By: Melanie Phillips
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Here we go again. Later this month, Britain’s Association of University Teachers will debate a proposed boycott of Israeli academics. This is almost three years to the day since the campaign for such a boycott was first launched, when Professors Steven and Hilary Rose proposed it in a letter to the Guardian. Although the attempt largely failed, it ushered in a climate of virulent intolerance on campus in which two Israeli academics were sacked from a journal, an Israeli student discriminated against in admissions, and a number of papers from Israeli academics returned unopened.
The Prime Minister’s office said that Tony Blair was ‘appalled by discrimination against academics on the grounds of their race or nationality’ and that ‘universities must send a clear signal that this will not be tolerated’. But it was tolerated, and the unpunished academics did not give up. In March 2004, more than 300 of them signed an open letter in the Guardian asking the leaders of Israeli universities to reveal whether they supported government policies.
They finally managed to reopen the issue at a conference held last December at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies. The conference, organised by the school’s Palestinian Society, was called ‘Resisting Israeli Apartheid: Strategies and Principles’ and launched a new boycott organisation, the British Committee for Universities in Palestine. This drew up a manifesto calling on academics to break links with Israel by refusing to work with Israeli institutions, referee academic papers, grant applications or attend conferences.
Even before the AUT debates the new boycott call, the Israel Science Foundation, the biggest government funder of Israeli research, has already found itself a victim of the Israel blacklist, receiving two rejections from British academics to review an application. The Guardian reported that an unnamed academic described his ‘utmost respect’ for the scholar whose grant he was asked to review, but refused on the basis that it was Israeli money and he disapproved of Israel’s actions towards the Palestinian people. ‘I hope you understand this is nothing personal,’ he added.
The AUT has been here before, too, having first debated an Israel boycott two years ago when it was defeated after an acrimonious debate. But now, the tactics are more sophisticated. In a tactical manoeuvre to get the motion accepted, it does not commit the union to implement a boycott but merely requires that the full text of the boycott call be circulated to all members.
There is yet another twist to this resuscitated campaign. For the boycott would not be extended to all Israeli academics -- only to those who refuse to denounce their government’s policies in the occupied territories. The motion would generously exclude ‘conscientious Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their state’s colonial and racist policies’.
This requirement to denounce Israel as the price of continued social acceptance is doubly disgusting. First, it is of course a monstrous inversion which turns Israel, the victim of unbroken annihilatory Arab terror for the past half century, into the regional bully while sanitising Palestinian aggression.
Second, it represents a profound betrayal of the cardinal principle of intellectual endeavour, which is freedom of speech and debate. If anyone had ever told British academics that there would come a time when they would punish colleagues because of the views they held, and would treat them as pariahs and try to destroy their livelihoods in order to intimidate others into toeing the sole approved political line, they would have been incredulous. In the western tradition the universities are, after all, the historic custodians of free intellectual inquiry and open debate. Censorship, suppression of ideas and intellectual intimidation are associated with totalitarian regimes which attempt to coerce people into the approved way of thinking.
The motion has already been compared to McCarthyism. This is too kind. However cruel, illiberal and arbitrary that disturbing period was, a number of those who were hounded subsequently turned out to have actually been communists. By contrast, Israeli academics are to be persecuted for failing to denounce their own country for seeking to defend its citizens against genocidal mass murder. A more appropriate comparison would surely be the forced conversion of the Jews of Europe in the Middle Ages, or the show trials under Stalinism. For in true totalitarian tradition, only those in the pariah group who denounce their own will be permitted to have a livelihood. To survive in the cradle of free expression, Israelis will have to betray their own people in the cause of hatred and lies.
But who can be surprised? For this is a natural development from the implicit -- and sometimes explicitly stated -- assumption that courses through British intellectual circles in the ongoing hate-fest against Israel, that only those British Jews who denounce Israel’s policies can be considered to be British; anyone who supports Israel is guilty of ‘dual loyalty’. Since defending Israel is a thought-crime which thus calls into question one’s membership of a nation, it follows that Israel’s academics must similarly find called into question their membership of the academy.
What is notable about the AUT motion is that it reflects the truly shocking ignorance of the region’s history and current political reality, the resulting deep gullibility to propaganda based on lies, and the consequent vicious double standards and prejudice that now characterise British received opinion on the subject of Israel.
An unidentified academic has defended the boycott ‘as a means of registering my protest against Israelis’ lack of respect for human rights and continuing illegal occupation of Palestinian land.’ This parrot mindlessly repeats the mantra of the left about the ‘illegal occupation’ in apparent ignorance of the fact that a) the occupation is perfectly legal under international law as the defensive measure against attack that it was; b) that it is not ‘Palestinian land’ at all but territory that belonged to the British colonial power until it was illegally occupied by Jordan and Egypt and is now -- since they have washed their hands of it -- most fairly to be described as no-man’s land; and c) that parts of these territories, such as Hebron, are the sites of Jewish settlement of great antiquity, predating the Arab colonisation by several centuries but where Jews were massacred and from which they were driven out by Arab occupiers. If we’re talking colonisation here, the Jews of Palestine were the historic victims.
And of course, no other people than the Jews is to have their livelihood or membership of the community of civilised nations made conditional on how they think. No other people is to be forced to take a particular political line as the price of intellectual acceptance. The fine consciences of those calling for this action do not extend to proposing similar boycotts on any of the world’s myriad dictatorships: no boycott of Syria, for example, for the occupation of Lebanon; or China for the oppression of Tibet; or the Sudan for the small matter of the genocide of some two million-plus Africans.
Yet these are our university teachers, the very people responsible for shaping the assumptions of a society, whose own profound ignorance, prejudice and twisted morality are now on such conspicuous display. Rather then maintain their historic role as the disinterested custodians of truth and objectivity, university academics have become the principal promulgators of an agenda to delegitimise the state of Israel and, by doing so, delegitimise the claim to peoplehood of one people and one people alone in the world: the Jews.
And many of those involved in this despicable enterprise have been Jews from both Israel and the diaspora -- none of whom, it goes without saying, has ever boycotted Palestinian academics, even at the height of the Palestinian terrorism onslaught. The particular psychopathology which causes such Jews to march behind the banner of genocide against their own people -- and all in the cause of ‘human rights’ -- is worthy of academic study in its own right. These Jewish quislings -- to call them ‘self-hating’ is misleading since many of them inordinately love themselves -- have done untold damage, since they provide Judeophobes with the fiction that hating Israel cannot be anti-Semitic.
Not all academics, of course, go along with the boycott; indeed, many are appalled. The British National Postgraduate Committee has issued a statement saying that a boycott attempt based on nationality encourages discrimination and goes against the principle of judging academic work on its merits alone. It inhibits progress in areas that benefit humanity, cuts the UK off from leading research, prevents collaborations, and encourages discrimination against some students and staff within the UK.
Nevertheless, despite such evidence of a residual decency the universities have become the swamp in which this virus breeds. In the grip of a group-think that causes them to genuflect to victim-culture and the deconstruction of western morality and the concept of truth, a dismaying number of our supposedly finest minds have been transformed from people who spread enlightenment to those who cast darkness before them. In Britain, being educated no longer means being elevated. On the contrary, it has begun to seem that the more highly educated the person, the deeper the ignorance and the more virulent the prejudice.
Intellectuals assume they are in the vanguard of progress, and that because of their superior brain power are superior human beings. In fact, the higher reaches of learning and the fundamental tenets of human decency are often strangers to each other. From the time of the French revolutionary terror, intellectuals have been listed amongst the principal enemies of humanity. In the 19th century they energetically promoted eugenics in order to eradicate lesser breeds and create a world peopled by finer individuals like themselves. They supported Stalinism until the Hungarian uprising opened the eyes of some but by no means all to the tyranny they had watched unfold but somehow never seen. And as the British writer Paul Johnson observed in his book ‘Intellectuals’, Mussolini had many intellectual followers, as did Castro, Nasser and Mao Tse-tung, while Hitler performed well among teachers and university professors.
As he concluded: ‘Violence has always exercised a strong appeal to some intellectuals. It goes hand in hand with the desire for radical absolutist solutions’. With the collapse of communism, the intellectuals of the universities have alighted upon a neat replacement instrument to bring about their radical absolutist solution to the existence of the west -- the destruction of Israel, and with it the Jews who first gave the west the civilisation they so despise.
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