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Anti-Israel culture war of British liberal elites is not a grassroots movement


The following is cross posted by Peter C. Glover at The Commentator

The NUJ has been a prominent backer of the boycot

Over the past few years the unions for British journalists, architects, doctors, even the Synod of the Church of England, have all sought boycotts or censure motions against Israel.

In 2007 British academics added themselves to the list – imposing a boycott of relations between British and Israeli universities at a conference of the British University and Colleges Union (UCU).

In 2009, after yet another violent spat with Hamas in Gaza, Britain’s leftist culture warriors again took to the streets.In March, 400 British academics lined up outside London’s Science Museum to protest against workshops merely celebrating the achievements of Israeli Scientists.

A letter to the museum’s organizers, written by Professor Rosenhead from the London School of Economics and signed by 150 academics, said, “This is a dubious venture at the best of times but at this particular moment, after the offensive in Gaza, it’s particularly insensitive.” It went on to claim that the seven academic institutions involved in the workshops were “up to their necks” in Israel’s actions in Gaza.

In April the same year, London’s Bloomsbury Theatre was forced to cancel a Zionist Federation event that included an act put on by an Israeli Defence force dance troupe.  That May, the Anglican Communion, yet again, condemned Israel for allegedly creating “severe hardship” for Palestinians.  In the same month Liverpool city council cut funding for a festival that was to include an anti-Semitic play after the organisers rejected the chance to include a response play by Richard Sterling. And May ended with the hypocritical victimization of a young British Jewish film director at the hands of international British film director Ken Loach and others.  The anti-Semitic nastiness of the British elites – every bit a match for the vileness of the leftie Hollywood glitterati – is exemplified by this particularly illogical spat.  

Prior to his appearance at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), Loach put out a statement, ostensibly under the auspices of the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. In it Loach rounded on the Israeli embassy’s funding the attendance at the EIFF of the 31 year-old Israeli film-maker Tali Shalom Ezer.  

“I’m sure many filmmakers will be as horrified as I am to learn that the Edinburgh International Film Festival is accepting money from Israel,” said Loach. Loach went on to call for “all who might consider visiting the festival to show their support for the Palestinian nation, and stay away.”

Such strong views expressed by a leading light at the festival, was sufficient to prompt the EIFF to hand back the small sum involved, however, the EIFF did subsequently agree to fund the film-makers attendance themselves. For the record, Ezer’s film, ‘Surrogate’, was a romance set in a sex therapy clinic – hardly the stuff of frontline politics.  Ezer was simply targeted by Loach because she was from Israel.  None of this bigotry is anything new.

A short history of boycotts

In April, 2007 the National Union of Journalists, which represents 40,000 British journalistsvoted by meagre 66 to 54 to call for a boycott of Israeli goods demanding that the British government impose sanctions on Israel after denouncing Israel for its “military adventures” in Gaza and Lebanon. 

The conservative Daily Telegraph suitably skewered the move by journalists as “brilliantly singling out the only country in the region with a free press for pariah treatment”.  Even former Guardian reporter and Yahoo Europe news director, Lloyd Shepherd, was moved to respond cryptically: “I look forward to similar boycotts of Saudi oil (abuse of women and human rights), Turkish desserts (limits to freedom of speech) and, of course, the immediate replacement of all stationary in the NUJ’s offices which has been made or assembled in China.” They didn’t come.

Perhaps the greatest irony, however, was that on the very day the British NUJ passed their condemnation of Israel, the International Federation of Journalists was calling upon the Palestinian Authority to secure the release of captured British BBC journalist Alan Johnston. At the time, kidnapped five weeks before the NUJ meeting, Johnston’s kidnap did not even warrant a mention on the British NUJ’s mean-minded agenda.  

Similar small groups of activists have equally influenced key votes at British medical and architect union meetings. British trade unions have also encouraged The South African Congress of Trade Unions and key ANC members to work for a boycott of Israeli goods. In February 2006, the Church of England’s General Synod voted to sell off shares, amounting to £2.5 million, in the US earth-moving equipment company Caterpillar as a company “profiting from Israel’s illegal occupation” of Palestine.

The British boycotters know what they are doing by striking at Israel’s higher educational institutions. Steven Rose, secretary of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, making his case for why Israel should be targeted, explains, “It is precisely because Israel prides itself on its academic prowess…that the idea of an academic boycott is so painful. Israel has uniquely strong academic links with Europe…and…receives considerable financial research support from the EU.”

All of which begs two fundamental questions: why single out Israel? And why is Britain leading the international boycott movement so obsessively?

Why Israel? Why Britain?

Writing in the Jerusalem Post in May 2007, Gerald Steinberg noted the impact that years of campaigning by politically active non-governmental agencies (NGOs) such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Christian Aid, War on Want and Pax Christi will have had.  But still: why Israel?

Well, Evelyn Gordon, addressing the issue “Why Britain?” in the Jerusalem Post a couple of years ago, identified what she described as “two obvious reasons”. First, Britain’s association as America’s closest ally and, second, (back then) Tony Blair’s personal support of Israel’s right to defend itself. But, for me, Gordon gets far nearer the mark when she identifies the role of the activist liberal in British society.

“After all,” says Gordon, “the NUJ controls what Britons read in their papers, hear on their radios and see on their televisions; the Anglican Church controls what they hear from the pulpit; the UCU controls what college students hear in class;  unions play a major role in setting and carrying out policy.” All absolutely true; but not the wholepicture, I think.

It is clear from these various union boycotts that leftwing, highly vocal activists, having ingratiated themselves into key executive power in the UK, are turning the leadership of institutions into bastions of Western liberalism – fed by graduates from equally left-dominated universities. These same universities turn out most of our leading journalists.

As already noted, BBC, anti-Israel, anti-American political bias, in particular, is a thoroughly well documented reality. And though the Anglican Church has many evangelicals (and thus conservatives) in its parish pulpits, the General Synod and hierarchy of the Anglican Church, at least in Britain, remains yet another bastion of leftwing liberalism.  I should know, I am an Anglican Lay Reader.  

Even so, when the Anglican Church entertained more general calls for full boycott of Israel the subsequent grassroots and public reaction was sufficient to divert them to focus on the divestment issue only, the only issue within its specific remit. Similarly, trade union debates on boycotts have often led to calls being rejected outright.

In short, it is premature to conclude, as Evelyn Gordon did in the piece noted above, that as far as the security of the people of Israel is concerned Britain should be written off as “a lost cause”.

While it is patently true that too many of our leading British academic and cultural institutions are in the thrall of cabals of left-wing activists, factor in public backlash that often does not attract mainstream – read liberal – media coverage, and the inherently English (note, I do not say British) instinct for fairness, and anti-Semitism is far from rifeat the British grassroots.  

That fact alone ought to be anything but culturally ‘academic’ to our Israeli friends in the Middle East’s only real democratic, non-despotic, state.      

Peter C Glover is a British writer specialising in international affairs, energy and media issues. See:http://www.petercglover.com

9 replies »

  1. Anti-Israel culture war of British liberal elites is not a grassroots movement

    This is news?

  2. Obviosuly besides their obsession with Israel at the expense of far more important human rights issues in Kurdistan, western sahara, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, etc and love affair with fascist murderers (Hamas and so forth) the boycotters annoy me because they claim Israel illegally blockades Gaza but say nothing of the blockade/boycott of Israel by the Arab world.

    • Britain has an historical responsability in what happened in this part of the worls which it used to administer, which is why Great Britain is always interested in political developments around Israel and the Palstinian territory.

      • And yet, when Britain involves itself in the affairs of Iraq (another part of the area over which Britain (and France) had mandatory control in the post-Ottoman period, Britain is castigated, called an imperialist occupying power acting at the behest of Ziofascists or some other tosh.

        The British (and the French) behaved duplicitously and entirely selfishly in the region, shamelessly playing Jew against Arab in a shabby attempt to hang on to their imperial interests in the Levant. It would not be pushing the point too far as to say that the British and French power-play in the first 4 decades of the 20th Century was directly responsible for creating the horrible mess that the Middle East has been in for the last 70 years or so.

        What gives British intellectuals, like their imperialist pre-decessors, the right to sit in judgment on people trying to secure their place in the world?

        • GoonerEll,

          To answer your question:

          “What gives British intellectuals, like their imperialist pre-decessors, the right to sit in judgment on people trying to secure their place in the world?”

          Nothing!
          But how else will they pass their afternoon tea chats without getting too upset about the weather, or that another Brit flopped @ Wimbeldon?

      • A historical responsability or an economic interest as so many Arab oil and gas money flies to London? No wonder it easily serves as haven for Islamists and Emirs alike. Also a historical reponsability and political liabilty for the future.
        When the oil will be gone, the AngloArab party will be over.

  3. If I can make a point here, with reference to UCU. UCU Congress keeps pushing (on the narrowest of voting margins) the BDS case, largely due to the efforts of the so-called ‘UCU Left’ (which is a puppet of the anti-Semitic Socialist Workers Party). Rank-and-file members (and I am one of them)reject a boycott of Israel, and it is worth noting that ‘UCU Left’ candidates fared poorly in the recent union elections.

    It does illustrate a basic point, though. Anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic activism is an elite activity. The anti-Israel crowd are keen to compare themselves to the anti-apartheid activists of the 1980s, but there is one point that they are loath to admit to. When it came to South Africa thirty years ago, the ills of the system were self-evident, and unless you were a member of the Monday Club you supported the anti-apartheid cause because you knew it was the right thing to do.

    But now – and despite the echo chamber provided by the Guardian, Independent and the Beeb – there is a massive disparity between the hate-Israel clique and the British people as a whole. There is no popular appeal for the BDS cause, despite efforts to whip it up.

  4. The French media is far more pro Arab and anti Israel and has always been that way.

    I think the iraq war shifted attitudes in Britain into anti US style of thinking, which alligned itself with the French mode, in that respect.

    The 2nd Lebanon war and the Gaza operations ignited what the Pro Palestinians wanted.

    Judging by the amount of rockets fired at Israel prior to these 2 operations and the kidnapping it is fairly obvious that Israel took the bait and retaliated.

    This was expected and it is exactly what the Anti Israel camp wanted.

  5. If we take my “favourite” site, opendemocracy, the thesis of “Anti-Israel culture war of British liberal elites is not a grassroots movement” looks like to be proven. The other side we should not ignore is the tripple down effect, the morale authority when upper classes are allowing the bashing, the harassment of certain groups, the role model they give and the projects they support to disseminate their views which brings us bck to opendemocracy.
    A recently published article at OD for example

    http://www.opendemocracy.net/james-warner/david-mamet-gilad-atzmon-and-identity-politics

    constructs an even level of narratives, meanings and construes a parity between the antisemite Atzmon who want to abolish Israel and Israel defending Mamet exemplifying for the author the two corresponding and opposing ends of the Jewish world opinion concerning Israel. Which of course is a lie as 90% of the Jewish communities support Israel`s existence. So we have here the strange mind construction of a man who think himself important enough to misjudge Israel by giving any credibility to Atzmon, an attitude the elite and self proclaimed grassroot project OD likes very much.
    And the author denies, naturally, that Atzmon is a Holocaust denier, but, bizarr enough, one of the OD moderator who commented on this article found a new way of denying the Holocaust, minimising it to a ” massive pogrom of the 1940s ”
    This moderator we can describe as grassroot fellow is well known as new antisemite spreading every “antizionistic” lie he knows of, although here he seems to defend a decent stand, at first sight.

    http://www.opendemocracy.net/james-warner/david-mamet-gilad-atzmon-and-identity-politics#comment-577156702

    And he is always protected and guided on the right way by the elite representatives.

    http://www.opendemocracy.net/james-warner/david-mamet-gilad-atzmon-and-identity-politics#comment-577491795

    That Tony Greenstein feels provoked by the fact that he is not mentioned but Mamet and Atzmon is selfunderstanding.

    http://www.opendemocracy.net/james-warner/david-mamet-gilad-atzmon-and-identity-politics#comment-576778601

    Maybe OD is a good object for analysing the elite-grassroot.relation.