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The philosophy behind the Natfhe boycott proposal
Added by David Hirsh on May 16, 2006 08:48:10 PM.
I sent an email round to some Natfhe officers telling them about the Engage website and attaching copies of these three arguments against the proposal to draw up a blacklist of Israeli Jewish academics, which is to be discussed at their conference this month. I received this reply from Steve Cushion who is a member of the national executive committee of Natfhe:

As you have asked for my views, I suppose I should give you them unvarnished. I think:

1. Israel is a colonial settler state and, as such, is built upon racist foundations.

2. To criticise Zionism and Israel is not to be anti-Semitic, but rather it is criticism of a political philosophy that many of us believe is a blind alley for the Jewish people. The Zionist state's reprehensible behaviour in the occupied territories has caused an increase rather than a decrease in anti-Jewish feeling in this world. I hope that criticising a government of a country is not seen as hatred of the inhabitants of that country as I have been extremely critical of the governments of the United Kingdom over the years.

3. A two state solution in Palestine institutionalises a racist divide in the region and is a bar to peace.

4. The only possible solution is for a secular socialist state from the river to the sea.

5. Israel exists as an outpost of United States imperialism in the Middle East and could not exist without massive aid from the US governement for that purpose. The British government, in its role as US poodle is part of that problem.

6. Anti-Semitism needs to be fought head on in the countries where it occurs as do all forms of racism. This is not done by proposing a separatist or nationalist solution, rather it is done by a united response from all socialists and anti-racists. By supporting emigration to Israel, Zionists have bottled out of the fight against anti-Semitism.

7. The example of South Africa is instructive in that there were two opposing strands to the resistance to racism there that may be summed up by the opposed slogans "one man one vote" and "one settler one bullet". The fact that the multi-racial ANC became the dominant trend in the resistance movement rather than the narrow nationalist PAC was in no small measure due to the international boycott that gave political credence to those who supported a multi-racial solution. To this end, I support a complete boycott of Israel.

I realise that this was not what you wanted to hear, but you did ask. Thank you for your contribution to the debate, Steve.

Steve Cushion is a lecturer at London Metropolitan University with research interests in, amongst other things, Resistance movements in World War Two and Jewish History.

3 & 4 are unbelievable, other-wordly, surreal. Steve thinks that if the Palestinians and the Israelis sat down to negotiate, if Israel agreed to withdraw behind the green line, if the two parties did a deal over the Palestinian refugees and over Jerusalem, if the Palestinian Authority agreed to take all possible measures to stop attacks against Israel, then this would be a "bar to peace". It would be a backward step. Better stay as we are. Because the only possible solution is a socialist state from the river to the sea. For Steve, a "secular democratic state" is not sufficiently radical. The answer is "socialism". But what was the question? The question was, I assume, how do we end the intolerable situation for Palestinians who are suffering under Israeli occupation and how do we end the intolerable situation for Israelis who are targeted by people trying to kill them when they go out for dinner or when they take a bus to work? Socialism.

5 is not convincing. Israel won the war in 1948 against the Arab states because the Jews in Palestine were supplied with weapons by Stalin, via his Czechoslovakian colony because there was a British and American arms embargo. It is fashionable to believe that Israel controls the USA, that it is able to decide issues as important as when America should go to war, and send it off to do its bidding. Steve Cushion rejects this conspiracy theory in favour of its opposite: Israel does not control America, but is in fact an American outpost. This reading has it that Israel is not really a state at all and Israelis are not really a nation - they are in fact American colonists. Steve adds that Britain also is a controlled subsidiary of America (a poodle). Steve has a research interest in Jewish history, he knows about how Israel came into being and he knows something about its history. It is difficult to believe that he really thinks this stuff. But to wonder why he might pretend to believe it is just as puzzling.

In 7, Steve considers two possible strategies for the Palestinians to move towards socialism; either they should hold a democratic election, with each person "from the river to the sea" having one vote (is this what he means by socialism?) or they should shoot all of the Israeli settlers. He opts for the first rather than the second. He argues that the international boycott of South Africa was decisive in the process that led to the "multi-racial" ANC winning power in South Africa (actually it was non racial) rather than the Black Consciousness movement, which he misrepresents as genocidal. He thinks that it was nothing to do with what people in the South African liberation movements thought or did; nothing to do with the political debates in the South African non racial trade unions, nothing to do with a battle of ideas between democrats, socialists, Stalinists, black nationalists - but was in fact to do with people in foreign countries refusing to buy Cape apples, to bank at Barclays and to fill their cars with Shell oil. And presumably also, the academic boycott of South Africa, that nobody took much notice of anyway. For serious discussion of the Israel = South Africa claim, see John Strawson or Susie Jacobs. See also Benjamin Pogrund and Ralph Seliger.

I clearly remember sitting through a long and learned talk from a South African "Marxist" in the 1980s explaining that apartheid was so bound up with capitalism that there was no possibility that apartheid could be defeated without a socialist revolution. I wonder if Steve remembers such nonsense then and why he repeats such nonsense now.

If Steve seriously thinks that Israel/Palestine is like South Africa, then why is he not in favour of a process of negotiation like the one that finally ended the apartheid regime? His understanding of apartheid South Africa seems to be as hazy as his analysis of the contemporary Middle East.

2 is anachronistic. He writes as though Israel was not a nation state but was in reality a political and social movement based on a bad idea. Jews shouldn't go to Israel, he says, they should fight antisemitism where they are. Zionism is not a solution to antisemitism. I feel like I have received an email from 1925. Jews did go to Israel Steve. They didn't go because they thought it was a good idea, they didn't go because they thought Zionism was better than socialism, they went because Hitler made a pretty good go at killing them all. They went to Palestine fleeing for their lives. They risked their lives to get past the Royal Navy that was trying to stop them going. Other Jews joined them there when they were ethnically cleansed from the great cosmopolitan cities of the Middle East by Arab nationalists. Others joined them after the fall of the antisemitic Soviet empire in 1989.

This bit I love: "The Zionist state's reprehensible behaviour in the occupied territories has caused an increase rather than a decrease in anti-Jewish feeling in this world." Lets pretend that this is true, and that "the Zionist state" is responsible for antisemitism rather than the antisemites. "Antisemitism" says Steve, "needs to be fought head on in the countries where it occurs as do all forms of racism". Emigrating to Israel is no solution to antisemitism. Yes, finally something we can agree on. Steve agrees that antisemitism is on the rise and that it is partly to do with discourses around the Israel/Palestine conflict. So how should we fight it?

We should fight it by drawing up a blacklist of Israeli Jewish academics and excluding them from the global academic community.

David Hirsh