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Independent Jewish Voices debates itself in fantasyland
Added by David Hirsh on November 19, 2007 09:52:00 PM.
Independent Jewish Voices debates itself in fantasylandWhy did we need Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) when we already had Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JFJFP)?

IJV wasn't about justice for Palestinians, it was about antisemitism. It was formed to reassure the British intelligentsia and the British left that hostility to Israel could have no knock-on effect against Jews in general. IJV’s purpose is to deny that there is a threat of contemporary antisemitism. Even though many Jews do feel that hatred of Israel may lead to hatred of Jews, IJV offers an explicitly Jewish denial, in the name of Jews. It offers a succession of high profile Jewish celebrities, political activists and academics who will testify, ‘as a Jew’, that left-wing or liberal hostility to Israel is, in every case you care to examine, free from racist menace. They may offer scholarly caveats in small-print, but the IJV message is clear: in any particular case where it is alleged that there is a threat of antisemitism, IJV finds anti-Zionists not-guilty. It is not surprising that some people take these self-styled Independent Jewish Voices seriously, and take them as representatives of ‘progressive’ Jews.

IJV understands the most significant contemporary threat to Jews in Britain to come from the ‘Jewish establishment’: the evil troika of the Board of Deputies, the Chief Rabbi and the Jewish Chronicle. That is the threat against which it felt the need to organize.

IJV complains that the ‘official’ Jewish community refuses to allow Jews to criticize it or to criticize Israeli policy. It says that those ‘dissidents’ who do criticize are subjected to smear campaigns which aim to silence them with a dishonest charge of ‘antisemitism’. People in IJV present themselves as weak victims of a hugely powerful Jewish lobby.

For the past four years there has been a campaign to exclude Israeli academics – and nobody else – from British universities, journals and conferences. IJV denied that this was an antisemitic proposal. IJV denied that the boycott was motivated using antisemitic language and images. IJV denied that it created a poisonous atmosphere of antisemitism on the campuses.

For the past two years there has been a campaign to blame an ‘Israel lobby’ for secretly controlling American foreign policy and for starting the Iraq war. IJV denied that this was an antisemitic claim and it called for more scholarly debate on the claim that Zionists control America.

It is increasingly common to hear the claim that the ‘lobby’ dishonestly ‘plays the antisemitism card’ in order to silence criticism of Israeli human rights abuses. IJV defends this claim.

If somebody says that the lobby has its financial grips on the western world, or if somebody claims that Israel is the greatest threat to world peace, or if somebody says that Israel has a policy of gratuitously murdering children, or if somebody murders Israelis on a bus, or if somebody launches missiles into Israeli cities, they can rely on IJV to deny a link to antisemitism. If somebody calls for the destruction of Israel by using the formulation "democratic secular state", they can rely on IJV to say that such a slogan contains no antisemitic threat to Jews. Indeed many of the loudest IJVers are for the destruction of Israel in this way, as if a possible result of the destruction of Israel could be a "democratic secular state".

IJV did all it could to neutralize antisemitism as an issue during the campaign to boycott Israeli universities. But on the proposal itself IJV said nothing. While the ‘debate’ raged, while students and lecturers who argued against the boycott were subject to intense pressure from the boycott campaign, while they were vilified, while they were accused of being part of a Zionist lobby, while they were accused of supporting the murder of Palestinians, while they were accused of being pro-Nazi, pro-apartheid, pro-racist, IJV took no position, except to offer reassurance that boycotting was an entirely respectable point of view.

Now that the boycott campaign has been defeated, IJV has suddenly found its courage, and it wants to debate the boycott. Except it wants to have a fantasy-land debate rather than a real debate.

Just as the boycott debate is dead, IJV is attempting to kick-start it back into life. IJV wants to debate the rights and wrongs of excluding Israelis, but it wants to debate it nicely. In the old days, respectable right-wing establishment English Jews would shy away from opposing antisemitism. Now it is the apparently left-wing IJV which constitutes the establishment that is afraid to confront antisemitism.

IJV doesn’t want to debate the boycott with Engage, it wants to set up Richard Kuper as a straw-man opponent of the boycott. Richard Kuper never lifted a finger to oppose the boycott. He risked nothing, he stood up for nothing, he didn’t deliver a single vote at UCU congress. He was frightened to debate with a representative of the Jewish community. IJV wants the boycotters to debate Kuper because it knows that Kuper will not be so ill-mannered as to raise the issue of antisemitism or to express any anger toward those who have created and legitimized an antisemitic atmosphere in our universities.

IJV wanted to pretend that the boycott debate was other than it was. It wanted Ilan Pappe and Richard Kuper, Ayel Gross and Adah Kay to sit around with Jon Snow from the telly in an ‘asa Jew’ love-in.

And then farce turned even more absurd. Ann Jungman, secretary of IJV, wrote an email to Engage in which she said:
Jonathan Rosenhead has been most insistent that Bricup be given a specific chance to put their views. We have agreed to this and will ask Jon Snow to invite Ghada Karmi to speak for Bricup. Would Engage like to nominate a speaker, who will definitely be called up to speak?
And, in case we didn’t understand the insult the first time round, Jungman wrote back to clarify:
Brian Klug thinks I was a bit obscure in my email to you. What we are suggesting is a three minute contribution from the floor, as soon as the listed speakers finish.
So when the boycott campaign insists, IJV folds, and does what it is told. It invites Ghada Karmi, the woman who admitted that "The power of the Israel lobby in America is legendary" and the woman who describes Jews in her book, as a
tormented, suspicious and neurotically self-absorbed community toughened by centuries of the need to survive.
And IJV, the network founded on the rhetoric of free debate, offers Engage 3 minutes from the floor. IJV is afraid of real debate. Instead IJV sets up a pretend debate. IJV is on both sides of the pretend debate and so is guaranteed a win. But as always it strokes its own ego at great cost to everybody else. The cost this time is more denial of antisemitism and further legitimation of the campaign to exclude Israelis. It also risks breathing new life into the corpse of the boycott campaign. Fortunately, IJV is not sufficiently influential to succeed.

David Hirsh