A few months ago, I predicted the failed conference in Southampton would only be the start, so it comes as no surprise to see that several of the crew who were meant to have the main stage at Southampton are now gathering together for an exercise in propaganda at the University of Exeter. The subject of this particular farce is “Settler Colonialism in Palestine”.
My wife is Israeli. She was the daughter of two refugees, one fleeing persecution after anti-Jewish riots in Morocco and the other from a family brutally expelled from Egypt. Her father, an Egyptian refugee arrived with his parents who had been forced to sign an agreement confiscating their home, their business, and their possessions. Thus moving from the life of successful business owners in Alexandria, to that of destitute refugees living in a city of tents in a desert. My wife is not the daughter of European colonists.
Neither are the more than 850,000 other refugees and all their descendants who fled Arab lands as the Jewish blood began to spill there; nor are the Israeli Ethiopians, Bedouin or Druze. Nor are the Arab citizens of Israel; who by the way are the only Arabs in the entire region who are allowed to pray to, sleep with and vote for whomever they choose. Nor too can the Jewish communities that have always lived in the area, be described as anything other than native. Even if we put aside the obvious historical connection of Jewish people to that specific piece of land, and the rather glaring fact that if the Jews had never built a nation there, the land would be internationally meaningless, the entire concept of Israel as a colonial enterprise is a spiteful misstatement.
I don’t know what would have happened if the local Arab leadership had not driven their community to violently oppose the immigration in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The original plan was one state for all its citizens; Jews and Arabs living together in peace, much like they do in Israel today. It was only following the absolute refusal of Arabs to accommodate the Jewish presence, that the British eventually begin to believe that dividing the communities, partitioning the land, was the only viable solution. Appearing first in the Peel commission report following years of Arab driven bloodshed and eventually turning into an International proposal in 1947, the two state solution was the direct result of Arab violence.
This fact, and many others, are always lost within the bitter hatred for Israel and Jews that certain people possess. Spread throughout our society are people who let this hatred engulf them, losing sight of reality, of normality and of truth. Each event becomes a reversal of causality, effectively putting the cart before the proverbial horse. For example, the creation of the Haganah, a defensive response to growing violence against Jewish communities, becomes a sign of Jewish aggression; the actions of the Jewish forces in early 1948, a reaction to the Palestinian fighters and the infiltration of Arab foreign forces, becomes a sign of Jewish expansionism and the collapse of the partition brought about by Arab rejectionism is provided as evidence the Jewish side never wanted peace. There are horrific omissions too; with the often quoted demographic problem that is claimed to be behind the ‘expulsion’ of Palestinians in 1948, overlooking the clear fact that issues such as population exchange and areas of residence were addressed within the partition plan itself. But it is the idea that somehow Israel is a European colonial enterprise that strikes at the very heart of the entire Zionist project.
And it is in this fact, that we find the darkest elements of the extremist Palestinian position. This is the grounds for the ‘colonialism’ claim, some European Jews had the gall to escape or survive the holocaust; a few hundred thousand from the 6 million. That these Jews didn’t die is the problem; these Jews, looking for a safe haven, are cynically being described as ‘colonists’.
Using Jewish refugees escaping the closing grip of Nazi Germany in the 1930’s as a justification for violence is comparable with suggesting political elements in the UK have the right to use terrorism to murder asylum seekers on our shores. Make no mistake, this is the Palestinian position and it is reflected in the subject matter of both the conferences in the Universities of Southampton and Exeter. ‘The violence against innocent refugees fleeing Hitler was justified’; without that violence, there is no conflict, without the conflict there is no problem. You cannot connect the conflict to the refugees unless you introduce a violent opposition to them.
Trying to connect this situation with earlier Spanish, French, English and Dutch colonial movements is an absolutely disgusting rewrite of history. It is to ignore history, to cast aside why events occurred in the fashion that they did and to entirely remove unjustifiable local Arab violence as the primary cause of the creation of the Israeli/Arab problem. This type of rewrite has its roots in political Islam and antisemitism and it should be identified, opposed and then rejected as one of the seeds that extremist movements use to subvert and radicalise potential recruits to extremism. It has no place on the streets of the UK, let alone in the universities.
In truth, I felt somewhat sorry for the University throughout the Southampton saga earlier this year. Like a rabbit caught in the headlights, I believe the University was unaware it was being used as part of a political battle that furthers antisemitism and Islamic extremism until it was too late, having been caught in a corner under a banner of ‘academic freedom’. Like most freedoms in the west, academic freedom is being abused by some who in truth don’t give a damn about it.
And so now we move westwards, 109 miles to be exact, along the South coast to Exeter; the same University that chose Ilan Pappé, an Israeli born Jew who coincidentally hates Israel, to be their Director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies within its very own Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies.
I am all for academic freedom. And I am not going to get up on a soapbox and shout people down just because I find their opinions offensive. I didn’t at Southampton and I wont start now. If those like Ilan Pappé want to academically investigate the possibility that Israel caused the bubonic plague and is solely responsible for the increase in obesity in Fiji, I say let him. Freedom is not freedom unless it exists for everyone. What I oppose is political maneuvering that increases extremism and hides behind an academic facade to protect itself. Academia is research and a range of sciences, it is not an umbrella for extremists.
This conference at Exeter is a case in point. The earliest call for papers I have found online was in mid-July, giving academics all over the world 2 weeks to produce an outline. As a benchmark, Southampton gave several months. With only 8 weeks or so until the conference, the promotional material and the call for papers at Exeter is one and the same. 2 months to produce a research paper. At the point of writing, 4 speakers are mentioned alongside a promise that the conference will run for ‘several days’. Originally, there were 5 speakers, for some reason Prof. Gabriel Piterberg has recently been removed from the list.
And who are these speakers
Prof. Nur Masalha, St Mary’s University, Twickenham, London, UK. Was on Panel 1 at Southampton. Frequently described as a Palestinian activist online. Supports the general divestment and the academic boycotts
Prof. Ilan Pappe, University of Exeter, UK. Was on Panel 1 at Southampton. Hardly needs an introduction, also described as an activist. He is the author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006). Firmly believes Israel is racist, apartheid, an ethnically cleansing state and so on. Actively supports the boycott
Dr. Marcelo Svirsky, University of Wollogong, Australia. Was on Panel 8 at Southampton. Only need to read this piece ‘From Auschwitz To Sderot: The Decline Of Our Humanity‘ to understand his position. Actively supports the boycott.
Prof. Lorenzo Veracini, Swinburne University. The only named speaker not to have been scheduled at Southampton (perhaps he was busy). Firmly believes Israel is an attempt at ‘settler-colonial conquest’.
Prof. Gabriel Piterberg, University of California, Los Angeles, CA. was originally on the list, but has since gone missing without leave. Was on Panel 1 at Southampton. Piterberg has called Israel’s system akin to Apartheid and actively supports the boycott.
Exeter is yet another anti-Israel hate fest; devoid even of the pretense of even-handedness. The themes at the Exeter conference are predictably self serving for the anti-Israel crowd, and the papers will apparently be placed into book form and no doubt soon appear in campuses around the UK to be spread around Islamic extremists intent on destructing the only free nation in the Middle East. One of these themes in particular caught my attention – “How do settler colonial structures affect different forms of resistance?” Which sounds as if it is suggesting that the terror attacks of the PLO, Hamas, Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad and the Gazan Daesh, are understandable examples of ‘resistance’ to the Jewish ‘colonial’ exercise.
Most of these academics explicitly state they will not co-operate with academics from Israel, buy products from Israel and support BDS. I always understood that even if academics could never be considered truly impartial, an absolute declaration of where they stand politically would inevitably affect their research. Logically, even the way their own subjects react to them would possibly change. It de-sterilises the research environment and introduces variables that any serious academic would have to take into account. Surely within the discussions of the limitations of their research there should be comments that indicate their own bias may have influenced the outcome. It seems academically flawed and academically dishonest that no such comment is ever made. I believe any academic who publicly engages a pro BDS stance should in return mention this in any research on the topic. We cannot stop academics being sloppy or losing themselves to hatred, but we should expect them to at least try to be academically honest.
My personal feeling is the Exeter conference is a boat sent through to test the waters or pass under the radar. It is a hastily put together, hodgepodge of deliberately biased nonsense. I do not even believe the conference is important to the organisers but rather an pre-event that can be used to say to a future Southampton ‘see, we have done it elsewhere’. Given what happened at Southampton, it is unlikely another of that scale would be attempted before a trial such as Exeter is successfully floated. Exeter is little more than an antisemitic trial balloon.
The main issue being raised with the Exeter conference is funding. Islamic extremism and antisemitism are current issues and a conference such as this feeds them both. Given it is based on prejudice, false accounts, selective historicity and a seeming unnatural distaste for one particular nation, you would not only have to ask why these issues keep arising in our universities but how they can possibly be supported by the public purse. Our government needs to look long and hard at what it is funding, because it cannot speak of curbing extremism on the one side, whilst it continually ignores the sort of antisemitic, political-Islamic movements that are sweeping through the undergrowth. Because of the importance of academic freedom, this ship may have sailed; but if it goes ahead, mark my words, Southampton 2 will follow; that after all is the whole point of this nasty little exercise.
First published at “Beyond the Great Divide”