Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Glass Ear

David Hirsch is here responding to the University of Johannesburg's Peter Alexander's defense of his institution boycotting an Israeli peer university, but the message he sends has a far broader resonance than that:
I raised the issue of antisemitism in my argument against the boycott. I think Israel is singled out, for no politically or morally relevant reason, for punishment. I think that the history of antisemitism in Europe and now in the Middle East is such that singling out Jews arbitrarily for punishment is a dangerous thing to do. To go easy on our criticism of the antisemitism of some of Israel’s deadly enemies is also dangerous. There is an increasing body of evidence that the boycott movement brings with it a disproportional hostility to those who oppose it, many of whom are Jews. Jews are challenged to criticize Zionism in the terms set out by their accusers on pain of being denounced as racist and as pro-apartheid. The issue of antisemitism has been raised by the OSCE, by the US state department, by the South African Human Rights Council and by a UK Parliamentary committee.

Peter Alexander simply says that the issue is raised in bad faith, in a dishonest last-ditch attempt to win a losing argument. He refuses to take the issue seriously. He refuses to respond. A fellow sociologist raises the issue with Peter and he looks stonily on and says: you are only pretending to be concerned, and really you do it for selfish and secret reasons. Instead of examining the antizionist social movements in which antisemitism is alleged to appear, he looks within himself, and finds himself not guilty. But as a sociologist he should understand that racism is an external and objective phenomenon, not a subjective feeling inside his own soul.

Peter makes much of ‘the call’ by ‘the oppressed’. But when Jews raise the issue of antisemitism he listens with a glass ear.

No more comment needed.

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