Monday, December 01, 2008

Stephen Sizer and Leeds University 2

I'm going to give this post of Stephen Sizer's a second fisking because, the more I read it, the more repellent it becomes. I can't improve on Bernard Harrison, but there are other points which need mentioning.

The first thing to notice is how Sizer describes the motion being considered by Leeds University Students' Union. According to Sizer, the motion will "label anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism and silence pro-Palestinian groups on campus". It won't. The motion is here, read it. It is a proposal that Leeds University adopts the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism, the full text of which is included in the motion.

Note that the Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Anti-Semitism ["the Report"] recommended that this definition be adopted and promoted by the government and law enforcement agencies so, in inveighing against this definition, Sizer is already putting himself beyond one widely-recognised boundary on thinking about antisemitism. Note too that Sizer is pleading on behalf of the Socialist Workers' Party, an organisation whose explanation of the Holocaust doesn't mention Jews and which has promoted the openly antisemitic Gilad Atzmon. I'm all in favour of free speech, but this is nevertheless concerning. For whom will Sizer plead next?

Now read the Working Definition again, noting how carefully nuanced it actually is.

The bit which Rev Sizer seems to have a problem with is the bit that suggests that there can be some occasions when criticism of Israel may in fact be antisemitic. Here is what it says, emphasis added:

"Examples of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:

  • Denying the Jewish people right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards b requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel."

"However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic."

Note how carefully nuanced it all is: "taking into account the overall context", "could include", and "criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic."

This will leave plenty of scope for pro-Palestinian groups to criticise Israel without being anti--Semitic: if they level criticism against Israel similar to that which could be made against any other country in the world, if they are factually accurate, and if they are careful with the language they use. Stephen Sizer would have us believe, though, that the motion will label anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism and silence pro-Palestinian groups. This is not only a misrepresentation of the motion (which, incidentally, Sizer himself does not link to) but seems to indicate an unwillingness on Sizer's part to think through the issues. In a typical expression of the Livingstone Formulation, Sizer is claiming that the spectre of antisemitism is being raised disingenuously in order to silence criticism of Israel. He is either unwilling or unable to think through whether there might in fact be a genuine case that antisemitism is a problem which needs tackling. Rather than "Zionists" shouting "Antisemitism!" to stifle debate about Israel, what is actually happening here is that Stephen Sizer is shouting "Israel!" in order to avoid a genuine and necessary debate about antisemitism. Why?

The piece on Sizer's blog goes on to say, sceptically, that "The motion claims, without providing any supporting evidence, that “Anti-semitism is increasing significantly both across the country and within universities and student unions.”

Perhaps Sizer hasn't read Section 6 of the Report, entitled "Antisemitism on Campus". Here's an extract from para 203:

"Tensions and incidents on campus often peak around students’ union votes concerning Israel and Zionism. In 2002 the University of Manchester Students’ Union proposed a motion that anti-Zionism or criticism of Israel was not antisemitism, and that Israeli goods should be boycotted. The Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester told us that a leaflet from the General Union of Palestinian Students, quoting from a neo-Nazi propaganda forgery entitled ‘Prophecy of Benjamin Franklin in Regard of the Jewish Race’, was distributed amongst students queuing up to vote. The leaflet reproduced historic antisemitic slander describing Jews as vampires, and warning that unless they

were expelled from the United States they would enslave the country and control its economy. Further incidents occurred following the defeat of the motion – a brick was thrown through the window of a Jewish student residence and a poster bearing the words “Slaughter the Jews” was pasted on its front door. A knife was stuck in the door of another Jewish student’s residence."

Or perhaps Sizer hasn't read pages 16-18 of the Community Security Trust's 2007 Report, which says this: "The 59 incidents recorded by CST in 2007 in which the victims were students, student bodies or academics represent a considerable rise from the 18 incidents recorded of that type in 2006, 11 in 2005 and 21 in 2004. It is most likely that this rise (228 per cent from the 2006 figure) is largely because of better reporting of incidents to CST."

Examples cited in the report include:

  • A Jewish student was handing out leaflets outside a student union debate at Manchester University when an Arab student called him “You Jewish bastard.” When challenged, the Arab student and said: “Whoops, I mean you Israeli bastard” and walked off.
  • Swastikas were drawn on posters advertising Jewish Book Week at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.
  • “Mossad caused 9/11” and “Fight the Jewish terrorists” were written on a desk at Leeds Metropolitan University.

Sizer would seemingly have us believe that this is illusory. Why? Perhaps its because the first and last examples I've cited above, like the extract from para 203 of the Report, give very clear examples of how there are times when anti-Zionism very definitely can spill over into antisemitism. But Stephen Sizer seems to believe that the two are always entirely distinct and we must fight any attempts to suggest otherwise. Why?

So what do we have? We have a representative of the state church, and a professing antiracist evangelical, doing the following:

- twisting the words of the motion to make it say something different to what it actually says

- rejecting a widely accepted definition of antisemitism

- pleading on behalf of an organisation whose track record on antisemitism is notoriously poor

- minimising the reality of ongoing and increasing antisemitism on British campuses.

- denying the fact that yes, sometimes anti-Zionism can very definitely be antisemitic.

This should shock us, but it doesn't surprise me. Despite his frequent claim that he repudiates antisemitism, Sizer uses antisemitic language to describe supporters of Israel, invokes antisemitic conspiracy theories, cites antisemitic sources, asks Holocaust Deniers to cooperate with him, sends out antisemitic material to others, and carries links to the far right on his website. And yet British evangelicals still laud and applaud him. For shame.


Yossi said...

I can't understand sometimes the twisted world we live in where people like this are considered priests and scholars, where the antiracists talk like racists. James, great blog, I hope people will pay attention to you.

Stephen Sizer said...

Dear James,

As I said yesterday, and repeat, because I believe it passionately - One instance of anti-semitism is one too many. I just worry that widening or diluting the definition (as opposed to say strengthening the penalties) may make society more tolerant or insensitive to genuine racism as well as exacerbate those who feel their legitimate rights (such as the Palestinians) are denied. In this 60th anniversary year of the UN Declaration of Human Rights we need to uphold the rights of all. But I do concede that given the lessons of history, the anxieties as well as rights of the Jewish people are a good test case of our political will to see the rights of others honoured and protected.

You make a convincing case for why the law needs changing. I have therefore removed the piece from my blog and hope both sides get a good hearing in the university debate, that instances of racism diminish. I pray that Jewish and Arab students and faculty on campus, are able to work in solidarity for a just and lasting settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict based on the rule of international law.

The Maverick said...

Ah Rev Sizer, so glad to see you trust the Jews to define what antisemitism is themselves!

Anonymous said...

So good to see Rev Sizer apologizing for publishing misleading information, circulating antisemitic material, pleading on behalf of the SWP, etc etc....

richard gibson said...

Stephen, I commend you for removing the blog posting and being honest to concede the points James made.

It is good to read your stance against anti-semitism and hope you will realise how easily wholesale demonisation of Israel by a well known church figure as yourself can be such a useful tool in the anti-Semites arsenal. Anti-Semitic anti-Zionism is to be condemed, however as any other country, Israel is not immune from genuine criticism of various policies and actions that are wrong.

Stephen Sizer said...

I have posted a short critique of the BNP here

James said...

well done on both of these thing Stephen!

Chris said...

Yes that was a good article against the BNP Stephen. Thank you for making your views clear :-)

The Maverick said...

Excellent critique, Stephen.