Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Unwitting One

Sean Wallis finally gave us the "context" to his infamous Lehman Brothers "joke" at the BRICUP fringe meeting to the UCU Congress. He had previously denied anti-Semitic intent but given no plausible alternative explanation for his remarks meant.

In my view, Wallis' "explanation" is precisely what you would expect out of someone who had maintained virtual radio silence for weeks while scrambling for a leg to stand on. But seeing that I had already expressed my ire, to him and to those who stand by him, I figured it wasn't worth posting on again.

However, the CST blog has a truly stellar post on the subject that really does capture the essence of what is going on here (from a position that is about as charitable towards Prof. Wallis as one could reasonably expect). It comes highly, highly recommended.


DM Andy said...

It's good that you're taking an interest in British Trade Unions.

I'm a delegate to UNISON's conference next week where we have a motion calling for a boycott of all goods originating in the Occupied Territories. It also condemns the Histadrut statement on Operation Cast Lead

I cannot see any reason not to support the boycott - it is common to call for boycotts of nations and specific companies that infringe on workers rights but to be honest don't see anything too wrong with the Histadrut's statement, it's a bit too easy on the IDF but clearly the Israelis had to do something about Gaza.

There was another motion on the original agenda (Motion 74) from our South East Region which called for a complete boycott of Israel similiar to the complete boycott of apartheid South Africa but that is now off the agenda as South East agreed to go with the targetted boycott instead.

DM Andy said...

ooops, the link to the Histadrut statement is too long, try this

David Schraub said...

The problem with a boycott here is that it is likely to cause more problems than it solves. If the goal of the boycott isn't to try and constructively aid assist in bringing about peace, but is just a move y'all feel you have to do because its deontologically "right", then that isn't a concern of course (though I'd submit it is rather self-regarding) -- although then the typical rejoinder is "why aren't you also boycotting China/Burma/Sri Lanka/Morocco/insert country of choice", and it is pretty difficult to give a satisfactory answer that doesn't fall back on consequentialist logic.

This doesn't go into the positive costs of aligning with a boycott movement, which effectively closes off working with alternative pro-engagement forces such as Engage or TULIP or OneVoice. Supporting a boycott is not a choice made in a void -- it is an affirmative step to strengthen one cluster of actors (many of whom are extremists and aren't interested in reconciliation) at the expense of others (groups working to bolster moderates and defuse tensions).

DM Andy said...

I would agree with the self-regarding position - UNISON, however much it would like to cannot change the world. We do have a wide ranging international view, in recent months we have taken actions to support trade unionists in Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Burma, Iran and Puerto Rico as well as in Israel.

I don't think you really understand the Israel/Palestine issue as it relates to the British Left. Communists and Trade Unionists led the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, stopping the British Union of Fascists from marching through the then most Jewish part of London. Ever since then a major part of the left self-identity in Britain has been "we opposed the nazis and the fascists when the Tories were still sucking up to them"

That's why a defence against the charge of anti-Semitism is "I'm left wing, I can't be anti-Semitic" because being on the left is being the heir to the pro-Labour Zionist position of the 1930s and 1940s. That can be seen in this weeks egging of the current UK fascist leader, Griffin.

When the State of Israel was established the British left was fully in support. Particularly in the 1950s and into the 60s, Israel was held as an example of what a democratic socialist state Britain should be.

Obviously the role of Israel isn't to act out some kind of British socialist fantasy, but what you perceive as anti-Semitism seems to me more akin to the British Left feeling that Israel has betrayed it's heritage.

For right or wrong, the British Left thinks that there wouldn't have been a State of Israel without them. In that view it gives them not only a right, but also an obligation to condemn. In a sense some on the left see what's happened to the Palestinians as their fault.

PG said...

DM Andy,

Thanks for that brief history, it's interesting. However, I don't think it provides much explanation for the manifestations of anti-Semitism that David is most likely to label as such, e.g. the Lehmann Bros. remark. There's simply no way to read that as coming from a sense of disappointment in Israel's failing to live up to certain ideals. (The first reference coming to a British person's mind with regard to the credit crunch isn't Northern Rock but rather an American i-bank? Ballocks.)