Charles Frith is a Holocaust denier and minor celebrity in the anti-Semitic Twitter-community with over 32,000 followers, at least some of them real. He appeared in the news recently after an SNP MP, Sandra White, had to apologise after retweeting one of his anti-Semitic tweets. I am an academic staff member at Kingston University. Last week, Frith phoned my office posing as a job-seeker in order to obtain information about me. He then sent me a threatening email: ‘I’m now asking you formally to remove all your anonymous Storify posts about me before I take more serious measures.’ The email was cc’d to one of my university managers and another colleague. The ‘serious measures’ were not specified, but the trouble for me was that I had never written any Storify posts about Frith, or even heard of him until a day or two previously. He had convinced himself that I was a certain pseudonymous blogger called Soupy One who has spent years cataloguing and exposing the activities of online anti-Semites, but who has – perhaps understandably given the sort of people he deals with – chosen to keep his real identity concealed. Needless to say, I am not ‘Soupy One’; I have taken pride in blogging under my real name for years. Never mind; Frith’s gang of online nutters has been aggressively bombarding the Kingston University twitter account. They have been circulating on Twitter a photo of my face with the caption ‘Is Marko Atilla [sic] Hoare the notorious Anti Semite [sic] @inthesoupagain’ (Frith assures people of his ‘Semitic Heritage [sic]’ in order to label his critics anti-Semites).
It is difficult to do justice to just what a raving anti-Semitic crackpot Frith is. His tweets, of which Soupy One has compiled an illustrative selection, speak for themselves:
Germans were the losers of WWII. Most Germans don’t have the guts to look into the fake 6M holohoax figures @rajaaJT
— Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith) August 1, 2014
Actually not. Jewish Bolsheviks were behind the 25-60 million genocide in Russia. @earthexperience
— Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith) August 7, 2014
— Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith) May 12, 2015
Jewish Al-Sisi Runs Egypt; Now an Israeli-Occupied Territory http://t.co/ui7jm1ixDX
— Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith) November 25, 2014
Some of his deleted tweets endorsed the view that ‘the Auschwitz chambers were delousing stations in Germany and France’; that ‘Jewish Bolshevism’ was responsible for ’20 million dead’; and that the Apollo moon landings were a hoax. He has blogged that the figure of six million Holocaust dead was fabricated before World War II, and that the real figure is ‘somewhere in between half a million to a million’. Another of those prominent in the Twitter campaign to ‘out’ me has been Alison Chabloz (aka ‘Autumn’s Here’, @AJCTmusic), whose anti-Semitic antics (performing the quenelle; publishing Holocaust-revisionist material; questioning the reality of the gas chambers) made the press last summer during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival at which she performed. She is on record as tweeting that most Auschwitz victims died of typhus and that Anne Frank’s diary is a fabrication.
As a genocide scholar, it is part of my job to upset people like Frith and Chabloz. I specialise in Bosnia and teach the history of the Holocaust and genocide. This year, I appeared in the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s annual commemorative programme, screened in Westminster and broadcast on BBC2, and wrote a post for its blog on the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. However, the intensity of the poisonous current that surrounds Frith can only be explained by reference to something else: Palestine. Frith is a committed ‘anti-Zionist’, and much of his tweeting and many of his followers are above all anti-Israel and ‘pro-Palestinian’ in nature, though most of them have about as much in common with genuine, committed friends of the Palestinians as a bag of Turkey Twizzlers have with actual live, flapping farmyard birds. They are radical left/right-wing fanatics inhabiting a bizarre world in which conspiracies involving Jews and capitalists are omnipresent. The immediate reason that Frith and his mob fixated on me was because Soupy One had published an article in which my name was tagged, and a none-too-bright Frith groupie – a teenager or not much older, with a Palestine-themed profile picture – mistook the tag for the name of the article author. And if you’re the sort of person who thinks the Rothschilds rule the world and Mossad did 9/11, then that counts as hard evidence for you. The groupie consequently launched a blog to ‘out’ me, and has apparently been trying to contact Kingston University to present it with the evidence.
This affair highlights the toxic subculture that has grown up around the movement for ‘Palestine solidarity’, in which the principled, genuine pro-Palestinian activists and the honourable cause of Palestinian independence itself have been increasingly swamped by crazies for whom the whole cause is simply a way of fighting imperialism, global capitalism and the (Jewish) rulers of the universe. For people who inhabit their dystopian fantasy world, launching witch-hunts against random bystanders is unproblematic. Yet their behaviour is also symptomatic of an activist culture in and around universities in which ‘offensive’ or politically incorrect views of all types are to be censored or screamed down, and rigorous debate and criticism stifled. In the US, Nicholas Christakis, master at Silliman College, Yale University, was screamed at by one of his students and told to resign after he defended the right of other students to wear ‘offensive’ Halloween costumes. Here in the UK, students at Cardiff University petitioned for eminent feminist Germaine Greer to be banned from giving a talk there, and the student officer at University College London banned anti-ISIS fighter Macer Gifford from giving a talk hosted by the UCLU Kurdish Society.
Frith is not the first person who has tried to censor my views by attacking my university. David N. Gibbs of the University of Arizona, author of a book on the former Yugoslavia that attributes the break up to an imperialist conspiracy and denies the Srebrenica genocide, sent a threatening, bogus complaint to my university after I published an extended review of his book, in which I thoroughly exposed its worthlessness as a piece of scholarship. Gibbs’s bogus complaint was a desperate effort to suppress my review, and bore some similarities with Frith’s – including even a gratuitous reference to his own Jewish background. Naturally, Kingston University did not uphold Gibbs’s ‘complaint’ and exonerated me of any wrongdoing, and I subsequently refuted his arguments comprehensively on my blog, since which Gibbs has responded with hysterical published attacks on KU and threats to its senior management. Gibbs’s rejected, refuted complaint was republished by the youthful Frith groupie who has been harassing me.
However, the roots of Frith’s attempt to censor me do not lie wholly in the realm of the anti-establishment counter-culture. Soupy One, by his own admission, has no connection whatever to Kingston University, and the false rumour that he does originated with the right-wing, anti-Muslim pundit Douglas Murray. Murray was upset about Soupy One’s references to his less than condemnatory views of the English Defence League. Instead of attempting to refute by rational argument, Murray tweeted threats – he identified Soupy One as a KU staff member, and offered to inform on him to the university:
— Douglas Murray (@DouglasKMurray) February 26, 2015
These tweets were then picked up by the Frith groupie, who reproduced them prominently. Murray has now been asked several times on Twitter to explain his claim that Soupy One was an employee of Kingston University, but has failed to do so. He has in the past come under strong criticism from at least two KU staff members – myself and the well known left-wing journalist Sunny Hundal. Murray is on record as stating: ‘mass immigration has altered our country completely. It has become a radically different place, and London has become a foreign country. In 23 of London’s 33 boroughs “white Britons” are now in a minority.’ He presumably views Kingston University, with one of the most ethnically diverse student bodies of any university in the UK, as part of that foreign country.
Murray may seem a strange source for anti-Zionists such as Frith and his circle to base their opinion on. As a hard-line supporter of Israel, he has compared Palestinian statehood to ISIS and made blanket accusations of anti-Semitism against anti-Israel protesters. Nevertheless, Murray is a fully paid-up member of the campus censorship league, if not its honorary president. He welcomed Southampton University’s decision earlier this year to cancel, in the face of protests, a conference questioning Israel’s right to exist, even calling for universities that host such conferences to lose their government funding. He has lamented the failure of the University of Cambridge to sack Muslim scholar Abdul Hakim Murad for holding homophobic views, and the failure of the University of Oxford to take action against scholar Tom Paulin, who apparently compared Israeli settlers to Nazis.
There is a lesson to be learned here: the intolerant fanatics of radical campus politics and the Palestine solidarity movement do not behave as they do in opposition to the establishment; rather, their sense of victimhood and entitlement feeds off mainstream establishment culture. In attempting to silence me via my employers, Frith and his circle of ‘rebels’ were simply following the example set by a tenured US professor (Gibbs) and a Spectator columnist (Murray). Frith even cc’d both Gibbs and Murray in his threatening email to me; I doubt either of them is in any way connected to him, but he presumably sought validation from them. Irrespective of their political views or status, these people all apparently share the belief that university administrations, far from acting as the guardians of the right to free speech of their staff and students, should rather be policing their staff members’ exercise of this right, and restraining them at the request of aggrieved outsiders.
If we are to preserve our universities as vibrant centres of intellectual life, we academics must stand and speak our minds, and refuse to be bullied by those who would prefer us to sit down and shut up. Because the more we pander to the bullies, the more we invite further attacks on our already endangered freedom of speech. And if we bow to bullies from the ranks of the ‘respectable’, it is only a matter of time before every Holocaust-denying fruitcake starts thinking they can dictate what we can or cannot say.
Update: It turns out that the basis for Charles Frith’s claim to be ‘Semitic’ is that he is half-Maltese, and that Malta is ‘a Semitic country’. The nonentity and egomaniac has written this post about himself, explaining this. I intend to publish below further examples of his vicious Jew-hatred as and when I come across them, in order to expose him in the eyes of the credulous pro-Palestinian activists who retweet him:
: Israel To Coordinate With Google, YouTube, To Censor Palestinian Videos Of Conflict pic.twitter.com/0d9xGODDRz
— Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith) November 27, 2015
Palestine is set to seek formal recognition of its independence at the UN this month. A just and lasting end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must involve full sovereignty, independence and security for both nation-states, Israel and Palestine. Both the Israeli and the Palestinian nations have the right to self-determination and national existence within fair borders, which means an Israel within its recognised, pre-1967 borders and a Palestine comprising the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem – any departure from this should only be on the basis of wholly equitable land swaps. After Israeli independence, Palestinian independence will comprise the second pillar of the future settlement. That is why all of us who support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should support Palestine’s bid for independence. It would strike a blow against the rejectionists on both sides: the Palestinian extremists who still dream of wiping Israel off the map and driving the Jews into the sea, and the Israeli extremists who seek a Greater Israel through the racist, colonialist settlement-building programme in the West Bank.
Some argue that Palestine’s independence should only come with a final, negotiated settlement, and that trying to establish it now would constitute a unilateral move. Yet Israel’s independence has, quite rightly, been established and internationally recognised ‘unilaterally’, in the absence of a comprehensive peace settlement, and there is no reason why Palestine should be treated differently. Borders and the status of refugees can be the subject of negotiations, but a nation’s right to sovereignty and independence is an absolute and cannot be. Others argue that a unilateral Palestinian bid for independence would mark a blow against the negotiated peace process. On the contrary, as things stand, the interminable, moribund peace process is going nowhere, and could only benefit from the establishment of a proper Palestinian partner. For you can channel Palestinian activity and aspirations through the medium of legitimate national statehood, or push them into the arms of Hamas and other extremists; that is the choice faced by the international community. Middle Eastern peace has, in fact, benefited from past ‘unilateral’ steps, such as the 1978 Camp David Accords and the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty, both of which were taken in the absence of a general settlement. Every time any country ‘unilaterally’ recognises either Israel or Palestine, we are a step closer to normalisation.
The notion that we in the West should oppose Palestinian independence out of solidarity with Israel should also be rejected. Our friendship and solidarity should rightfully go to the state and people of Israel, not to the current Israeli government, whose continued settlement-building activity reveals it to be an obstacle to peace unworthy of any solidarity, and which has further disgraced itself by its support for the Mubarak dictatorship earlier this year. In fact, recognition of Palestinian independence is in the national interest of Israel, since Israel can have no ultimate peace and security without freedom and justice for the Palestinians. Israeli and Palestinian national interests are complementary, not contradictory.
Readers are urged to sign the international petition in favour of Palestinian independence.
I received today a critical response to my post yesterday about the conflict in Gaza from my friend Jasmin Ademovic, who is an intern at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and is from Srebrenica in Bosnia. With Jasmin’s permission, I am publishing his letter along with my response to it.
Hope all is well. I just read your blog article on the Palestine-Israel issue, and felt that I had to comment, something I rarely do on websites such as the Guardian, New Statesman etc because ignorance or the belief of righteousness can rarely be defeated. Perhaps I’m just too cynical.
However, reading your article disappointed me, probably because it was from you. It seems that you’re willing to go further in condemning the Serbs in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo than you are in relation to the Israelis, which is somewhat upsetting because I see a level of similarity between the Republika Srpska and Israel, i.e the creation of an entity (with the hope of eventual statehood through policies of attacks and non-refugee return) and the state of Israel which has expanded over 60 years to what it is now. This has been achieved through ethnic cleansing; Ilan Pappe and my own former personal tutor Oren Ben-Dor describe it as genocide. However, after my dissertation I’m not as convinced as they are about this because of the difficulty in law in defining it.
Anyway, we can all agree on Hamas rocket attacks being probable war crimes and pointless. Personally I hope for the Palestinians to become more like the Black South Africans in terms of violence/non-violence as a tactic. However, saying that ‘given the equal justice of both…causes’ does not seem to be accurate – in 60 years’ time if Bosnian Muslims were firing rockets at the RS I would not be saying that the Serbs had a ‘just cause’ and neither would you.
And as far as the Hamas rejection of Israel – they have said they would recognise them (because it would be practical and necessary to do so) if they fulfilled certain criteria. Considering Israel always wants its criteria fulfilled before it ‘talks’ about ‘peace’ why should it be any different for the Palestinians after 60 years of aggression, repression and war crimes ?
I could go on forever, do another dissertation on this etc, so I’ll stop here. Hopefully you can make out some valid points, as I feel that was more of a rant.
All the best.
I do understand where you’re coming from, and I used to feel that way about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict myself. But I think there are important reasons why one should be more even-handed with regard to Israel and Palestine than with regard to Serbia and Bosnia or Kosova.
Firstly, nobody in Bosnia or Kosova denies the right of Serbia to exist as a state, or denies the legitimacy of the Serbs’ national existence. Nobody is threatening to wipe Serbia off the map. By contrast, what makes the Israeli case unique is the way that wide sections of the Arab and Muslim worlds have linked the Palestinian cause with rejection of the legitimacy of Israel as a state and nation, and a belief that Israel ought rightfully to disappear
Secondly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t just about the Israelis and Palestinians. The international campaigns in defence of Bosnia and Kosova were for the most part benevolent, progressive and democratic. By contrast, while one section of the pro-Palestinian movement is indeed progressive and democratic, the Palestinian cause has unfortunately been to a considerable extent hijacked by some extremely poisonous elements: anti-Semites, Islamists and other members of the extreme right and extreme left in the West; people who hate the US and liberal democracy, and interpret the Palestinian struggle against Israel in anti-Western terms.
Very often, these are the same people who have supported Milosevic and the Great Serbian cause for the same anti-Western reasons. This is an entirely negative and reactionary category of people. By contrast, I feel I have a lot in common with liberal Zionists who support a two-state solution; many liberal Zionists have been staunch defenders of Bosnia, and opponents of the genocide in Darfur.
Thirdly, whatever the faults of the Izetbegovic regime, it was not on a par with Hamas, which is an explicitly fundamentalist, anti-Semitic organisation. Izetbegovic favoured Muslim coexistence with non-Muslims in Bosnia; Hamas would like to wipe out the Jews or drive them into the sea. Its rocket attacks on Israeli civilians have to be seen in this context.
I agree that there are some parallels between the Republika Srpska and Israel, but ultimately the differences greatly outweigh the similarities.
Firstly, the Serbs before 1992 already had their own national state – Serbia – and an independent multinational Bosnia was an entirely reasonable compromise solution to the Bosnian Serb national question. Bosnian Serbs had traditionally viewed Bosnia as their homeland and supported Bosnian autonomy, and a part of them did, indeed, accept Bosnian independence in 1992. But the Jews have no national state but Israel, and there was no realistic alternative for the fulfilment of their national aspirations; a bi-national Jewish-Arab state in Palestine was not a serious possibility.
Secondly, whereas it was the Serb nationalists who rejected the moderate option and started the war in 1992, it was the Arabs who rejected the UN partition plan of 1947, which was the most reasonable compromise solution. After losing the Israeli war of independence, the Arabs then refused to make peace with Israel or recognise it. They thereby ensured that the Palestinian refugees would remain refugees, and their implacable hostility led directly to the war of 1967, which resulted in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Of course one should condemn the Israeli ethnic-cleansing of Palestinians in the 1940s and Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, but it is ultimately the Arab side that bears the greater blame for the outbreak and persistence of this conflict.
Finally, there is a practical reason for being even handed: the world is bitterly divided over the rights and wrongs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; international efforts to resolve it will only be effective and have legitimacy in the eyes of the world if pressure is put on both sides. But as for your point about the desirability of Palestinian resistance evolving to be more like Nelson Mandela’s black South African resistance; I entirely agree.
In deciding to comment on the conflict in Gaza, I’m reminded of the old joke from the time of the siege of Sarajevo, in which someone is alleged to have written on a Sarajevo wall, ‘Comrade Tito, please come back to us’, and someone else then wrote below, ‘I am not so stupid’. The bitterness of the polemics over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is certainly on a par with the bitterness of those over the former Yugoslavia, which is enough to make even a Balkan veteran such as myself think twice before venturing onto the Gazan terrain. Yet it is increasingly difficult to remain silent in the face of the escalating calamity of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, in essence, a national conflict similar to those over Bosnia, Kosova, Cyprus and Turkish Kurdistan. Yet for all the similarities, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also unique, in the peculiar symmetry of the legitimate causes of each of the two sides. There is or was no justice whatsoever in Turkey’s oppression of the Kurds, in Serbia’s oppression of the Kosova Albanians, in Turkey’s dismemberment of Cyprus or in Serbia’s and Croatia’s dismemberment of Bosnia. Any discussion of these cases must proceed from the basis that the respective instances of national oppression or aggression, in each case, are injustices that must be addressed, and that the injustices carried out or threatened by the other sides in each conflict are simply of a lower order of magnitude. For example, no amount of irritation at Greek Cypriot behaviour in recent years, or sympathy for the current Turkish government’s honourable attempts to reach a settlement over Cyprus, can obscure the fact that the Turkish partition of Cyprus is an injustice that should never be recognised. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, the absolute legitimacy of the Israeli quest to survive in the face of sections of the Arab and Muslim world that do not recognise its right to exist is matched by the absolute legitimacy of the Palestinian quest for national independence and statehood.
Thus, it does not make sense to attribute to either side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the role of national oppressor equivalent to Serbia with regard to the Kosova Albanians or Turkey with regard to the Kurds. Israel’s horrific oppression of the Palestinians is an absolute, and the existential threat to Israel represented by Arab and Muslim rejectionism is also an absolute. Hamas is at once the representative of the oppressed Palestinians of Gaza and the spearhead of the Islamist campaign to wipe Israel off the map. This peculiar symmetry may be attributed to the fact that while on the one hand the conflict is the fault of the Arab states, on account of their refusal since the 1940s to recognise Israel or reach a just settlement as well as their refusal to absorb the Palestinian refugees, on the other hand, the overwhelming weight of the suffering in the conflict has been borne by the Palestinian people. The legitimacy of each side’s case makes for exceptionally rigid discussions about the conflict.
Paradoxically, however, the very intractability of the Palestinian conflict is matched by the obviousness of what the solution should be in the eyes of most reasonable people: firstly, two states based on Israel in its pre-1967 borders and a Palestine comprising the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, with any departure from these borders being based on entirely equitable territorial swaps; and secondly, a Palestinian abandonment of the right of return in favour of just compensation for refugees, matched by just compensation for the Jews expelled from Arab countries after 1948. Such a settlement would be eminently fair and should be welcomed by moderates on both sides, as the alternative to a continuation of the conflict that is increasingly likely to lead to calamity for at least one of them, possibly both.
This being so, the international community should rescue Israel and the Palestinians from their current impasse by imposing a just peace of this kind upon them. An element of coercion is necessary as, without it, domestic opposition might make it politically difficult for the leadership of either side to accept such a compromise. Given the equal justice of both the Israeli and the Palestinian causes, to be acceptable to both the parties and to the international community, the coercion would have to be applied to both sides.
A possible model for the imposition of a fair compromise on Israel and the Palestinians might be the 1999 Rambouillet negotiations to resolve the Kosovo dispute. Less important than the actual compromise offered was the method of compulsion, involving a threat against both sides. As Tim Judah recounts: ‘While the Serbs were being told that if they failed to sign up to the draft proposals they would be bombed, the Albanians were, in effect, being told that if failure was their fault, they would be left to the tender mercies of the Serbian security forces and paramilitaries.’ This follows the dictum of Conor Cruise O’Brien, that ‘Conflicts don’t have solutions. They have outcomes.’ In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, the international community should impose a just settlement by threatening to come down like a ton of bricks on whichever side rejects the settlement. But this should not, let us be categorical, involve a threat of direct military action against either side.
A possible punishment for a rejection by the Palestinians might be international recognition of Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank settlements and support for its crushing of Palestinian resistance by any means necessary, coupled with military support against any retaliation from the Arab or Muslim world. Should the settlement be accepted by Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian leadership but rejected by Hamas, the Palestine Liberation Organisation could avert this punishment by joining with Israel to drive Hamas out of the Gaza Strip, after which the path to a settlement would be clear. Conversely, a possible punishment for a rejection by Israel might be a unilateral recognition of an independent Palestine in the proposed borders and punitive sanctions against Israel, coupled with international support for Palestinian efforts to drive the Israeli Defence Forces from the West Bank. Hopefully, such a double deterrent would ensure acceptance of the settlement by both sides, but if it did not, there would at least be an outcome.
If this proposal sounds harsh, I should reply that allowing the conflict to fester, leading eventually to an attempt at a more radical solution by one side or the other, would be much more harsh.
As someone who believes that trade unions have a vital role to play in a democratic and pluralistic society, and as an academic, I am a member of the University and College Union (UCU), and was previously a member of its predecessor, the Association of University Teachers (AUT), which merged with another union in 2006 to form the UCU. The UCU/AUT has been responsible for raising the salaries of academic staff such as myself, and I feel that I and other academics should support it. Yet I am becoming increasingly worried that my union is being hijacked by political extremists who are less concerned with defending the salaries and working conditions of its members, and more concerned with promoting an extremist political cause that most of its members do not support. As a non-activist member, I periodically learn from outside sources about steps being taken by union activists to promote this cause, over and above the heads of ordinary members such as myself.
So it was, back in 2005 when I was working at the University of Cambridge, I and other non-activist members learned after the fact that, via its secretary, the Cambridge branch of AUT had voted in favour of an academic boycott of Israeli academics, when the AUT’s national council had voted to implement such a boycott. The secretary in question was a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a viciously anti-Zionist group that supports the destruction of the State of Israel and that has, in recent years, pursued a strategy of alliance with Islamists on a common ‘anti-war’ and ‘anti-imperialist’ platform, involving vocal support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and for the Iraqi ‘insurgents’. The decision of our branch secretary to support the boycott led to a ‘backwoods rebellion’ by non-activist members, who bombarded the branch leadership with complaints, prompting even the SWP-supporting secretary to admit he had been wrong to support the boycott in the absence of a mandate from the membership. At the special branch meeting called to discuss the matter, I and others voted overwhelmingly to overturn the branch’s decision to support the boycott.
The nature of the ‘boycott Israel’ movement requires some explaining. As someone who spent years campaigning against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, and in defence of the national rights of Kosovars, Bosnians and Croatians, it never occurred to me to support an ‘academic boycott’ of Serbian academics – indeed, I collaborated with mainstream Serbian academics while Milosevic was still in power. Likewise, as someone who has written and demonstrated in support of Palestinian national and human rights, I opposed the boycott of Israeli academics. The movement to boycott Israeli academics was the work of extremist left-wing elements, such as the SWP, which view not just Israeli treatment of Palestinians, but Israel and Israelis themselves as illegitimate. Whereas such elements may or may not be prepared to condemn other oppressive regimes in other parts of the world, it is Israel alone that they single out for condemnation not merely for its oppressive actions, but for its very existence and national identity. This racist hostility to Israel forms part of a generalised ‘anti-imperialist’ discourse; the campaign against Israel, ostensibly in support of Palestinian rights, is in reality part of a wider campaign against ‘imperialism’ and ‘globalisation’. UCU activists from the ranks of the SWP and other extremist currents would like to turn our union, from an organisation set up to defend members salaries and working conditions, into a forum for their anti-imperialist and ‘anti-Zionist’ crusade. To learn more about the nature of the boycott movement, see Engage.
Such left-wing extremist elements inevitably find common ground with anti-Semites from the ranks of the Islamists and white supremacists, who share their hatred of Western civilisation and the liberal-democratic world order. So it comes as no surprise to learn that a certain UCU activist, apparently in an attempt to justify support for the boycott of Israeli academics, recently posted a link on the UCU’s mailing list to the website of the US white-supremacist David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Harry’s Place, a blog for which I write periodically, broke the story that the UCU’s mailing list was being used to circulate material from a white-supremacist, anti-Semitic source. In response, the popular, world-famous blog appears to have been shut down after the company with which its domain name is registered was apparently threatened with a libel suit.
I should like to express my complete solidarity with my comrades at Harry’s Place in the face of this attack on their freedom of speech, and to thank them for bringing to my attention these extremely nasty goings on in a union to which I belong. While I completely sympathise with former UCU members such as Eve Garrard, who feel they can no longer belong to a union that behaves in this manner, I fear the consequences of abandoning this and other unions completely into the hands of the extremists; unions are a vital part of our democracy. Yet there is undoubtedly a structural problem, which is that extremists are likely to be those who will devote the energy to infiltrating and hijacking unions, giving them a voice within the union movement out of all proportion to their actual popularity among the members. Ordinary union-members should take note: a union run by extremists will not be a proper defender of their interests. Union activists should take note: a union promoting unpopular extremist causes will lose members and cease to be effective or credible as a union. It is time to put a stop to this violation of our union.
Happy sixtieth birthday, Israel ! It should not be necessary to explain why today, formally the sixtieth anniversary of Israel’s independence, is worth celebrating for those of us who are not Israelis. The survival of a nation that has been threatened with destruction is cause for celebration. The fact that nationally conscious Jews have been able to exercise their right to self-determination, and establish a homeland that has successfully provided a safe haven for members of the long-persecuted Jewish people, is cause for celebration. And the fact that an Israeli nation exists at all is cause for celebration. This is not to say that the process by which the Jewish state came into being, or its actions since its birth, are without their moral ambiguities – far from it. But these moral ambiguities are not reasons why Israeli independence should not be celebrated; merely why Israeli policy needs to change. One day, it should be possible to celebrate Israel’s anniversary in the knowledge that the moral ambiguities are all in the past.
Israel’s critics point out that the establishment of the State of Israel involved the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians – for Palestinians, the ‘nakba’. This is true, but frequently taken out of context: Israel is no different from most of the world’s other nation-states, which are founded upon the oppression and ethnic cleansing of other peoples. Beginning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the emergence of a modern nation-state of England, Britain and the United Kingdom and their evolution over hundreds of years involved the colonisation, dispossession and forcible assimilation of the Irish, as well as an almost unrivalled programme of imperial aggression and expansion overseas. But there is no way that our English and British nationhood can be divorced from this heritage. The modern French nation-state was founded with the Great Revolution of 1789, an event that is widely viewed as marking the birth of modern politics, yet it quickly involved the genocidal or proto-genocidal persecution of the people of the Vendee, acts of massive territorial conquest and, under Napoleon, a failed genocidal project directed against the black population of Haiti. The US is founded upon the genocide of the Native Americans, without which it would not exist. Yet one could not expect the French not to celebrate the Revolution, or Americans not to celebrate Independence Day.
Israelis may feel it is unfair of me to compare them with great imperial powers. So it is – I cite these examples to dispense with the myth of ‘good’ Western nations vis-a-vis ‘bad’ others. In the moral ambiguities of its creation, Israel more closely resembles the nation-states of Central Europe and the Balkans – appropriately, since Israel is itself a post-Ottoman state many of whose citizens originated in Central Europe. Where these nation-states are concerned, who was the ethnic-cleanser and who was the victim largely depended upon who happened to win the war. This was the case with Israel and the Palestinians: had the Arabs won in the 1940s, the extermination and explusion of the Jewish population of Palestine would have resulted. Throughout the region of Greater Europe, the question of which nation was dispossessed was open to question; the fact that dispossession would take place was not.
Today’s relatively ethnically homogenous states of Poland and the Czech Republic are founded upon the massive ethnic-cleansing of ethnic Germans after World War II, involving millions of victims. The Balkan states – Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey – are all in their present forms, to varying degrees, products of ethnic cleansing. The Orthodox Christian states of Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece were founded upon the slaughter and expulsion of a large part of their Ottoman Muslim inhabitants, and ideed upon the slaughter and expulsion of other Orthodox Christians. Romania had a large Jewish population and an exceptionally anti-Semitic political culture that culminated in massive Romanian participation in the Holocaust and the post-war emigration of Romanian Jews. The establishment of the Turkish nation-state involved the genocide of the Armenians, followed by the expulsion of at least one and a quarter million Greeks (or Turkish-speaking Christians) – which parallelled the Greek expulsion of a smaller number of largely Greek-speaking Muslims. Most recently, the establishment of independent Croatia involved the exodus of 150,000 Serb civilians from the ‘Krajina’ region and the slaughter of hundreds of them. I am leaving aside here the question of the respective rights and wrongs of these cases, or of how blame should be apportioned – that the formation of modern nation-states involves a process of ethnic homogenisation accompanied by real horrors should be indisputable.
There is no point pretending, therefore, that the establishment of modern nation-states – Israel included – is without its profound moral ambiguities. Yet it is the modern system of nation-states upon which our system of world politics is built – we can no more abolish nation-states than we can abolish modern politics. Indeed, nation-statehood is the prerequisite for liberal democracy: dynastic states such as the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires and multinational ‘socialist’ federations such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia had to give way to sovereign nation-states for Europe to become a continent of democracies. Perhaps even more importantly, the people of the world love their nation-states, which they consider part of themselves. Asking the Israelis or anyone else to renounce their national identity is a violation of the most dearly felt feelings of ordinary people.
What is essential for the transition to full, post-nationalist democracy, however, is for members of every nation to face up to the moral ambiguities involved in the creation of their national state. This is not a question merely of assuaging liberal guilt. The crimes involved in the creation of a nation-state poison the functioning of its democracy and its relations with its neighbours. This poison can only be purged from its body politic by a recognition of its crimes. Turkey’s difficulty in functioning as a democracy is closely related to its unwillingness to face up to the Armenian Genocide or to the existence of a Kurdish people within its borders – hence it cannot fully permit freedom of speech, as this would result in open discussion of the Armenian Genocide and open expressions of Kurdish national politics. Greece’s imperialistic policy toward the Republic of Macedonia today is not based on any genuine national interest, but is a product of a nationalist ideology that guided a century of Greek colonisation, ethnic cleansing and forced assimilation in Greek Macedonia, of which the denial of the existence of a Macedonian nationality was a necessary part. The US’s record remains far from perfect, but in the US there is at least full freedom of speech – hence the possibility for films such as ‘Dances with Wolves’, that portray Native Americans sensitively and as victims of white oppression, to reach a mass audience. The American public still needs to face up to the genocide of the Native Americans, something that would produce a healthier American democracy and more politically aware citizenry. But we are still a long way off from the day when mass popular Turkish audiences will watch films of the ‘Dances with Wolves’ variety about the Armenian Genocide, or Greek audiences about the colonisation of Greek Macedonia, or Israeli audiences about the nakba.
So far as Israel is concerned, its record of democracy and human rights concerning its own citizens compares very favourably with most other Middle Eastern countries, but very badly with just about any West European country, because its stage of national development more closely resembles Turkey or Greece than France or the Netherlands. The two deformations resulting from the nature of Israel’s birth are, firstly, a failure to embrace the concept of a multi-ethnic citizenry and accord equal rights to all its citizens regardless of ethnicity, resulting in suffering and injustice for Israeli Arabs; and, secondly, a continued policy of colonisation in the West Bank, resulting in massive suffering for the occupied Palestinians. These deformations are, of course, linked to the behaviour of the Arab states and the refusal of most of them to recognise Israel, as well as to the Palestinians’ own behaviour – but this is not ultimately a question of apportioning blame. Like every nation-state, Israel needs to develop a post-nationalist national ideology if it is to complete its national and democratic development. This means becoming a genuinely Israeli nation-state, i.e. a state of the Israeli nation; a state of the citizens of Israel – rather than simply a Jewish state in which non-Jews are second-class citizens. Jews would still form a comfortable majority in Israel, thereby guaranteeing Jewish national self-determination. But a Jewish ethnic majority can comfortably exist with a concept of citizenship blind to ethnicity – as all concepts of citizenship should be, from the US and France to Israel and the Arab states. And as the American and French models show, a concept of citizenship blind to ethnicity rests upon identification with the state’s legal borders – hence no colonisation projects directed against neighbouring peoples.
As a Croat, I am very pleased that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is forcing Croats to face up to the crimes carried out in the course of their War of Independence. All Croatian children should celebrate this War of Independence, but they should also learn about its moral ambiguities – the crimes against Serb civilians and the parallel attempt, which thankfully was defeated, to expand into Bosnia. They should learn about Croatian resistance to the Nazis in the form of the Partisan movement, of which they should rightfully feel proud, but also about the Croatian Ustasha genocide of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies – and, of course, about Partisan atrocities. Above all, they should be taught that theirs is a multiethnic nation that encompasses Serbs, Bosniaks and others, who do not cease thereby to be Serbs or Bosniaks. One should be able to be an ethnic Serb and at the same time belong to the Croatian nation as fully as an ethnic Croat, without abandoning one’s Serb identity, just as one should be able to be an ethnic Arab or Palestinian and belong to the Israeli nation as fully as an ethnic Jew, without abandoning one’s ethnic Arab or Palestinian identiy.
When this happens, a national anniversary becomes something that everyone, regardless of ethnic background, can celebrate without reservation.
David Zarnett has written a devastating critique for Democratiya of Edward Said’s disgraceful record over Kosovo, about which I have been meaning to comment since it appeared at the start of this month. Some time ago, David wrote to me asking my opinion as to whether an article on Said and Kosovo would be a worthy endeavour; I remember expressing to him a certain scepticism as to whether Said had written enough about Kosovo to make an in-depth study feasible. I am sorry to say that my scepticism has proven unfounded and that David’s judgement as to the relevance of this topic has been entirely vindicated – Said wrote much more about Kosovo than he should have. I am sorry, because it means that yet another eminent left-wing intellectual may be added to the list of those prepared to denigrate the peoples of the former Yugoslavia and minimise their suffering, for the sake of the ‘higher cause’ of scoring cheap points against the US. Said was not, as I had imagined, someone who had simply added his voice casually to the ‘anti-imperialist’ chorus at the time of the Kosovo War in 1999, but a dyed-in-the-wool anti-American zealot to whom the question of whether the Kosovo Albanians would be able to live in their own country, or whether they would become the Palestinians of Europe, mattered absolutely nothing. Indeed, he was much happier with the idea of the Kosovo Albanians losing their homeland and becoming a diaspora than he was with the idea of the US intervening militarily.
The reason this is particularly shocking in Said’s case is, of course, because he was himself a Palestinian; indeed, the most eminent intellectual champion of the Palestinian cause in the Western world. Said perceived a parallel between the fate of the Kosovo Albanians in 1999 and the fate of the Palestinians in 1948; in an article published during the Kosovo War, he wrote of the ‘persecution, ethnic cleansing and continued oppression of Albanians in the province of Kosovo by the Serbian forces of Slobodan Milosevic’, before adding that ‘for Palestinians, 1948 was like this minus CNN: at that time 780,000 were evicted from their houses and property by Zionist forces. They remain a nation in exile fifty-one years later.’ But his perception of this parallel did not lead him to express the slightest solidarity with the Kosovo Albanians – on the contrary…
I do not wish to plunder Zarnett’s splendid article for quotes showing just how far Said was prepared to go in minimising both the suffering of the Albanians and the crimes of the Milosevic regime; I’d recommend instead reading the article directly. Suffice to say that Said used the term ‘Sunday school picnic’ in reference to the fate of Milosevic’s Albanian victims. A fate that was, in his opinion, similar to that which befell the Palestinians in 1948, only with added CNN coverage.
- Basque Country
- Central Europe
- East Timor
- European Union
- Faroe Islands
- Former Soviet Union
- Former Yugoslavia
- Holocaust denial
- Marko Attila Hoare
- Middle East
- Political correctness
- Red-Brown Alliance
- South Ossetia
- The Left
- World War II