London is a fulcrum of anti-Israeli agitation, whether it’s boycott movements, rowdy joint demonstrations by Islamic radicals and leftists united by their hatred for the Jewish state, or a harshly anti-Israeli media culture. Unfortunately, London is also where some anti-Israeli Israeli academics have gone to ply their trade and lend their imprimatur to the malevolence.
The best-known veteran of the scene is Avi Shlaim, who was born in Baghdad in 1945, moved to Israel and served in the Israeli army, left Israel at age twenty-two for studies at Cambridge University, and is now professor of international relations at Oxford University. Relatively speaking, Shlaim is more moderate than some of his other ex-Israeli London compatriots, but he shouldn’t exactly be counted among Israel’s friends. As prominent media watchdog organization CAMERA described him,
Shlaim is one of the so-called “new historians,” whose stock in trade is blaming Israel for all the ills of the Middle East, and specifically for the alleged mass expulsion of Palestinians during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948-49. Shlaim’s particular hobby horse is that Jordan and Israel colluded to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. The tendency of Shlaim and other “new historians” to fabricate and distort in the service of their political agenda was most fully exposed in Professor Efraim Karsh’s Fabricating Israeli History: The New Historians….
Daniel Doron, conservative head of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Justice and a commentator in the Wall Street Journal, Jerusalem Post, and elsewhere, writes that
Shlaim…condemns Zionism by building his case against it beginning with Israel’s 1967 “illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories.” The historian Shlaim omits to mention that murderous Arab attacks on Zionism preceded 1967 by a century, when no settlements existed, and when Zionism, even he admits, was a legitimate liberation movement…. Shlaim, who as an historian ought to know better, helps peddle the big lie of Arab propaganda about Israel stealing “Palestinian lands….”
Or as Israeli left-of-center historian Anita Shapira commented in a review of Shlaim’s book The Iron Wall:
Deep down, Shlaim really does believe that the Middle East is Arab turf, and that the Palestinians are innocent victims, and that the Israelis are outsiders and intruders…. the blame for the misery of the Palestinian refugees must be shared by several parties. But the morally laden concepts mustered by Shlaim lay the guilt in no uncertain terms at one door only—at Israel’s door.
In a 2004 interview with the Palestine Chronicle Weekly Journal (which notes that the Jerusalem Post called The Iron Wall a “wrecker’s ball aimed at the Zionist narrative”), Shlaim, after confessing that “I was even a patriotic Israeli in my youth,” says that:
If you look at Israel’s specific policies on the West Bank—the illegal Jewish settlements, the brutal military repression of the Arabs, the abuses of human rights, the habitual disregard for international law, the building of the so-called “security barrier,” the roads for the exclusive use of Jewish settlers—all make up a pretty ugly picture. If that is not apartheid, I don’t know what is.
These, of course, are stock-in-trade claims of Israel-bashers and they can all be answered: as explained by the late U.S. legal scholar and diplomat Eugene Rostow, who negotiated UN Security Council Resolution 242 setting forth the basis for a future peace agreement, the settlements are entirely legal; the “brutal military repression” consists of measures, like checkpoints and arrests of terrorists, to prevent mass terror attacks in Israeli buses, cafes, and malls; the “so-called ‘security barrier’” is credited by security professionals with saving hundreds of lives and was erected only in response to a relentless wave of suicide bombings; the “Jewish settlers’ roads” were constructed solely in response to shooting, firebombing, and stone-throwing attacks on Israelis living in the territories, to help them bypass the danger zones, and are also used by nonsettler Israeli Jews as well as Arabs.
Shlaim is asked later in the interview if he would “like to comment on the so-called ‘New Anti-Semitism’?” He remarks: “…it seems to me that among the most important contributory causes of the new anti-Semitism are the policies of the Sharon government.” The only “contributing causes” of anti-Semitism or any other racism are, of course, anti-Semites and racists. Civilized discourse recognizes no connection between criticism of governments and bigoted hatred of entire peoples. For Shlaim in his hatred of his imaginary “apartheid” Israel, that distinction is blurred.
Another of the veterans is Moshe Machover, who left Israel for London in 1968 and is now professor emeritus of philosophy at King’s College London. Machover is an old-time Maoist. Compared to him, Shlaim is head of the Pro-Israel League.
Machover’s son Daniel, also London-based, is a lawyer who tried to get Israeli general Doron Almog arrested in 2005 when he attempted to visit Britain. Machover père, a doctrinaire communist who while still in Israel in the 1960s helped found the tiny “anticapitalist, anti-Zionist” organization Matzpen, has signed numerous anti-Israeli petitions including one by the modestly-named RighteousJews.org (a web site run by a Holocaust Denier Neo-Nazi):
to commemorate the memory of those Palestinians who have been, and continue to be depopulated, dispossessed, humiliated, tortured, and murdered in the name of political Zionism and its quest to create a Jewish state in the lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. From its founding in 1897 the Zionist endeavors to “pump in” Jews and “pump out” Palestinians from this land have been the root cause of bloodshed and conflict….
In a 2006 interview with Socialist Worker, Machover leaves no doubt where his sympathies lie:
Israel [which withdrew from Lebanon in 2000] has been making incursions into Lebanon all the time—snatching people sometimes. It has also violated Lebanese and Syrian airspace and territorial water….
There’s a similar situation in Gaza. Israel withdrew its army and settlers, but it has been besieging the region and making raids into it. Two days before Hamas and others captured this Israeli soldier [Gilad Shalit—held illegally and with no visitation, including by the Red Cross, since June 2006], Israel abducted two people from Gaza. And of course it had killed many Gazans by shelling and “targeted” assassination.
Despite this you find a lot of people who say the captures of Israeli soldiers were gratuitous attacks by Hamas and Hizbollah—they are blamed for starting it.
Later in the interview, Machover states: “Hamas, Hizbollah, Syria and Iran are the only forces remaining in the Middle East that are not subservient to the US and its local junior partners [i.e., like Israel].” As I said, he makes clear which side he’s on.
As Machover, who has never “progressed” past a Comintern meeting of the 1920s, explains:
The oil and arms industry is making a massive profit out of the Middle East wars. George Bush and Dick Cheney are linked to these kinds of companies. Israel is allowed to be strong because it serves the interests of US capitalism.
Yet Israel, Machover says—something that will come as a surprise to most Israelis—”is not under international pressure. That is why it is so important to campaign to boycott Israeli goods.”
And what about the longer term? “The problem can only be resolved in a socialist union of the whole region. Marxists have always thought of the region as a whole. We need to think big.” Yes, and we also need to think that the glory days of Stalin, the hammer and sickle, and all that are gone, and it would be best to fill the void with something other than hatred of Israel and civilization.
Somewhat over a year earlier, Machover made his sympathy for terrorism more explicit, stating that:
a soldier firing a missile from the safety of a helicopter or a tank into a densely populated area is not only a war criminal but also a coward. An officer or politician ordering such acts from the safety of an office is a war arch-criminal and an arch-coward. But suicide bombing—however abhorrent—is clearly not a cowardly act. In some limited sense—which in no way implies moral approval!—it may even be regarded as heroic.
If you don’t see how “heroic” could fail to imply “moral approval,” I have the same difficulty. No wonder Machover has so much admiration for Hamas and Hizbollah.
A more recent London migrant is Haim Bresheeth, a filmmaker and film studies scholar and author of an Introduction to the Holocaust. Until 2002 Bresheeth was dean of the School of Media, Film and Cultural Studies at Sapir College in Israel; since then he’s been at the University of East London. Just a few months ago he signed a call to boycott Israel by the Coalition against Israeli Apartheid.
It’s on Bresheeth’s better days, though, that he sees Israel as “apartheid plus.” As he wrote in Prospect Magazine in 2007, “The military occupation of Palestine has turned the West Bank and Gaza into areas where a new and terrifying sort of apartheid is practiced. As Ronnie Kasrils and Desmond Tutu said, after their visits to the occupied territories, ‘What we saw is worse than what Africans had to endure….’”
But Bresheeth was feeling charitable to Israel that day. Quoted on a website of the Jews against Zionism outfit in 2003 (click his name in the table of contents), Bresheeth says:
Most of my family was destroyed in the holocaust - in different concentration camps and in the Warsaw ghetto and I was born in a refugee camp in Italy immediately after the war.... I’m not saying this in order to elicit some sympathy because this is nonsensical on this audience [mostly Jewish] obviously. I’m saying this in order to explain why it’s so easy for me to understand the Palestinians in Gaza and in the rest of Palestine. It is very easy for me to understand them because they live in a combination of a concentration camp and Warsaw ghetto for so many years that we have stopped counting....
Bresheeth’s Israeli Jews, though, are a tricky lot who know how to cover up their crimes:
They [Israel] will do everything to make you believe that they want peace.… They will do everything to make sure that people in the West believe that they want peace - they will go to meetings, they will sign documents - they will do all that and then they will make damn sure that there is no chance of any of this happening....
Not surprisingly, in Professor Bresheeth’s view, former prime minister Ariel Sharon was a crafty Jew who manipulated world leaders at will. As Bresheeth wrote in Egypt’s Al-Ahram Weekly (scroll down):
Like a ventriloquist dummy speaking the words of its master, we heard the world’s most powerful man [then-President George W. Bush] reciting a script written in Jerusalem by one responsible for bathing the Middle East in blood for decades…. In Sharon’s book, Bush is just another pawn. Important as he is at the moment, he serves the master plan of ridding Palestine of its people…. American presidents come and go while Sharon stands firm for decades, defeating all obstacles in his tireless, barbaric mission. With the help he now gets from Bush and Blair, he may yet complete his mission…. The aim here is not to get rid of the resistance to occupation, but to inflame the situation constantly, until a “final solution” to the Palestinian “problem” can be initiated…. The next stage for Sharon is the physical removal of most, if not all, Palestinians from their homeland.
Apparently Sharon didn’t have enough time to finish his project; some would note that he did manage to remove some people from their homes, albeit not Palestinians. Observe, though, where Bresheeth chose to publish this bile. The 2006 Pew Global Survey reported that: “In the Muslim world, attitudes toward Jews remain starkly negative, including virtually unanimous unfavorable ratings of 98% in Jordan and 97% in Egypt” (emphasis added). Bresheeth’s article couldn’t have made things much better.
In 2007 Bresheeth was back again in Al-Ahram Weekly, this time, as the article’s blurb put it, to “make the case for a cultural boycott of his home country.” As Bresheeth stated:
Anyone who strays from the simple line of full support for whatever Israel chooses to do, however infuriating, is tarred with the brush of anti-Semitism, used as a magical incantation against heretics outside the Zionist faith…. While it may be permissible for intellectuals in some countries to criticise their governments, and it might even be enshrined within the democratic rights of self-expression and public speech, such a right apparently does not exist when discussing Israel.
By this time Bresheeth’s readers, appreciative of the profound democratic rights that Egypt grants them, must have been shaking their heads in indignation. All the more so as Bresheeth gave them the lowdown on the Second Lebanon War: “…it fell to the usual suspects, Bush and Blair, to make sure that the UN did not act against this latest atrocity, and Israeli troops had a free hand to sow death and destruction without hindrance….”
Bresheeth sounds like he’s nuts, yes; but it doesn’t make him any less harmful.
Then there’s Yosefa Loshitzky, who until 2002 was at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and now, like Bresheeth, is at the University of East London where she’s professor of film, media and cultural studies. Not long ago she was, along with Machover and Bresheeth, among the “Signatories to a Statement of Determination to Boycott Israel,” and while still at Hebrew University she signed a call for an “international force to protect the…Palestinians from the aggression and repression of the Israeli occupation.”
Last January 5, Loshitzky published on the Electronic Intifada site her take on Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, launched after over three thousand rockets had been fired from Gaza at Israeli civilians in 2008 alone. Loshitzky begins her piece, which she titles “Israel’s Blond Bombshells and Real Bombs in Gaza,” with the entirely false claim that the Hebrew name for the operation was meant to connote sadistic aggression toward Palestinian children.
Loshitzky goes on to assert that Israel’s “murderous and criminal attack on Gaza” with its “cold, meticulous, and calculated cruelty” marked “not only a great military victory but also a success story of Israeli hasbara (meaning in Hebrew, explanation, but practically referring to misinformation, spin and lies).” Again, entirely false: hasbara means “making one’s case before public opinion”; although it may imply “spin,” it does not mean or refer to “misinformation…and lies.”
But, as Professor Loshitzky would have it:
Israel’s oiled propaganda-machine was further lubricated by its self-acknowledged decision to select women as their masbirim (misinformation spokespersons) so as “to project a feminine and softer image.” To add some cool glamour to Israel’s hot lies, Tzipi Livni, the state’s foreign minister and a natural blonde, announced, in response to calls for truce: “There is no humanitarian crisis in the [Gaza] Strip, and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce.” The blonde offensive, led by the rising star of Israeli politics, was fortified by a team of peroxide blonde Israeli women, whose sex, lies and video games decorated TV screens worldwide.
Sound like hatred to you? It sure does to me. And Loshitzky adds further:
… we are bombarded by statements and “explanations” given by Israeli officials and “international experts” who discuss the “situation” calmly and “logically.”… They are interviewed in their comfortable (probably leather-clad) offices. They look and sound like respectable westerners, just like “us,” and their foreign minister is very calm and cool as her blonde hair obliges.
That Loshitzky, who grew up in Israel, differentiates between a civilized Western “us” and those crafty-barbaric Israelis is best left to the psychotherapists. But lest anyone is taken in by the façade,
We should not forget…that behind this cruel apparatus of sex, lies and video war games, a more “primitive,” “organic,” and tribal cruelty, usually well hidden from the scrutiny of the outside world, is operating. Most people in the west do not realize the indifference, and more disturbingly, the joy with which Israelis receive news about the suffering of Arabs and particularly Palestinians….
No, these Israelis are so vile that in the end - again, as for Bresheeth - only one comparison will suffice:
Israel’s cruelty…should be interpreted in the spirit of Giorgio Agamben. The influential Italian philosopher argued in relation to the Nazi death camps that the “correct question to pose concerning the horrors committed in the camps is, therefore, not the hypocritical one of how crimes of such atrocity could be committed against human beings” but what were “the juridical procedures and deployments of power by which human beings could be so completely deprived of their rights and prerogatives that no act committed against them could appear any longer as a crime.”
We may well ask the same question today when listening to Israel’s blonde bombshells explain the bombs tearing apart the people of Gaza.
Suggest to people of Loshitzky’s ilk that there might be some anti-Semitic feelings lurking behind their perorations, and they’ll take umbrage and say you’re part of the Jewish phalanx that’s out to silence them. Regarding Loshitzky’s loathsome Israelis, though, one might say that if anti-Semitism didn’t exist, it would need to be invented.
Does it matter what these crackpots say, write, and do? Unfortunately, it does. As token but conspicuous Israeli and Jews who have themselves “seen the light” and spread lies and incitement against their native society, they reinforce the malicious, poison the ignorant, and augment the well-documented anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic tide in Europe and other places. Know who they are and beware.
Joel Amitai is an independent researcher and filmmaker. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.