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SOAS votes for an academic boycott of Israel

The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has (or has had) various links with individuals and regimes which might be considered dubious.  Here Student Rights reports on its £755,000 gift from the Saudi royal family and on the inclusion of Yusuf al-Qaradawi on the editorial board of SOAS journal Quranic Studies.  The Guardian reported on its links with Libya, in particular with al-Fateh University, here. This report details a whole string of further gifts and associations.

SOAS also has links with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (about 12% of whose students are Palestinians/Arab Israelis).

It’s links such as these which supporters of Friday’s vote for a boycott of Israel presumably want to sever – and 73% were in favour of the BDS resolution, just 27% against.  The referendum was open to both academic and support staff as well as students. I understand that it has no binding or legal force, but is obviously a significant symbolic gesture.

Like some others commenting on the result, I think the boycott’s opponents haven’t always used the right arguments. Here’s an extract from the London Student report:

The “No” camp have focused on how a boycott could cut off contact with Israeli academics who speak out over the status quo, the alternative ways in which Israel could be challenged over its actions toward Palestinians and the ways in which the Students’ Union has (they say unfairly) backed the boycott.

I have no problem with Israeli academics who speak out against the status quo or alternative methods of challenging Israel over its policies. But there are more fundamental reasons to oppose an academic boycott – in the context of SOAS I might single out the ’singling out’ argument.  Here’s part of the Wikipedia entry on the 3D test of antisemitism.

If a person criticizes Israel and only Israel on certain issues, but chooses to ignore similar situations conducted by other countries he is performing a double standard policy against Israel.[8] The implementation of a different moral standard for Jews and Israel compared to the rest of the world, just like the Delegitimization claim, discriminates against a specific group and is labeled as antisemitism. Similar arguments were made by Thomas Freidman, claiming that Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movements that ignore the situation in SyriaSaudi Arabia and Iran are hypocrite and antisemitic.[11] On the same matter, Freidman has also written that the “criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction – out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East – is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.”

Richard Millett reported here on Tuesday’s pre-vote debate:

Three panelists argued for an academic boycott and three argued against. However, the latter three didn’t argue against on the basis that a boycott is obviously discriminatory and racist. Instead, they argued that it would merely be “ineffective”.

David Landau, a SOAS student who was one of those on the panel against a boycott, was sincerely concerned that such a boycott could spell the end of Hebrew teaching at SOAS.

Another panelist, a SOAS lecturer against the boycott, confided afterwards that she really didn’t want to be on the panel as she was concerned she would lose the all-important objectivity in the eyes of her students. She felt she had no choice though.

It seems that Dr. Elian Weizman, another SOAS lecturer, had no such concerns about being on the panel. She argued that Israel should be boycotted but, then again, she is a long-standing campaigner against Israel’s existence.

One of the reasons I am opposed to the BDS movement is that it fails to specify exactly what conditions would have to be met for the boycott to be halted.  This might be another example of that ‘motte and bailey’ bait and switch debating technique.  Complaints about settlement expansion or specific injustices against Palestinians are the ‘motte’ – these are arguments that might have some force even with Israel’s supporters. And here, not that you need reminding, is the ‘bailey’, the true end goal for many:

at one point the auditorium went hysterical with approval when a female student announced: “Bashar Assad will go, the Zionist state will go!”

Richard ends his report with a good challenge to the boycotters from the floor:

One of the four Jewish Society members then asked why, in light of the recent judgement that the Palestinian Authority and the PLO were complicit in terrorist attacks inside Israel, SOAS isn’t considering a boycott of Palestinian universities?

This question was a bit too difficult for pro-boycott panelist Amira Nassim, President of the SOAS Palestine Society, who could only respond that the PA was funded by Israel and so nothing more could be expected from them.

It was a great question though.

Here’s a depressing piece which appeared in the JC a few days ago.  Universities’ current preoccupation with ’safe space’ may seem ridiculous. But the tendency to want to wrap students in cotton wool only serves to highlight the outrageousness of some the techniques employed by anti-Israel activists.

SOAS Jewish Society president Moselle Paz Solis said apartheid week had left students who support Israel feeling “isolated”.

“We are too scared to go anywhere so we walk in a group to the station. People come up to me and say I heard you hate Palestinians,” said the 21-year-old Guatemalan.

And while ‘trigger warnings’ are ubiquitous on the internet – somehow it’s just fine to brandish imitation firearms on campus.

Net neutrality wins

The US Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday (three Democrats approving, two Republicans dissenting) to regulate the Internet as a public utility and to adopt a policy of net neutrality for broadband.

The new rules… are intended to ensure that no content is blocked and that the Internet is not divided into pay-to-play fast lanes for Internet and media companies that can afford it and slow lanes for everyone else. Those prohibitions are hallmarks of the net neutrality concept.
The F.C.C.’s yearlong path to issuing rules to ensure an open Internet precipitated an extraordinary level of political involvement, from grass-roots populism to the White House, for a regulatory ruling. The F.C.C. received four million comments, about a quarter of them generated through a campaign organized by groups including Fight for the Future, an advocacy nonprofit.

Credit also goes to expat Brit John Oliver, who made a brilliant (and brilliantly funny) case for net neutrality on his HBO TV show, attracting more than eight million views on YouTube. (Tom Wheeler, the FCC chair about whom Oliver expressed skepticism, voted with the majority.)

The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust’s statement on Cage

It is being reported that the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust is under investigation by the voluntary sector watchdog in connection with its funding of Cage. A recent statement from the JRCT seems to send out contradictory signals.

27 February 2015 As a Quaker trust, we reject and condemn all violence, including all violence for political ends. We believe that building sustainable security requires patient, long-term work to address the underlying causes of conflict and injustice.

Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust has previously funded Cage to promote and protect human rights. We believe that they have played an important role in highlighting the ongoing abuses at Guantanamo Bay and at many other sites around the world, including many instances of torture.

The Trust does not necessarily agree with every action or statement of any group that we have funded. We believe that Cage is asking legitimate questions about security service contact with those who have gone on to commit high-profile and horrific acts of violence, but this does not in any way absolve any such individual from responsibility for such criminal acts.

The first paragraph is essentially throat clearing –  it would be peculiar if they thought or said anything different. The second paragraph, on the other hand, reads like the prelude to a ‘but’.  The fact they say it ‘has played’ not ‘plays’ an important part in highlighting abuses hints at a break.

But the reference to not being in full agreement with all groups they fund, by contrast, suggests a more defensive position, as does the first half of the final sentence. Yet the last point, of course, implies a criticism of Cage’s widely condemned attempt to blame the security services for Mohammed Emwazi’s murderous brutality.

Whatever message it is trying to convey, the JRCT must have been confronted with ample evidence of the very many reasons not to support Cage, since it started to fund the ‘human rights organisation’ several years ago. Here’s what their spokesman had to say back in 2010:

“We have got a Muslim community in Britain which feels highly alienated and the people who in our view are able to build bridges and make links to those young Muslims are people like Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners.

At least now – due to the widespread revulsion at Cage’s latest comments – more people are realizing just how despicable they – and their funders – are.

Gene adds:

Roberta Moore found guilty of assault

Even far right activists have been keen to distance themselves from Roberta Moore of the JDL:

In February an EDL spokesman admitted Ms Moore’s “gung-ho attitude” had “caused a great deal of trouble and unrest”.

A new group, the Jewish Defence League of Great Britain, has now also distanced itself from Ms Moore

Gavin Williams, who claims to be a non-Jewish former administrator of [The EDL Jewish Divsion's] Facebook group, said he had withdrawn his support over concerns about Ms Moore’s conduct.

He said: “What is being posted is mainly to do with Muslims. I told Roberta that the extremism had to stop. I’ve walked away because I don’t want to be associated with it.”

Now Moore, together with Robert de Jonge, has been found guilty of assault after they attacked two men at a Palestine literary festival last September – Moore used ‘farb-gel’ against Andy Simons and Simon Assaf, and de Jonge apparently rushed onto the stage and assaulted Simons. This, obviously, is not a good way to deal with people you don’t want to hear.  Both Moore and de Jonge will be sentenced in March.

On equality and feminism

Writing in Left Foot Forward, Charlotte Rachael Proudman draws a distinction between ‘equalists’ and ‘feminists’ – a distinction which might be disputed by those who identify as ‘equality feminists’.  She thinks women should seek to change the world of work rather than conform to the ‘male status quo’.

I am a feminist and I do not strive for equality. I support liberation. The defenders of equality espouse moderate feminist principles: equal pay for equal work, equal opportunity with no special considerations i.e. positive discrimination, failure is down to the individual, and above all, women must embrace hierarchal work structures where the job always comes first. Equality takes the male status quo as the standard to which women aspire.

Proudman campaigns on some vital issues, FGM and forced marriage, but her binary vision – feminists versus equalists – seems a bit distorted.  Rather than conforming to a ‘masculine’ workplace model, both equality feminists and men’s rights activists are inclined to support enhanced paternity leave rights.  Proudman’s alarming description of male working environments – ‘a repugnant world’ – lacks nuance.  For example she gloomily notes:

The attitude of the legal profession to equality is best shown by the number of women Attorney Generals over the years: one women in contrast to 202 men.

As the office stretches right back to the thirteenth century, this doesn’t seem the best statistic to use in order to demonstrate an ongoing problem.  Here’s an alternative perspective on ‘the attitude of the legal profession to equality.’ Of the 108 High Court Judges, 21 are women.  Of the 20 most recently appointed, 8 are women.

Positive discrimination is quite a complex topic, but I think Proudman is wrong to assume or suggest, as she does here, that it is the only way to achieve equality.

Here, a contradiction emerges, equalists support 50: 50 men and women in institutions but women will not be recruited in large numbers because ‘equality’ laws have made quotas illegal.

But according to this site, 61.5% of aspiring solicitors offered training contracts in 2013 were female.

Proudman makes sweeping generalisations about men:

It is impossible to alter male spheres, which are resistant to outside interference, because women are a minority that could be cut out at anytime, and men have vested interests in preserving the status quo.

and makes them seem hypocritical and inconsistent by treating them as a monolithic group:

Men plead both equality and difference when it is to their benefit. They argue equality when they want paternity leave, and difference when they want to be paid more prize money for sports.

In some sectors and regions young women’s earnings outstrip those of men.  However, over the course of their careers women’s pay has a tendency to fall behind.  This is largely due to childcare responsibilities. Of course sometimes there is active discrimination or prejudice, and more might be done to further improve opportunities and choices for both women and men juggling parenthood and work.  Improvements would probably lessen the gender pay gap. But in part the pay gap can be explained by the fact that some women choose not to, in Proudman’s words, ‘embrace hierarchal work structures where the job always comes first’, and instead put life/work balance before career ambitions.

Report into Antisemitism: how many Jewish people no longer feel safe in Britain

This is a cross-post from Parliament Street by Stephen Hoffman

Stephen Hoffman, Parliament Street’s Director of Middle East Studies, looks at rising antisemitism in the UK. His report argues that current tensions are making some Jewish people feel like the UK is no longer their home as they do not feel safe. As a country committed to religious freedom and tolerance, this cannot be allowed to continue.

The report focuses on the new type of antisemitism, where Israel has become the Jew of the family of nations. Whilst the majority of criticism of Israel is not antisemitic, if you replaced the word Israel for Jew in some of the critiques of Israel, the antisemitic nature of the criticism would be revealed.


Throughout the paper there are some shocking statistics revealed, including:

1.     70% of UK Jews says that antisemitism has grown in the last five years.

2.     Three in five observant Jews say avoid public displays of Jewishness.

3.     One in five British people believe Jews’ loyalty to Israel makes them less loyal to the UK.

4.     1200 antisemitic recorded incidents in 2014, more than double the amount of recorded antisemitic incidents in 2013.

5.     In the past three years there has been a ten fold increase in the amount of antisemitic comments recorded on social media platforms.

What the report calls for:

1.    Consideration should be given to revealing the names of those who anonymously post antisemitc comments online.

2.    The creation of a taskforce to reveal and respond to online antisemitism. The point being to try and make it socially unacceptable.

3.    Stop funding of all Islamist groups.

Read the paper here

Least reassuring news of the week

AP reports (since updated):

Boris Nemtsov, a charismatic former deputy prime minister turned Russian opposition leader, was shot and killed in Moscow Saturday, officials said. He was 55.

Nemtsov’s death comes just a day before a planned protest against President Vladimir Putin’s rule. The Kremlin said that Putin will personally oversee the investigation.

Nemtsov was a sharp critic of Putin, assailing the government’s inefficiency, rampant corruption and the Kremlin’s policy on Ukraine, which has strained Russia-West ties to a degree unseen since Cold War times.

Update: The BBC reports:

In a recent interview, Mr Nemtsov had said he feared Mr Putin would have him killed because of his opposition to the war in Ukraine.

On the one hand, it’s hard to believe Vladimir Putin would approve something so utterly brazen. On the other hand, we are talking about Vladimir Putin.

Update: It’s heartbreaking to watch this BBC report from 1997.:

What might have been…

The strange and disturbing suicide of Tom Schweich

As a former resident of the St. Louis, Missouri, area (from the late 1970s to the early 1990s), the news that Republican state auditor and candidate for governor Tom Schweich shot himself to death on Thursday was mysterious and disturbing.

Learning about some of the events preceding the suicide perhaps made it slightly less mysterious but vastly more disturbing.

Schweich had earlier confided in [St. Louis] Post-Dispatch Editorial Page Editor Tony Messenger that he believed that [Missouri Republican party Chairman John] Hancock had deliberately spread disinformation about Schweich’s religion. That topic was what Schweich wanted to discuss with reporters for the Post-Dispatch and the Associated Press Thursday.

In several conversations via text and phone, Schweich told Messenger that Hancock mentioned to people in passing that Schweich was Jewish. Schweich wasn’t Jewish. He was a member of the Church of St. Michael & St. George, an Episcopal congregation in Clayton.

Schweich told Messenger he believed the mentions of his faith heritage were intended to harm him politically in a gubernatorial primary in which many Republican voters are evangelical Christians. He said his grandfather was Jewish, and that he was “very proud of his connection to the Jewish faith.”

Hancock hasn’t denied that he may have mentioned to people his mistaken belief that Schweich was Jewish, but he has adamantly denied it was intended as a smear. He reiterated that position in his email to [Republican] committee members Friday.

“I would like to set the record straight, once and for all,” Hancock wrote. “Until recently, I mistakenly believed that Tom Schweich was Jewish, but it was simply a part of what I believed to be his biography—no different than the fact that he was from St. Louis and had graduated from Harvard Law School.

“While I do not recall doing so, it is possible that I mentioned Tom’s faith in passing during one of the many conversations I have each day. There was absolutely nothing malicious about my intent, and I certainly was not attempting to `inject religion’ into the governor’s race, as some have suggested.”

Of course it’s possible there were other things going on Schweich’s life that led to his suicide. And even if Hancock did try to spread the word that Schweich was Jewish, he may be an asshole, but he can’t be blamed for the death. You can read here what Messenger wrote about his relationship with Schweich, and listen to the phone message Schweich left for him shortly before he shot himself.

I have many good memories of my years in Missouri, but the politics of the state have shifted sharply to the Right since I lived there. In 1978, an anti-union “right to work” amendment on the state ballot was defeated with 60 percent of the vote. Now the only thing preventing Missouri from becoming a “right to work” state is a veto by the Democratic governor of a bill passed by the Republican-controlled legislature.

In 1982 Harriett Woods, an unapologetically liberal Jewish woman, ran as a Democrat for the US Senate against Republican incumbent John Danforth and almost beat him. Two years later she ran for lieutenant governor and won. In 1986 she lost another close race for US Senate.

It seems some things have changed in Missouri since I lived there. And not for the better.

John Rees redux

Oh, look. It’s our old acquaintance John Rees, purged commissar of the Socialist Workers Party, former Respect party leader, founder of the SWP’s low-profile breakaway rival Counterfire and national officer of the Stop the War Coalition, joining CAGE UK’s Asim Qureshi and Cerie Bullivant at a news conference held by what the gullible Associated Press calls the “CAGE human rights charity.”

Rees, of course, was pleased to follow the CAGE line that it was Mohammed Emwasi’s supposedly inhumane treatment by British authorities which led him to become a sadistic, head-sawing murderer. For someone like Rees, what other possible reason could there be?

Judge throws out Nisman’s case against Kirchner, but questions remain

Now that an Argentinian judge has dismissed the charges originally brought by prosecutor Alberto Nisman– that President Cristinia Fernandez de Kirchner and other leading officials tried to cover up evidence of Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires which killed 85 people– there are still some unanswered questions.

–Who killed Alberto Nisman and why?

–What was behind the farcical agreement between Argentina and Iran to establish a “truth commission” to investigate the bombing?

–Will we ever get even close to bringing those responsible for the atrocity to justice?

I’m not optimistic we’ll get satisfactory answers to any of them.