Sunday, April 24, 2005

Moral Bankruptcy in Britain

I've written previously about the irrational hatred of Israel that is all too prevalent in the UK and continental Europe. In today's Observer, David Aaronovitch discusses yet another example of this phenomenon:

And then there was the decision of the Association of University Teachers council in Eastbourne to boycott two (perhaps three) Israeli universities, the futility of which I now hope to prove.

Let us first look at the stated objectives of the boycott. What does it seek to achieve? The literature of the campaign suggests that these objectives, far from being focused, are many and nebulous. They are, according to the motion's prime mover, Sue Blackwell of the English Department of Birmingham University, variously to 'add to the pressure on the country's economy and dent its international prestige'; to send a 'message of support to students and colleagues in Palestine'; and to act as 'consciousness-raising' for British academics who, through the boycott, can be brought to realise how the world really is. A sort of speculum for their hidden political organs.

Aaronovitch then asks the logical question as to why Israel is singled out for such a boycott:

No, Israel's universities are not bad and Israel's human rights record is no worse than that of many other countries. So, inevitably, the tack shifts. Israel's universities are intrinsically racist, according to Blackwell, with 'Israeli academics routinely implicated in racist discourses against Arab students and Arabs in general'.

And that's because there is something utterly unique about Israel itself, which marks it out from the merely abusive North Koreas and Irans. It has become an apartheid state, as South Africa was. And it, therefore, should be treated in the same way, with boycotts and disinvestments.

This is a genuinely, grade-A stupid argument, whether it emanates from the lips of Professor Steven Rose or the more sacred ones of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In itself, Israel is not anything like South Africa, where a majority was denied all political and civic rights on the grounds of race. What is analogous, however, is Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, which bears comparison with South Africa's occupation of Namibia or, some might say, Serbia's occupation of Kosovo.


Unless, of course, you don't believe that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state at all within any borders. And this, as it happens, seems to be the view of Sue Blackwell, who describes Israel as 'an illegitimate state'. Unlike the United Nations, she does not believe it should have been set up and she would rather it disappeared. As she pointed out in 2003 to a previous AUT council: 'From its very inception, the state of Israel has attracted international condemnation for violating the human rights of the Palestinian people and making war on its neighbours.' Or, to put it even more bluntly, everything is all the fault of the Israelis.

The problem is that many Jews understand very well that this is her view and, unfortunately, will believe that it is also the view of all her fellow campaigners. Consequently, there will now be a battle royal (of which this article is part) about the rights and wrongs of these particular tactics, and the bigger picture will inevitably be lost. Everyone will return to their trenches and take the tarpaulins off their heaviest and most inaccurate artillery.

Aaronovitch writes from a fair minded, "decent left" perspective, and he ably points out the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of this boycott. Unfortunately, in my view, he shys away from saying what has become increasingly hard to deny. The idea of Israel as 'an illegitimate state' is far more widely held in Britain, especially in British academia, than Mr. Aaronovitch can bring himself to admit.


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