My Vote’s A Secret…

Between me and the ballot-box. And the readers of the Virtual Stoa, of course. Thanks to all of those who have deposited their preferences in the urn that is a couple of the comments threads below. The running totals are currently as follows:

Labour: Eleven
Lib Dems: Seven
Tories: One
Legalise Cannabis: One
Undecided: Two

So congratulations to the Tories for pulling level with Legalise Cannabis (though the H&K calculator still won’t give ’em any seats on that share of the vote), and also to Chris in Cheadle for moving out of the undecided column and casting the Labour vote we all deep down knew he would.

Keep voting, please, UK voters, with details of your home constituency, preferred candidate, and anything else you want to tell us about the responsible manner in which you approach one of the heaviest burdens of democratic citizenship.

McNeill for Bermondsey!

And while we’re on the subject of my various friends, colleagues and contemporaries who are stomping around the country looking for Your Vote, I always liked Kirsty McNeill whenever I ran into her in Oxford and London, she’s now running against Simon Hughes (clear throat, spit) in Southwark North and Bermondsey, and for some reason she’s got a campaign blog on the website of your number-one supersize soaraway Sun (or whatever they say about themselves these days).

It’s not the best blog in the world, I agree, but perhaps it’s early days. Or something.

Student Hacks

A number of university contemporaries are doing things in this general election campaign. Old friends include Kitty Ussher (heading for victory for Labour in Burnley) and Kwasi Kwarteng (pictured here on a winning University Challenge team, and heading for defeat for the Tories in Brent East). I hope they’re both having fun.

I’m also struck by the way in which the two most irritating student hacks from my undergraduate days have clearly found their political home in the Conservative Party. I don’t remember either as a Tory when they first showed up on my radar screens around a decade ago, but I’m not at all surprised that that’s where they ended up.

Liz Truss was an annoying Liberal Democrat student hack, c.1994, elected, I think, onto the student union executive, and she’s now metamorphosed into a Conservative candidate in Calder Valley, a reasonably marginal seat. I’ll be pleased if she doesn’t get elected.

And Sheridan Westlake, than whom a more irritating person it would be difficult to imagine, is now a Tory councillor in Guildford, is working for the Tories in Central Office during the election campaign, and is someone who has attracted the attention of blogger Guido Fawkes. (Guido reports that Westlake “admits only to standing for the Tories in Oxford”; I vaguely remember him running for the OUSU Sabbatical elections in his first year as an undergraduate, and I’m reasonably confident that it wasn’t on the Tory ticket but as an independent. I think he was a member of the Labour Club back then, too, though I may be wrong.)

(I’m very happy to report that I’ve forgotten most of what I once must have known about Sheridan’s doings in Oxford; indeed, I successfully managed not to even think about him for four years after graduating, until one day in 1999 or thereabouts when my old friend Adam Shapiro reminded me of his existence on a clifftop walk around San Francisco’s Golden Gate.)

The Votes of the Stoa

In the only vote that really matters, and what is also an unimpeachably scientific poll of public opinion, the readers of the Virtual Stoa have – so far – deposited their votes as follows:

Labour: Seven
Lib Dems: Five
Legalise Cannabis: One
Undecided: Two

And (puts Peter Snow costume on) if this result were to be repeated nationwide, and if Martin Baxter‘s forecasting model is a good one, then this will generate a Labour majority of 304, with 475 Labour MPs, 146 Lib Dems, and no Tories. The excellent Hill & Knowlton general election site by contrast forecasts 470 LAB, 156 Lib Dems, 0 CON, 20 Others (though they might not be Legalise Cannabis: sorry, Mike!).

Please carry on voting in the comments, and, when doing so, please state your name, your preferred party, and the name of the candidate and the constituency in which you’ll be casting your vote, as well as any reasons for doing so that you want to share with the rest of us.

Letter from Avraham Oz, Haifa University

An update written on a date where professional and personal concerns converge may require a special issue to be addressed. Today’s date traditionally marks both Shakespeare’s date of birth and death. It is also the Eve of Jewish Passover, known as the holiday of Liberation. As the old Chinese curse would has it, the Middle East will never fail to provide interesting occasions to furnish a special update.

The British AUT has voted a couple of days ago in favor of a motion to boycott two Israeli Universities, one of which is the one I am employed in. Since, I have been asked by many friends for my reaction to this, and I gather I owe you my response.

Whenever asked, over the last few years I expressed my opinion that even though the repressive policies of my country against the Palestinian population, especially in the territories occupied in 1967, is appalling, racist, sometimes horrifying in its cruelty, and often having crossed the boundaries of war crimes, academic boycott was neither morally justified nor effective. It does not distinguish between university administrations and faculty; nor am I sure that a proper mechanism was devised to distinguish between faculty members who think they can live in the ivory tower of academia in times of gross injustice and such – and there are many in Israeli academia – who risk their position for actively participating in acts of protest against of official policies of repression and cooperation with the victims of injustice.

However, while I still adhere to my opinion regarding this matter, both my government and my university hardly have a cause for complaint: they did whatever they could to provoke the responses leading to this, to my mind, erroneous move. The Ministress of Education and Culture, who will probably soon cry havoc on that boycott, is the same person who threatened to deny Daniel Barenboim a prestigious prize, and goes on demanding the firing of academics whom she blacklisted as traitors to the national cause. An academic community which didn’t shout its protest when an eminent academic and moral figure such as the late Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz was forced to withdraw the Israel prize following an ugly wave of political bigotry; which kept quiet when academic freedom in the Occupied Territories was constantly curbed by closures and harassments; which is even now piling on my friend and colleague Ilan Pappe as responsible for the move, while having cheered and elected the person who demanded his firing as their academic leader, but never seriously questioned the “academic privilege” overriding transparency when a formerly cum laude awarded thesis was suddenly disqualified by an anonymous group of readers following a political controversy surrounding its conclusions; such an academic community should first question its own standards, before proclaiming itself the victim of an anti-Semitic campaign. No equivalent to the AUT was ever created in Israel, to become a body where not only local problems are tackled in the face of a system which made higher education in Israel approach total crumbling, but also take a stand in matters which transcend local issues, and protect the rights of those individuals within academy who face injustice perpetrated by the administrations for protesting against the abuse of justice.

As many of you know, on a personal level, I have many reasons to endorse the allegations directed against my university: I will not elaborate on matters which are still subject to a court litigation. However, while still believing the AUT measure to have been counterproductive, I would advise my colleagues to look deeper into the circumstances which have led a majority of members of the AUT council to go along with such an extreme motion. Hiding our heads in the old arguments of Jew-baiting will not answer many viable questions directed at us, which we often fail to address. Justification for boycott aside, can we really, in all honesty, brush aside the issues directed not only against Israeli policies, but against the general functioning of academia in Israel? I wish all of us will take a moment, while celebrating tonight the holiday of Liberation, to ponder on “the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely… the law’s delay, the insolence of office, and the spurns that patient merit of th’unworthy takes,” rather than exonerate ourselves of any wrongdoing by assuming the role of the eternal victims.

For better days,

A. Oz

Letter from Ron Kuzar, Haifa University

As someone who is strongly opposed to Israel’s behavior towards the Palestinians in the territories as well as its misconduct of its Arab citizens, I would like to make the following points:

1. While I do find some similarities between South Africa’s apartheid and Israel’s conduct in the occupied territories, I do not find the AUT boycott to be similar to that imposed on South African universities. The latter was part of a total embargo – diplomatic, economic, cultural, and educational – a concerted effort of the international community to force SA to abandon apartheid. Had there been a total international embargo on Israel to force it to abandon the occupation of the territories, I would have supported that embargo, including the boycott of Israeli Universities (all of them).

2. The University of Haifa has made many mistakes, or even worse, has acted in an unfair manner towards its Arab students. Yet, this is an institution with a dynamic community of lecturers, many of whom are opposed to both its policies against Arab students (see the recent discussion about signs in Arabic) and some (perhaps others) are opposed to Israel’s policies in the occupied territories. As an institution, the University of Haifa has not allied itself in any way with expansionist anti-Palestinian policies. Hence, the university is not a tool in the hands of the state or the expansionist forces in Israel, but rather a battleground in which different ideologies are in conflict.

3. Even if [Ilan] Pappe’s allegations (as reported) are all true, this is not enough of a reason to impose a boycott on the whole university. There could be more specific ways to challenge the university’s decision re Teddy Katz’s MA or re Pappe’s secure position at the university.

4. While I do not trust the Jerusalem Post as a source of reliable information, I haven’t seen any alternative reports of what went on at the AUT conference. If these are indeed the facts of the decision making procedure, I condemn the decision as both illegal and unjustified in light of 1, 2, and 3 above.

5. The boycott against Bar-Ilan University is fully justified since this university actively supports a college which is part of the settlement apparatus.

Ron Kuzar

All AUT All The Time

One thing we can usefully do at the present time is read the thoughts of progressive Israeli academics on the AUT’s boycott. Which is why the next two posts are appearing here: the first is from Dr Ron Kuzar, from the English Department at Haifa University (one of those targetted for boycott); the second is from Professor Avraham Oz of the Department of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, also at Haifa.

[via SM, for which, many thanks.]

I Don’t Like The AUT Ban, But I Don’t Like What the Israelis Are Doing, Either

This, just in, from Amnesty International:

Israel/Occupied Territories: Israeli authorities must put an immediate end to settler violenceAmnesty International calls on the Israeli authorities to investigate recent incidents of poisoning of Palestinian fields and the increasingly frequent attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian villagers in the West Bank. Such acts must not be allowed to continue.

In recent weeks, toxic chemicals have repeatedly been spread on fields located near the villages of Tuwani, Umm Faggara and Kharruba in the southern Hebron region.

Scores of sheep as well as gazelles and other animals have been contaminated by the toxins and several have died. Palestinian farmers have been forced to quarantine their flocks and stop using the milk, cheese and meat from them, effectively depriving them of their livelihood. Since the first poison was discovered near Tuwani on 22 March 2005, more fields have been targeted in the same region.

In the days prior to the first field poisoning incident in Tuwani, a security guard from the nearby Israeli settlement Ma’on had reportedly told villagers that he wanted Palestinian farmers to stop grazing their flocks near the settlement and that, if they did not agree to this, he and the settlers had ways to make them stop.

Analyses carried out by the Center for Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at Bir Zeit University and by the Israeli Nature Protection Authority have confirmed that two types of toxic chemicals have been spread in large quantities in the area. The toxic chemicals are 2-Fluoracetamide which is banned in several countries including Israel and severely restricted in international trade, and Brodifacoum, an anticoagulant used as rodenticide.

On 12 April 2005 one of these toxins was also found in the Northern West Bank village of Yasouf, in a field located near the entrance to the Israeli settlement Tapuah, and near the place where the Israeli army had just re-opened the road connecting Yasouf to the main road. The road leading to Yasouf had been kept closed to Palestinians for years, forcing people to take a long detour to access the village.

The areas where the toxic chemicals have been found are located in Area C, which is under full control of the Israeli authorities; Palestinian Authority security forces are forbidden by Israel from operating in these areas. To date, the Israeli authorities have not cleaned the toxic chemicals from the affected areas, leaving the task to Palestinian farmers and international and Israeli peace activists. They also have not taken the necessary measures to investigate the matter with a view to bringing those responsible to justice.

Recently Israeli settlers have stepped up attacks and threats against Palestinian farmers and villagers in these and other West Bank areas, preventing Palestinians from accessing their land. In recent months, repeated physical assaults by Israeli settlers from Ma’on and the nearby settlement outpost of Havat Ma’on on Palestinian farmers and on international peace activists and human rights workers, including Amnesty International staff, have not been investigated by the Israeli police. Those responsible for these attacks enjoy impunity.

For more on related matters, follow this link.