I was asked by Sydney Staff for BDS, a group at the University of Sydney, to join a panel on ‘Why it isn’t antisemitic to boycott Israel’ on April 14 2015. Below is the ext of my brief talk.
Hannah Arendt was lambasted for talking about the flip side of antisemitism: philosemitism.
But she understood that antisemitism in fact relies on the apparent love of Jews. Or put another way, philosemitism creates antisemitism.
Arendt was talking historically about the conditions leading up to the holocaust, but philosemitism is equally a problem today in the context of the role of Jews vis-a-vis the state of Israel. Continue reading →
Given recent concerns with racism in France following the Charlie Hebdo attacks on January 2015, I revisited some of the segments on anti-racism in France from my 2004 book, Racism and Anti-racism in Europe. The contemporary analyses of French approaches to race would have done well to revisit the histories I examined in that book based on research carried out in 1999-2000. These segments are not the totality of everything related to France in that book, but I hope they will give readers the impetus to take a look at the book’s argument again with fresh eyes.
Decolonial activist and intellectual, Houria Bouteldja
This is one of the singularly most important pieces I have read about racism in recent times. I will shortly post a longer commentary. However, suffice it to say that Houria Boutledja of Les Indigenes de la Republique, in this intervention made recently in Oslo, blows apart the idea that it is possible to be equally opposed to both Islamophobia/racism and antisemitism. She explains that racism is structural and emanates from the imperial nation-state. Jews today in France (and we could say the West in general) do not face institutionalised state racism. What they do experience is the state’s ‘philosemitism’ which engages Jews against their will to the state’s demonisation of racialised people as the source of social disunity in general and antisemitism in particular.
As a Jew then, it is up to me to oppose state racism in all its forms while being vigilant to the ways in which Jews are being manipulated in the service of the nation-state in its more generally western and explicitly Zionist forms.
At a later date, I will post some thoughts about Bouteldja’s critique of the widespread use of the amalgam of ‘Judeo-Christian’ which serves, in my opinion, to flatten and dismiss historical state antisemitism and to forcefully assimilate Jews into a national/western project which, as she points out, has always been a White, Christian one. I will also make some comments in Bouteldja’s identification of the philosemitism of the white left which I agree with and, as I think she is pointing out, I personally experience as antisemitism.
I am happy to present the trailer for Sunrise, the beautiful film by my partner, the Indian director Partho Sen-Gupta. The film premiered at the Busan International Film Festival, Mumbai Film Festival, Dharamshala Film Festival, the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights and has just been announced in the 2015 Tribeca Film festival selection, in New York in April. More festival dates are coming up…
So begins the letter sent by detainees of Manus Island detention centre to their friend, Reza Berati, killed by his jailers, the agents of the Australian state one year ago today on the 17th of February, 2014. No one has yet stood trial for his murder, just as no one has been charged for the death of another of his friends, Hamid Khazaei who died of a treatable infection in September last year, due to the negligence of private medical staff.
Today, the sky over Sydney was emblazoned with the words Shut Down Manus as activists commemorated the first year anniversary of Reza’s useless death. Groups all over the world are holding vigils and protests, others are disrupting sporting events such as the Cricket World Cup currently being hosted in Australia. The #NothingLikeAustralia campaign is repurposing the Australan tourism industry’s slogan to highlight Australia’s particular cruelty to asylum seekers. The world can no longer ignore the fact that Australia, a rich country is holding 2,000 people in offshore detention camps, outsourced to its poor regional neighbours – Nauru, Papua New Guinea and soon, Cambodia: cash for asylum seekers, if you will.
But, while Australian liberals demand to know ‘What Have We Become?’, presaging an idea that, as the hashtag goes, #We’reBetterThanThis, the reality is that mandatory detention for asylum seekers, both on- and offshore has become a billion dollar global industry in which the stakes are too high to lose. Transfield, the company that runs the concentration camps on Manus Island and Nauru alone has a $2.1 billion contract with the government. Serco, the British company which huge stakes in the global private prison business and Wilson Security are other big players in the game. But the NGO sector too has its role to play with organisations such as the Salvation Army and Save the Children all having had their hand in. Those of us who work at Australian universities and are mandated to invest for our retirement through the universities superannuation fund, UniSuper, may have been shocked to learn that it had significant shares in both Transfield and another company with a stake in mandatory detention, Decmil. UniSuper has since sold its shares in Transfield, but has not committed not to reinvest in the future. Meanwhile the health workers’ superannuation fund, HESTA has become a substantial shareholder in Transfield, effectively lending Transfield millions of dollars of their members’ money: doctors and nurses.
The campaign to end mandatory detention, therefore, needs to hold many lines: changing public opinion with actions such as today’s skywriting, the disruptions of sporting events, and the protests and vigils. But it also demands the less spectacular approach of making the case of divestment from the mandatory detention industry, as was seen with the boycott of the 19th Sydney Biennale in 2014, through the call for HESTA and others to divest. Australia will only feel the pressure to dismantle mandatory detention when international pressure shames it into doing so. Ultimately, there will be the need for a boycott.
Most importantly, calling for inquiries, Royal Commissions, or access to the detention centres for journalists and politicians will not end mandatory detention. Bringing asylum seekers as effective indentured labour onshore – the euphemistically named Tasmania Opportunity – as was proposed by the campaigner Julian Burnside and supported by the Green Party too, is not equatable to ensuring freedom of movement. Either we believe that all human beings have the right to move, to seek a better life in the country of their choosing or we do not. There is nothing to justify the detention of any innocent person from anywhere in the world; the only justification is racism.
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I will be participating in Politics in the Pub, speaking on the topic ‘Islamophobia in Australia: The politics of race hate in neoliberal Australia’ on February 19 2015. The other speakers are Yassir Morsi and Jock Collins. The event is held at the Harold Hotel, Glebe and begins at 18.30. I hope to see you there.
Here is the text of my talk from last Thursday’s event. A video will be made available soon. Continue reading →