Three days ago, on 6th Feb, the University of Warwick held another anti-Israel meeting. The third such event in a month. Rather than directly discuss Israel, they wanted to focus on antisemitism. Or as it turned out to focus on how there isn’t really much of it about. Antisemitism is apparently rare these days, and the only reason it is in the news, is because Jews are a mix of devious, stupid and heartless people. Jews make up charges of anti-Jewish racism, and are then mobilised by western governments to suppress freedoms, so that land-grabbing Jews elsewhere can carry on killing children without criticism. No it isn’t a quote, but it is the inherent logic of the evening.
The event was titled ‘Palestinian rights, Prevent’ and the Misuse of antisemitism‘. This follows the argument that rather than being used to shed light on unacceptable hatred and defend victims of anti-Jewish racism, an accusation of antisemitism is a weapon at war, designed to silence all criticism of Israel. The event was chaired by Justine Mercer, Warwick UCU President. There were three speakers:
- Nicola Pratt, University of Warwick
- Richard Seaford, University of Exeter
- Sai Englert, SOAS, University of London
There is much on the event that could be written, but I intend only to focus only on the central argument. So take it as given, that during the course of the event there was as much self-righteous indignation, hypocrisy, distortion and blatant propaganda, as is normally present during an anti-Israel event on campus. As usual, outright lies also peppered the talk.
The straw man
The argument always begins with the straw man position – that people like me seek to shut down all debate, and see all criticism of Israel as antisemitic. These are the vital elements of the ‘weaponised antisemitism’ argument and contains two separate but equally false statements. All three speakers at the event pushed both of them.
The first suggestion (false argument number one) is that the Israeli position is the one that avoids debate. That Zionists are ‘scared’ of open discussion, because all the facts are against them. This coming from panelists at an event where all the speakers are only invited because they agree with each other. The truth is that the official position of BDS is ‘no to negotiation’, ‘no to normalisation’, and ‘no to discussion’. It suggests that talking ‘legitimises’ the situation, and Zionists only seek to deflect and waste time. As has always been the case, most anti-Israel players actively no-platform (or will not engage) anyone who is Zionist. The Zionist position is openly one of negotiation. There is nothing controversial about this at all, these are the official positions of the two sides. The argument then is entirely false.
The second suggestion (false argument number two) is more troubling. See this headline from Al-Jazeera as an example:
Notice the use of the word ‘all’. Sometimes the strategy simply reads ‘criticism’, without the ‘all’, thus carrying the implied meaning of ‘any criticism’. Either way the message is clear. Accusations of antisemitism are raised because of Zionists who see ALL criticism of Israel as unacceptable or antisemitic. It is a binary position like most anti-Israel arguments. What happened to the word ‘some’? Or reverse it – are they suggesting that no criticism of Israel can ever be antisemitic? The straw man is developed to change the subject. The focus must not be on what antisemitism there is, but rather what antisemitism there isn’t. To seek out something that can be seen as a false accusation, and place the microscope on that, giving cover against every accusation of antisemitism. The enemy becomes the Jew who claims he is a victim of racism. Would any other form of racism or abuse be dealt with in this manner?
The antisemitism talk begins
First to speak was Nicola Pratt. Nicola is one of the key ‘academic’ anti-Israel activists at the University of Warwick, and I have written about her several times before. At an event that sets out to complain that antisemitism is being weaponised, it took less than 2 minutes for Nicola Pratt to disgracefully weaponise racism, sexism and Islamophobia. She suggested that the recent replacement of two academics as Chairs at anti-Israeli events was perhaps because they were ‘women of colour’, rather than over issues of impartiality. I never know whether the people involved in this type of political activism are unaware of their own hypocrisy or are simply insulting the intelligence of those listening. Once this was done, Pratt’s basic question was this:
‘why is there an increasing scrutiny of events that are discussing Palestine, discussing Palestinian rights, discussing Israel, why are outside parties trying to use the PREVENT duty in relation to academic speech on Israel?’
My simple answer to that is that the problem is in-house. If Nicola Pratt could see antisemitism where it exists, if Nicola went about the question of Israel in proper academic fashion, then I seriously doubt anybody would be complaining about anything. If you cannot see racism where there is plenty of it, then you should exist in a controlled environment.
Pratt then pushed both of the false underlying statements in a single sentence:
‘Knowing it cannot win an intellectual argument against human rights, Israel and its supporters are attempting to smear the BDS movement as antisemitic’
After this she got lost somewhat, and rambled. I actually see this a lot. Because the underlying obsession is grounded not through academic study, but in irrational bias, she came unstuck when trying to coherently explain her position to the audience. There was nothing further of note (on antisemitism) in her speech.
Sai Englert is second to speak. He is a teaching assistant at SOAS, but apparently lectures on the Israel / Arab conflict at the University of Leicester. His bio suggests he is Jewish, anti-Zionist and one of those who romanticises about pre-Holocaust anti-Zionist Jewry. I believe he recently married ‘Zionist outpost’ Malia Bouattia. He spent much of his talk throwing the usual empty propaganda and distortion we have come to expect at anti-Israel events. As he opened up to discuss PREVENT, he even pushed the story of a young Luton student who was unfairly targeted by PREVENT for ‘supporting Palestinian rights’. That particular false tale shows (see Harry’s Place for details) just how well, made up anti-Israel propaganda can work. False it may be, but it is still being distributed by people like Englert to university students.
Pratt mumbled, Englert gave out anti-Israel propaganda, so it fell to Richard Seaford to directly discuss antisemitism. The Professor from the University of Exeter began by suggesting we are witnessing an appalling attack on free speech. I happen to agree with him. Students at some universities today almost ‘self-police’ in fear at displaying a political or ethical view that does not fit in with the views of the hard-left.
Of the three speakers, Richard Seaford is the most dangerous. It isn’t new-style poorly argued academic activism, it is old-school British ‘self-righteousness’ wrapped up in a polished academic package. Seaford somehow only manages to see what serves his argument and nothing else exists. The examples he provided, were never complete, always one sided, self-congratulatory, and normally out of context. The biggest problem however, is that he doesn’t seem to understand the issue of antisemitism at all. I would argue he doesn’t actually get what a ‘Jew’ is either.
He dismissed Jewish concerns over Apartheid Week on campus. Seaford sees the actions of the community in trying to address Jewish issues on campus (he specifically mentioned the Board of Deputies) in a negative light. He actually referred to anti-Israel events as ‘debunking misconceptions’. That’s right, those events I go to, that display absolutely zero adherence to truth, are the ‘good guys of the Seaford story’.
Before he can get into the definition of antisemitism, he needs to prepare the ground. Seaford presents his version of ‘false argument number one’.
Seaford as saviour
‘A couple of years ago, we had a debate in Exeter, on the question of boycotting Israel. I spoke in favour, … there were 200 students (editor’s point of fact Richard – there were 140)…after the debate there was a comfortable majority in favour of the boycott…..this is a catastrophe. They know trying to defend what is going on… you can’t do it.
I think adding the context of this taking place at the heart of Ilan Pappe’s Exeter empire might have something to do with the result. Two years before this, University of Exeter students voted to boycott Israeli settlement products in a landslide. But it does provide a glimpse into Seaford’s manner of self-reinforcement. Rather than the academic seeking ways to test or counter his position (seeking reasons behind the result), Seaford unquestioningly uses the result to reinforce his opinion. Unfortunately, this is the way much of modern academia works.
This ‘defeat’ provides the motive behind Israel’s need to stifle debate. We Zionist Jews, cannot defend our positions. If we try, we lose. Then Seaford continues:
‘So what you do is what people always do in these situations, you change the subject. You impugn the motive of those criticising you. That’s what this is all about.’
The rising antisemitism doesn’t exist. Labour’s online forums aren’t riddled with Rothschild Conspiracy, Israel did 9/11, Israel as ISIS, Holocaust Denial. Zionist Jews like myself, are so scared of Richard’s argument we scream antisemitism at it. He says the accusation of antisemitism is therefore a ‘scam’, and to realise it is ‘psychologically and politically liberating‘. Then he said this:
‘The people who are pushing this antisemitism scam are divided into two categories. There are the people who know it is a smokescreen. That’s why they are doing it. Then there are people for whom I actually have a lot of sympathy, who believe it genuinely. I think if you are Jewish, and you see that 80% of the United Nations (did a Kantian actually just use the United Nations as a moral compass), half the world, all those Jewish professors, all those non-Jewish professors, so many of the British people, are criticising Israel and you don’t know why because you don’t allow yourself to see the unbearable injustice that is being inflicted on the Palestinians. You just don’t see it. There are plenty of people who just do not see what is happening.
What have the Palestinians got to complain about (are you keeping count of these straw men), so why are these people criticising Israel. It must be antisemitism. Now if you believe that, you’re in a bad state. I have sympathy for you, it must be terrifying, to think the whole world is turning on you, and its suddenly become antisemitic for some reason. The only way out of that, the way of liberating yourself from that nightmare, is to allow yourself to see what is being inflicted on the Palestinians. That’s how you do it. That way you mature, you liberate yourself, you escape from that nightmare’ And as I say, I have a lot of sympathy, particularly for Jewish people, who are in that situation, and I urge them to join the debate, to join the struggle, in the great Jewish traditions of social justice, to join the struggle for a solution to this conflict.’
Firstly, I need to thank Richard Seaford. People like him reinforce my own understanding of why Zionism was, and remains, so important. Seaford’s Jews are split into three groups, the manipulators, the fools and the ones who have seen the light. It is also based on the second false statement that all criticism is seen as antisemitic, and is full of the straw men created by that position. Seaford’s academic blind spots continue to play havoc with his logic. There is no possibility that his understanding of the ‘Jew’ is flawed, that he doesn’t properly identify antisemitism, or perhaps his understanding of the dynamics of the conflict itself contains errors. Seaford is dealing with absolutes. This wouldn’t be as serious, if he were not at a university speaking to students, about the subject of anti-Jewish racism.
Seaford even offers the blind Jew (not the manipulative one), a way out, a way of liberating themselves. If only the Jew can see that antisemitism doesn’t exist, that there is no legitimate reason for the Israeli position, then he can ‘mature’ and ‘escape from the nightmare’. This almost reads like a medieval Christian conversion process. Rid yourself of the shackles of Judaism and see the light.
And then it is handed over to the audience for Q&A. It is here where the second element of the propaganda campaign flexes its muscle. This is a closed debate and only Warwick people are allowed in. The panel are ‘experts’ and handpicked to reflect only one point of view. There will be no serious contest tonight.
Palestine as ‘Natural Law’
Antisemitism is being used to stifle free speech? Well yes, of course it is. Just as racism is, Homophobia is and so on. I hold my hand up. I am a great believer in free speech, but I don’t think antisemitism should be freely promoted in a university.
The approach to antisemitism witnessed at the University of Warwick was horrendous. It begins with the idea that the narrative of Palestine, like Gravity, functions as a ‘natural law’. Understand Seaford’s proposition. Those who oppose the law cannot argue against it, so deflect. The deflection is the accusation of antisemitism. A Jew either does this deliberately or out of stupidity.
If, in any possible world, the underlying presumption is wrong, the entire proposition falls apart (there can be an argument against it, thus the reason given for the accusation of antisemitism is unnecessary and probably false). Thus, Seaford’s version of Palestine must be absolute. If not, if there is any possibility at all that there is more to this conflict than Seaford is proposing, then he is unforgivably standing in front of Jewish students shaming them and ridiculing their complaints.
Nobody says that all criticism of Israel is antisemitic. Nobody says that leaning towards pro-Palestinian advocacy is antisemitic either. These are all straw men positions. What is clear is that there is a correlation between anti-Israel activity and levels of antisemitism. We see too many Holocaust Deniers, too many 9/11 truthers and too many Rothschild Conspiracy theorists waving Palestinian flags to ignore it. People like Seaford see them as a tiny minority. They form at least 40% of visible activists at almost any anti-Israel demonstration (see England and Scotland). When Jews complain, in Seaford’s world, they are being deliberately manipulative or stupid. We seek to address the antisemitism, he seeks to deny it. As he speaks louder, he sees our opposition as illegitimate attempts at suppression.
Antisemitism and University failings
I cannot really say more about the University of Warwick than I have before. This small group of academics on campus are impacting on the life of Jewish students, and the University body and Student Union are failing to address the issue properly. Would they permit someone to come in and suggest accusations of sexual abuse are all maliciously motivated or led by idiots? How about anti-Black racism? Can they name one other form of abuse where they would permit those attacked to be ridiculed in this fashion?
After the talk, Nicola Pratt seemed to tell some Jewish students present that others, not the vast majority of Jews, need to define antisemitism, and others, not Jews, need to define what is offensive to Jews. This is truly disgraceful talk from an academic to university students.
Despite the apparent issue with antisemitism, not a single movement has sprung up in-house to educate anti-Israel activists about antisemitism. Every single element of the process, whether it is ‘free speech on Israel’, ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ or vicious university events such as this, have all gone out of their way to deny the problem of antisemitism and thus to allow it to flourish. Jewish students are left sitting in a room and having their accusations of racism publicly demonised and ridiculed. Free speech? No, it has a cost and Warwick really have to get a grip on this. Calling on Jews in the 21st century to convert or else be demonised is no way to run an academic establishment.
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