IUG twinning motion – a cautionary tale against potential hypocrisy

Many of you will have seen or been part of the the current campaign against CUSU’s motion to twin itself with the Islamic University of Gaza. IUG has ties with Hamas (the terrorist group that has much more power in Gaza than the West Bank), and is known to uphold many of the most repugnant illiberal views of extremist Islam. Women and men take classes separately, and in fact don’t even use the same areas of the university to study, for example.

Maybe I’m a lone voice here in saying that I support CUSU’s motion and think that twinning with IUG would be a great idea.

I’m an ardent feminist, and the fact that there are societies around the world where gender inequality is unimaginably rampant is horrific for me. However, I am also a strong believer in cultural understanding. I don’t think we can tackle, let alone reduce, misogyny around the world by cutting off all contact with it. Doing so hoists us by our own petard because if we do not understand the society that we disagree with, then we begin to hold the very same illiberal and extremist (and inaccurate) views that we condemn in them. Hence the huge number of people who now think that Islam is a religion that promotes hatred and violence, rather than peace and spirituality. Understanding other ways of seeing the world is the most essential thing we can do if we ever wish to see a world without conflict.

I understand that a large part of the objection to twinning with IUG is due to the fact that we seem to be making a political statement by doing so. The argument goes that IUG has links to Hamas, therefore if we support IUG we implicitly agree with Hamas. By any objective reasoning this is absurd: however, I do realise that this is the way the world works. It just seems so ludicrous to ignore and isolate real people in the name of “politics” or “symbolism”.

In fact, doing harm to individuals because we see them as symbols is exactly what the feminist movement is struggling against. Its exactly because categorisation of real people comes so naturally to us that gender inequality exists. In my mind there’s little difference between the statement “person in dress=woman” (and all the trappings this entails) and the statement “person at IUG=Hamas”. Surely CUSU is intelligent enough to find a way of fostering a strong and beneficial cultural exchange with students at a war-torn university without letting people assume we support terrorism (why a university famous for its intellectual and reasonably liberal history would suddenly be thought to be terrorist-sympathisers is beyond me but whatever).

I’ve written a lot more on the subject on the facebook page.

You might have to scroll down quite some ways for some of what I said, but I’d encourage you to read it before you criticise my arguments because I’ve made many points over there that I haven’t made here.

17 Comments

  1. John

    May 3, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    But my point still stands: it’s wrong and hypocritical to label real, flesh-and-blood students who we have never met as evil and misogynist because of the academic institution they attend. I did read that article when it was posted on the facebook group and I found it very interesting. IUG is a place I’d love to learn more about. I’d especially love to talk to the students there to get their perspective on the issue. I was interested in the fact that IUG gives places to Hamas critics, which gives weight to my view that we can’t tar all the students there with the same brush. If I were a citizen of Gaza and I wanted to learn, I don’t think I’d have the moral guts to turn down a place at the best university I could reasonably hope to attend because of it’s extremist views, though I hope I’d have the guts to speak out against these views if I disagreed with them. I also found it interesting that the author of the article suggested that “to blame the university is to ignore the fact that much of Gaza is full of underground weapons labs and volunteers for martyrdom. In this, the university reflects the culture around it as much as it shapes it”. This, plus his fascinating interview with the “reasonable” Islamist at the end (I’m not agreeing that the interviewee is really reasonable, I just find it interesting that he thinks of himself in that way) make me think that IUG is exactly the kind of place that Western students should be trying to understand. If we ignore and boycott such places, the problem gets worse. Now is the time to act. If we are really getting hung up on stupid words like “twinning” or whatever then get rid of them, don’t just abandon a worthwhile project!

    As for a concrete proposal for tackling misogyny etc, obviously there’s very little CUSU has in it’s power for achieving such a massive aim, and any progress in this direction will be incremental. You’re not going to change the minds of an entire culture overnight. But I definitely think cultural exchange is a step in the right direction, because it might get people thinking about these things in new and perhaps more liberal ways. If you just wait “until” Palestinians start holding views that you agree with, the situation will deteriorate, more people will die and more women will be oppressed.

    PS: I really really don’t want to take sides on the Israel-Palestine thing. As I’ve already suggested, maybe a similar motion for an Israeli university could be helpful, as I think that’s another point of view we really need to understand.

  2. yes i agree that the response to this motion really upsets me. sexism is shit and we shouldn’t support it. but saying that a student union = hamas is really problematic. thinking a uni is the same as a union is also problematic! and not acknowledging the effect that occupation has on Gaza (very shit) in this whole discussion really makes me sad. i think its important to recognise the big lobby which attacks anything in support of Palestine in this country as “supporting terrorism.” If Isreal didnt do what it does would hamas be in power? a guardian reporter pointed out that some people have joined militias in gaza because there was literally no other way of finding work in occupied, starving Gaza. The Israeli govt. is trying to block Gaza off from everything in the world and we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be uncritically complicit in this.

    i think twinning with a union in this case, if it involved some kind of dialogue, would be useful. finally, even if people don’t want to support that, that facebook group equates a student union with hamas and thats pretty offensive and misleading and i could not in any way support that. the whole attitude on the wall of that group equates palestinians with Hamas, a widespread and unpleasant tool to discredit criticism of Israeli government policy.

  3. John

    May 3, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Thanks for a supporting voice katyn! I just want to say that for myself, this has nothing to do with what Israel has or has not done to Palestine or vice versa (though I understand this may be of concern to others). There’s so many accusations and untruths flying around from both sides of the I-P conflict (a conflict that is one of the least easy to resolve in the world, and which has existed for years), that I don’t want to make moral proclamations at all. I just think understanding why both sides think and act in the way they do is a crucial first step in ever finding resolution. We need to achieve real empathy here; there’s definitely no clear-cut rights and wrongs.

  4. Ray, what do you mean by Islamism? I’m sure you don’t mean all Muslims; equally, you can’t declare all who adhere to one particular religious perspective to be misogynist. Unless I’ve misunderstood what you mean, which is probably true.

    I’m not sure where I stand on this issue. I do think that fostering links with Universities on both sides of the conflict and trying, as best CUSU can, to promote dialogue would be good. I don’t know about the Hamas links, and whether our twinning with IUG would be seen as implicit support of that, if there are such links. I think it probably would. Equally, that doesn’t mean that all members of the university ARE supporters of Hamas, and possibly it would be preferable to foster a more open, two-way relationship than just cutting them off as all tarred under the same brush.

    So I’m not really sure how I feel. Hurrah.

    Cx

  5. well i dont really think that. i think that actually under “liberal democracies” that we are pretty constrained. uni students and unions have rather narrow parameters to move within. australian unis (where im from) have been totally silenced and defunded by hostile governments and universities. their right to do political campaigns have been attacked. and i dont think we can assume because another country doesnt have an identical government system that its people are less free than us. i mean they might be, but its not guaranteed.

    there is a lot of distortion in the facts flying round. Hamas was democratically elected. They seem to suppress dissent and engage in violence. Some members have said anti-Jewish things, even denying the holocaust, others have met with orthodox anti-zionist jewish groups, condemned the holocaust as hideous, and said that their issue with Israel is political rather than religious and they are not enemies of Jews in general, only the nation israel and its actions. They are not perfect, but they are not actually considered a terrorist group by the UK home office. These criticisms can be made of the Isreali Knesset, who have been accused of passing many racist laws by international watchdogs, engage in violence that contravenes international law, and silence dissent. ( i mean, come to think of it, UK does a lot of these things too …) So whats the difference? Israel has a country, it is supported by the US, it controls its own territoty. Gaza is under seige, literally. Ambulances are stopped at checkpoint. Not enough food is let through. The bombing attacks. And so on. Too tired to list this all. Their students dont have enough resources. They are isolated from the international community. Internal oppressions are exacerbated by these conditions. Which is why engaging with Palestinian universities and students can make a difference. The fact that a union might officially support a government in power does not mean that its pupils do. i personally think we should engage with them – cos i don’t understand a position which says “they’re govt. is sexist, and they aren’t allowed to disagree with their gvt, so we shouldn’t set up dialogue with them.”

    furthermore, the link between hamas and the university is contested. check out http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10308.shtml
    i mean just cos israel bombs a uni doesnt mean there was actually a legitimate reason to do so. i think its safe to say that naomi klein is not an islamist. not that im heaps happy with using that term – its a problematic one.

    also, im not sure what do you mean neutral on the israel palestine conflict? even the UN is not “neutral” on this – Isreal’s treatment of Palestine and particularly Gaza violates international law, thats not really the issue. there is a long critique of this aim to be neutral on the issue – where neutral means accepting the status quo in which Israel breaches international law and occupied Palestine, whilst imposing increasingly discriminatory laws on Arabs and Muslims within its own population.

    basically, sorry for the rant. but i dont mind if people don’t want to twin with student unions in places where they have sexist govts. i guess thats up to debate. but what i REALLY dont like is the misinformation going round, and this acceptance of Isreali govt. claims as fact. and the idea that we cant twin with student unions in countries with govts we dont like.

    and i REALLY REALLY dont like the facebook group. for all the reasons listed above!

    ok back to hideous work now.

  6. ok i just contradicted myself in that last sentence. i mean that i dont mind if people don’t want to twin with student unions in places where they have sexist govts – thats up to debate. the second bit where i say the opposite was an editing mistake!

  7. John

    May 4, 2010 at 12:30 am

    I just attended the “debate” in the CUSU meet today. I think because CUSU has a lot to get through its debates are necessarily limited and not as fulfilling as they could be, but I was still quite happy that a lot of good stuff was said and things didn’t get too tense. For those who weren’t there, the motion to twin with IUG was defeated fairly resoundingly.

    I have to say that the more I listened the more I agreed with the view that the act of “twinning” can be very easily construed as a political statement and an expression of unconditional support. I think the motion as it stood had a lot of problems. But I’m very disappointed that not one member of CUSU was able to suggest an alternative version of the motion which made it explicitly non-political, whilst retaining a cultural exchange that could have promoted understanding. I spent most of the time at the front pleading with Ben, the “Chair’s aid” to let me submit an amendment, but because I didn’t realise until to late that the meeting was today, I hadn’t submitted what I wanted to submit in writing in time. It’s such a shame, as I think that this was a real chance to promote the cross-cultural dialogue that we desperately need.

    I think Katyn’s strong views against Israel are absolutely valid. I think strong views against Hamas or the Palestinian side of things are absolutely valid. They’re all valid because everybody has different points of view which they adopt for massively different reasons, and the only responsible course of action is to try to understand, and encourage others to understand, why others might hold the views they do.

  8. Great article John, it made me think. I think the notion of conceiving of real people – particularly students, like ourselves – as symbols that evoke violence, terrorism, backwardness and misogyny is incredibly limiting and totally relevant to feminism. I have always been against regressive arguments to ‘boycott Israel’, and increasingly I am realising that to block the twinning of CUSU with the IUG student union amounts to the same thing. A blanket boycott stance does absolutely nothing for cultural understanding, as you said, and does nothing for conflict resolution of the kind required in the Israel/Palestine example [disclaimer re: S/African apartheid boycott]. Both Israel and Palestine have had the collective experience of being ‘under siege’ – more tangibly, of course, in occupied territories like Gaza – and neither the Palestinians’ daily oppression nor Israel’s fear of anti-semitic victimisation will be relieved by political, cultural or economic boycotts that exacerbate this feeling of isolation in the world. Besides, if we are genuinely concerned – perhaps appalled – by the gender inequality at the IUG, why aren’t we reaching out the the union? I really do understand the offence that the twinning proposition has generated, but the fact that the partnership would be with students – who presumably don’t have much access to representation or cultural exchange in Gaza – makes me think that this should be regarded as an opportunity, not a political statement, particularly with regard to gender issues. If I had a concern about ideology at the IUG it would more likely the whole anti-Jew one, though I’m only going by the links/info posted on the FB group (and, like, Hamas’ manifesto/constitution…)

    That said, I’m still pretty undecided!

  9. ok well probly not worth having a long argument about israel. but israel’s existance on its current borders is against international law, UN dictates … etc. that honestly not a reactionary position. The creation of Israel in 1948 by force was against international law an the UN’s decision about partition (self determination does not give you the right to take other people’s land, it just doesn’t. specially not if that involves the forced removal of people from their land. especially not if this forced removal involves many Palestinians forced onto trucks which drive off and the people in them are never seen alive again).

    “Katyn, the point about neutrality merely highlights the fact that there has been a long series of conflicts, rights and wrongs on both sides since (and probably before) 1948”
    well, yeah. as a history student, i have to agree. but do you honestly think that there aren’t some sides which get more persecuted in conflicts? that there aren’t some solutions and policies that are less oppresive? that isreal isn’t effectively isolating Gaza and we don’t have a right to say something about that? I don’t think thats a politically justifiable position. I have never argued that “Palestinians have always been in the right.” I also note that you talk bout “Israel” and “Palestinians” as comparable entities …. i would feel a lot more comfortable with “Israel govt” and “Palestine govt.”? But what i argue is that Palestinians right now face persecution in ways that Isreali citizens do not. Just want to clarify, that I have strong views against breaches of human rights and oppression in general. I think that what Hamas have done to their opposition and Palestinian dissidents is horrible, and their stealthy implementation of Sharia law type legislation (on a historically less religiously conservative people/region) specifically targeted at their political opposition (Fatah) is also really wrong in my opinion. I am not strongly against ‘israel’ as a people, just against the actions of their govt. and military which have perpetrated systematic oppression of a people.

    Also, I think that Britain’s slightly sanctimonious attitude of ‘both sides are very naughty and its hard to resolve’ is quite hypocritical – considering that British colonisation of Palestine and its promising of the land simultaneously to Zionists, an Arab state and France (in order to gain war time allies, even more problematic when you consider that at no point did they promise to give it to the actual inhabitants) was influential in creating this conflict. And that European anti-semitism, and English and American immigration quotas which severely limited the migration of Jews to either of those countries right up until WW2, caused a lot of migration to Israel by people who wanted to live in America and Europe.

    I also don’t understand how twinning with a uni in Gaza amounts to “being anti Israel” unless “being anti Israel” amounts to anything the govt. doesn’t agree with, which would involve us in a lot of racist shit which i for one am not gonna believe.

    And if we can’t say things are wrong, what can we do in the face or oppression? We have got to be able to say it is wrong to shoot children, to bomb farmland, to participate in ethnic cleansing, to deny civilians food and medical treatment, to set up a state in which your racial background entitles you to different amounts of rights. The fear of anti-semitic persecution is not a reason for committing similar anti-semitic persecutions (Palestinian Arabs are semitic people after all). There is a world of difference between ‘this should never happen to anyone again’ and ‘this should never happen to us again.’ There is a lot of dissent within Israel and the broader Jewish diaspora to the Israeli govts policies and actions. Imagining its as simple as two ‘sides’ and that somehow we can stay in the middle is problematic, there are many sides, and there is no ‘middle.’

    Ok this is really choppy but i am really upset by these attitudes. I have a lot of Israeli and Palestinian friends who get really upset about these issues, and i mostly get upset by the complete misinformation that keeps getting trotted out when there is so much information available about this. Personally, I support a bi-national (also called a ‘one state’) solution, as the only practicable and democratic option currently available. And because I dont believe in nations set up along racial or religious lines. and because thats what the israelis and palestinians i know happen to want. im not so biased that i wont listen to other people. but please look into the history and the contemporary media on this issue, there is really a lot about.

  10. oh and im really unconvinced about the links between hamas and the student union. there is a lot of stuff around about IUG which really challenges the claims that that article linked above and the other claims made by those against the twinning. http://external.iugaza.edu.ps/Cooperation_en.aspx shows that the already have partnerships with Anglia Ruskin, TUM in Munich …

    It really seems that the debate has allowed the argument that any official support of any institution on Gaza amounts to support of Hamas, because Hamas is in power and only in “liberal democracies” is there such a thing as disagreeing with your government .. . i dont think this argument is sound. It means that Gaza would be internationally isolated, which can only make things worse. Israel is not isolated in this way, so surely it would be more even handed to do something to rectify this isolation?

    some light historical reading, just an example …
    http://www.palestineremembered.com/Acre/Palestine-Remembered/Story417.html

  11. oh and perhaps i didnt make this point clear – this issue for me is about who has power. The state of Israel currently has control over most Palestinian’s lives, can control their right to move about, to get medical treatment, to have access to jobs, food, land … etc. The Palestinian government does not have this control over Israeli people. There are violent attacks on both sides, yes, but only the power to carry out the forced movement of peoples and control people’s access to basic needs on one side of the equation. This is counterposed to the unrealised threat of antisemitism if Palestinian peoples were ever to be allowed to have equal rights in historic Palestine. But this threat is not proven, and not a reason to continue persecuting people and denying them basic rights.

    http://www.palestinechronicle.com/news.php?id=28d34f486ac0735c23020628f904f088&mode=details

  12. “like, you can’t deny self determination and then talk about a ‘historic Palestine’. There has never been a country called ‘Palestine’ in any way other than that there were a lot of Palestinians self-determining it so.” well and the British mandated state, of course.

    “I do not think that the argument we have here should be about the justification of the Israeli state. This debate happens to no other country.” Border disputes, as with Israel, happen all the time. The right of any country to define itself as a nation of a certain kind of people, racially or religiously, happens all the time. Normally, the international community argues that countries do not have the right to define themselves on those terms. Why is Israel different?

    I meant taking other peoples land as in the physical taking of land, individual and communities land, with houses and farms and people on it, which happened in 1948 and is the basis for the argument that Israel’s borders are in contravention of UN dictates.

    “You say you’re unconvinced about the links between Hamas and IUG because the argument about the right to disagree being fundamental to liberal democracy is ‘unsound’.” No, i’m unconvinced that the evidence provided is convincing, since there is other evidence to the contrary, and the evidence provided is sketchy and not from direct sources. I’m also unconvinced that without a liberal democracy, there is no disagreement. Palestine is not Saudi Arabia. Also, come to think of it, i didn’t even need to make that argument since technically Palestine is a liberal democracy, and Hamas is a democratically elected government.

    “and there were other people there before there were Palestinians there, and there were Jewish people there before that” …. yeah, biblical history rules. So you think that ancient population movements mean that people can’t get upset when they are colonised or removed form their land? sorry, i’m not having that argument. i’m from a colonised country. Furthermore, are you gonna say that the Palestinian people who were kicked of their particular bit of home and land in 1948 don’t have a right to claim ownership of that?? Possession may be 9 10ths of the law but its not 10 10ths. You can’t steal things off people and then pretend its comparable to contested population movements in ancient history immediately afterwards.

    “Were the Palestinians removed or did they leave? I don’t know, and until there is a consensus among historians, or until I have spent considerably more time than I have already studying it, I’m going to refrain from polarising myself” no. there is a consensus – many were removed. and if people flee because they see what’s happening to the ones who don’t, that nothing to jump for joy about. There are plenty of official Israeli documents which make it clear that forced removal was a policy. and if you want to pretend there aren’t pictures, thats fine. its a free world.

    “I think what might have seemed completely fine given the post-war mentality of the time may be questionable if it was done now, but to call it ‘wrong’ or ‘against international law’ now is to completely misunderstand the context in which it occurred.” no, this argument is abhorent. think about what it means, where it leads!! Anyway, it was against international law. As for wrong .. is killing civilians wrong? Who knows, perhaps in a post-war mentality thats ok? I mean if thats what you believe, cool, go for it.

    “Yes, the Israeli govt’s attitude towards the Gazan people is problematic, but also, I can sympathise with wanting to protect your borders from an ideology that denies your right to exist in any sense whatsoever.” Hamas members do not all deny Israel’s “right to exist.” Palestinian people certainly don’t. Is the attack on Gaza really about this anyway? The rocket attacks killed about 28 people in 5 years. It shit certainly but hardly a real threat to the military might of Israel. Or is the attack symbolic of the Israeli govt’s denial of Palestine’s right to exist??

    I have read an awful lot of stuff from both sides. I studied two years of arab-israeli history. Ive had long discussions with Israeli citizens (current and ex) and Palestinian people. I read “one more river” when i was young and blindly assumed there were two equal sides and i should be neutral. I find though, the more i read of anyone, the more the historical picture resolves itself, the move the earth rumbles and under all this guff i can see the major movements of colonial and European history – Europe supports Israel so that it doesn’t have to come to terms with its anti-semitic history (and present), and so it can encourage Jews to live outside of Europe after WW2 (and before). Nationalism becomes Zionism, and uses European racist attitudes towards Arabs (kinda like good old terra nullius) with a bit of self interest (otherwise, there wouldn’t be a Jewish majority in the borders they were about to claim) to justify colonisation of land, and forced removal. USA foreign policy supports an ally in the Middle East. Israel and the other powerful Arab nations come to their own agreements, leaving dispossessed Palestinians out. Violent struggle and resistance in Palestine privilege hierarchical and patriarchal political parties. Everyone else stays out of it. Attempts to find peace by Israelis and Palestinians are torn down by brutal attacks from the right. Racism on all sides is exacerbated by the deaths of loved ones. This bigger picture is demonstrated everywhere, in the most biased of Israeli right wing propaganda it is sometimes the most evident (often actually because it doesn’t bother to be politically correct, and states exaclty what its trying to do).

    Also, i am hardly the ‘extreme opposite.’ As far as i have found, in my reading and discussion, i’m in the left wing israeli/left wing palestinian camp. what is wrong with the stuff on that facebook group is its right wing israeli politics described as neutral or ‘middle ground.’

  13. yes i think this has been very upsetting for me. i would make to make a disclaimer. i critique the legitimacy of any state to persecute anyone, particularly its own people. that is what most states tend to do. i am just pointing out that Israel, with its current borders, is against many UN dictates. Its fine if you want to critique the UN, but please dont say this isnt true! And i don’t support the existance of religious or ethnicity based nations. Thats why i support a secular state solution in which people of all religions and ethnicities have access to the same rights. I dont know a left wing position in Israel that pretends that forced removals didn’t happen, or that says that Israel has a right to discriminate against different faiths or ethnic groups within Israel or to occupy the borders that it does. Turkey is consitutionally secular, UK is too. Turkey’s non secular ruling party is routinely critiqued and cited as a reason for why it is not allowed into the EU. And you’re right, people like the BNP do claim that countries like England should be based on racial and religious groups. Its just they fortunately don’t happen to be in power.

    The group that you linked are ok i spose though the rhetoric is Zionism is inherently problematic to me as a critic of European nationalism. For some left wing israel stuff, check out:

    http://awalls.org/ more about practical stuff than theory
http://www.blacklaundry.org/eng-index.html (cos that has also a little stuff about the intersection of Palestinian oppression and oppression of gender related oppressions).

    http://www.stopthewall.org.il/mashacamp/FrontPage.html
http://www.icahd.org/eng/articles.asp?menu=6&submenu=1
http://anarchia.wordpress.com/2006/07/27/anarchist-resistance-in-israel/

    and here are some anti-zionist jewish and israeli blogs

    http://antonyloewenstein.com/ (esp check out the “Debating Zionism’s boundaries” set of book reviews)

    http://jewssansfrontieres.blogspot.com/

    http://danielsieradski.com/

    http://jewishconscience.blogspot.com/

    http://blog.dennisfox.net/

    http://israelblog.com/

  14. sorry i have posted the same thing twice, and dont know how to delete it. if anyone does, please delete the second one! and this one. sorry if i upset anyone. i dont mean to be rude i just find this topic really upsetting. and for me it does have a lot to do with oppression, which is why it is relevant to gender.

  15. well since its been moderated and people dont want to talk about it any more, there is one reason why this is relevant to gender.
    http://www.blacklaundry.org/eng-index.html

  16. katyn: sorry, your post was moderated due to it containing a lot of links – WordPress thought it was spam.

  17. cool thanks for letting me know. got a bit carried away with the blogs 🙂 the internet is so full of things.

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