Thursday, April 28, 2016 

Where would we be without Leninspart, eh?

It's not often these days anyone can say they agree with Nick Clegg, as was oh so achingly funny a few years ago, not least as he wisely keeps a low profile.  He couldn't however have been more right, finding himself stuck at the side of Ken Livingstone by grim chance this morning after what even by Ken's standards was a clusterfuck of remarkable proportions. "I never ever thought I would see the day that mainstream, well-known politicians like you would start raking over Hitler’s views in a way that people would simply not understand," Clegg said, in what also has to be one of the more understated reactions to a few hours of pandemonium via interview and Twitter.

I mean, it's not like this is difficult or complicated.  Here's a very simple rule all would do well to follow: unless a debate is about Hitler and the Nazis, don't bring Hitler and the Nazis into it.   It doesn't matter if someone else made reference to Hitler first, don't then follow their lead.  For instance, if someone ill-advisedly made reference to Hitler even if only through an image meme, don't then try and defend them by saying that well actually, Hitler supported this or that, even if your intention is not to make an allusion to the modern day.  Moreover, especially don't suggest that Hitler only "went mad" later.

In the grand scheme of things, Ken's remarks this morning to Vanessa Feltz, of all people, were less offensive than Naz Shah's.  He was completely and utterly wrong about Hitler supporting Zionism, obviously, which he didn't even in 1932, but he also didn't say Hitler was a Zionist, as some have wrongly claimed since.  There is a difference, however subtle.  It's true that Nazi policy until later in the 1930s was to in the main force Jews to leave Germany, to begin with encouraging them to do so, before then making it ever more difficult involving payments to the state and confiscation of assets, but there was not a concerted attempt to direct Jews towards what was then Palestine.  A German Foreign Ministry circular from January 1939 makes clear the opposite was the case.

Ken was not setting out to be antisemitic, and probably just about avoided being so.  He did however allow the impression to arise, as Rabbi Danny Rich has said, of equating Zionism and Nazism, as antisemites routinely do.  As Laura Janner-Klausner has also stated, Ken has form in this area, and while not a Nazi apologist, has in the past failed to apologise for being unpleasant rather than outright racist.

His suspension from the party, with the leadership moving slightly more quickly today than previously, is deserved.  Had though Ken not decided to make himself available today for interviews, defending Shah and the party when neither want or need Ken to speak up for them, it's likely the claims of antisemitism in Labour would have began to blow over.  If instead of following up his interview with Vanessa Feltz by appearing on every show going he had read the tweet from Sadiq Khan, the man battling to become the second Labour Mayor of London, calling for his suspension, realised the furore he had already caused and retracted what he said, he wouldn't then have got in a slanging match with fellow professional idiot John Mann.  But then, Ken doesn't apologise.  He doesn't think.  Exactly why it is the leadership has not made this clear to him before that his "help" is more hindrance than it is support I don't know, unless Ken has simply ignored their advice.

We're now in a situation where thanks to Livingstone's stupidity the race to discover more "evidence" of antisemitism is bound to continue.  Ken has without question helped Jeremy Corbyn's enemies in the party, all of whom were exceptionally quick to call for his dismissal, for which they can hardly be blamed, many of whom have no compunction about having their party portrayed as hostile to Jews if it hastens Corbyn's departure.  It makes those who have pointed out and argued that the claims of antisemitism against Labour members so far have been weak to non-existent look foolish, and encouraged groups that have long opposed the party's attempts to be even-handed between Israel and the Palestinians to declare this proves the "evidence is there for all to see".  Most damagingly of all, it will have an effect, no doubt small, but an effect nonetheless on the elections next Thursday.

A great day, all told.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016 

The antisemitic muppetry of Naz Shah and connected silliness.

Naz Shah, it's fair to say, is a bit of a muppet.  After scrabbling around for months for evidence of antisemitism within Labour, turning up little more than allegations against students at Oxford and idiotic tweets by one or two activists on Twitter, some poor sap at Guido Fawkes was apparently tasked with going through years' worth of timeline updates by MPs on Facebook.

With Shah, they finally hit paydirt.  Back in 2014 she shared one of those wonderful image memes that tend to be prevalent there, suggesting a "solution" to the Israel-Palestine conflict was to relocate the country to America.  Transporting the population to the States would also only cost the equivalent of 3 years' worth of US aid to the country, so everyone would be a winner.  Shah was so taken with the idea she suggested she would send it on to both David Cameron and Barack Obama, not apparently in the least bit troubled by the history of the transporting of Jews, to focus on merely one of its objectionable aspects.

It would have been slightly less embarrassing, albeit only slightly, if Shah hadn't also recently denounced a local Tory councillor for his alleged racism, demanding that he be suspended from the party.  That it took Labour the best part of today to do the same with Shah despite knowing about the post yesterday, with Shah resigning as John McDonnell's PPS, also doesn't look great.  Shah has at least made an unequivocal apology, and did so in the House of Commons, saying that her views have changed greatly over the past 2 years.

Whether that turns out to be that, and the claims that Shah has associations with others with exceptionally dodgy views on Israel stay only that, with Shah regaining the whip at some point in the future remains to be seen.  So long as other unacceptable posts are not forthcoming, I'd like to see Shah given the benefit of the doubt and for her to be judged by her deeds rather than past words.

We have though been going through another of those periods where accusations of racism and extremism have been chucked around liberally by all sides, all in the belief that there is some political advantage to be gained.  If it seems a bit rum for a prime minister involved in the smearing of Sadiq Khan as being a pal of Islamists to then comment on Labour's alleged problems with antisemitism, that's because it is.  It also ignores how all of us will have at some point come out with some misjudged, overwrought or plain wrong commentary; social media has only made it easier to discover and make an issue of at a later date.  


Nor is this necessarily of much interest to the wider public, whom if anything would prefer politicians to sound more like they do.  When you have people texting into phone-ins declaring themselves relieved that unaccompanied refugee children in Europe won't be coming to this country, describing them as "vermin" and "leeches", as I heard on the local BBC station earlier in the week, it's worth reflecting for the most part our representatives resist the temptation to use inflammatory language.

The same cannot be said for our allies.  When you consider how former Iranian president Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and remarks on how Israel would "disappear from the page of history" were brought up every time he made the news, it's somewhat odd we don't hear much about the views of Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev.  This is even more surprising when you consider he makes them in English, on Twitter, and to over 200,000 followers.  His most objectionable by a considerable margin was a tweet from a couple of years back when he declared that his country and Turkey were working together to counter the "myth" of the Armenian genocide, but he regularly insults neighbour Armenia, whether or not the on-going Nagorno-Karabakh conflict over the disputed territory is blowing hot or cold.  Such remarks from the head of state didn't stop Tony Blair from "advising" on the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, despite Azerbaijan's turn-around on human rights in general being described as outpacing even Russia's, of which we've heard much more about.  


Far be it from me to suggest we should care far more about genocide denying leaders of men than Labour MPs sharing viral images on Facebook, completely unacceptable as it was, but well, you know.

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Saturday, March 19, 2016 

That all purpose Labour and the left are a bunch of antisemites thinkpiece in full.

I write more in sorrow than angerCan it be that, my party, my politics, has become so infested with antisemites and antisemitism?

Yes.  Yes it can.  All the evidence is sadly there.  This is not just a case of two internet bad apples.  This is not just a case of a minority of students always having been raving numpties, and my now taking it out on them for having been one myself.

Of course I agree that anti-Zionism does not automatically amount to antisemitism.  Accusations of antisemitism were thrown around too liberally in the past in an attempt to stifle criticism of Israel.  But anti-Zionism has without doubt become a cover for overt antisemitism, of comments on big noses, shadowy conspiracies and control of the media.  The fact that one of Benjamin Netanyahu's key demands from the Palestinians is that they recognise Israel as the Jewish state, not just the homeland of the Jews is irrelevant.

This is all the fault of Corbyn.  Corbyn is not an antisemite himself, even though he describes Hamas as friends, went to meetings organised by Holocaust deniers, and has taken tea with those who have pushed the blood libel.  That Corbyn denies he knew about these things, or that they were disputed at the time, or that he was attempting to reach out to help bring peace simply isn't good enough.

Corbyn in turn has attracted those on the extreme left, those who simply hate Israel and Jews because they believe in white privilege, because they have ties with Islamists, or because they are just really nasty people, whatever it is they claim.

So yes, Labour (and the left) really does have a problem with Jews, as I think I and the other hundred commentators pushing this line have established.  Why oh why do they get so upset about Israel killing civilians, protesting as soon as so many as a dozen women and children are blown apart by weaponry supplied by Britain, while absolutely no one cares when the Russians massacre hundreds of thousands in Syria?

The Labour leadership might not care about this, but the Jewish community does, and so do all us journalists, ex-MPs, and people on the right of the party, as it's a really easy and effective way to get at Corbyn and pals.  We are in danger of becoming the true nasty party unless something is done about the racists in our midst.  Not that I'll give the party any credit if it does do more than just expel members with appalling views, but it's the thought that counts, right?

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Monday, January 19, 2015 

Pickled politics.

There's a simple reason as to why the Pickles letter to mosques has received the reaction it has: it's not so much due to the content, questionable as it is, as to how it's astonishingly badly written (PDF).  It appears to have been composed by someone who has the basics of English down, only without knowing what the words they're using mean.  Supposedly meant as reassurance, it comes across instead as sterile in its sentiments while demanding in what it asks.  We must show our young people this, this and this; you have an important responsibility in explaining and demonstrating how faith in Islam can be a part of British identity; we have an opportunity to demonstrate the true nature of British Islam today, and what being a British Muslim means today.  British values are Muslim values.

In so many ways, it's an example of how government thinking doesn't change.  It clearly wasn't meant to suggest imams aren't doing enough to emphasise how you can be a Muslim and thoroughly British; it just comes across that way because there's nothing Eric Pickles likes more than talking at people rather than talking with them.  It also shows how engrained communalism is, government reaching out solely to religious leaders still considered the equivalent of communicating with an entire minority.  Those already radicalised or most vulnerable to extremism are far more likely to listen to their parents than leaders at the mosque they may well have already clashed with, but of course they are the ones who must do this and must do that.  To be patronising, tone deaf and worse than useless at the same time takes particular skill though, for which much credit must go to the communities department.

After all, where do you even begin with the melange of Britishisms Pickles throws at the wall in the hope of some of them sticking?  What is British identity?  What is a British Islam, a British Muslim?  What are British values, and how can they be Muslim values at the same time?  I don't have the first idea, because almost every single person will respond in a different way, which if you were being charitable you could say would be very British.  The government itself doesn't know either, as we saw when they demanded schools teach British values in the aftermath of the Trojan Horse panic; err, it's the rule of law, democracy, free speech, that sort of thing.  Except we're more than happy to waive all three of those core values if necessary, especially if it means continuing to ally with the country more responsible than any other for the spread of extremist Islam, say.  Of those three values, only democracy is truly embedded in British society and generally respected, with the other two often deemed surplus to requirements, the rule of law especially if it gets in the way.  And free speech only goes so far, as we've gone over enough recently.

If you wanted to be additionally glib, you could say asking how faith in Islam can be a part of British identity is very much unBritish in itself.  We just get on with it, and considering the potential there has been for unrest over identity and integration, for the most part we've done pretty well so far.  Not for us the neuroses of the French, with the rise of the far-right and warnings about the simmering radicalism of the banlieues, although for all the mocking of the idea of Birmingham being an outpost of the caliphate it would be absurd to ignore completely how in some areas a very conservative interpretation of Islam is the norm, with all that entails both for women and rebellious youth.

It was all so very different at yesterday's Countering Anti-Semitism event in London.  No opaque statements about demonstrating how faith in Judaism can be a part of British identity, despite the  government acknowledging acts of extremism are not representative of Judaism, probably because it was Theresa May on duty rather than Pickles.  May instead courted votes, saying how she never thought she would see the day when members of the Jewish community would express fears about staying here.  Rather than perhaps allay those fears by pointing out how there is no specific threat at the moment to anyone, May went on to quote the French prime minister who spoke of how if 100,000 Jews left France the French republic would be judged a failure, pointed remarks that alluded directly back to the Vichy regime.  Repeating that same message except with France replaced with Britain doesn't then really work, and May then blunted it further by saying without all the other religious minorities Britain also wouldn't be Britain.  Nor would it without foreign students then, right?  As for whether Britain will still be Britain without page 3 girls, who knows?

The idea that perhaps this fearmongering over the perceived threat to Jews might be precisely what the extremists want doesn't seem to occur.  It also further highlights how specific targets can have a more dramatic impact than indiscriminate attacks, giving ideas to so-called "lone wolves".  The additional patrols being introduced, while in some cases a sensible precaution if used temporarily, can also lead to the exact opposite of the intended effect, or indeed, perhaps that response is exactly what is intended.

Certainly when last night's 10 O'Clock news dedicated almost 15 minutes to varying reports either directly on or connected to Islamic extremism, including a mother complaining about how she had received no help from the government on "deradicalising" her son after he returned from Syria, it's not difficult to see why some believe an attack is inevitable.  The challenges of radicalisation cannot be dealt with from Whitehall alone, wrote Pickles, in stating the bleeding obvious mode.  Perhaps Whitehall could at least try and deal with the root causes of the current anxiety though, which sadly involves reiterating once again just how counter-productive our policy on first Iraq and now Syria has been.  The blame however rests only with "these men of hate [who] have no place in our mosques or any place of worship" (Pickles again).  Good to know that you don't need to so much as be a Muslim to declare takfir, and I look forward to our Eric deciding in the future just who can and who can't be admitted to a Sikh temple also.  Clearly, as David Cameron declared, it's me rather than Pickles with the problem.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 

When words are not equal.

And what do you know, about alienation honey? Yeah please, explain how it feels.

There are numerous ways to shut down debate when it comes to Israel/Palestine.  The most obvious, and the most used and abused, is to cry antisemitism, although it must be stressed the line between vehement anti-Zionism and antisemitism is often an extremely fine one.  We saw this not too long ago when the Israeli ambassador to the UK denounced a Gerald Scarfe cartoon in the Sunday Times (having read a copy at the weekend, calling it a comic does a disservice to the Beano) as antisemitic on the grounds he portrayed Binyamin Netanyahu with a big nose, encasing Palestinians in a wall where the bricks were held together with blood.  This apparently invoked the blood libel and the age old antisemitic trope of caricaturing Jews as having big/long facial appendages.  As I noted at the time, it's fine for those who want to cry racism to do so on flimsy evidence, as Twitter would be even more unprofitable than it currently is if people didn't; when actual state actors start doing it to silence criticism, something much more sinister is at work.

Today we have a wonderful new example of the disparity in the nature of the discourse.  As they have in the past, Israeli politicians and those defending Israel's actions in Gaza have asked what other countries would do were they subjected to barrages of rockets on their towns and cities.  No nation could tolerate it, they say.  The IDF went so far as to photoshop an image of the House of Commons under just such an attack, questioning what we'd do then.  This obviously ignores how we dealt with the threat posed by the IRA, or how other countries which have faced down terrorist groups have done so without imposing a permanent siege on a heavily populated but relatively small city, but as the Israeli prime minister said, only Israel understands Israel.

When Lib Dem MP David Ward tweeted, saying "If I were in Gaza, would I fire a rocket? Probably yes" he was conducting a similar thought experiment.  You could say it's a rather redundant one, as transplanting yourself into such a situation without also taking into account how different your life would be makes it likely your entire world view would also be drastically altered, but at the same time it raises the question. What would you do? Would you resist as well, even if not necessarily alongside Hamas?  I find it likely I probably would.

Even to pose the question the other way it seems is to provide Hamas with succour, to suggest there is an equivalence between Hamas rockets and Israel defending itself.  Palestinians, as we really should have learned by now, don't have the same right to target those the UN says may have committed war crimes.  Indeed, according to the berk's berk, Tory chairman Grant Shapps, Ward's tweet may have incited violence, while Labour's Douglas Alexander said his "vile comments are as revealing as they are repellent".  Quickly the party issued a statement clarifying the obvious, that he was pointing out how people can be driven to such desperate measures, but not before the Board of Deputies of British Jews said Nick Clegg should expel Ward from the party.  Just as with everything else, words are simply not equal.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013 

Do we have to go through this again?

There really isn't much to add to the entire furore over Gerald Scarfe's cartoon in the last issue of the Sunday Times.  No, it clearly isn't antisemitic, unless you think as the Israeli ambassador and the Board of Deputies of British Jews apparently do that you can't portray an Israeli politician and blood in the same image for fear of invoking the blood libel.  It doesn't matter that there is nothing in the cartoon that even begins to highlight the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu is Jewish, or any suggestion that those encased in the wall are anything other than Palestinian, the majority of whom are Muslim rather Christian, it simply seems to have been down to how the cartoon was published on Holocaust Memorial Day that it's been so taken against.

At least when Steve Bell's cartoon of Netanyahu was accused of being antisemitic the only action taken was that the reader's editor suggested cartoonists shouldn't "use the of language of antisemitic stereotypes".  Considering the breadth of antisemitic literature and the hundreds of years of pogroms and prejudices, you can fairly easily find yourself completely unintentionally echoing old stereotypes, as Bell did by showing Netanyahu using Tony Blair and William Hague as puppets, or as Scarfe has now done through daring to suggest that Netanyahu might have some blood on his hands.  For the Sunday Times to essentially accept that it should never have ran the cartoon, purely because of the use of blood and because it was insensitively published on HMD, although Scarfe apparently hadn't realised that was the case, is utterly pathetic.

It's obvious though that this is both Murdoch's doing and the paper's new editor Martin Ivens having to follow where his master leads.  The paper at first rightly defended the cartoon as legitimate comment and as being typical of Scarfe's body of work, but this seems to increasingly mean nothing when it comes to the way some want to shut down debate.  On Newsnight last night Hugo Rifkind took issue with Steve Bell's bringing up of how Scarfe had also recently depicted Bashar Assad as drinking from a cup marked as containing children's blood, as though Assad and Netanyahu were comparable.  Clearly they aren't in the sense of democratic legitimacy. or the brutal methods they've employed, yet the point surely is, as always, that we expect more from those who receive massive amounts of Western aid and make great play of their being the only democracy in the Middle East, however out of date that claim now is.

To suggest there's been an awful lot of cant involved in this latest outbreak of accusations all but goes without saying.  Yes, it is indeed the case that there is a very fine line between antisemitism, anti-Zionism and vehement criticism of Israel, and it's also true that the apparent rise in recorded incidents of antisemitism is very worrying and has to be tackled.  The left does have a case to answer here, as that line has been breached in the past, and antisemitism when it comes to criticism of Israel has at times been tolerated when it would never be otherwise.  This said, it's also apparent there's an stark element of racism within Israeli society which goes under reported: in the past few months there's been reports of Ethiopian women being forcibly given birth control injections before being allowed in to the country, of fans of a football club campaigning against the signing of Muslim players, and most pertinently, Israeli politicians using disgusting language about African migrants.

This makes it all the more difficult to take when Daniel Taub effectively tries to halt an unpleasant but not unwarranted critique of his prime minister by crying racism.  People will always take offence and are perfectly entitled to, but when it's actual state actors that are attempting to close down legitimate debate it really is about time we sorted out this nonsense once and for all. 

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Monday, November 26, 2012 

Sensitivity, anti-Semitism and Steve Bell.



Back in 2002, the New Statesman was quite rightly criticised after it ran the above front cover.  Picturing a Star of David pinning down the very centre of the union flag, while asking whether there was a "kosher conspiracy" involving lobbying from advocates of Israel, it invoked the most classic of anti-Semitic tropes whether that was the intention or not.  Editor at the time Peter Wilby apologised, and ran an editorial admitting that he personally had gotten it badly wrong.


10 years on, the readers' editor at the Graun has been moved to comment on the above Steve Bell cartoon, ran the day after the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari.  Mainly responding to a couple of letters to the paper from Mark Gardner of the Community Support Trust as well as online criticism, Chris Elliot concludes his piece by saying that in his view, journalists should "not use the language – including the visual language – of antisemitic stereotypes".  It is undoubtedly the case that Jews have in the past been caricatured as powerful puppet masters, although more usually as pulling strings rather than wielding politicians as glove puppets.

If the cartoon does then echo an anti-Semitic stereotype, however unconsciously, does that by definition make it anti-Semitic?  In this instance I would suggest it does not.  Bell states, and Elliot recognises that he has often depicted politicians as either puppets or subservient to others (Tony Blair was at times a poodle to George Bush's chimp), and Bell argues that on this occasion his intention was no different.  Bell says the whole point of the cartoon is Benjamin Netanyahu's cynicism and his manipulation of the situation leading up to the launching of Operation Pillar of Defence, with Blair and William Hague unwilling to criticise his actions despite this being a repeat of the tactics of past Israeli leaders as elections approach.

It's an argument I myself have made, and while I can see why the depiction of Blair and Hague as glove puppets will be seen by some as either lazy or offensive, taken as a whole the cartoon is clearly not anti-Semitic.  As Bell says, the entire cartoon is a take on a photograph of Netanyahu giving a statement to the media, where the backdrop was Israeli flags and there was a menorah on the lectern.  As often as there is a fine line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and it's one where the left at times accepts prejudice it would never tolerate elsewhere, the cartoon isn't even the former; it's an attack on a politician and how he presents himself, not a country or a racial group.  It does not, even obliquely, imply that Jews as a whole are "omnipotent conspirators" as the Jewish Chronicle quoted Jeremy Brier as saying, even if it can be argued it does fall into the stereotype of depicting a Jew as a puppeteer.

The irony will not be lost on some that the Graun is the paper most associated, rightly or wrongly, with political correctness, and has on occasion ran some utterly loopy pieces on perceived bigotry.  In this case it seems to have to a certain degree reaped what it has sown, while also falling victim to those groups that do treat any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.  While there is nothing wrong with going to great lengths in a bid to be sensitive, what should not be silenced is legitimate criticism of politicians of any race, colour or creed for fear that a stereotype might be touched upon, regardless of the medium through which it is made.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011 

The depressing adventures of Melanie Phillips, pt 94.

Those with long memories for the rhetorical ticks of prominent political columnists might recall that Melanie Phillips had taken to referring to criticism of both herself and Israel as "verbal pogroms", as though by daring to take a different view to hers you were essentially perpetuating violence against her.

A Google search suggests that while Mel has cut back on her usage of that specific term, she's still as certain as ever that a concerted campaign of violence against Jewish people in this country, seemingly one which could be sponsored even by this government, is just around the corner. From a recent post on a incident at the School for Oriental and African Studies:

The pre-pogrom atmosphere in the UK against Israel and its supporters turned into outright thuggery at the weekend.

Yes, although you might not have personally noticed it, the atmosphere in this country is now so poisonous against Israel and its supporters that we're at the stage immediately prior to an widespread outburst of racially motivated murder and vandalism. It's one thing to be fearful that under certain circumstances such an atmosphere could arise; it's quite another to actively suggest it's already been reached. What a frightening, angry and incredibly sad place the inside of Phillips' mind must be.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007 

Boycotting and bullying.

The decision by the president of DePaul university to deny Norman Finkelstein his application for continued tenure highlights the yawning chasm between campus politics on both sides of the Atlantic. A little less than two weeks ago the University and College Union passed a motion by 158 to 99 for a "a comprehensive and consistent boycott" of all Israeli academic institutions, in solidarity with a call made by Palestinian trade unions for such measures. In one country, the anti-occupation argument wins, while on the other the accusations of antisemitism against those who are critical of Israeli government policy appear to have prevailed.

The background to Finkelstein being put out of a job is part of the wider argument, increasingly conducted outside Israel itself, about the differences between antisemitism and anti-Zionist expansion, about the rights of the Palestinians to resist and organise in the face of both a 40-year occupation and how the peace process can be moved on from outside. Finkelstein, a widely acknowledged brilliant analytical academic, the son of Holocaust survivors, has long been a thorn in the side of unapologetic pro-Israelis, most notoriously writing an attack on what he calls the "Holocaust industry", which he regards as both exploiting the shame and guilt felt about the failure to stop the Holocaust into treating Israel with kid gloves, ignoring its own abundant abuses of human rights and failure to make peace with the Palestinians.

Finkelstein's undoing appears to have been taking on Alan Dershowitz, an equally vehement defender of Israel to Finkelstein's ardent criticism. You might know Dershowitz more for one of his other ideas: proposing, despite his own opposition to torture, that authorities could gain a warrant which would allow them to engage a "suspect" with non-lethal forms of interrogation in a "ticking bomb" scenario. He more recently toured studios in effect defending rendition, making much the same argument, slightly altered by saying that since torture was already evidently taking place, that there should be set guidelines on what is and what is not allowed. Another similarly enlightened argument he made was that Israel should declare a unilateral ceasefire in responding to Palestinian terrorism, and that if militants didn't similarly declare an end to operations, that a village or town identified as being an operations base for the militants would be given a ultimatum, after which all the houses and buildings in the village would be destroyed. Even by the Israeli standards of inflicting collective punishment on the Palestinians, such a measure is terrifying in its base inhumanity.

Ignoring the more tedious elements of Finkelstein and Dershowitz's conflict, Dershowitz was one of the first to write to DePaul university calling for Finkelstein's request for further tenure to be denied. While Finkelstein's methods of responding and arguing are by his own admission polemical, and he strays occasionally into ad hominem attacks, with him making mistakes in his claims against Dershowitz's book The Case for Israel, there are few who regard him, as Dershowitz does, as an anti-Semite or a bigot. Ignoring perhaps the usual suspects who support and defend him in Noam Chomsky and Alexander Cockburn, highly respected historian of the Holocaust Raul Hilberg and Avi Shlaim, formerly of Haifa university, both went on Democracy Now! to support his continued tenure.

The whole dispute perhaps tells us more about how academia is being increasingly divided and ruled in Europe and America than it does about anything else. The biggest difference is how almost all political opinion in America is amazingly pro-Israeli, especially considering the relatively small Jewish population, which in any case overwhelming votes Democrat. Various reasons for this, differing between a highly successful Israeli lobby, itself the subject of high controversy involving Alan Dershowitz last year after a highly notable paper attempted to show how the Israeli lobby and US foreign policy intertwined, neo-con ideology which itself is highly caught up in the Likudist outlook on the Middle East, the support of Christian far-righters, for their own various selfish reasons, and just general sympathy for a people which without the intervention of the Americans may well have been close to being wiped out, all play a part, as does the continued concern about the intentions of Iran, at least now that Saddam Hussein has been removed from the equation. The "war on terror" has also thrown the two nations together in something of a common cause, despite the obvious differences between the various motives behind the attacks which both have suffered.

The movement towards boycotting Israel in Europe suggest that the opposite is true here, but this is almost certainly not the case. Prior to the removal of Conrad Black, the Telegraph was one of the strongest defenders of Israel policy in all areas, and while perhaps slightly less strident now that it's under the Barclay brothers, it remains mostly the same. It's not just the Melanie Philips' of this world that are shrill in their speaking out on Israel's behalf, but other organisations like Independent Jewish Voices, which while critical would by no means support a boycott of academia. The attempts to portray some of this legitimate criticism, as Deborah Lipstadt has, as soft-core denial, or even as Philips did, as Jews somehow being for Genocide, often shows just what those who are critical of the occupation have to face for speaking out. This is partly down to the defenders of Israel both using hyperbole and over-selling themselves at the same time, and while pro-Palestinians do fall into this trap as well, there is no other debate which so often descends purely into mud-slinging, with accusations of bigotry, self-hatred and racism never being far from surfacing.

As is so often the case, the middle road again seems to be the best course. I've never seen it adequately or lucidly explained exactly what an academic boycott of Israel is meant to achieve: it seems, despite the no doubt honourable intentions of the Palestinian trade unions and universities in calling for one, that it's meant to more send a far too easily misconstrued message to the world, with predictable results in backlash terms. It smacks all too much of intellectual circle-jerking, doing nothing to help the Palestinians on the ground while the great debate swirls round and round. The only boycott that really matters at the moment is the one which continues to cause economic devastation in the occupied territories, and which has more than a hand in the descent in Gaza into all-out civil war. That is the one which needs lifting, but it seems to have been almost forgotten. Finkelstein should be at DePaul, while universities ought to petitioning the government and the EU to lift the reckless and irresponsible boycotting of Hamas which is only penalising the people who had the audacity to use their democratic vote.

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