Archive | March, 2015

The pro-Palestinians who welcomed Netanyahu’s re-election

19 Mar

There has been quite a bit of media and social media commentary from the Left that has welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election in Israel. The notion immediately seems jarring and counter intuitive, but there is a logic to it. The following argument has been made: Israel is a racist state committed to the subjugation of Palestinians and there is no point in pretending that it can be ‘reformed’ or encouraged to enter into a meaningful negotiation process with Palestinians at this time. This thinking continues that Netanyahu’s re-election at least makes it clear that the racist and aggressive intentions of the Israeli state are clear and that the sooner that those who want change face up to that, the better. If the Israeli opposition had won the election, the argument continues further, then it might have given up a few concessions but half measures are of no use.

To a certain extent this argument is a loose reworking of the I. William Zartman idea of ripe moments and a hurting stalemate. Zartman’s ideas are much more subtle than many of those who have interpreted him suggest. But in simple terms, the notion is that combatants will have few incentives to investigate negotiated outcomes if they are winning on the battlefield. If there is a hurting stalemate, however, they may see the incentive of investigating ways of lowering the costs of the conflict. In other words, negotiations may become worthwhile during certain ripe moments. The arguments from Netanyahu’s external opponents are a variation on this theme: an anti-apartheid coalition can reach critical mass if the true scale of Israeli barbarity becomes more apparent.

One can see the logic here, yet the implication is deeply troubling in practical and ethical terms. It is essentially saying that Palestinian suffering, immiseration and systematic subjugation (which is bad enough anyway) must continue (and possibly intensify) in order to result in a qualitative shift in the conflict. Such thinking condemns Palestinians to suffering. It says that there must be an acceptable level of pain (and fatalities) in order for the greater good of effective mobilisation. Such an argument brings us to a very troubling place – especially if it is made by those outside of the occupied territories. It takes quite a lot of moral certainty for academics and columnists safely ensconced behind desks in London and New York to advocate pain and suffering to be endured by others.

So what’s the alternative? Obviously in relation to Israel-Palestine, we are strapped for viable alternatives that can alter strategic realities. But it seems, to me at any rate, that we have to deal with the situation that we have, not the one that we have hoped for. The best critique of Zartman’s arguments on ripe moments have come from John Paul Lederach. Continuing the horticultural theme, he argued that the key is not waiting for ripe moments (the end point of the growing process). He thought it unrealistic to wait for the fruit to mature. Instead, he argued that we have to work on the soil – a long term process that does not have immediate consequences, but those consequences – once the come – should have long-term consequences. So the unfortunately slow approach of education, re-education, lobbying, BDS etc. seems best. Preparing the ground seems better than condemning more Palestinians to be buried in it.


The academic cult of form filling

10 Mar

The following whimsical form arises from the realisation that increasingly academic life is taken up with form filling – often for internal institutional purposes. It is not clear that such form filling leads to better professional performance. I have written formally on technocracy and peace building (Cooperation and Conflict 47:3) and will gladly send anyone interested a pdf copy ( The following is a hopefully diverting take on the culture of bureaucracy and arose from my own desire to send my own forms to those who compel me to fill out their forms: fighting admin with admin. Specifically, can the form senders help me prioritise how important their form is? The intention of this blogpost is not meant to offend anyone – our administrative colleagues usually work under extreme pressure. It is, instead, to get us to think about our own complicity in the culture of technocracy that does not obviously enhance teaching, research and thinking.

Feel free to use the form within your own institution.

Colleague Rational Administrative Prioritisation form (CRAP1)  

  1. Title of form you are requesting me to complete (information in Section 1 will be put in the public domain)                                                                                               Number

Please note: This form cannot be processed with the Number. To access your Number, think of one between 1 and 100. Divide it by three.

  1. Purpose of the form you are asking me to complete (Information in Section 2 may be put in the public domain, but no one will care)
Form Requester Details
Contact Details: T:                     E:
Research Group/Institute:
Is your office in a basement? YES       NO                   (delete one)
Date request issued (Please do NOT use the Gregorian calendar): Last possible date of submission. Really, the last possible moment:
Form Management System (FMS) Number: Number of cats in the requester’s household:
Person this form is being requested from
Have you ever met this person in real life? YES     NO                     (delete one using a green pen)
Contact Details: T:                                      E:
Likelihood s/he cares
  1. Form Prioritisation
Please circle one as necessary:   Not even slightly urgent   No one will die whether or not you fill in the form
  1. Form Importance
Please circle as many as are applicable:   Utterly pointless* *That’s it: utterly pointless is the only possible category
  1. The Business Case for Completing the Form


Please outline why the form is of commercial benefit for the person to complete it (1 word max)


  1. 6. Form Filling Work Plan
Please detail the key activities and projected form filling work plan including timeline. How many person hours is the form completer expected to take to complete the form (sanity breaks should be included)? Please note if the form can be filled in while watching television, listening to the radio, or thinking about revenge issues.
Please summarise the expected outputs and impact of the form (17,000 words max)
  1. Form Budget

  Please contact your mother for assistance with the preparation of the budget. A costing report should be submitted with this form. All costs must be listed in the currency pertaining when King John was on the throne.   (i) Total Form Costs  

Fund Heading Item (in Latin please) Costs (*)
Directly Incurred Non-Staff costs
Encounters with wild animals
Other (please be vague)
Requested form filler in Contribution (A)  
Parental contribution (B)  
Total Direct (invoiceable) External Partner Contribution(s) (C)  
Total Project Costs at 100% (D)  
  1. Submission
Form Issuer Declaration By submitting this form, I realise that I really don’t have much of a life:
(Print name) (Sign here) (Date)


Declaration by random person walking out side your office
(Print name) (Sign here) (Date)
Statement of support to include: ·       A count of how many toes you have ·       How the activity contributes to the University strategy for impact in the galaxy and beyond  

  Completed forms should be submitted with: Tree bark Facial hair from a hipster   Electronic submissions are not acceptable as that would be too easy for you.   Once completed, all sections of this form, except sections 6 and 7, should be tied to a tree.                

Gay cakes and the politics of conscience

2 Mar

A fascinating ethical and practical issue is playing itself out in Northern Ireland at the moment, but it has much wider implications. The issue started with a family owned and self-declared ‘Christian’ bakery refusing to bake a cake that would be adorned with a pro-gay marriage slogan. Lots of media and political commentary followed that showed how Northern Ireland – like many other societies – hosts very diverse views on moral issues. While some voices are at the forefront of a progressive equality mission, others remind us that biblical literalism is alive and well.

The issue has made the news afresh because a member of Northern Ireland’s largest political party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has proposed a ‘conscience clause’ in equality legislation that is due to come into force. The Catholic Church – often the target of DUP ire – has come out in support of a conscience clause. A case of social conservatives sticking together, I suppose.

My first inclination was to be abhorred by the notion of social conservatives coming together to discriminate against certain groups in society. Especially abhorrent was the cynicism of specifically applying the conscience clause to equality legislation that is there to protect discriminated-against groups. Let us face it, the Catholic Church and the DUP social agenda often seem stuck in centuries past. And some of their respective representatives seem prone to practising what they do not preach in relation to sex and morality. The notion of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (or race or religion etc.) is despicable, and the fact that this is even an issue is embarrassing.

But the notion of a conscience clause, and particularly the politics of conscience, got me thinking. We all have a conscience, or think we have one. It often engages with the very core of our being – drawing on intuition and our affective dimension. It is not wholly subject to our rational self (or I suspect that to be the case). Moreover, the idea of conscience moves us away from the thinking of ideologues who follow a particular ‘line’ regardless of the issue. Conscience might free us from that and reveal the inconsistencies and contradictions that most of us harbour. It also frees us (and politicians) from the weird rule that political parties must be obeyed by their members and that one subscribes to all parts of a manifesto. In thinking of a conscience, I am thinking of politicians who may want to deviate – on moral grounds – from party policy on issues like the death penalty or experimentation on embryos.

So the idea of the politics of conscience (as opposed to the cynicism of a conscience clause) is attractive (I am indebted to discuss with Professor Marie Breen-Smyth for differentiating between a conscience clause and the politics of conscience). It seems liberating and humane and gives space for agency and the individuality that is often excluded from orthodox politics. It is also a reminder that politicians are (or can be) individuals with a conscience.

But then we come back to the case we opened with: the right of a business owner to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation (or race, religion etc.). It offends my liberal sensibilities that anyone would discriminate on such a basis. But then I thought of my own practice – both professionally and privately. I withhold my labour in political ways. For example, I think twice about cooperating with colleagues at Israeli institutions lest I support apartheid. I have engaged in strikes for better conditions, and avoided dealings with some other institutions when they were involved in labour disputes. Personally, I alter my shopping habits on the basis of politics and conscience. None of this is to give the impression that I am some sort of ethical saint. I am not. But it does underline how conscience plays a role in our everyday practice and worldview.

As any good liberal would be, I am tortured over this issue of conscience and the implications it has for discrimination and social conservativism. In the case of public services one can see how they should be open to all, without discrimination on the basis of gender, sexuality, religion etc. In the case of privately run businesses, I am not so sure, even though that brings me to a morally very uncomfortable place. On the one hand, do we really want to live in a society with a series of no-go zones for sections of the population (but then we already have that in reality – especially in relation to economic ability)? On the other hand, do we really want to force individuals to do things that they find (for reasons we might profoundly disagree with) morally abhorrent?

What we are probably seeing in Northern Ireland is the cynical use of a conscience clause to dodge the responsibilities of equality legislation. That should not detract from allowing space for individuals and societies to develop a politics of conscience.