Thursday, 28 August 2014

500 Irish Artists Now Pledging Boycott of Israel

The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign has just issued this press release, the content of which reflects the tireless efforts of my comrade Raymond Deane.

The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign's 'Irish Artists' Pledge to Boycott Israel', described by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) as 'a ground-breaking initiative', has just notched up its 500th signatory. This is a significant milestone for such a small country, and includes creative and performing artists residing all over the island of Ireland.

The Pledge was publicly launched in August 2010, when it had 140 signatories. It reads as follows:

In response to the call from Palestinian civil society for a cultural boycott of Israel, we pledge not to avail of any invitation to perform or exhibit in Israel, nor to accept any funding from any institution linked to the government of Israel, until such time as Israel complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.

The 500 signatories range from some of Ireland's most internationally known figures to artists starting out on their careers, who know that they risk defamation and ostracism by Israel's advocates, particularly in the USA . They include novelists, poets, painters, sculptors, film-makers, dancers, composers, performing musicians and others, including many members of Ireland’s state-sponsored academy of artists Aosdána.

This was the first national cultural boycott against Israel, and was followed shortly by a similar initiatives in Switzerland and South Africa. It is hoped that other countries will follow the same template in the near future.

Raymond Deane, cultural liaison officer of the IPSC, said: 'Sadly, this pledge remains as necessary as when it was launched four years ago. Israel’s latest murderous assault on Gaza, that has killed over 2,100 people, mostly non-combatants, proves that it is not interested in peace. Western governments’ failure to sanction Israel proves that they are not interested in justice, so it remains incumbent upon civil society to take action. This pledge allows people from the artistic community to take a stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Indeed almost half of the signatories have added their names since Israel launched "Operation Protective Edge", thus proving that the Irish government's appeasement of Israel is deeply at odds with all levels of Irish public opinion'.

Mr Deane also pointed out that 'these artists are aware of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s 2005 statement that "we see culture as a propaganda tool of the first rank, and… do not differentiate between propaganda and culture".  By signing this pledge, artists are refusing to allow their art to be exploited by an apartheid state that disregards international law and universal principles of human rights. They look forward to the day when normal cultural relations can be established with an Israel that fully complies with such laws and principles'.

Mr Deane concluded by calling on more Irish artists to sign the pledge, saying 'if you are an Irish artist or an artist based in Ireland and would like to add your signature, please see

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The desolation of peace in Gaza, and in American academia

The great Roman chronicler Tacitus wrote a biography, as we'd call it nowadays, of an eminent military leader, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, in the year 98.  It is from this work that we take the famous quotation, referring to the rhetorical hypocrisies that surround war, 'They make a desolation, and call it "peace"'.  

The question for Gaza now is what the 'peace' which was declared today is to be. A ceasefire or truce has been inaugurated, which is proposed to last.  It comes attended by certain agreed elements - most of them similar to those which accompanied the agreement brokered at the end of the last bombardment in 2012.  A projected softening of the Israeli blockade of the Strip.  An extension of the fishing zone off the Gaza coast from three to six miles.  Egypt to open the important Rafah border crossing.  This comes after a terrible seven weeks for the people of Gaza, with more than 2100 people killed, most of them non-combatants.  Five hundred of those people were children.  11,000 people were injured.  One third of the population of 1.8 million has been displaced, with people fleeing their homes to avoid bombardment, to shelter at UN sites.  Not that this always saved them, of course.  The Guardian reports that estimates for reconstruction say it could take up to a decade.  

But the question now must also be - what kind of negotiations may follow?  Who will be their adjudicator?  Egypt or the United States, or the Quartet, or ... who knows.  What is to be the part of the Palestine Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, in the policing and regulation of the peace in Gaza?  Israel still wants Gaza 'demilitarized'.  A recent statement by the Israel-biased Irish Foreign Minister, Charlie Flanagan (maybe now making up for flagrantly anti-Semitic statements made by his severely conservative father, one-time TD and minister Oliver J Flanagan), that Ireland could help negotiate peace in Israel/Palestine was undermined by its patent slant, in proposing Palestinian demilitarization.  The Irish political class has a somewhat ludicrous and narcissistic belief that it has a talent for peace-making, on the strength of the Irish 'peace process'.  It is no insult to the recently deceased ex-Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, whose hardnosed, bluntspoken and pragmatic approach helped lay the ground for the 'Good Friday Agreement', to say that such witterings tell us more about the goldfish bowl that is Leinster House than about any serious foreign policy innovation or independence, and overlook the sectarian and procedurally sclerotic structures that the 'peace process' has actually brought to Northern Ireland. 


In the last two weeks of faltering ceasefires and negotiations, one of the more striking outriders of the Gaza crisis has been its reverberation in American academia, in the form of the Steven Salaita affair.  Salaita was until very recently an assistant professor at Virginia Tech.  He was offered a tenured position at the University of Illinois, at Urbana-Champaign, due to be taken up this autumn, which was then revoked by the University of Illinois authorities, apparently because of the 'uncivil' character of tweets issued by Salaita during the Gaza bombardment which were critical of Israel.  Rippling out from this ugly episode has been a mounting protest movement in Salaita's support, revelations of Zionist lobbying of the University, and the wider discussion about the academic boycott.  

The links I'll put in here amount to a brief archive on the Salaita case.  They are mostly from Electronic Intifada:

University of Illinois fires professor Steven Salaita after Gaza massacre tweets


Academic heavyweights slam Univ. of Illinois firing of Steven Salaita for Palestine views



Sunday, 17 August 2014

Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism: The Italian Case

Boundary 2 is one of the more overtly politicized American literary-critical journals.  Founded in the early 1970s and working initially under the aegis of the left-Heideggerianism of William Spanos, B2 pioneered discussion of, amongst many other topics, postmodernism, critiques of Yale deconstruction, and more recently new variations on the idea of the secular in America.  Disappointingly and in my opinion unwisely, B2 is no longer open to submissions in the conventional academic manner.  However it ploughs its own, often interesting, furrow.  Here's a free article from its website/blog, on Italian anti-Zionism:

Anti-Zionism as Antisemitism: The Case of Italy

an intervention by John Champagne

“In several recent essays and articles on the relationship between Italian Jews in the diaspora and contemporary Israeli political and military actions toward the Palestinians, an interesting series of contradictions emerge. In some instances, critique of the military policies of the state of Israel is equated with antisemitism, even when that critique is proffered by Italian Jews. The argument, presented, for example, by Ugo Volli in his “Zionism: a Word that not Everyone Understands,” is that there is a connection between military and political attacks on Israel…” Continue reading


Gaza and French anti-Semitism

The recent bombardment of Gaza has thrown up many reactions, in many countries.  In France, protest is always framed by multiple, sometimes overlapping, histories: those of the French Jewish community and its post-Revolutionary assimilation, of French anti-Semitism with its landmarks in the Dreyfus affair and in the disgraceful moment of the Vichy regime in the 1940s, and then the history of French involvement in the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire, the Sykes-Picot agreement, the bloody and traumatic Algerian war of independence, and the arrival of the pieds noirs in France, and subsequent to that the growth of the French Maghrebi population - both Arab and Jewish.   France was an early ally of Israel, being its chief armourer up to the Six Day War, and the state which sold Israel nuclear technology in the 1950s.  After 1967, France's policy stances vis-a-vis the Middle East varied more, and were more likely to be Israel-critical.

These contexts make for the particular nature of French public discussion of Israel, which is at times fraught.  The philosopher Alain Badiou, already mentioned on this blog in the context of commentary on the Ukraine crisis, has long articulated both his support of the Palestinian cause and his critique of anti-Semitism.  Recent events have embroiled him in fresh controversy.  Here is a chain of articles giving a sense of this debate, mostly taken from the Verso website:

Alain Badiou's "anti-Semitism": Badiou, Segré, and Winter respond to the current accusations in France




Thursday, 14 August 2014


The ceasefires in and around Gaza have stumbled and then been reinstated.  Sporadic bombardments have occurred, and then been stopped.  Talks, with Hamas and Israeli teams not meeting directly, have been continuing in Egypt.

The chief demand of the Palestinians is for an end to the blockade and siege, to which the Strip has been subject for nigh-on eight years.  The Israelis are demanding the 'demilitarization' of Gaza.  The Palestinian demand has greater moral and legal weight behind it, since international law recognises Israel still as an occupying power, with total sovereignty over the Strip, its borders (apart from that with Egypt), its airspace, and its territorial waters, and with the ability tightly to regulate what comes in and out of the Strip.  Israel's policies - whether of siege, semi-starvation or bombardment - amount to collective punishment of a civilian population, and constitute a massive crime.  Israel's wish for Hamas to disarm is illegal, in that international law recognises the right of an occupied people to resistance, including violent resistance; Hamas was legitimately elected to governance in 2006 and hence has some kind of democratic legitimacy; and a disarmed population is merely an extension of Israel's wish to enhance (rather than reduce) its control and sovereignty over the Territory.

Having Sisi's Egypt hold the ring at these talks does not give cause for much optimism that anything fair or stable will emerge from them.  The fickle media-led attention of the West has switched, while Palestinians are no longer dying in large numbers, to the brutal struggle in western Iraq (rarely noting that, even if Bibi has told us that 'Hamas is ISIS' as a mode of condemnation, Israel is in a closet alliance with Saudi Arabia, one of the prime supporters of ISIS).

A couple of free essays on the London Review of Books site are very well worth reading.  First, Nathan Thrall on Hamas and its political situation and context:

Hamas’s Chances


Second, an essay by Nicholas Blincoe on the Palestinian diaspora:


Phantom Bids


And here is Patrick Cockburn on the emergence and rise of ISIS:


Isis consolidates



Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Breathing Out

The ceasefire is holding.  It's unclear what will happen when it comes to an end tomorrow.  It's perhaps foolish at this point to pull back to consider what is happening in abstract or even philosophical terms, but I am putting up here links to discussions by or of leading intellectuals, in relation to what has been happening in Gaza.

Back in the mid-1980s, Edward Said wrote a famous and excoriating critique of a then-new book by the liberal American political philosopher Michael Walzer, Exodus and Revolution.  This essay, 'Exodus and Revolution: A Canaanite Reading' was published in Grand Street, and then collected in Blaming the Victims, edited by Said and by Christopher Hitchens.  In it, Said located the dark underside of Walzer's argument that the Biblical Exodus story was the master-narrative of all Western stories of liberation.  Said focussed on "the injunction laid on the Jews by God to exterminate their opponents, an injunction that somewhat takes away the aura of progressive national liberation which Walzer is bent on giving to Exodus."   Eleven years after Said's death, Walzer is still at it, justifying Operation Protective Edge in the pages of The New Republic.  Here is Stephen Shalom taking him on:

Michael Walzer's Defense of Israel's Crimes


In Prospect, Jeff McMahan discusses the ethics of Israel's war in Gaza:


 Gaza: Is Israel fighting a just war?


Curtis Franks is a philosopher teaching at Notre Dame University, in Indiana.  He's also a member of the Hebrew Orthodox Congregation:


Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog: An open letter on Israel and Gaza ...


Assaf Sharon is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Tel Aviv University.  Here he writes about the moral corrosion caused in Israeli society by the Gaza offensive:


The Moral Siege: The Militarization of Jewish Supremacism in Israel


And here is an interview with Judith Butler, published last year on the Open Democracy website, but pertinent today nevertheless: 


Willing the impossible: an interview with Judith Butler ...


Monday, 4 August 2014

Little Respite for the Defenceless, and No Rest for their Oppressors

Ceasefires seem to have come, gone and returned today in Gaza.  Israel has 'redeployed' much of its forces in the Strip in the last couple of days, but a redeployment is a tactical matter, and does not necessarily preclude a large-scale ground intervention re-occurring, or smaller operations continuing, as seems to be the case in Rafah.

Meanwhile the international reaction, at the level of states and governments, remains so low-key and somnolent as to be truly disgraceful and disgusting.  At least during Operation Cast Lead, in 2008-2009, we had one UN Security Council Resolution, which the United States did not seek to veto (it abstained).  This time, all we've got are various bleatings from Ban Ki-Moon, from President Obama, and from European leaders, nearly always framed or hedged around with the 'recognition' of Israel's right to defend itself.  What is forgotten in this is the right of the Palestinians to defence, and the fact that, as David Lloyd says in his Mondoweiss piece, the butchery of civilians is not a legitimate mode of self-defence.

On the wider front, commentators in journals such as the Irish Times like to meditate ponderously on how Israel, in its struggle with Hamas, finds itself in an alliance with Arab states against 'political Islam'.  But much of this pontification is ignorant or purblind also.  Israel certainly is benefiting from the hostility of the Cairo government against the Muslim Brotherhood.   The joke here is that previous Egyptian, and Israeli, governments have sought to make use of 'political Islam' and indeed of the Brotherhood.  Anwar Sadat tried to channel Egyptian Islamists towards the mujahideen jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, in the late 1970s.  Israel's security service, Shin Bet, at least turned a blind eye towards, and quite possibly assisted, the rise of the Brotherhood in the Strip in the 1980s, as a way of splitting secular Palestinian nationalism.   From that movement arose the movement that Israel struggles to contain - Hamas.  A classic case of 'blowback'.

But the idea that Israel now, in allying itself with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, is taking a stand against political Islam is truly laughable.  It takes us back to the pre-9/11 days, when the United States foreign policy establishment referred to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf kingdoms as 'moderate' Arab regimes.  This designation was given these strikingly reactionary states, as against the putative 'radicalism' of the Arab nationalist regimes of Egypt (under Nasser), Syria (under the Assads, father and son) and Iraq (under its military leadership and under Saddam Hussein), which were opposed to Western imperialism in the region and which were prepared to make war with Israel.  But this is and was ludicrous.  The Arab nationalists at various times were armed or supported by the USSR, and to the Americans, this made them 'radical'.  But the Gulf sheikhdoms - always dependent on the West for armed support, and aggressively anti-commnuist - were and are much more conservative and dangerous in their political/theological structures, and are essentially quasi-feudal oligarchies, wedded to very conservative forms of Sunni Islam.  In the case of the biggest, richest and most powerful of these kingdoms, ruled by the House of Saud, we find a legitimating alliance between the royal family and a clerical regime of the most profound and dark conservatism, Wahhabiyya.  Taking its name from Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, a Sunni theologian of the late eighteenth century, this sect sees Islam as suffering from various political corruptions and moral weaknesses in the period of modernity.  Most radically, it promotes takfiri thinking, which casts most other Muslims as apostates, and permits their punishment or killing. It is this tendency that has seen Saudi Wahhabism issue in Salafi radicalism of the kind we associate with al-Qaeda, with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and with ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

In other words, in allying itself with Saudi Arabia, no matter how hidden or implicit this alliance may be, Israel is colluding with the most violent, destructive, anti-democratic and intolerant ideology at work in the Middle East. This doesn't say much for the moral purity of the 'only democracy' in the region, and it makes a nonsense of the idea that Israel is opposed to 'political Islam'.

But then moral and ethical confusion is part and parcel of this struggle, and the Saudis do not have a monopoly on extremism.  Here, for example, is the case of the writer who has made the most shameful and disgraceful personal and political use of the legacy of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel:

 Elie Wiesel plays the Holocaust trump card in Gaza

And here is a statement by a radical ultra-Orthodox rabbi here in Dublin:

Do Not Be Broken Or Afraid Of Them [Parshat Devarim By Rabbi Zalman Lent

In Israel itself, considerable and in many ways admirable freedom of the press allows the most extraordinary rightwing and racist Zionist opinions to be voiced and, alas, to gain such traction as makes them no longer exceptional.  More unsettlingly, this same press freedom seems less often afforded to Palestinian-Israeli views.  Here is an example of the former - an Israeli journalist pondering the times when genocide may be 'permissible':

Reprint of Yochanan Gordon’s “When Genocide is Permissible” (Updated)

And if one reckons a mere journalist to be less than fully responsible or representative, one can take the case of the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, Moshe Feiglin:

"Concentrate” and “exterminate”: Israel parliament deputy speaker's Gaza genocide