What's this blog about?

As a result of a combination of factors, culminating in the shameful UCU boycott-in-waiting of Israel, I've grown alienated & silenced, working here in one of the UK's finest universities all the while feeling like a Boycotted British Academic, alone in facing some dilemmas of the moment. In this generally chilling environment, it's hard to speak out and be heard, and hear others...and I find myself writing this blog.

What's it about? At present, it seems to me like a rather tortured articulation of the state of being silenced & mute, beyond words; struggling for the right even to use them, for a voice which can still be heard. When it started, all those successive boycott motions ago, I'd hoped it would function as a blog forum of support & solidarity amongst academics similarly-situated to BBA, to help us break through the boycott movement's silencing strategies. That hope remains notwithstanding this silence... Perhaps it lives in trying to articulate beyond the filter of these coping mechanisms of old (denial, avoidance, withdrawal); by way of this labour of finding the words, this voice...
[A forum of sorts has also arisen in the blog's comments, in which others have adopted the BBA moniker in case of need (e.g.
here
and here exposing the racist hate speech which masquerades as UCU solidarity activism).]

Saturday, 10 November 2007

The Aftermath of the Whirl

The great comments to my Whirl post moved me to act as witness to the Walt & Mearsh Show when I'd probably otherwise have stayed away, continuing to tread that well-worn path of least resistance, of greatest avoidance, minded to spare myself the futile upset. How very Boycotted British Academic!

Having been detained most of the summer preparing to fight this bonkers boycott, by tracing its gory genealogy, I felt confident that I'd seen it all before and that nothing new could be gained or witnessed.** I knew how it was going to be: depressing, dispiriting and likely severely to exacerbate this already pervasive boycotting effect. And I knew it would be futile because I'd feel voiceless & powerless. And so it was.

But for your sake or thanks to you - BBA Forumniks - I compromised! I still bottled it, big time, for I stayed well clear of my own campus at the appointed hour. Nothing new there then!

I made do with reports from people who did show and, figuring it would be less threatening and unbearable, I took in the W&M show playing on another campus. Someone I encountered in the whirl, who seems to have shown up at several gigs, assured me that there was nothing to distinguish the show I went to from the one I avoided.

I'm glad I bottled it! I don't need to witness campus colleagues revealing themselves, as inevitably as some would, to be in a truly frightening state of moral limbo, blinkered and blind to the obvious bigotry being peddled liberally in Boycotting Britannia. I just couldn't hack witnessing that and feel I've seen more than enough already what with this whole UCU boycott experience - I'd prefer to keep alive the hope/fantasy, faltering as it often is, that their presence isn't too heavy on campus than to risk knowing that indeed they are all over the place. My situation is already virtually untenable as things stand!

I even managed to miss the first of my chosen alternative W&M gigs - my conscious self having recorded the wrong time while my subconscious seems to have been continuing to resist your challenge & counsel! However, with a good deal of luck and quite some ordeal, I managed to catch up and I witnessed one of their campus gigs in the end... What a palaver!

In fact, such was my dedication to this witnessing project, I underwent the ordeal of hearing the exact same preposterous show TWICE. Not out of masochism but compensation: I was so upset by the nature of the debate on campus that I wanted to see the show in what I hoped would be a setting which would compensate & offset the dreadful terms of debate dictated by these 'brave' scholars: outside the university, with an audience of experts. The downside was that this was a more intimate and cloistered setting (in contrast to the campus gig, which was packed, standing room only and not much of that), which brought W&M just that bit too close for comfort! In the event, nothing much was gained: the Q&A was kept rigorously short, a taxi ready & waiting conveniently to curtail the sort of scrutiny and challenge which such a thesis requires if it's to be debated at all. With the show having started late to begin with, it was all over before it had started and thus, W&M wriggled away from anything approximating debate.

I understand something similar occurred at another of their expert gigs (a reduced time having been trailed in advance on the event's advert), with people feeling they didn't get the chance for a proper challenge. In contrast, one can note that at the campus gigs - which could be expected to offer the most sympathetic audience, with a majority of impressionable students well primed for the show, and experts or other persons of stature comparable to the authors more likely to be in the minority - the Q&A part went on for as long as one hour & 10 minutes!

Both the gigs I witnessed closed with the chair, by all appearances all buddy-buddy with W&M, stressing the importance that this debate was actually held, the campus chair emphasizing how crucial it was that it should be conducted in a "civilized and fair-minded fashion" - both of them concluding with completely unfounded self-congratulation as to the debate's all-round success, even highlighting how the event showed the hosting institution in good light. I found myself asking whether I'd attended the same debate for all I heard was a controversial and, in the view of many, an abhorrent, unscholarly & indefensible thesis, with major methodological & other problems, being advanced without the opportunity for its problematic claims to be debated properly.

On campus, the questions were mostly supportive of the authors and they were rewarded with much obsequiousness and fawning. In one case, it was so extreme & exaggerated that the chair joked that W&M's publisher must be in audience. (Actually, the person in question is known to us as an outspoken boycotter - quelle surprise!) I got the sense that many people had stayed away, just as I would have done. And there was so much competition & clamouring to reap the kudos of showing support that perhaps those who wanted to pose challenging questions & actually engage with the substance of the argument (albeit only to demonstrate how there isn't any!) didn't get their chance .

The authors were applauded in the most absurd places, and got a loud 15 second impromptu applause at the campus gig at the end of their presentation, even before the Q&A, as if people just couldn't wait; being crowned, at the end, with a sustained round of applause. The experts gig was more measured and I didn't perceive the end (and only) clapping to have been too enthusiastic (although I was making a point of not clapping myself so I might have been distracted, given the intimate setting, by this pathetic enactment of the only act of resistance I felt was still open to me!).

While a few brave sorts did manage, against all odds, to pose some challenging questions, W&M have become adept by now at appearing to deflect the criticism without really addressing the challenge. Such a debate needs riposte and counter-argument, for the challenger to have the chance to respond to W&M's disgraceful evasions. This would have been provided had the debate taken place in a fairer context. But not in Boycotting Britannia. Instead, people were left to shout, the microphone having been quickly whisked away, only to elicit hissing from the crowd for the impertinence of seeking to debate.

At the expert's talk, one questioner hinted at the real cowardice of these 'brave' authors, asking them whether they'd finally acceded to Professor Alan Dershowitz's invitation to debate. The answer is dumbfounding: we don't debate anyone who wants to discuss antisemitism! So much for taking extra special care, eh? They won't even discuss it!

And yet: one questioner at the campus gig observed how someone had approached him earlier, upon entering the lecture theatre, to ask whether this was where the talk about the Jewish Lobby was taking place. Other questioners were fuming about various things to do with Jews, whether it was about their holding public office (what a cheek, how dare they?!) or about invitations being offered by communal organizations to the occasional member of the government to eat/talk at their annual dinner (who would have imagined such a thing?!). Oh, how quickly and transparently did W&M's much vaunted yet slippery caveats get lost in the 'debate'!

Throughout, I couldn't quite shake off my Dr Watson analogy of the other day and kept asking myself why the two cases were being treated so radically differently. Forget about the freedom and its limits. That's irrelevant to the problem here, such are the depths to which this problem seems to have descended in the present case. It's the application of the freedom, whatever its limits may be, to this case which is itself racist & discriminatory, revealing just how prepped we already seem to have been for this show.

The whole experience left me feeling, as I say, depressed and worried. Foolishly, I checked CiF only to be told there's nothing to worry about - what's the fuss about? Blogging and CiFing... As you can see, I'm making my usual progress with those damned deadlines!

This morning, I awoke to the extended news (Today programme) whose main headlining story entailed discussion of:

Nazi Germany in the 1930s as an example of how people's minds could be poisoned against a community.

These were the words filtering through to me as I emerged from slumber:

What you had in the 1930s was all sorts of popular fictions were spread about the Jewish community that they were responsible for all ills that were occurring. They were made into folk-devils.

We mustn't demonise.

In my state of semi-consciousness, I must have registered the contemporary relevance being drawn over our air-waves from this history and - suspended between this reality I'm experiencing and what passes for fair campus & intellectual debate; between sleep and waking - I managed somehow to incorporate the story into the whole whirl of the W&M Show. Finally, I mistakenly registered, people are coming to understand and see what all the fuss is about!

But that was in my dreams and then I woke up.

~~~~~~

** I don't recommend the link provided but if you're really curious, here's more to witness! It's a long debate in the days when W&M (actually, M in this instance) were still courageous enough to have this debate as a debate, namely on a podium with experts, as defended in my previous post, with others able to contribute the element which has been so sorely missing in the Walt & Mearsh Show which has just ended here. Even in such (now unimaginable) debate settings, it is nauseating to note how the audience still managed to boo & hiss & applaud in the most inappropriate places, apparently impervious to compelling, well-reasoned argument furnished by W&M's competent debaters, preferring to hear whatever message they wanted to hear, however much it had just been thoroughly discredited for all to hear. And this was NYC. I knew it would be worse here. And it was.

Thanks to everyone who shared views on the W&M show with me (especially GG)

11 comments:

Dr. Irene Lancaster FRSA said...

You are being very brave and we will prevail, I promise you.

Since leaving Britain, I've had the most amazing correspondence from people in Britain in academia, the Church and even the BBC, all positive and asking us to keep at it.

In the last two years, thanks to perseverance and vetting, the Church press has done a complete about-turn.

I've just met the amazing young woman who is in charge of Israel's counter-boycott and she's such an inspiration.

Your blog is great and blogging is the means by which the truth(s) will out in the end.

Also, more aliyah from Britain would help. I do really miss British humour over here.

Love

Irene

ModernityBlog said...

sounded like a punishing event

do you know if they recorded it? is it on youtube?

It will be interesting to view and see the material firsthand, as it were

PS: keeping blogging, more more!

Anonymous said...

Hi BBA

Sorry I couldn't be there with you to bear / share the experience.

I've had to make do with it second hand by listening to a version on a podcast. You are right - it is not that they are running away from debate that troubles me, but that some of the audience are so receptive to it. And that is because they are telling them what they want to hear.

Danny Smircky

Mira said...

Thanks for a) putting yourself through it and b) writing it up. I was really interested to read it. And good practice for your local UCU branch meetings. This zombie of a boycott is still twitching.

Shachtman said...

BBA. There's a poorly written piece by Steele on CIF. One good thing though is that people can actualy debate with plenty of time and the pro M & W's are not having much success in defending them.

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/jonathan_steele/2007/11/whats_the_fuss_about.html

Anonymous said...

Walt/Mearsheimer: I was at LSE, RISS, Chatham House. I got critical questions in at all three. At Chatham House I gave them 4 barrels. A number of people said 'well done'. One FO-type told me off for leafletting after the talk, so I moved outside. I have read the book. It's crap. By January the price will have been cut from £25 to below £5. Pensguin will lose money on it and Walt/Mearsheimer have lost their reputations. Jonathan Steel's disingenuous comment on CiF does nothing for his reputation either. And maybe Chatham House will think twice next time about hosting academics who are so determined to badmouth Israel's supporters that they are prepared to write a book that would certainly not past muster as a PhD thesis.

Anonymous said...

My comments to W/M: (first bit draws on ADL):

The book would not be taken seriously if not for your reputations. Nowhere in the book is there a sense of complexity, balance, an examination of the variety of factors that cause an event, or of putting individual comments in perspective.

On every issue, you start with unproven, anti-Israel assumptions and then look for isolated examples to justify these assumptions. One doesn’t have to take a pro-Israel position to recognise that despite your reputations you have no interest in producing a serious, balanced work. The result is a sloppy diatribe and moral relativism gone mad. You constantly distance yourselves from the old anti-Semitic accusations – and then do your best to prove them – like (p169) “Jews control the media”

You pay lip service to the notion that pro-Israel activists have every right to lobby the government and that you are not suggesting any conspiracy resembling that offered by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But this is merely lip service - because the nonstop one-sidedness of your presentation, your gross exaggeration of the power of the “lobby”, your disregard for the consistently broad-based American public support for Israel, your omission of the very many interests that the US has in a strong and safe Israel – for example in the fight against terror - and your overriding theme that policymakers are controlled by the “lobby,” adds up to an effort to delegitimise the work of pro-Israel activists and has elements of classic anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.

You conduct no primary research – you spoke to no-one inside the Beltway.

Benny Morris, whom you cite frequently on the history of Israel, wrote that your work “is a travesty of the history that I have studies and written” and that you “have a fundamental ignorance of the history with which you deal”.

You want me to get specific? OK I will.

One, you make tendentious statements as if they were facts:
• ix: You say “predictably, reactions to your working paper outside the US were generally favourable” Not in the UK they weren’t.
• You speak of the ‘disastrous’ 2006 war in Lebanon, the ‘debacle’ in Iraq, you say “Iraq is a fiasco”, you say “the Iraq war has alarmed and endangered US Allies” – not this one! You speak about Israel ‘colonising’ the Occupied Territories. Have you not realised that Gaza has been returned to the Palestinians? You write about ‘repressive policies’.

Two, page 5: You ask “why Israel and no other country in the world receives such consistent deference from US politicians?” Ignoring the pejorative word ‘deference’ – you are at the moment in a country whose relations with the US are every bit as good as Israel’s. Are US politicians deferential to the UK as well?

Three, page 5: You say that US support for Israel undermines America’s standing with important allies. That’s nonsense. The US has good relations with the UK, France Germany Japan, Spain ….

Four, page 5: You speak about “Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinians” So why are they Palestinians in Jerusalem queuing up to get Israeli passports because they don’t want to be ruled by the Palestinian National Authority post Anapolis, should there be diplomatic progress?

Five, page 7: You speak about the unconditionality of US aid to Israel being unique. How about aid to Pakistan, where there is a military dictatorship and Musharraf has just declared martial law? US aid there continues doesn’t it?

General comment: You blame the Israel Lobby for terrorist attacks on the US. That’s nonsense. Al Qaeda objects to a US presence in the Middle East and Afghanisatn where it wants the Caliphate re-established. And are you going to allow the terrorists to dictate US foreign policy?

Six: You say in the book that the Israel Lobby was the principal driving force behind the 2003 invasion of Iraq. You have already pulled back from that statement in your presentation. Now you admit that Israel saw Iran as the greater danger. But you say that American Jewry was solidly behind the invasion of Baghdad. Of course they were. They are patriotic. How about you? And how many more of the so-called ‘facts’ in the book are you going to revise in the light of actual evidence?

Seven: p18: You blame the Lobby for the rise of Ahmadinejad in Iran. Nothing to do with the hardliners in Iran or the rise of Islamic fundamentalism then?

Eight: page 30: You say that Israel’s per capita GDP is high. But Israel has one of the highest defence expenditures in the world: 15-20%. It is surrponded by enemies in case you hadn’t noticed.

Nine, page 36: You say Israel is a prosperous country. Well one-third of children are poor. 28% of its citizens live in poverty. Those data come from the National Statistical Institute.

Let’s turn to the chapter on Israel: Asset or Liability? (Chapter 2).

Ten, page 52: You completely ignore the fact that Israel is in the front line in the battle against the Jihadis as a reason to support it.

Eleven, page 53: Anti-Americanism was not ‘caused’ by the US’s relations with Israel. It was the product of the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism which began with the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt.

Twelve, page 54: You blame the Lobby for the rise in the price of gasoline after the Yom Kippur War. Are you saying then that US foreign policy should be that which produces the cheapest gasoline? Regardless of the fate of the only democracy in the Middle East and the US’s strongest ally there? And how about raising the tax on gasoline in the US – it’s one of the lowest anywhere. Why don’t you recommend that?

Thirteen, page 63: You try to pretend that Al Quaeda terrorists are nothing to do with Hizbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad. Nonsense. They all train in the same training camps. Eg Zarqawi of Al Quaeda trained in Iraq.

Fourteen, page 104: you adopt the Palestinian version of Camp David instead of the version of Dennis Ross and President Clinton. Don’t you think it is incumbent on scholars to research the full range of views on controversial issues they address so that their work is not full o factual errors and naked boas – as yours seems to be?

Fifteen, page 130: “Virtually all neocons are strongly committed to Israel, a point they emphasise openly and unapologetically” What have they got to apologise about? I am strongly committed to Israel – should I apologise for that?

Sixteen, page 142: You say the Arab lobbies are much less important then the Israeli one. But the Arabs don’t need a lobby. They have oil.

Seventeen, page 190: You say that charges that Israel is being held to different standards from other countries are bogus. But this was exactly the reason that a Law Lord found that the recent UCU move to a boycott in the UK was illegal.

Eighteen, page 230: “The Iraq War would certainly not have occurred, absent the Lobby.”

Page 233: “…. Some Israeli leaders told US officials that they thought Iran was a greater threat”

Page 262: “Yossi Alpher… now maintains that Sharon had serious reservations about invading Iraq and he privately warned Bush against it”

You have already pulled back on this one, in your presentation. Here is Forward, 12 January 2007: Yossi Alpher, an adviser to Barak, confirmed that prior to March 2003, PM Sharon advised Bush not to occupy Iraq and AIPAC officials told visiting Arab intellectuals they would rather the US deal with Iran not Iraq.

Nineteen, page 283: You call Israel’s warnings about Iran ‘alarmist and aggressive’. Well Ahadinejad has five times said he wants to wipe Israel off the map. And before you quibble with the translation, see the NYT 11 June 2006 where Deputy Foreign Editor Ethan Bronner confirmed that this was how official translators in Ahnmadinejad’s office were translating it.

Anonymous said...

Here they are on YouTube (predates last week's UK circus of fools):

http://youtube.com/watch?v=CavjNvkgqew

http://youtube.com/watch?v=ugbDXv9fdOU

Jonathan Hoffman

Noga said...

"Fourteen, page 104: you adopt the Palestinian version of Camp David instead of the version of Dennis Ross and President Clinton."

But of course! They do not trust Clinton's and Ross' accounts because they probably consider them both part of the very lobby they are exposing. But they would be too cowardly to state this openly. Instead, they simply ignore these two witnesses in favour of those very weighty witnesses. In writing about such a subject, they should have been scrupulous about telling the truth and the whole truth. That they chose not to is instrumental in rebutting them.

Anonymous said...

They are speaking in Europe this week as follows:

Monday 12 November: Vienna Renner Institute

http://www.renner-institut.at/veranst/aktuell.htm

Wednesday 14 November: Berlin: German Council on Foreign Policy in Berlin (they refused a debate).

PLEASE CAN PEOPLE IN THESE CITIES GO AND REBUT THEIR LIES. If anyone has more information about where they are speaking this week, please post it here (also Amsterdam and Paris I understand).

Anonymous said...

Hi, Thanks for enduring that and for writing it up. I see there is already a detailed analysis of M&W's "scholarship" here. There was also this presentation in NY. I think it's useful--you may or may not agree with all of it--but I found several points made there right on the money:

Go to:

YIVO Presents: The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy - A Critical Response: November 5, 2007

at:

http://www.cjh.org/programs/programarchives.php