Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Tackling Antisemitism...


BIRMINGHAM university lecturer Susan Blackwell has been writing about a visit she made to Auschwitz. Describing the heaps of shoes she saw, and talking about the transports, Susan, an active campaigner against racism of any sort, and for the rights of the Palestinian people, goes on to explain why she went to the camp

"First, I think, to pay my respects to those who suffered and perished there. To have opportunity to visit Auschwitz and not take it would amount to heaping one more indignity on their heads. Second, I wanted to educate myself: to learn more about the Jewish holocaust, its victims and its perpetrators. And if I'm honest with myself, there was a third reason. I wanted to be able to say: 'I've been there, I've seen the evidence and it's overwhelming.'"

"To whom did I need to say this? Not to myself, certainly: like most English people of my generation I have a father who fought against Nazi Germany and who brought me up to understand why. But increasingly these days I find myself having acrimonious exchanges, usually by email, with people whose messages start by expressing their support for my stand on Palestine and then continue with "I think you ought to read this."

"This" often consists of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which for a document over a hundred years old has weathered remarkably well. It crops up everywhere on the internet, including the weblogs of people who claim to be campaigners for Palestinian rights. I had a graduate student in my office not long ago, a highly intelligent young man who is a member of a socialist party in the UK. He told me in all seriousness that I really ought to read this incredible expose of a world Jewish conspiracy, which was apparently new to him.

The Times of London discredited this document as a forgery as long ago as August 1921, yet it continues to enjoy a wide circulation. I'm told that its Arabic translation is particularly popular, and I recall that it featured prominently in "Horseman without a Horse" screened on Egyptian television in 2002.

Hitler was a great fan of the Protocols, and so are those today who think he got a bad press, such as Ernst Zundel who is currently facing trial in Germany for Holocaust denial. Worryingly, some of my correspondents don't see anything wrong with promoting the writings and websites of people like Zundel or fellow Holocaust deniers David Irving or Paul Eisen. "My enemy's enemy is my friend" seems to be the reasoning: and so these Asian and Arab activists, with no apparent sense of irony let alone shame, send me links to sites with names like "Stormfront" which preach "White Power". And because the Holocaust is used as justification for Jewish emigration to Israel, those who detest what Israel represents feel that justification cannot be allowed to stand.

Let me make myself clear: I do not think there should be any taboo areas for academic research or debate. If genuine historians find, in the course of their work, that the number of Jews who perished was less than six million, then let's hear it. But if they are proper historians they should also be open to the possibility that the real figure was higher. That's why David Irving is not a proper historian: he has an axe to grind and he will look only for the documents which support his revisionist agenda, ignoring, distorting or mistranslating those which do not.

At his failed libel case against Deborah Lipstadt, the judge, Justice Gray, concluded that Irving had "deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence". Irving is now facing trial himself in Austria for two speeches he made in 1989, during which he allegedly claimed there had been no gas chambers at Auschwitz. Well, Mr Irving, if you go there you can stand in one and take a look around. I suggest you do so once they let you out. And while you're at it, please take the president of Iran with you.

You do not have to deny the Holocaust in order to condemn Israel."

Sue Blackwell has taken the fight against antisemitism and Holocaust denial to the Arab media, in the shape of the Egyptian daily al-Ahram. She is taking a broom to sweep away this ideological toxic waste from Europe that has been dumped in the Middle East to poison the wells of politics.
You can read her article at:

...And upsetting "Engage"

(picrured below: Dr. DAVID HIRSH)

Sue Blackwell's decision to take up this issue is all the more valuable because she is someone whose stand for Palestinian rights against Zionist oppression is beyond question.

The Birmingham lecturer was subjected to a sustained hostile campaign by the Union of Jewish Students(UJS) and others, and the University of Birmingham withdrew facilities for her website. Then Sue took responsibility for moving the successful boycott resolution in the Association of University Teachers(AUT), subsequently reversed after an outcry from the UJS and pro-Israel academics, who managed to mobilise people with no previous interest in the union.

The academic boycott call originated with Palestinian, Israeli and Jewish academics, and Susan Blackwell discussed it with people like Haifa's Ilan Pappe (pro-boycott) and Avraham Oz (opposed on tactical grounds though he agreed with criticism of his institution). The AUT resolution dealt specifically with two Israeli universities, Haifa and Bar Ilan, and raised issues about the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, concerning the institutions involvementent with the occupation and oppression. Israeli peace campaigners like Uri Avnery said Bar Ilan, which ran a course for settlers, had brought the boycott on itself.

Nevertheless the anti-boycott campaigners pretended that all Israeli academics and even Jewish students were being threatened with discrimination, and put the word around that Sue Blackwell was an "antisemite".

So will they welcome the evidence that this smear was wrong? Not a bit!
"Engage" a group formed by Goldsmiths College lecturer David Hirsh to oppose the AUT boycott has, to be fair, republished Sue Blackwell's article, albeit introducing it as follows::

"Sue Blackwell, one of the best known figures behind the campaign to blacklist Israeli scientists, academics, teachers, students, musicians and artists,
has written a piece in the Cairo weekly Al-Ahram on antisemitism."


Condemning Holocaust denial and the Protocols is not good enough. Hirsh wants Sue Blackwell to condemn every anti-Jewish or anti-Israel item in Arab media; with which apparently he has an encyclopedic acquaintance. He objects to her telling Arab readers that against Zionism. there stood a Jewish socialist, internationalist tradition, which is just what the Protocols condemns. For him, that is past. "Zionist" is just an abusive term for Jews (so what does the World Zionist Congress do?) You have to accept the legitimacy of the State of Israel or else you are responsible for hatred against all Israelis and Jews.

For some other Zionist contributors to "Engage", none of this is good enough, you have to accept there is an age-old Muslim and Arab hatred of Jews (odd that Jews lived in the Middle East for centuries and never noticed!), for which Palestine/Israel is just an excuse, so it is folly to oppose it, and Sue Blackwell is just trying to make herselfedf look better, whereas we all know...

I've normally got better things to do than debate with people like this, who are rarely if ever to be found combatting real antisemitism (why should they when they think it inevitable?); or, despite their occasional pretensions, making any effort for Middle East peace. But for once I decided to have a go. I wrote:-

Obviously Sue Blackwell can do no right by you. After all, she moved a resolution in the AUT to boycott two Israeli institutions on account of specific issues, and in your book this places her "behind the campaign to blacklist Israeli scientists, academics, teachers, students, musicians and artists".
Presumably you had some arguments against the proposal to boycott Haifa and Bar Ilan, but why trouble with details when you can so much more easily scare the kinder with tales about a completely different and imaginary boycott.

Outside your esteemed circles Sue has been known as an active anti-racist, and anti-fascist, and has also opposed the way some people accommodate with Islamic fundamentalism. But when she makes it her business to take the fight against antisemitism and Holocaust revisionism into the Arab media, plainly this is not satisfying. You would have her responsible for every unpleasantness in the Arab world (does this mean you take responsibility for the Kahamists?) Or are you perhaps worried that if Sue and others succeed in countering antisemitic influences you will have less to point to?

Sue has also challenged the poisonous activity of Israel Shamir and others like him. Her website was exposing Shamir's double-identity as a Swedish antisemite when the stalwarts of UJS were far more interested in closing Sue Blackwell's website. Likewise she has taken on Gilad Atzmon and Paul Eisen, and now taken this fight into Al Ahram. Perhaps Engage would be sorry to lose such useful bogeys. How dare supporters of the Palestinian struggle take up a real fight against antisemitism?! Why, they'll not only make it harder for you to smear them, but people might wonder what responsibility you lot have ever undertaken

This brought a curious response from David Hirsh:-
"Charlie Pottins, please relate to the argument in the post. Of course Sue is in favour of a full academic and cultural boycott of Israel. Don't play games. Relate to the discussion Charlie. And please write in English Charlie, not in Yiddish. This is not a forum for you to perform your anti-Zionist Jewish identity. It is a serious discussion about antisemitism in the British Labour Movement".

Having written in a hurry, without stopping to consider overmuch my choice of words, I could not remember what Yiddish expression I had used (It couldn't have been that obscure because, sadly, I don't know enough Yiddish, just the odd word or so in common use where I came from).

Was it "Kinder" , same as the German, - children? As in kindergarten, or in "Not in front of the kinder"; or as in this case "you can more easily scare the kinder", referring to tales that are told to keep the little ones in line. Had I by chance hit a nerve?

Or is Hirsh's unease with Yiddish, the historic language of the Jewish workers' movement, simply of a piece with his objection to Sue Blackwell telling
al Ahram readers about Jewish socialists' internationalist opposition to Zionism?

Incidentally, I signed my contribution "Charles Pottins", deliberately choosing the formal, because my friends call me Charlie. I'm not aware of having friends in "Engage". I think Dr.Hirsh, or perhaps I should call him "Dr.Deer" is just trying to be patronising.

Anyway, I was angry enough to reply as follows:
So far as I am concerned I was relating to the discussion. Whether I'd call it serious is another matter. As for my language. I'll speak and write how I please. Sorry if my English is not pure enough for you. I thought the old Zionist war on Yiddish had ended, and its a long time since kids were forbidden to use Yiddish in schools in Britain, nowadays you even hear it on telly.

If the odd "foreign" even Yiddish expression grates on your ears, perhaps you should wonder whether it is other people's antisemitism you have problems with.Mind you, I'm no psychologist, not even a sociologist, just a historian.

In other words, heal yourself, Doc.


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