uploaded : Tuesday 26th Apr 2005 at 19:18
by : The Editor
We received a press release on Friday afternoon 22 April to the effect that the Governing Council of the Association of University Teachers (UK) has passed a resolution to boycott Haifa and Bar Ilan Universities in Israel, and to consider a further resolution to boycott and cut off relations with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Any reasonable academic?s initial reaction is one of revulsion. We were going to write ?dismay,? but our Editorial committee feels this is too mild. It is all the more offensive that the University Teachers' Governing Council chose to conduct its crucial vote when the Jewish Sabbath was coming in, thus preventing its Jewish members from having a voice in this issue.
It is particularly puzzling that this has occurred at a time when Israel is working with Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian council to resolve decades-old disputes and the United States is pressing Ariel Sharon to remove settlements and prohibit the building of new ones.
The technicalities of the issues are manifold, but we will try to explain the scenario. Professor Ilan Pappe, who spoke at the Friends of al Aqsa conference at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London last year, is on the far Left of Israeli politics. In fact, Leftists tend to distance themselves from him, as he advocates harsh measures against Israel that border on the near-dismantling of the country itself. He is the darling of Palestinian activist groups and appears on the same platform with the Naturei Karta, an Orthodox Jewish sect that believes that a secular state cannot be established until the coming of the true Messiah.
Pappe is based at Haifa University and has come under fire for supporting a paper by a student, Teddy Katz, that purported to provide evidence of a massacre of Arabs in Tantura during the 1948 War of Independence. Investigations by veterans? groups and by academics have revealed that the paper?s evidence is questionable.
Meanwhile, the Israeli novelist Amos Oz has roundly condemned Israel?s behaviour during its five short decades of history, most particularly its recent retaliations against protracted Palestinian violence. However, Oz does not accept that academic boycotts are the answer to what he sees as these uncomfortable realities.
Now I am going to get personal. The only way the issue of British academic fury at the activities of the State of Israel can be put into perspective is to provide a few examples one one-on-one encounters this journalist has endured in twenty-nine years in Great Britain. When one grows up in the United States one is aware of a certain degree of anti-Jewish feeling. I remember being driven home by a school friend?s father, who spent the entire journey telling me that the evils of the Jews will be visited upon them again, the most recent ?divine visitation? or ?punishment? as he put it, having been the Nazi Holocaust. He added that when ?Jews misbehave? the wrath of God descends to put them in their place, even if it means their being condemned to gas chambers and ovens.
These encounters were rare indeed, but when I went to live in England as a young student I was astonished by the ?in your face? comments about Jews and, to a lesser extent, about Americans. Jews were dishonest, dirty, vulgar, greedy and just unacceptable in any sort of polite society. Americans were described in pretty much the same vein. Oddly enough in those days (the early 1970s) Israel was still regarded as a rather exotic experiment in Socialist/Communist communal living, and the non-Jewish adults I encountered in those days had been kibbutz graduates.
Now, in 2005, the BBC, Channel Four and the print media -- most particularly the Independent, Guardian and Daily Mirror -- have succeeded in convincing pretty much the entire population of Britain that Israel is comprised of evil, violent and expansionist murderers and brutal proponents of apartheid and ethnic cleansing, and that in the past, these Jews have been guilty of genocide. No mention is ever made in British public discourse of the high level of Palestinian brutality and violence that exploded during the height of the Rabin-Peres-Clinton Oslo years. In fact, the most violent period of Palestinian terror campaigns occurred when Israel was making gargantuan efforts to withdraw, to encourage and support Palestinian self-determination and to end all armed conflicts in the region.
As my colleague Melanie Phillips reports in this week?s increasingly disturbing reports, it is no longer possible to be Jewish in Britain and not come under sustained and often intimidating verbal assault from even the most enlightened academic or from an otherwise mild-mannered dinner companion. Before leaving for the USA last year, I had reached a point where I feared for my safety if I so much as said ?Israel? in public. Every Thursday afternoon, when young British Jews gather outside Marks & Spencer department store in London?s Oxford Street to counter the deafening shouts of a large crowd of Israel-hating, Jew-baiting demonstrators, (Marks & Spencer is a Zionist firm, they shout) the disturbing vitriol from the pro-Palestinian crowd gives one pause. On a number of occasions middle class English visitors to the demonstrations have expressed their desire to see ?much more than a handful of Jews? killed by suicide bombers and ?much more than a paltry 3,000? killed in what they hope will soon be the next attack on the USA.
The academic boycott of Bar Ilan and Haifa Universities is the first such officially-sanctioned move since the Nazi party encouraged similar acts in Germany. There were many boycotts of South African talent during the long years of apartheid, but anyone who dares to suggest that Israel is an apartheid state is ill-informed and malicious. Haifa has one of the most diverse populations of any Middle Eastern city. Jewish and Arab men sit in steamy bistros and play cards and board games. Arabs live inside Israel and have an infinitely better life than those who lived under the corrupt regime of Arafat.
The anger and hatred I saw in the faces of British people whom I encountered in varied circumstances in my last years there when I mentioned the Jewish State went beyond irate criticism of the policies of Ariel Sharon. There is an anti-Semitic streak that runs in the blood of Europe that seems forever inextinguishable. England was the location for the very first Blood Libel and the very first expulsion of its Jews. Great Britain has the distinction of having expelled its Jews after the York Massacre in 1290 and not allowing them back in for four centuries. There were riots in London when progressive MPs recommended Jews be given the vote in the eighteenth century. ?But a Jew, Michael Howard is running at this very moment for Prime Minister,? many will say. Yes, but it has not been lost on the Jewish community that the Labour party, which in days gone by represented the working man and the huge majority of Anglo-Jewish voters, has sunk to depicting in party posters Michael Howard as a flying pig and a Shylock. Mayor Ken Livingstone appears to have weathered a storm in which he accused a Jewish reporter of behaving like a Nazi guard; he was in fact rewarded by being offered the Honorary Presidency of the London University Student Union, where at present Jewish students are suffering so much daily grief.
Why is the Association of University Teachers of Great Britain not boycotting universities in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia and other repressive and sexist regimes? Frankly, what is it the business of British academics how Israel conducts itself? If a huge collection of rabbis and Jewish academics had convened to denounce Israeli policies it would not be so offensive, but the idea that a group of people whose education on Israeli and Jewish history comes from the Independent and who have most likely never visited that remarkable little nation is disturbing and offensive. In her column written over this Passover weekend Melanie Phillips ends with ?The Jewish community in Britain is under siege.?
Academic boycotts are evil and perform no constructive purpose. That British academics can cut themselves off from their Jewish counterparts in the land generated by the atrocity of European Jew-hatred is a dark day in academic history. The sooner this atrocious AUT Council resolution is abandoned the better.
For further information:
The Israeli Embassy in London has responded as follows:
'The resolutions are as perverse in their content as in the way they were
>debated and adopted. The AUT ignored overwhelming academic and public
>rejection of the proposed motions. The fact that no AUT member who wanted
>argue against this decision was allowed to speak, and the case for the
>Israeli universities was not presented to delegates, speaks volumes about
>the relevance and fairness of this debate.
'Israeli universities are beacons of academic freedom where Jews and Arabs
>alike study together. In particular, Haifa University, which was boycotted
>today, has a substantial Arab faculty and student body. Such institutions
>are at the forefront of efforts to develop cooperation between different
>communities and thus further steps towards peace. This resolution also
>completely ignores the recent progress made in Israeli-Palestinian
>relations, progress which is welcomed by the international community.
'We are certain that the British Government and British university
>authorities will make it clear that no discrimination or bias on the
>of nationality, race or religion will be tolerated in UK higher education.
>Academics should be at the forefront of international cooperation - by
>passing these resolutions the AUT is doing exactly the opposite.'