but if you really want to play that game, the grandchildren, including the child in the photo are a mix of Turkish, Iraqi and Kurdish.

Iraqis and Kurds and Turks all living together as one happy family. Imagine that. Only in Israel of course. Tolerance and equality that we should all wish was mirrored throughout the rest of the entire middle east as it burns in violence.

Then to the fundamental question that I put to this Israeli ‘Mizrahi’ family, why put colour on his face? Luna Dayan’s answer: “to make his fancy dress look like an active combat soldier. It is part of the costume”. She said it in Hebrew of course, but I translated to English for Eastwood’s benefit.

Busted.

Panel two ‘stupidity as plague’.
israel identity crisisThe second panel at Warwick was almost a complete waste of time. I also cannot go over every distortion without writing a book. The first speaker, Doaa Hammoudeh from the University of Oxford, provided human interest stories from East Jerusalem. This one of the stronger anti-Israel strategies emotionally. I am absolutely certain that hundreds of ‘unfair’ stories can be found on a regular basis. The underlying assumptions of course are that Israel is responsible for the conflict and that if it lowers security, Israelis will not be slaughtered in terrorist attacks.

Detailed comment on the Hammoudeh speech is difficult, because I stand against unverifiable oral testimony. Slides were also used. Once again university policy regarding photographs restricted my ability to take what was being taught home with me. One of the slides was the propaganda map on the left. It claims that Israeli Arabs are ‘barred’, from living in 68% of all towns in Israel. Visibly full of omission and distortion. Given I am inside a university, it seems absurd they should deliberately try to limit your ability to challenge. I am left being unable to verify the statements of people who are activists, biased and who seem to deliberately distort information.

We are also dealing with oral stories. Many of these may be fabricated, exaggerated. Additionally, one could just as easily take human interest tragedies from any town in the UK, and use them to illustrate just how unfair UK society is.

During the Q&A, Hammoudeh was asked if there was a specific NGO dealing with the types of cases she had highlighted. She didn’t know. As is typical of this new form of activist academia, there is no depth to the knowledge. How can Hammoudeh not know, if there is an NGO dealing precisely with her area of expertise. It seemed so false and artificial.

Moran Mandelbaum was the token Israeli. And no, it doesn’t count if you find an Israeli that agrees with you. It no more lets you avoid accusations of bias than carefully selecting extremist opinion in UK politics. Mandelbaum provided another absurd narrative. Given the fate of gays throughout the Middle East, he chose to discuss Israeli gays and nationalism. Surreal. Mandelbaum turns Zionism into a living breathing conspiratorial ideology that ‘uses’ the gay community. The racist generalisations that are accepted here, of Israelis straight and gay are simply astounding. Aren’t people just people?

Finally Rivka Barnard. Rivka was probably the most accomplished speaker of the day. It is what she does for a living. Why a War on Want activist was present, only the conference organisers know. When I first met Rivka Barnard at the University of Kent, she spoke about justice whilst not even knowing that the Arabs had rejected partition in 1947. I am always amazed at a sense of justice that has so little regard for facts. I imagine she knows now, having learnt via the propagandist’s handbook, how to navigate that little minefield.

In truth I had little problem with Barnard’s comments. Barnard is only effective if you believe Israel and the UK shouldn’t trade in arms with each other. Given the nature of our mutual enemies, I see the cooperation as a good thing for both. Let us have more of it.

Then, suddenly during the Q&A, an exchange between activists Barnard and Eastwood, and talk of BDS (the movement boycotting Israel) enters the room. Suddenly, the School of Law, School of Politics and Faculty of Social Sciences have funded a BDS recruitment event on campus.

Panel three – the innocent prisoners

The final panel at Warwick was vicious. It dealt with ‘resistance’ and prisoners. Not a single mention of terrorism. Even Hamas and Hezbollah were mentioned by name, but still no mention of terrorism. From the talks given, you would believe that all the prisoners inside Israel are simply ‘political prisoners’, who shouldn’t be in jail. We first hear from Sahar Francis, Director of Addameer. Francis manages to speak without mentioning the violence that placed many of these prisoners in jail.

Then we hear from Awol Allo from Keele University. Allo talks about Barghouti and his trial. Allo draws some very problematic parallels both with Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa. Again, there is no real mention of violence.

There was an absolute failure at this event to differentiate between a humanitarian argument that prisoners may have claims to better treatment, and the barbaric activity that placed some of these prisoners in jail. Support for one element, crossed over into support for the other. How can you talk about prisoners in Israel without ever mentioning the violence?

Ashjan Ajour from Goldsmiths University was the final speaker on the panel. She addresses the current hunger strike:

“But I see the beauty in it. Freedom fighters who would die for life and for freedom and for dignity. It is beautiful”
Meet ‘freedom fighter’ Abbas al-Sayyid. Among other bloody massacres, al-Sayyid, was involved in the Passover attack on the Park Hotel in Netanya that killed thirty civilians as they sat for the Seder meal. ‘Freedom fighter’ Abbas al-Sayyid is one of the hunger strikers.

Hassan Salama, is another ‘freedom fighter’ on hunger strike. Salama was one of those, whilst Israel tried to make peace with Fatah during the Oslo process, that helped to slaughter innocent Israelis in the street. “Two of the attacks coordinated by Salama included the deadly bombings on the number 18 bus in Jerusalem and one carried out at the Ashkelon Junction in February 1996. Together, these attacks caused the death of 46 Israelis and injured around 100. In total, Salama was given to ten life sentences for the deaths of 67 Israelis.”

There is no excuse, none, for anybody inside a UK university to hear people like this referred to as ‘freedom fighters’. Absolutely sickening.

It is all about Israel stupid.

Then there was a final discussion at the Warwick event that agreed Israel is a Settler Colonial enterprise. No dissent in the room. And agreed that Israel is an Apartheid state. No dissent in the room. No wait, there is dissent in the conversation, Israel is actually worse than Apartheid. That’s better. Now there is no dissent. Applause. We can all go home.

This was a vile attack on the most liberal nation in the Middle East. A nation far better to *all* its citizens that the nations that some of the organisers are closely attached to (but do not protest against).

One of the organisers was contacted a day or two before the event. She claimed it was a ‘balanced’ event. This theme of supposed ‘balance’ was officially echoed by the university who responded to an email complaint:

‘A balanced discussion of the issues’. A talk about the history of the conflict, of the issues of the day, even of prisoners, and there was no mention of Arab violence against Jews at all. But then, this was an activist event that spoke about gays in Israel, without mentioning what happens to Gays in Gaza. It detailed racism in Israel, without mentioning racism in the PA areas. It used the word Apartheid, without explaining how a single Jew was not left in the West Bank in 1949.

How can you have a conference on ‘Palestine’ without ever looking at the internal disputes and violence that have torn Palestinian society into pieces. Without discussing the question of just who represents them politically.

This conference at Warwick even mentioned prisoners for 90 minutes, without ever suggesting any of them had ever done anything wrong. In fact, it turned everything on its head and called people who orchestrated massacres of civilians ‘freedom fighters’. It fed blatant lies to those who were listening. Not a single person in the room vocally opposed the idea that Israel is an Apartheid, Colonial Settler state. Balance? At this event in Warwick? You are having a laugh.

It was time to go home.

The University of Warwick is a ‘top 10 UK university’. Truly frightening. Everyone in that room was fed lies, and every single person that attended left the University of Warwick more stupid, more entrenched and more ‘radicalised’, than they had been before they arrived. The audience, rather than step towards understanding, became an additional part of an already complex problem. This is what the university funds were used for. For funding an activist meeting that further alienated Jewish students on Warwick’s campus. Shameful.