Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Manchester University falls for scare, forces Finkelstein off campus

SOME years back there was a furore about a Manchester University professor removing the names of two Israeli academics from the specialist journal that she published. It was only a gesture, as neither of the people were employed by the journal or at Manchester. Professor Mona Baker explained that it was aimed at their institutions' complicity in the Israeli state's conduct, rather than the two individuals, both of whom had a good record of supporting civil rights and opposing their government's policies.

Nevertheless it was widely reported she had "sacked" the two Israelis, and as the story made the rounds of American Zionist chat lists you were given the impression that a wholesale purge of Jews was in full spate at Manchester. The hate e-mails and threats followed, Tony Blair stuck his oar in, and Manchester University came under pressure to make a real sacking, of Mona Baker.

Having criticised Professor Baker's gesture as unfair and misguided, (see my letter to the Guardian (July 9, 2002), http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4457592,00.html, I felt it only right later to join those writing to the university authorities urging them to resist the pressure for action against her (tactical errors are not sackable offences). Fortunately on that occasion good sense prevailed against the whipped-up hysteria, and the professor kept her job.

But now Manchester has another 'academic freedom' row.
A Jewish professor who was due to visit the university is being forced to give his lecture off campus.
But don't expect the Zionists to make a fuss or complain.
The visitor is Professor Norman Finkelstein.

Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survovors has upset Zionists by criticising the way they use the Holocaust for financial and propaganda advantage, and by his support for Palestinian rights. From what I have seen, his views are not as extreme as either his opponents or some of his professed admirers might affect to believe, but they have hurt his professional career, and whenever he is billed to speak the machine is turned on against him - which probably encourages the invitations to flow.

At the start of a tour in Britain, Professor Finkelstein was due to speak at Manchester University today, but the lecture will have to take place off campus. Students from Manchester Action Palestine said the university management and Union “capitulated to pressure from JSOC [Jewish Society] to limit attendees of the event to students only, depriving the public of seeing one of the world’s foremost commentators on the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

It seems JSOC members alleged that the safety of Jewish students would be endangered if the public were allowed in, even though they had made clear their own intention to attend and hold a picket. Administrators issued an ultimatum saying that the lecture would have to be closed to non-students or be cancelled. Action Palestine was therefore obliged to find a new location in the city.

They are not the only people upset about the ban. In a letter to university Head of Governance, Martin Conway, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods ( J-BIG ) say they are astonished “that a respected university should collude with Zionist attempts to suppress open discussion of Prof Finkelstein’s views on campus.”

Abe Hayeem, Chair of Architects & Planners for Justice in Palestine, told Conway he was “appalled to hear that Manchester University had created impossible conditions that would prevent Professor Norman Finkelstein from speaking at a meeting that was open to both students and the public.”

“Your action smacks entirely of bias, pre-emption and censorship that does not enhance the reputation of such an important University, by caving into pressure of a determined minority who wish to deny anyone presenting the realities of Israel and the situation in the Middle East,” Hayeem wrote.

Manchester Action Palestine is asking supporters to send protest letters to Conway (martin.conway@manchester.ac.uk) and to Pat Sponder (pat.sponder@manchester.ac.uk) Head of the Office of Student Support and Services.

Suspecting that Manchester's Jewish student society has been used in this affair by adult Zionists from outside, I am not entirely surprised that the Manchester Zionists pulled off this speaking ban, recalling how they boasted of pressuring local hospitals to cancel talks by Miri Weingarten of Israeli Physicians for Human Rights. It was also in Manchester that Henri Guterman, a respected veteran Jewish communal leader, came under attack from right-wing Zionists who said he was unfit to hold office, because he had shared a platform with Ken Livingstone at a meeting to oppose the fascist BNP.

I know nothing about Action Palestine. But seeing that J-Soc had threatened to picket the Finkelstein meeting, and having seen how some Zionist students behave on such occasions in the past, I find the suggestion that Jewish students "feared for their safety" if the meeting had been allowed to go ahead with visitors on campus a bit suspicious, if not ludicrous.

When I was a Labour Zionist in my teens we were commended to "Be Strong, and of Good Courage", chazak v'amatz. The right-wing Zionist Betar for their part exhort the young to be upright and noble, hadar, and teach that "silence is despicable", which may be why they have been known for shouting down speakers before chucking the furniture about. This youth movement boasts incidentally of its part in picketing Norman Finkelstein meetings in the United States.

But it appears the young have been accorded the undignified role of wee, timorous beastie, perpetually "fearing for their safety" whenever the Zionist machine, and particularly its "security" wing, wishes to bully authorities into believing they are performing their duty by hastening to suppress dissent. (The excuse of protecting Jewish school students was recently used by Tory Education Minister Michael Gove to forbid north London schools participating in a Palestinian childrens' event - thus imposing early on the racist conception that you must choose your prejudice, not learn from one another).

It is a pity this has arisen at a time when the Union of Jewish Students has found itself under pressure from funders and the Right because one of its officers dared to criticise Jonathan Hoffman, the chairman of the Zionist Federation, as well as suggesting that criticism of Israel might be OK.


Meanwhile if anyone wanted to find something to feel endangered by, they might look at Oxford university, where four members of the Tory student association have resigned after exposing leading fellow-Tories who when drunk enjoyed singing Nazi songs and talking about "killing kikes".


Perhaps wealthy Americans who might be approached for funds may also consider Oxford less desrving than say, Manchester.

But hey, what am I saying , those true-blue Tory horst wessel choristers never invited Finkelstein.

Still, maybe there is a need for Jewish students to show good courage, not against those who have been deemed "Israel's enemies", but some of the community machers who stand behind them posing as friends.

  • Norman Finkelstein's tour will include lectures on the Israel Palestine conflict and a discussion in London on Friday November 11 with Jonathan Rosenhead, chair of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, which leads the campaign for academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

The Manchester lecture will now take place at the Friends Meeting House, 6 Mount Street, M2 5NS at 6 pm on November 8.

Other tour dates:

  • Leeds – 7 pm Monday November 7
    University of Leeds, Rupert Beckett Lecture Theatre, Michael Sadler Building
    Woodhouse Lane, LS2 9JT. Arrive early or reserve your place in advance irial@hotmail.co.uk
  • Nottingham – Wednesday November 9
    University of Nottingham, Coates Auditorium, University Park Nottingham - Thursday Nov 10, 1pm-3pm open Q&A Tickets for both events from Students Union box office in Portland or telephone 07411 430873
  • Birmingham – 5 pm Thursday November 10
    University of Birmingham, Vaughan Jeffreys Lecture Theatre, Education Building Book your ticket: http://www.guildtickets.co.uk/event/How-to-solve-the-IsraelPalestine-conflict-by-Norman-Finkelstein

  • London - 2 pm Friday November 11 – BDS discussion Bloomsbury venue to be announced
  • London – 7 pm Friday November 11
    University of London, Logan Hall, Institute of Education Reserve your place at http://www.eventsbot.com/events/eb253345787

Thanks to friends in Manchester who drew my attention to this row, and to article from J-BIG:



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