Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fools at Oxford


INVITED:
BNP's Nick Griffin


BARRED: Norman Finkelstein









WHEN the Oxford Union debating society announced it was inviting Holocaust revisionist David Irving, and British National Party leader Nick Griffin, there was naturally the widespread publicity that the organisers wanted.

Anti-racists and minority groups protested, smarmy right-wingers rehearsed their usual jibes that we Lefties don't like free speech, and I felt nostalgic for the days when an expectant crowd outside a lecture theatre at Lancaster was enough to scare the authorities into cancelling a visit by the National Front's Martin Webster, so the waiting police and ambulances could be sent home.

Of course, Oxford is different. The Oxford Union is not some northern university Monday Club. Its members don't need lecturers assuring them of racial superiority. They've known, some of them since prep school, that they are superior, and they have daddy's dosh and their own career prospects to prove it.

But here's a case that shows Oxford students can be sensitive to other's concerns, and listen. It has been brought to my attention by Ginny, an American resident here, who read it in the Jerusalem Post and wondered why it had not made the Guardian or Independent.

Oxford cancels one-state debate
Jonny Paul, Jerusalem Post correspondent
, THE JERUSALEM POST
Oct. 22, 2007
The Oxford University Student Union debating society has been forced to cancel a debate on the Middle East following the withdrawal of the proposers of the motion: "This House believes that one state is the only solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict."
Prof. Avi Shlaim of the university's St. Antony's College at Oxford, and Dr. Ilan Pappe and Dr. Ghada Karmi, both of Exeter University, were due to present the one-state solution at Tuesday's debate.
Norman Finkelstein, formally of De Paul University in Chicago, Peter Tatchall, a gay rights activist, and David Trimble, a former first minister of Northern Ireland, were due to present the case for a two-state solution. Shlaim and Pappe are both Israelis.
When Peace Now-UK co-chair Paul Usiskin saw Finkelstein's name on the team opposing the motion, he expressed concern that "a far-left detractor of Israel" had been chosen to defend the existence of the Jewish state.
He told the Student Union they were "seeking sensation over substance" and were denying a proper and balanced debate.
Following talks with Oxford Union President Luke Tryll, the union decided to drop Finkelstein and invited Usiskin to participate along with Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow of the Middle East program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, who is also Israeli.
Usiskin told The Jerusalem Post that a Jewish student informed him Sunday that the proposers of the one-state solution were disgruntled at his inclusion in the debate and demanding Finkelstein's re-invitation. When this was refused, Shlaim, Pappe and Karmi withdrew from the debate.
"They clearly thought they had it sown up," said Usiskin. "I believe they're desperate for another arena in which to deligitimize Israel, after the failure to begin the academic boycott of Israel - in which all three were key. What they expected was a clear field for a one-state solution as the start of creating that new arena. Those of us who believe in Israel and support a two-state solution remained steadfast and denied them their victory."

Ah yes, I see he mentions the academic boycott issue. Now, didn't its opponents tell us that was a threat to academic freedom, or something?
Seems we won't be hearing that argument again.

I could not help noticing in passing that in a debate concerning the future of Palestine, the organisers had evidently seen fit to only invite one Palestinian, a woman long resident in Britain, among six speakers. Peter Tatchell is a nice fellow and could perhaps introduce the topic of gay rights in Palestine, as he has tried to do on more than one demonstration, but he is not an obvious choice to talk about Palestine and attempts to find a "two states" solution. As for David Trimble -well I suppose we can give the organisers marks for imagination.

Had Afif Safieh still been head of the Palestinian general delegation to the UK, I expect they could have invited him to speak on Northern Ireland. Afif would have made a witty and erudite speaker, but I expect as a diplomat he would have had more sense than to accept the invitation. Still, it is just a debating society, and it seems the speakers are chosen in the hope of putting bums on seats, by gaining publicity, and attracting students to hear a 'clever' celebrity, and be impressed by debating style, rather than listen to experts in the hope of learning something.

More specifically, though, what is striking about this story is that once again the Zionist lobby has succeeded in shutting the door to Professor Norman Finkelstein. This is the Jewish academic who upset the Zionists by denouncing the use they made of the Holocaust (of which his parents were survivors), and was the victim of a concerted campaign to deny him tenure at De Paul University. Having succeeded in pressuring a Catholic University in the United States, are the Zionist witch-hunters going to get away with it at Oxford University?

I've not yet met or had contact with Norman Finkelstein. I do know Paul Usiskin, though. We first met in 2002 at the founding conference of European Jews for Just Peace, in Amsterdam. Usiskin turned up claiming credentials as representing Peace Now-UK, and Rabbis for Human Rights; though he is no rabbi, and when I asked whether Rabbis for Human Rights (who have done some impressive work in Israel and the Occupied Territories) had many supporters in Britain, he was not very forthcoming, still less convincing.

Peace Now UK was set up as an explicitly Zionist group. When some of its leading activists joined with Jewish Socialists and expatriate Israelis to form Just Peace UK as a campaigning alliance they were soon replaced in a coup directed by the Zionist back-room boys, and disowned for associating with dangerous "anti-Zionists" . So it was a nice surprise when one of the replacements turned up at Amsterdam, took part in the conference, mingled amiably enough with other delegates, and voted with us for the final resolution, which committed European Jews for Just Peace to campaign for:
". . .an immediate end of the occupation of the occupied territories: West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem with recognition of the 4th June 1967 borders;
2. complete withdrawal of all Jewish settlements in all the occupied territories
3. the recognition of the right of both states to have Jerusalem as their capital;
4. the recognition by Israel of its part in the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem...
In other words, EJJP is serious about what people call a "two-state solution" (I prefer to say two-state policy, because it is up to the peoples in the Middle East to determine their future, and not for us to impose our ideas of what should constitute an all-time solution).
What was no surprise to those who knew him or his associates was that within a week or so of returning to London, Paul Usiskin told the Jewish Chronicle how shocked he had been by some of the views he had heard in Amsterdam, and that Peace Now-UK wanted nothing more to do with European Jews for Just Peace, nor with its British affiliates.
I guessed what had happened, though I forgot to ask whether he had also reported back to Rabbis for Human Rights and if so, had they also asked to disaffilate? Or if they had been aware they had been represented by Paul Usiskin in the first place.
Since then the UK affiliates of European Jews for Just Peace, notably Jews for Justice for Palestinians , have grown both in support and range of activities, far obscuring anything managed by Peace Now-UK, or as it has been dubbed "Peace - but not now". (The Israeli parent body of which, though not the vanguard of the Israeli peace camp, does occasionally stir from its conservatism, and do something useful, such as producing a report on settlements, which is more than be said for its ostensible UK supporters).
After Usiskin's apparent success in stopping Norman Finkelstein maybe be should revise the jibe, and call it POLICE NOW! Because it's real role has not been to fight for "two states" - i.e. for the Palestinians right to a state alongside Israel, which would mean fighting the occupation, siege and settlements which other British Zionists support; but to clobber anyone to the Left, and particularly Jews like Finkelstein who have upset the Establishment.
What may seem surprising is that the Oxford union president has apparently bowed to a nobody like Usiskin, or been fooled by the latter's claims to represent anything significant or credible. Norman Finkelstein is inclined to suspect that Zionist witchfinder general Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard professor who engineered the campaign to oust him from De Paul, is also behind the move to exclude him from the Oxford debate. Maybe. We don't know what went on behind the secenes, but we do know Oxford, behind its hallowed stone, has a warm place for American dollars.
Oxford has also been known as the "home of lost causes", which might be comforting when we looked at some of the speakers the Oxford Union invites. But it is more worrying to think that the Oxford Union is jumping off point for many a career politician, and both Oxbridge universities with their high public school intake continue to fill so many posts in the British Establishment.

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3 Comments:

At 9:42 PM, Blogger Jim Denham said...

I agree with you: even a shit and charlatan like the Fink (who once supported a call for Irshad manji to ne killed) should be heard; but he was not stopped from speaking by the all-powerful "lobby", but by his fellow, pro-two staes speaker david Trimble, who (quite understandably, in my view) didn't wish to appaer on a platform with him, and pulled out. My information is that the rest of the billed speakers then followed suit, and all pulled out.

 
At 12:30 AM, Blogger Charlie Pottins said...

Well, allowing for your propensity to profane language to make up for lack of profound thought Jim, I must suppose that you have some reason for calling Finkelstein a "charlatan" - I'd merely be inclined to disagree with the guy on some points but I am not aware of anything he has invented or tried to pass off falsely. The fact that his colleagues at De Paul wanted him to stay teaching with them, and students put their own places on the line, suggests that the man is entitled to a bit of respect.
I admit you may have diffeerent sources, after all I don't have a clue who Irshad Manji is or was, let alone what Norman Finkelstein said about him,whose calls he supported, or how this came to be connected with the professor's areas of interest.
I do know there has been a dirty campaiugn against Finkelstein, and that the kind of people who ran it are quite capable of fabricating all sorts of things (even faking my name on a petition for instance!)
I see you put the lobby to which I referred in quotes, and imply I might consider it all-powerful. Well, there is a Zionist machine, quite well-resourced, and employing all kinds of people from politicians and PR professionals to bright and not-so-bright kids in colleges, and whether you want to call it the lobby or use some other term does not bother me. No, it is not all-powerful, and does not make US imperialists behave in ways they'd sooner not, but yes, it is stronger than we are at present and has had lots of experience. It is powerful partly because of its clout (though the lobbyists were asking for six figure sums just to reverse the UCU vote - I've no idea what they were to be spent on). But also because what it says chimes in with the mood of US and other politicians whose ear the Zionists have.
The Jerusalem Post gives Usiskin a starring role in this episode, perhaps he wanted to raise his own importance and helped them write the article. Others, like Karl Sabbagh are blaming Alan Dershowitz. You say it was David Trimble. But what's to say that Trimble was not got at and briefed? The Ulster Unionists' (and Democratic Unionbists) links with Israel are long-standing, but I wonder did someone possibly have a word with Trimble about "this guy Finkelstein"?
I'm glad you find it "quite understandable" Jim, and would not want to query your information. I don't understand why Trimble was needed as a speaker on the Middle East anyway, I know Sir Ronald Storrs once said "We are building a little Jewish Ulster in Palestine", but I still think the choice was stretching it a bit. I know the AWL may see a connection, but I have never been happy with fill-in-the dotted line politics.
Are you still in the AWL, Jim? I suppose they could have invited the Committee for Two States, but if I'd been asked to join them on the platform perhaps I would have objected.

 
At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David Trimble had little or nothing to do with the decision to disinvite Finkelstein, indeed it appears he only pulled out several days after Finkelstein's invitation was revoked.

From various sources it appears that it was Alan Dershowitz who was the primary force in having finkelstein removed.

Usiskin vastly inflated his own role in the matter in the Jerusalem Post. A version of the same article sent to Peace Now UK supporters also included a sentence admitting that Usiskin had asked early on to be included in the debate, and was miffed when they invited finkelstein instead.

 

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