Archive for June, 2016

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The International Network of Genocide Scholars (INOGS) is holding a conference in Jerusalem this weekend. The initiative has attracted an attack by Israel Charny in the Jerusalem Post under the lurid heading, ‘Genocide scholars who minimize the Holocaust – and some who are coming to town’. This summarised his article published in the pseudo-academic Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, reporting a flawed survey of his friends and acquaintances interested in genocide about their attitudes to the Journal of Genocide Research (JGR), the premier journal in the field which is sponsored by INOGS.

Charny charges JGR and the authors of seven articles (including this writer) with ‘minimization of the Holocaust, delegitimization of the State of Israel, and repeat[ing] common themes of contemporary antisemitism’, and then reports how many of his respondents agreed with each of these charges in relation to each of the papers and the journal as a whole. The exercise is a travesty of social research because Charny personally selected the participants, prejudiced the survey by feeding them his own views and distorted summaries of the papers (rather than the papers themselves or their abstracts), and by using loaded terms like ‘Holocaust minimisation’ and above all ‘antisemitism’.

The ‘boycott’ petition against the conference

At the same time, however, for simply holding the conference in Jerusalem INOGS has come under fire from 270 academics and others who have signed a petition calling on it to respect the academic boycott of Israel, called by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). The petition points to the ‘hypocrisy’ of having the conference in Israel at a time when Israel’s actions are ‘increasingly being viewed through lenses of ethnic cleansing and genocide linked to settler colonialism’, as well as calling the location ‘Jerusalem, Israel’, when the city’s eastern part has been illegally annexed.

The irony of the petition’s first charge is that this is also the core reason why Charny objects to JGR. Seeing Zionism romantically as a ‘heroic nationalism’ rooted solely in Jewish victimisation, he is incensed by the mere suggestion that Israel’s founding through the removal of most of Palestine’s Arab population could be analysed through a ‘genocide’ lens. I proposed this idea in a 2010 debate in JGR following a fuller article in the Journal of Holy Land Studies (the paper was earlier presented at an INOGS conference). It was not an original insight: JGR’s most heavily downloaded paper is one by Patrick Wolfe which, inter alialinked the Israeli case to the wider problem of genocide in settler colonialism.

It typifies Charny’s intellectual sloppiness that he doesn’t seem to have read my original article before condemning me, but it also reflects poorly on the petition organisers that they don’t seem to have been aware of INOGS and JGR’s pioneering roles in promoting discussion of colonial genocide and broaching the subject (very sensitive because of the twin centrality of the Holocaust to genocide studies and to much Jewish identity) of the genocidal dimenstions of the Nakba. Nor do they seem to have picked up on the fact that INOGS was founded partly because of dissatisfaction with the way in which the existing, US-based International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) had been politicised by pro-Israeli scholars, most notoriously in a 2006 resolution echoing Israeli propaganda charges that then-President Ahmadinejad of Iran was threatening a new genocide against Jews.

INOGS’ opposition to politicising genocide studies

I left IAGS after that (although I should mention that in recent years a new, younger leadership has avoided further provocations of this kind). I supported, and still support, INOGS’s opposing stance that it is not helpful for the disciiplinary organisations of academics in a sensitive field like genocide to take political positions on what counts as genocide or a threat of genocide. All scholars in the genocide field have moral commitments, of course, and we should expect individuals to take political positions. But if we are to have professional communities which promote academic rigour and serious scholarly debate on the cases of genocide, then these cases cannot be foreclosed by majority votes on a website.

It is in this spirit, I assume, that my friend Juergen Zimmerer, the INOGS President, and other colleagues on its board have approached the Jerusalem conference. Israel is, naturally, one of the major countries in which the Holocaust is studied and there are key intellectual debates, including the relationship of Holocaust to wider study of genocide (the latter category is subversive in Israel since Holocaust-centrism is hegemonic) and indeed about how the Holocaust itself should be studied, broached in JGR, which it is especially appropriate to take forward in an Israeli setting. There are, after all, many serious genocide scholars in Israel, such as the veteran historian Yehuda Bauer who defended the conference in the Jerusalem Post, as well as ideologues like Charny.

The academic boycott of Israel

Thus far, I am sympathetic to the ambitions for this conference. Its programme is impressive. My absence, however, is not accidental. It is one thing to avoid political commitments, as INOGS has managed to do up to now. It is another, when holding an event in a site of conflict, to accept the position advocated by one side and to reject the position adopted by the other. Whether INOGS likes it or not, the academic boycott of Israel is part of this conflict. The boycott is not directed at individual scholars: many academics who support the boycott regularly have contact with Israeli scholars. It is directed at universities as Israeli institutions, which like many others are to a greater or lesser extent complicit in the oppression of Palestinians, as my late colleague Stan Cohen argued in a memorable paper (Hebrew here).

I don’t criticise the specific Israeli institutions which have sponsored the conference, which may well be acting laudibly within the oppressive Israeli climate of which Charny’s attacks are a symptom. It is significant that a West Bank-based institution is also among the sponsors, and Al Quds University was apparently approached to co-host but declined. There is a plenary roundtable, What Does It Mean to Study the Holocaust and Genocide in Israel/Palestine, A Site of Conflict?, in which one of the speakers is Palestinian, as well as other occasions to reflect on Israel-Palestine issues. This will probably a stimulating gathering, and at one level I am sorry to be missing it.

However I don’t see these as good enough reasons to avoid the boycott question. The boycott as a whole (Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions, BDS, to give it its proper name) is emerging to the centre of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It offers Palestinians the means of applying peaceful international pressure to Israel to reach an equitable settlement, as an alternative to the violence of Hamas and others. It has been the focus of a huge official and unofficial Israeli counteroffensive, including bans on BDS campaigns in the USA, which has smeared boycotters as antisemitic.

It was unnecessary for INOGS to endorse the boycott; it could clearly have simply avoided the whole issue, in line with its previous position, by holding its conference somewhere else. But by holding a conference in Jerusalem, INOGS has taken a position against the boycott, and it is not one I can support.

I would have respected INOGS’ board more if it had responded publicly to the criticisms of the boycotters, and indeed I made several attempts to encourage it to articulate its position, so that this debate, instead of being brought together in this piece, would have taken place between INOGS and those academics who thought it should not go to Jerusalem.

There is a further irony in that INOGS and JGR have been smeared as ‘delegitimising the State of Israel’, and even antisemitic, despite this decision. No doubt the Charnys of this world will be quick to heap further ignominy on me for the views I am expressing, and will throw in INOGS for good measure.

‘Delegitimising’ Israel

I explained my decision to support the boycott at the time of Israel’s last large-scale massacres in Gaza in 2014, and there is no need to repeat all the arguments here. I will make clear, however, in the light of recent controversies in the UK, that my position on Israel-Palestine has not fundamentally changed since I was commissioned to write on it in 2009 (after the first Gaza massacres) by the editor of Democratiya, Alan Johnson. (Charny should note that Johnson now works for the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, BICOM, and was never one to publish an antisemitic post.)

Any reader of these articles will see that I do not oppose the existence of the State of Israel. That is also true of my academic writing referred to above. Charny is unable to engage with the Palestinian genocide proposition (or even Ilan Pappe’s ‘ethnic cleansing’ perspective) in conceptual or historical terms, but only through the starkly political lens of the ‘delegitimisation’ of the state. Yet as Jonathan Freedland has argued, ‘As for the notion that Israel’s right to exist is voided by the fact that it was born in what Palestinians mourn as the Naqba [sic] – their dispossession in 1948 – one does not have to be in denial of that fact to point out that the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile and countless others were hardly born through acts of immaculate conception. Those nations were forged in great bloodshed.’

However the corollary of recognising that there is no necessary connection between the crimes of Israel’s foundation and its right to exist today is that the Nakba deserves the same academic attention as the other cases that Freedland mentions, which are increasingly discussed in the colonial genocide literature that JGR has done so much to develop. If research on Israel-Palestine is to advance, it will have to overcome the idea that deep historical criticism of Israel necessarily implies the dismantling of its state and society.

The reason why we have not got to this ‘normal’ stage is Israel’s continuous expansion in the West Bank and Jerusalem, which even more than its failure to address historic Palestinian grievances means that Israel itself has not achieved a stable state. The world has recognised Israel within its 1948 borders, but Israel itself is unsatisfied with these borders. Its internationally illegitimate expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, endorsed in some degree by all mainstream parties in the Knesset, makes it impossible to unequivocally endorse the state.

Conceptual and normative aspects of forced removal

At the heart of my conceptual position is the proposition that the forced removal of populations is one of the key means through which genocide, the destruction of population groups and societies, is carried out. Corresponding to this, I take a normative position: whole groups and societies should not be forcibly uprooted.

I apply this principle retrospectively to the forced removal of the majority of Palestinians from Israeli territory in 1948, a removal which was partially deliberate at the time and wholly deliberate in the Israeli refusal to allow Palestinians to return after the war.

I apply this prospectively to any proposal for the forced removal of the Jewish population of Israel, and I recognise that the Jewish population needs a state in which it has confidence to protect it. A stable state structure in Israel-Palestine, whether one state or two, needs Jewish as well as Palestinian consent.

However I also apply this principle now to the ongoing forced removal of the Palestinian population from their homes in many parts of the Occupied Territories, and their replacement by Jewish settlers.

Jerusalem: where ‘genocide’ questions are still live

Jerusalem is not just a site of ‘conflict’, in the euphemistic terminology of the INOGS conference programme. It is a site of what many, almost as euphemistically, call ‘ethnic cleansing’, as Palestinians are forced out of their longstanding homes in the occupied east of the city. It is a site in which questions of ‘genocide’, the deliberate destruction of communities, are all too live.

‘Genocide’, wrote Raphael Lemkin, ‘has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. This imposition, in turn, may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed to remain or upon the territory alone, after removal of the population and the colonization by the oppressor’s own nationals.’

It is true that current dispossession is piecemeal, often legal in the Israeli understanding (although Israel’s domestic law does not genuinely apply when the occupation is illegal under international law), and mostly accompanied by only localised coercion or violence. In these senses it is different from the wholesale removal of a large population, without a shred of legality and with extensive violence, which occurred in 1948.

However it seems to me unarguable that the present dispossession is an extension of the historic destruction of Palestinian society. In the midst of this crisis, genocide scholars cannot ignore the call for boycotting Israel which comes, not from those ‘singling out’ or ‘demonising’ Israel (as BDS’s critics claim), let alone from antisemites, but from those Palestinian organisations which see it as a more potent weapon for justice than rockets, bombs or knives which harm innocent civilians.

This is why I am not in Jerusalem.

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My latest post on openDemocracy:  If the B in Brexit stands for Boris and his overweening ambition, the R is for Racism, the method through which Vote Leave aims to achieve the political upset of the century.

In ITV’s two-hour debate, Johnson waffled on about democracy and an ‘Australian-style points system’, his latest migration-management wheeze (courtesy, like so much else, of Nigel Farage).

But down in the engine room of Vote Leave, they are not bothered about debate. Earlier the same evening, they mounted another 5-minute broadcast that would have made Goebbels proud. An old British woman, in tears, was forced to wait in A&E while anonymous aliens edged ahead. A huge number of additional sundry foreigners, including 78 million Turks, were on their way. ‘NHS” flashed across the map of the UK.

Vote Leave’s propaganda comes from the same stable as that Tory classic from 1964, ‘If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour’. But this is the 21st Century, so Leave doesn’t racially insult Turks and Albanians. In any case, the audience, Sun and Star readers, don’t need that. As always with racism, a heavy hint is quite sufficient.

What is this nasty drivel doing on our public television? Vote Leave was made the official ‘Out’ campaign, elbowing out Farage, because mainstream Tories like Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Johnson were in charge.

Now we know that why. UKIP would have been scared to go so low and dirty for fear of the backlash. But Vote Leave has cabinet backing: it can act with impunity.

Vote Leave is Vote Lie. And not just any old lie: a big racist one. If David Cameron had any principles, he’d tell the Brexit ministers to resign. If broadcasters didn’t fear the Brexiteers deciding their funding, they would surely protest. But Leave are going to get away with it.

Like Trump, Johnson has now alienated his party’s establishment, which is lining up to attack him. He can only come to power by stirring up base racism in the electorate – and in the ancient Tory membership who will choose our next ruler.

My article on openDemocracy two days ago.

Boris Johnson has achieved the remarkable feat of making David Cameron (‘PR Dave’) look principled. While Johnson’s ‘agonising’ Brexit choice – apparently after drafting two opposing articles for the Daily Telegraph – was transparently opportunist, Cameron’s ‘Remain’ looks like a strategic decision. Unlike Johnson’s, the prime minister’s deceitful hype surrounding the British ‘renegotiation’ was limited to the tactical.

With this knowledge, what should we make of the divide in the ruling Conservative party, and how will it be affected by the outcome of the 23 June referendum? Where could the referendum lead, not only for Britain and the EU, but for British politics in general? This article is an attempt to explore the challenge which faces all concerned with where the Tories’ division on Europe is leading them – and those they rule over.

Deep differences at the top?

Although Cameron and Johnson are antagonists, there is no ideological and strategic chasm between them. Both are culturally Europhile but politically soft-Eurosceptic. Johnson is no more a ‘swivel-eyed loon’ than Cameron is a EU enthusiast (his former spin-doctor Steve Hilton even claims that he was privately for leaving).

Cameron and Johnson share the general Tory scepticism towards progressive EU legislation and European justice, while recognising the economic advantages of the Single European Market and the free movement of labour. While only Johnson has actually opted for ‘out’, Cameron obviously wagered (when he promised a referendum) that, in the end, Britain could live with an exit.

The question is whether these shared commitments, underpinned by a common formation and deep class ties, will enable them to overcome the antagonisms of the campaign and cooperate in the aftermath of the vote. There are good reasons to think that they will have little alternative but to do so, to avoid a deep party split and a catastrophic, Tory-made crisis in the British economy.

Who would call the shots in a Brexit Tory government?

It is very clear that this will be needed if Brexit wins. Any majority for ‘Leave’ will probably be tiny. Domestic legitimacy will be small and international legitimacy minimal. Cameron and his putative successor, George Osborne, will have suffered a devastating political defeat. The stock market and the pound will suffer immediate hits. The Tories will be straining to avoid compounding the atmosphere of political and economic crisis with a full-scale party struggle.

It seems likely that in these circumstances even Johnson would see the need to maintain a veneer of leadership continuity and party unity. Cameron has signalled via the reliable Matthew d’Ancona that he really would stay on. It would probably suit Johnson to let the departing PM deal with the immediate fallout and steady the ship. In the meanwhile Johnson would be brought into one of the major offices of state (in which he has never served), a surer base from which to launch his leadership bid in due course.

From Cameron’s point of view, this outcome would avoid compounding the humiliation of defeat with his own abrupt removal from office and gain him credit for dealing with the national crisis. It might (just possibly) enable Osborne to rebuild his position for the leadership contest.

Moreover a narrow Brexit and the fact that Cameron and Johnson would probably have to hang together in the first stages point to a Norway-style solution. The hardcore Europhobes would get neither the deep separation nor the low migration that they crave.

… and with Bremain?

In the (currently more probable) event of a modest Remain win, Cameron and Johnson would probably still need to work together. To rebuild Tory unity, Cameron would need to be magnanimous to the Brexiteers, and Johnson is the only essential person in the thin Brexit leadership. Iain Duncan Smith has burned his bridges, and neither the quixotic Michael Gove nor the illiberal Chris Grayling, let alone Priti Patel, is a substantial enough figure to strongly represent the Leave side in a unity government.

Only in the event of a substantial Remain victory could Cameron exclude Johnson, but then he might well stoke civil war in the party and the latter’s victory in the leadership contest which is expected before 2020. It is always better to have your rival inside the tent, pissing out.

Cameron’s signals

Cameron may not be a real One Nation Tory, but his commitment to a single party is not in serious doubt. He and Osborne have also shown themselves astute in avoiding the Downing Street rivalries which bedevilled the Blair-Brown governments.

His decision to avoid any sort of TV debate with Johnson, and to have only indirect encounters with other Tory Brexiteers, is surely a signal of the importance he attaches to rebuilding party unity after the referendum campaign.

Johnson needs party unity …

While Johnson appears more singlemindedly egotistical, it is also in his interest to maintain the veneer of party unity and to rebuild it substantially after the referendum. His was, after all, a win-win choice, premised on the probability that Brexit was unlikely but that he who had nobly backed it would gain support among the ageing, xenophobic party selectorate.

In this context, being seen as a catalyst of party division is probably the main thing that could seriously damage Johnson’s chances. This would open the way if not to Osborne then to Theresa May, who has deftly qualified her ‘Remain’ stance with a call for the UK to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (membership in which is separate from the EU).

… and avoids commitments

This is doubtless why Johnson has avoided commitments on the key issues. Having toyed successively with a second referendum to ‘re-enter’ the EU and then with Norway and Canada scenarios, has not committed himself to any one model of the UK’s post-Brexit relationship. He has not protested at Gove’s proclamation that the UK will leave the Single Market, but he is hardly bound by his colleague’s opinion.

This is doubtless also why Johnson has criticised Cameron for making promises he couldn’t keep about migration, but has not made any promises himself. While UKIP’s Nigel Farage has talked of limiting immigration to 50,000 a year and Duncan Smith has resurrected the Government’s 100,000 target, Johnson has refused to acknowledge that an overall target is desirable, even if he has opined that the latter target ‘could’ be met.

The new Tory project

Obviously Brexit might well upset the best intentions of a Cameron-Johnson rapprochement. However in the event of a narrow Remain win (the current central projection), the Government will emphasise measures like the repeal of the Human Rights Act (announced in the Queen’s Speech) which will appeal to the frustrated Tory Right, even if they will not satisfy the hard-core Europhobes.

Let us not forget that apart from Europe, not only is the Tory leadership broadly united, but it has a radical project which commands wide support across the Brexit divide, even if a minority of nervous backbenchers have joined the Opposition in frustrating successive measures.

While Cameron’s style has been mostly more patrician than Margaret Thatcher’s, it has been evident, especially since his second victory a year ago, that his government involves a radical project which builds on hers and is arguably even more radical.

Often characterised as ‘shrinking’ the state and ‘privatising’ services, this project is actually more complex. While some areas of the state (welfare, social housing, local government) are being drastically shrunk, the wider project (affecting even areas like health and education where spending is maintained) is a partial decomposition of the state, allowing its creeping colonisation by private capital.

The ‘internal’ state

This approach is widely applied to what we may call the ‘internal’ state, i.e. state institutions which point inwards to the national society. Its most striking expression was the Lansley reorganisation of the National Health Service, which was broken up into a bewildering away of trusts, commissioning groups and property agencies that would relate to each other through an extended ‘internal market’ with enhanced opportunities for private health firms to enter.

Since their unexpected win in 2015, the Tories have lost little time in widely extending this approach to other areas. Building on New Labour’s initiative, the majority of secondary schools had already been made Academies under the Coalition, with local government control replaced by chains of schools under private trusts, and a new category of state-funded ‘free schools’ was created. Although the government has recently retreated on a proposal to extend ‘academisation’ to all the remaining secondaries and even to primary schools, a century and a half of democratic local control of schools has been deeply undermined.

Elected local government in England, of similar longevity, is also a target of ambitious change, involving patchwork ‘devolution’ to a motley array of combined local authorities through business-dominated ‘quangos’ called Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs). Each local consortium is offered enhanced control over a small portion of the rapidly diminishing central funding for local services. Unlike Scottish and Welsh devolution, no new institutions or democratic rights are proposed, except for requirements that most deals are accompanied by elected mayors for what are often incoherent amalgamations of local areas.

These and other changes, some of which were not in the Tory election manifesto, are being pursued through ruthless exploitation of Britain’s system of ‘elective dictatorship’ which has given Cameron an absolute majority for 37 per cent of the vote. In tandem, the Tories are aiming to reduce the numbers of MPs, in changes likely to benefit their party, while refusing to reform the larger and anachronistic House of Lords.

Brexit and the ‘external’ state

In many ways, Brexit is coherent with this project, extending these changes to the ‘external’ state, through which Britain is linked to the wider world. This is why it has such appeal in the Tory ranks. As Jeremy Corbyn suggested in a belated intervention, it would involve a ‘bonfire of rights’, abolishing a swathe of EU rules which protect workers, women and the environment.

There is no reason to believe that Cameron and Osborne would regret these changes any more than the Brexiteers. The Tory divide on Brexit is limited mainly to the Single Market, which the Government, most businesses, especially large and multinational, and even Johnson see as valuable for Britain’s economic success.

However the Prime Minister and Chancellor must also oppose Brexit because they are acutely aware of the general damage likely to British international standing. Brexit would not immediately affect Britain’s membership of NATO, its seat on the United Nations Security Council, or its role in the International Monetary Fund, but it would change its real position in all of these, with serious reputational consequences.

Virtually no European or world leader sees the point of the UK leaving the EU, and many fear its knock-on effects not only on the rest of the EU but on the world economy and global political stability. While Johnson can shrug off these issues (for the time being), they must clearly weigh with those who have to explain Brexit to their fellow leaders.

A new authoritarian populism?

Johnson is currently riding a pro-Brexit tide of nationalism and racism, even if he leaves UKIP to do the dirty work. Cameron and Osborne, on the other hand, believe they can batter it down with sufficiently powerful deployment of the state machine, international allies and mass media.

This is, in itself, a tactical difference. Cameron and Johnson are generally united in their exploitative attitude to racism. Both believe that they can switch on populist sentiment (last May stoking anti-Scottish fear in England, recently promoting Islamophobia in London) in pursuit of their electoral goals.

They may agree on one more near-future scenario. At some point afer the referendum, the Conservative Party will attempt to renew itself under a new leader. If there is a strong Remain win and either Osborne or May is able to block Johnson, the active mobilisation of Brexit’s racist nationalism may be left to a dissatisfied UKIP.

If Brexit wins or performs strongly, however, Johnson may well win the leadership. The temptation to capitalise electorally on the xenophobia of the Leave campaign – rather as Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP capitalised on the rather different nationalism of the Scottish referendum – will be strong.

This Tory Trump – not, pace Kenneth Clarke, a ‘nicer’ one but an English one – could offer Britain a new style of leadership, with indulgence from a sycophantic media. A folksy new ‘authoritarian populism’, 21st century in style but reminiscent of Thatcher’s, could extend Tory rule into a second decade, with a snap general election providing five more years’ legimatation for the whole package of unpopular policies. This is the big latent danger of the Brexit vote.