You do not confront antisemitism by waving a white flag

Cross posted from the blog of David Collier

Imagine if you can, a marketplace of ideas in a small city somewhere on the coast in South West England. The owners of this market by law must ensure free trade, free that is for as long as it does not promote violent extremism. Within this market are people who despise the Jewish state, creating for themselves a corner of the market, refusing to deal with Israelis and constantly mixing and matching  between the words ‘Zionist’ and ‘Jewish’. This mob has been known to set up extremist stalls to sell dubious goods, inviting terrorist sympathisers, homophobes and anti-Semites to help them sell; anyone in fact that holds the same venom-filled outlook of Israel that they do. So putrid their position, so aggressive their behaviour, that Jewish visitors to the market have declared they feel threatened by their presence.

So imagine, one day that this mob petitions the owners of the market, asking to be allowed to hold a special ‘open day’ to try to expand the influence of their dark little corner. The aim is to give light to the views that spread extremism and hatred. Ideas that under the banner of peace and equality, actually push racism and war. How do you deal with such hate-driven extremism? Would the correct response be to legitimize those that spew it? To negotiate an agreement with the owners of the market, so that a token pro-democratic presence would be allowed a dark corner of their own as a way of redressing the balance?

Is this the way to face down extremism, hate-mongering and anti-Semitism? No it is not.

The University of Exeter is a marketplace of ideas in a small city in South West England. It has such a history of anti-Israeli activity that its own Jewish students ran scared of expressing opinions. As usual in such an environment, the argument against Zionism is conducted under a banner of academic freedom that only works in one direction.


Speakers connected to University of Exeter conference
Nur Masalha Supports academic boycott
Ilan Pappe Supports boycott
Marcelo Svirsky Supports boycott
Lorenzo Veracini Supports boycott
Gabriel Piterberg Supports boycott
Patrick Wolfe Supports academic boycott
Rosemary Sayigh Supports academic boycott

I always find it amusing that those who push academic freedom the most are those that do not even stand by the premise themselves, but then this type of hypocrisy, is rampant in the entire movement against Israel; a movement that does not truly value freedom, democracy, equality or support human rights but fights in the name of these principles against the only nation in the entire region that practices them.

Much has been written about the one sided themes of this hatefest ‘conference’ but then the University of Exeter has a long history of anti-Israeli sentiment. Even as far back as 2006, Professor Richard Seaford was supporting an academic boycott, speakers such as Abdullah Al Andalusi, Hamza Tzortzis, and Ismail Patel always seem welcome and a report by the Center of Social Cohesion raised issues with foreign funding at the University, mainly of course from Arab sources in the Middle East. But perhaps the most telling invitation of all, was the one to Gilad Atzmon, who whilst discussing a future war between Israel and Iran, proceeded to tell the attendees at a conference in Exeter that: 

“I guess that amongst the survivors of such a nightmare scenario, some may be bold enough to argue that ‘Hitler might have been right after all”.

Now as anyone who follows those like Atzmon, knows, their work doesn’t focus on Israel as much as it does the problem with ‘Jewishness’; in fact they seem to take pride in highlighting a global Jewish problem, rather than an Israeli one. These people use provocation as their primary tool. You do not invite Gilad Atzmon to a political event unless you wish to hear anti-Jewish comments and simultaneously create a deeply uncomfortable environment for any Jewish people in attendance. Some in the audience walked out when Atzmon began his anti-Semitic attack, but I am certain his words about “Jewish Identity, Israeli Lobby, Jewish Power and the Talmud vs Jewish secularism” went down very well with those that invited him. Recently prior to the UK election, whilst listing politicians who support Israel, Atzmon declared that:

“No matter who you vote for, at the end of the day, it is the Jewish Lobby that calls the shots.”

If you were Jewish and at a University that not only felt at ease inviting Atzmon, but took no action after the event, I doubt you would feel comfortable voicing your opinion either.

But then of course at the top of the pile at Exeter there is Ilan Pappe, who Benny Morris described as being one of the world’s sloppiest historians, suggesting he is ‘driven by something other than linguistic and historiographical accuracy’. Pappe is Director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at Exeter, giving courses at Exeter such as ‘The Historiography of the Arab-Israeli Conflict‘ that contain reading lists worthy of any anti-Zionist. Given the suggested reading, it is difficult to imagine anyone progressing from that type of module without having been suitably brainwashed by the convenor. In truth it is a disgrace. One half of an extremely complex argument is not welcome at Exeter. The ‘world’s sloppiest historian’ thinks differently, so ‘no pro-Israelis wanted thank you’.

A few decades ago, after Israel had secured its own existence, its society opened itself up for introspection and the founding myths of the nation were analysed. Like all wars for survival, Israel’s war of independence was brutal and a new breed of historian, the ‘revisionist’ began to retell a story of the birth of Israel that  included several unfavourable details. However, under the umbrella of the ‘revisionists’, a different type of academic emerged, a handful of Israelis who were absolutely hostile to Israel, with political rather than academic motivation driving their research and conclusions; Pappe is one of these. Every nation has citizens like Pappe and in most nations they live in the shadows; only the ones who hate Israel find celebrity status abroad.

So the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter is running a conference of hate at the very same time as new Government ‘Prevent’ guidlines emerge instructing universities about the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. How it seems like a good idea to gather together a group of people who do not consider Hamas a terrorist organisation is beyond me. Or perhaps with so much attention on Islamic extremism coming out of Universities and so many restrictions about what can and cannot be said, the University feels it is on safe ground if the only targets in this case are the Jews.

Anti-Semitism is always bubbling under the surface at these events. You never have to look very far. The anti-Semitism at the recent protest outside Downing Street is an excellent example. Atzmon’s comment about the Jewish lobby is another. If you look at the Exeter PSC website, whilst noting their solid support for this conference, they invite their readers to go to a site called ‘Rehmat’s World’ for more details; and  there in the piece about the conference is this:

“The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Israel are all products of western settler colonialism. These countries are build on the death and destruction of indigenous people. Another common thing among these five countries, is they all are occupied by Zionist-controlled governments. In fact, New Zealand has a unique position among the fives – its prime minister John Phillip Key is Jewish.”

It doesn’t take long surfing that site to realise in which particular world vision you have arrived; for example, last week “Ann Coulter hit her Jew paymasters where it hurts the most“, and then you remember that it was the PSC that directed you to that website for more information. The same PSC of course that only two weeks ago was forced to make a statement denouncing anti-Semitism in their ranks because of the scenes at Downing Street. It seems the message didn’t get as far as Exeter, or maybe it did, but in Exeter perhaps, anti-Semitism feels at home. These are the very people pushing, supporting and attending the conference at Exeter, in a building supported with the public purse. Anti-Semitism and the anti-Zionist movements *always* walk hand in hand. There should be no accommodating them and no negotiations with those that foster, support or house them.

And yet now, due to some type of agreement over the conference worked out between Exeter University and Jewish groups, the university proudly carries a piece on the University Website that declares:

“the Jewish Leadership Council and University of Exeter announce new approach to debating issues pertaining to Israeli-Palestinian conflict”

This so-called ‘new approach’ is not about finding a balance between moderate Israeli and Palestinian positions (arguments about self-determination, settlements, borders, water or Jerusalem), but about promoting the idea that support for Israel and support for Israel’s destruction are equals. The uneducated get to stand in the middle and choose which ‘reasonable position’ they support the most. Additionally, it is done in an environment that is heavily biased towards those that consider Hamas to be freedom fighters worthy of support.

And what is the prize these ‘Jewish leaders’ have received for legitimizing this hate fest? They get to stick a couple of token Zionists into the conference as a way of ‘balancing it up’. What nonsense. They may as well speak Hebrew. Nobody there wants them, nobody there will listen to them and they cannot address topic of the conference. They will be a couple of heckled and unwanted Jews in a festering sea of anti-Semitism. Some victory.

Whenever I am trying to assess the correct response to a situation, I always try to switch the identity of victims to see how a particular offence would be viewed if a different demographic was being attacked. I cannot imagine any other demographic describing an atmosphere of intimidation and still being visibly placed in situations where there are abused by people who openly dislike that particular group. I cannot also imagine any group claiming to represent these people negotiating with the abusers so they merely ‘tone down’ the abuse or give a little room for another side to be heard. Justice is not half way between the cops and the robbers.

Nobody is calling for a denial of academic freedom. It is up to the university to decide what event to hold and the authorities to decide whether the event crosses red lines. Where a community feels it crosses lines of legality, opposition is a perfectly legitimate response. Negotiating away this basic right to opposition is a sign of weakness and gives a green light to all those who wish to spread hatred. It is waving a white flag over the non-negotiable right of Israel to exist. You do not hold hands with those that push the view that Zionism is the evil behind the world. You do not give these views room to breathe and you most certainly do not negotiate with them. You let them stand and spew their hatred and you visibly oppose the hatred whilst rejecting the organisation that allows them to breathe.

I do not care if the University of Exeter decide that the view Hamas needs support deserves a conference (although one feels the authorities might). This is not my call to make. It is up to them where they wish to place themselves and how irresponsibly they wish to act. It is then up to everyone else to judge them accordingly. Just as we would judge them if they tried to hold a conference suggesting Da’esh were merely a resistance group (although again the authorities might have something to say on that). We do not get to decide who our enemies are or what strategies they choose to fight us with. We only get to control our own response. At no point in this never-ending war should we ever raise the white flag. After all, if the Jews of yesterday had given up the way the Jewish Leadership Council have just done, there would be no Israel today.

The Jewish students have been sold out, Israel has been sold out, Jewish Academics have been sold out, Israeli activists have been sold out and many in the community have been sold out, probably so one Jewish group can score a few publicity points. Who knows and who cares, it doesn’t make this action any less wrong. I am no extremist, and this agreement shows clearly these groups do not have enough of a fundamental grasp of the situation to be able to make decisions, and they most certainly do not have the authority to speak in my name. They have just made everything a whole lot worse. I know that historians will one day look back in astonishment at the treatment Israel is currently being given within academic institutions in the West, just as historically we always retroactively analyse anti-Semitism in any time period; and now in addition, historians will once again analyse how the Jewish leadership simply put its head in the sand as the world around them began to burn. Anti-Zionism / anti-Semitism, there is no negotiation and no white flag. It was, is, and always will be unacceptable, however it wishes to dress itself up.

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