A: In ethnic terms I am white European. In religious terms I come from a non-conformist protestant Christian background. My parents are still practising members of the United Reformed Church but I no longer regard myself as a Christian. I would call myself an atheist, but I have respect for those aspects of all religions which promote human rights and human dignity. In fact over the course of the last year I have learnt more about both the Jewish and Muslim faiths and my respect for both of them has increased because of the people I have encountered who are putting the positive values of their faith into practice.
A: I'm not sure when I first realised that the Palestinians were an oppressed people, but I remember collecting for a charity called Unipal, a university education campaign for Palestinian refugees, when I was a student at Cambridge. That would have been around 1979. I probably got involved with Unipal through Student Christian Movement, which had good meetings with a lot of progressive speakers, e.g. Bishop Colin Winter of Namibia.
A: Only through e-mail. There was a time about 10 years ago when we briefly worked in the same building, but we were working for different employers so we didn't really know each other.
A: The version of the academic boycott which I have signed says: "I can no longer in good conscience continue to cooperate with official Israeli institutions, including universities. I will attend no scientific conferences in Israel, and I will not participate as referee in hiring or promotion decisions by Israeli universities, or in the decisions of Israeli funding agencies. I will continue to collaborate with, and host, Israeli scientific colleagues on an individual basis." See http://www.pjpo.org for the full text.
Therefore, I try to draw a distinction between institutions and individuals: the target is the Israeli government, not ordinary citizens. Of course it's a slippery distinction, as Mona Baker herself points out: in fact it's impossible to boycott an institution without in some way affecting the individuals who work for it. I take her point, but nonetheless I try not to target individuals as far as possible. So I draw the line in a different place from Mona; all the same I respect her right to draw her own line where her conscience tells her to, and I think the witch-hunt against her is disgusting.
A: I absolutely oppose all forms of discrimination on any grounds whatsoever (including those which are not yet illegal such as age discrimination). But, as I understand it, Mona has done no such thing. She is not boycotting all Israeli academics, let alone all Jewish academics; she is boycotting people who are employed by Israeli institutions, whatever their nationality, ethnicity or religion. She is not boycotting, for instance, a Jewish Israeli national who is currently employed in Canada, while she is boycotting an American gentile who is employed by an Israeli university. See her Editorial Statement in The Translator.
A: Petitions, by their very nature, are usually brief and focus on a single issue. All the same I would be happier if the boycott petition included a denunciation of terrorism by both sides. I have signed it anyway because I don't think the violence of the Israeli state - armed with tanks and F-16 bombers supplied by the USA and Britain - can be equated with the violence of Palestinians fighting back against illegal occupation. People who ask me this question tend not to accept this point!
A: It doesn't mention the thousands of Palestinian deaths either. It's a petition - it can't be expected to give a complete analysis of the political situation in the Middle East. The focus is on opposing the atrocities associated with the occupation, and I agree with that so I signed it. I deplore all loss of human life, whatever the race or religion of the victims.
A: Anti-semitism means discriminating against people because they are Jewish, which is a question of ethnicity and/or religion - usually, but not always, both. I am not an anti-semite; on the contrary I am an active anti-racist as my colleagues, students and friends will attest. I am an anti-Zionist: Zionism is a political philosophy which some people choose for themselves to adopt, just like Thatcherism, liberalism or Marxism. I think it's fair game to criticise people for their political beliefs: people criticise mine all the time!
If criticising the Israeli government constitutes anti-semitism, then all I can say is, firstly, there are an awful lot of anti-semitic Jewish people in the world; and secondly, by extension of the same logic any criticism of Robert Mugabe's atrocious government in Zimbabwe is racist just because it's a black-led government. Wrong is wrong, whatever the ethnicity or religion of the people doing it. If you are a consistent anti-racist you have to be an anti-Zionist as well as an anti-Nazi.
A: No. There has always been at least one important strand of Jewish political thinking which has been opposed to Zionism, namely socialism. Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg - my top 3 political heroes by the way - were all Jewish, as was Abraham Leon who wrote "The Jewish Question", a classic Marxist answer to Zionism, before he died in a Nazi concentration camp.
There are even extremely devout, orthodox Jews who are anti-Zionist: the Neturei Karta sect. You may call them fundamentalists, or nutters, but there's no disputing their devotion to the Jewish faith and their equally vehement opposition to Zionism.
It's not even true that all Zionists are Jews. There is a notable strand of fundamentalist Christianity - I confess I used to belong to it in my teens - which believes that before the Second Coming of Jesus can take place, the Jews will have to recognise him as their Messiah, and the Temple of David will have to be rebuilt on its original site in Jerusalem. Just one small problem with that: the Dome of the Rock Mosque is currently in the way, so that will have to be demolished (a sort of Judaeo-Christian version of Ayodhya ...). Then Jesus will return, setting foot on earth on the Mount of Olives! I'm not making this up. I remember my church screening an appalling film called "His Land", which featured Cliff Richard, no less, singing about the desert blossoming like a rose. I would call the people who believe this stuff Christian Zionists, and they are quite vociferous, especially in the USA. They have very pro-Israeli views on Middle East politics and the Palestinians don't even come into it.
A: Democracy is a very relative term. 5th century Athens is often held up as a model of democracy, and I'm sure that in its time it was; but it excluded women and was built upon a system of slavery. South Africa had a parliamentary democracy during the apartheid era, and there were some notable dissident MPs. But that parliament didn't include the black majority of South Africa, who didn't even have the vote, so in what sense was it a democracy? In the same way, I don't think Israel deserves the title "democracy". Those Arabs who have Israeli nationality are treated as second-class citizens in lots of ways: certain Arab parties and candidates were banned by the Israelis from taking part in the recent election. And the majority of Arabs in Israel/Palestine don't have Israeli citizenship because Israel has decided they are not Israelis and turfed them off their land. I don't call that democracy in any sense of the word that I recognise.
A: I would say simply that two wrongs don't make a right. The fact that there are other dreadful regimes in the world doesn't make Israel any better. In my view, the sooner the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the rest are overthrown by their own people, the better. If they are, one of the reasons will be because they are seen by their subjects as having collaborated with the USA and Israel. It's interesting, isn't it, that the US and British governments are happy to do business with these disgusting regimes while condemning Iraq? But then they were happy to do business with Iraq a decade ago when it was fighting Iran.
A: If you look at my general politics website, you will find that as well as a page of links concerned with Palestine and Israel, I have links to the Burma Campaign, the Free Tibet Campaign and many other organisations, including Amnesty International which campaigns against human rights abuses all over the world. I support all these campaigns. I am opposed to all oppression and I sign lots of petitions condemning particular regimes for their abuses of human rights: for example the appalling treatment of the Chechen people by the Russian government, which is being tolerated by the US and Britain as part of the "war against terrorism". However, it is only the petition calling for an academic boycott of Israel that, for some reason, is getting picked up by the world's press at the moment and attracting publicity.
A:Boycotts are a tactical issue as well as one of principle. I could say I was boycotting Burma - and I would certainly refuse any invitation to travel there unless as part of a human rights campaign - but in reality I have no academic contacts there (precisely because of the nature of the regime, of course) so my "boycotting" Burma would be a token gesture which would not result in any tangible action whatsoever, and no-one would notice. Israel, on the other hand, prides itself on its academic reputation and its international contacts. So it makes sense to make that the target of a co-ordinated campaign.
Boycotts are nothing new: the most famous boycott campaign was the one against apartheid South Africa but there have been plenty of others since then. So it's not the case that Israel is being treated in a way that no other country has. One recent example is the campaign to boycott the Miss World contest in Nigeria because of the death sentence passed on Aminal Lawal under Sharia law. Other recent boycott campaigns I can think of are the campaign to boycott Turkish tourism (because of the Turkish government's treatment of the Kurds and other political dissenters), the current row over the England cricket team playing in Zimbabwe, and the campaign to boycott companies such as Nestle (mis-marketing of baby milk in 3rd world countries), Nike (use of sweatshop and child labour in 3rd world countries), Esso (refusal to invest in renewable energy to combat global warming) and Shell (destruction of the environment, oppression of indigenous peoples e.g. the Ogoni of Nigeria).
A: I absolutely and unreservedly condemn terrorism of all kinds, by which I mean deliberate acts of violence against unarmed civilians for political ends. That includes suicide bombings by Hamas. It also includes the Israeli army's attack on Jenin, and Bush and Blair's bombing of Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Zionist lobby have stated, falsely, that my website includes "visual glorifications of suicide bombers". I have repeatedly challenged them to come up with the evidence, and they have failed to do so. See, for instance, my e-mail correspondence with supporters of the "Other Side of the Coin" organisation. If anyone can show me a link from one of my pages to a site which encourages terrorism, I will gladly remove it at once. Journalistic reporting of terrorist activities is not, of course, the same as encouraging them.
A: No, I believe in the right to self-defence, both individually and collectively. Governments commit daily acts of violence against their own citizens and those of other countries, and I support the right of ordinary people to resist that violence, using their own violence if necessary. Other than in self-defence the only war worth fighting is the class war. We live in a world where global capitalism is constantly exploiting the people who produce all the wealth, and wars between countries or peoples are an indirect result of that. For instance, Bush's war-mongering against Iraq is not a war against terrorism, it's a war for oil. Israel is a key player in the Middle East because of the oil in surrounding countries and the USA's dependence on it.
A: True, Israeli academics have a lot more to lose than I have. But Palestinian academics and students are suffering much more. At present three Palestinian universities, including Bir Zeit, have been shut down by the Israeli authorities, in retaliation for the latest suicide bombing. Of course I deplore acts of terrorism, but NOTHING can justify the systematic oppression of innocent Palestinian civilians in this way. I have met a student from Bir Zeit who took EIGHT YEARS to complete his first degree, just because of the constant closures, road-blocks and harrassment. At least he lived to finish his degree - some of his fellow students have been shot, for no reason whatsoever.
A: It's a campaigning site, not an academic one. I set it up because I realised that apparently there was no existing website which brought together all the available sites supporting Palestinian rights and peace in the Middle East, so I decided to provide one as a resource for people who campaign on these issues.
If people want to look at pro-Israel sites, there are plenty of them and they are easy enough to find. In any event I do not provide links to sites which have content I strongly disagree with. I do not knowingly link to sites which promote either terrorism or racism, and in my view the current Israeli government is guilty of both.
A: I believe there is. See my list of links to Israeli and Jewish peace organisations, and to Palestinian and inter-faith peace organisations which are trying to bridge the divide between the various ethnic and religious communities. I particularly admire the men and women who are refusing to do military service in the occupied territories - which, in the case of the men, risks a series of prison sentences. As long as there are courageous individuals who stand up for principles of justice and human rights, and as long as there are organisations capable of challenging unjust and oppressive governments, there is hope for the world. If I didn't have that hope I wouldn't be a political activist.
A: Not at present. I am a member of the Socialist Alliance, a coalition of parties and individuals which takes part in national and local elections in the UK. Its manifesto includes opposition to war with Iraq and support for the Palestinian people.
A: Birmingham AUT brought four motions on the Middle East to Council this year (2003). You can read them here. We passed the motions calling for affiliation to Trade Union friends of Palestine and encouraging links with Palestinian universities. We also passed the motion calling on AUT to defend its members if they are unjustly accused of anti-semitism because of their opposition to Israel or their participation in the academic boycott of Israel. We did not pass the motion calling on AUT as a union to support the boycott.
A: No, I never expected it to be passed. The Executive opposed it, and it is very unusual for Council to vote against the Executive on a controversial motion about international politics. Nonetheless about a third of the delegates DID vote for it, which I felt was an impressive number. I think that in the light of the debate quite a few of our members will join the academic boycott on an individual basis, in the knowledge that AUT will defend them if they are victimised for doing so.
A: To have a good debate on Israel and Palestine at Council, and to get publicity for the plight of the Palestinian people in general and Palestinian students and academics in particular.
A: Yes. We had a full and lively debate at Council, and there was enormous media interest: I got interviewed by the Sunday Telegraph, the Today Programme, the Jerusalem Review and even a Canadian radio programme. If we had just put in a motion about affiliating to TU Friends of Palestine we would never have got all that media coverage.
A: No. The only people accusing me of anti-semitism are people who don't know me. I have started featuring a "hate mail of the week" on my website to show what bigoted, vicious, racist and sexist individuals these people are.
Sue regrets that, owing to the current pressures of work, she is unable to enter into new correspondence about her website. However, you are welcome to send her a question, and if it's printable and she can answer it briefly she will post it here with her reply.
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It was last updated on 24th June 2003.