For over four decades, events in Palestine-Israel have provoked raging conflicts between members of British universities, giving rise to controversies around free speech, ‘extremism’, antisemitism and Islamophobia within higher education, which have been widely reported in the media and subject to repeated interventions by politicians. But why is this conflict so significant for student activists living at such a geographical distance from the region itself? And what role do emotive, polarised communications around Palestine-Israel play in the life of British academic institutions committed to the ideal of free expression? This book invites students, academics and members of the public who feel concerned with this issue to explore the sources of these visceral encounters on campus. Drawing on original ethnographic research with conflicting groups of activists, it explores what is at stake for students who are drawn into struggles around Palestine-Israel within changing university spaces facing pressures associated with neoliberalism and the ‘War on Terror’. It begins from this case study to argue that, in an increasingly globalised world that is shaped by entangled histories of the Nazi Holocaust and colonial violence, members of universities must develop creative and ethical ways of approaching questions of justice. Tragic Encounters and Ordinary Ethics curates an ethnographic imagination in response to the political tensions arising out of the continuing violence in Palestine-Israel. It invites students and academics to attend to lived experiences within our own university institutions in order to cultivate ethical forms of communication in response to conflicts of justice.
James Baldwin’s Radicalism and the Evolution of His Thought on
This article traces the evolution of James Baldwin’s discourse on the
Arab–Israeli conflict as connected to his own evolution as a Black
thinker, activist, and author. It creates a nuanced trajectory of the
transformation of Baldwin’s thought on the Arab–Israeli conflict
and Black and Jewish relations in the U.S. This trajectory is created through
the lens of Baldwin’s relationship with some of the major radical Black
movements and organizations of the twentieth century: Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad
and the Nation of Islam, and, finally, the Black Power movement, especially the
Black Panther Party. Using Baldwin as an example, the article displays the
Arab–Israeli conflict as a terrain Black radicals used to articulate
their visions of the nature of Black oppression in the U.S., strategies of
resistance, the meaning of Black liberation, and articulations of Black
identity. It argues that the study of Baldwin’s transformation from a
supporter of the Zionist project of nation-building to an advocate of
Palestinian rights and national aspirations reveals much about the ideological
transformations of the larger Black liberation movement.
Holocaust and events in
When two years later in January 2011 I began ethnographic fieldwork at these
universities, the effects of these events were still being felt, sustained through
renewals of students’ union policies, in plaques marking buildings and in the
repertoires of support for the 2011 Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. Students’
memories of the occupations over ‘Operation Cast Lead’ seemed important in
shaping their ongoing activities, including campaigns for Palestinian justice and
dialogue initiatives aimed at harmonising campus relations
Conclusion: good relations, free
speech and political activism
What did she learn in order to do that? What did she learn from having done it?
If she had never made such leaps, she would never have walked into speech.
Having made it, meadows of communication can grow for us.
(Stanley Cavell 1999: 172, original italics)
To encounter the Palestine–Israel conflict in British universities is to be confronted
with an unsettling, tragic situation. This is a site of contestation not only in relation
to the substance of justice claims, but also with regard to how to
the true source of the public’s fascination, this student adopted a discursive tactic that is well established in media reporting of this
campus politics. As Dávid Kaposi (2014: 16) notes, debates on the Palestine–Israel
conflict are more broadly characterised by what he terms ‘meta-discourses’, profound disagreements not over the veracity of claims but rather over the hidden
motivations and systematic biases that underpin seemingly rational arguments.
For, when opposing protagonists ask publicly, ‘Why is this issue so significant
within Britain?’, they tend to do
Finding the words: towards ethical
To imagine a language means to imagine a form of life.
(Wittgenstein 1967: para.19)
How should I name the subject of this research: ‘Palestine–Israel’, ‘Israel–Palestine’,
‘Palestine/Israel’ or ‘the Middle East conflict’? The ethical and political dimensions of researching this issue arise at this very first juncture, in giving a title to
this book. Which nation should be inscribed first in ‘Palestine–Israel’ or ‘Israel–
Palestine’? How are the parts of this name to be sutured together: with a connecting
Conversation, friendship and democratic possibilities
as an amicable disagreement shaped by a feeling of mutual care for this issue. As
I have previously discussed, Palestine–Israel politics at Old University was publicly
enacted through aggressive opposition between antagonistic, polarised student
societies. This encounter between Sadiq and Daniel provided a rare glimpse behind
the scenes of these most visible political dramas, pointing towards the embeddedness of political activities in lived relationships between students who knew each
other. How did Sadiq and Daniel come to form and develop this
This study examines how the diverse strands of the British left have interpreted the conflict in Palestine. From being overwhelmingly supportive of the Zionist movement’s effort to build a Jewish state in Palestine and welcoming Israel’s establishment the left, in the main, has become increasingly critical of Israel. The Labour Party, for much of its history, had portrayed Zionist settlement as a social democratic experiment that would benefit both Jews and Arabs. Its leaders turned a blind eye to the Zionist movement’s sectarian practices which through its trade union and agricultural co-operatives aimed to build an exclusively Jewish economy. The rise of fascism in Europe and the Holocaust reinforced the party’s support for Jewish state building in Palestine. The British Communist Party was by contrast critical of Zionism but in 1947, following the lead given by the Soviet Union, endorsed the United Nations’ partition of Palestine and subsequently ignored the plight of the Palestinian refugees. It was not until the rise of the new left, in the late 1960s, that Palestinian nationalist aspiration found a voice on the British left and began to command mainstream attention. The book examines the principal debates on the left over the Palestine/Israel conflict and the political realignment that they have helped to shape.
This chapter discusses the nexus of Tolstoyan anarcho-pacifism and Jewish tradition in the life and thought of Rabbi Avraham Yehudah Heyn, an orthodox rabbi of prestigious Habad hasidic lineage, who served several communities throughout Europe and in Palestine/Israel. Responding to the infamous Beilis trails, in which the ancient blood libel was revived in Russia, he promoted a hermeneutic of resistance, interpreting Jewish tradition as the foil of the state and of state-sanctioned violence — indeed, all violence. This chapter considers five themes. First, the notion that the essence of Judaism consists in a conviction as to the absolute sanctity of human life. Second, the implications this has for a pacifist vision for human society reminiscent of Tolstoy's but articulated in a distinctively Jewish manner. Third, the way that the idea of human sanctity grounds both Heyn’s socialism and his anarchism, including his approach to building a libertarian Jewish society cognizant of and authentically bound to but not bound by tradition. Fourth, his vision for a morally sound revolution of the heart. Finally, his complex and in some ways contradictory reflections on Zionism.
University melodramas: the claim
The university loves to have guidelines and policies in place to back itself up …
but it just becomes a bit of, as I would say in Arabic, a ‘Syrian drama’, which is
very like [in a high-pitched voice] aahhhh! Lots of things going on, but nothing
much is happening.1
In April 2010, I began my initiation into the student politics of Palestine–Israel
when I went to observe the NUS National Conference. The UJS and FOSIS had
organised a fringe meeting entitled ‘Hate Speech on Campus’, which had generated intense advance