If proof was needed that having parents who will spend thousands of pounds sending you to one of Britain’s most upper class universities is no guarantee of intelligence, Exeter University’s “Friends of Palestine” Society* invited poisonous Holocaust denier Gilad Atzmon to speak. Apparently, Atzmon told listeners that "Hitler was right" and that AIPAC were the "Jewish lobby in America" and 'Antisemitism doesn't exist.'
Meanwhile, Nottingham University Debating Society has invited the British National Party’s Nick Griffin to talk on 24 November. I have always hated the concept of the debating society, both for masturbatory displays of class privilege and for the reduction of important and complex ideas reduced to an intellectual game. It is a common habit of debating societies to “daringly” invite fascist scum to speak (Exeter University springs to mind as having invited Griffin before) and the idiotic “free speech” cultists always applaud them for it.
Turning to the University of London, as a trade unionist I have been vaguely following the minor furore sparked by off-the-cuff racist remarks by RMT London regional organiser Steve Hedley at a RMT-sponsored anti-Israel rally at SOAS, snidely saying “you’re one of the chosen people” to Richard Millett.
For those who won’t see why this is racist, read these remarks overhead by Orwell:
Middle-aged office employee: “I generally come to work by bus. It takes longer, but I don’t care about using the Underground from Golders Green nowadays. There’s too many of the Chosen Race travelling on that line.”The issue was taken up by David Greenstein in the trade union blog Workrep, with some slight inaccuracies that provoked an even more inaccurate and indeed defamatory response from Hedley.
Tobacconist (woman): “No, I’ve got no matches for you. I should try the lady down the street. She’s always got matches. One of the Chosen Race, you see.”
Young intellectual, Communist or near-Communist: “No, I do not like Jews. I’ve never made any secret of that. I can’t stick them. Mind you, I’m not antisemitic, of course.” (Quotes via Daniel Marks).
Interestingly, one of Hedley’s allegations is that Richard Millett “openly consorts with the neo-fascist EDL”. Millett himself has in fact consistently and unambiguously denounced the EDL, but I continue to have concerns about the large amount of space taken up in his comment thread by Roberta Moore and other internet identities who promote the EDL. One of the EDLers, for example, thinks that Searchlight are “utter bigots and enablers of clerical thugs have no interest in combating antisemitism”, because they oppose Islamophobia as well as other forms of racism. I also feel there is a disturbing causal mucking along conviviality between Richard’s regulars and the EDLers.
Reading the comment threads at Richard’s place is a depressing experience. The kind of paranoia and hysteria that makes commenters read about Hedley and think “There is a strong feel of 1938 in Britain these days” or “Compare Berlin 1936 and London 2012 both Olympic years” is very worrying. This kind of paranoia is grounded in the very real pervasiveness of anti-Zionist antisemitism in British liberal culture, rather in pure fantasy, but it is enormously out of proportion with the actual facts.
One regular there is Jonathan Hoffman of the Zionist Federation, indefatigable campaigner against anti-Zionist excesses but not always the best advocate for his cause. I was interested to see a debate between Dan Sheldon, the president of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and Hoffman. I have no stake in advocating for Israel, their topic, but only in combating antisemitism (a distinction that both the UJS and Zionist Federation like to blur), but I find myself agreeing with most of Sheldon’s sharp criticisms of Hoffman. Here is Jonathan’s response.
On the other hand, I think it is Hoffmanesquely counterproductive for the UJS to treat Norman Finkelstein as analogous to Gilad Atzmon and Nick Griffin, and to picket Finkelstein at Leeds University, as the UJS have done. Finkelstein has said some unpleasant things and has some unsavoury views, but there is quite a lot of clear blue water between him and the Atzmons and Griffins we should be no platforming. Telling the world we can’t tell the difference is to seriously undermine our case.
UPDATE: Contententious Centrist responds to this post here. (Also relevant, read this "conversation in D minor".) UPDATE 2: CST report on Atzmon. JC report on these and other recent campus hate fixtures.
*On the Exeter event, Sarah informs me that some publicity for this event bills it as a Palestine Solidarity Campaign event. I haven't researched this fully.