Southampton University wants to debate Israel’s right to exist. But that right is sacred
It is one thing to disagree with the policies of a government but quite another to question the right of the nation it represents to exist at all. And yet this happens all the time to Israel
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed that boycotts against Israel are anti-Semitic Photo: Menahem Kahana/Getty
Reprinted from The Telegraph.UK
By Tim Stanley
8:54AM GMT 13 Mar 2015
The University of Southampton is hosting a conference to discuss Israel’s legal right to exist. Quote:
The conference aims to explore the relatedness of the suffering and injustice in Palestine to the foundation and protection of a state of such nature and asks what role International Law should play in the situation.
A local MP has asked for the event to be dropped, as does a petition. The university insists that academic freedom should be respected and the conference organisers say they mean no mischief. One of the hosts, Professor Oren Ben-Dor, is Israeli-born. He has previously written that Israel is an apartheid state and has been since inception. He is living proof that you can be sceptical about Israel without necessarily being anti-Semitic. Some of its loudest critics are living contradictions.
JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images
The conference should go ahead. Academics should be free to debate anything so long as they don’t incite violence. But I hope the following points are considered.
1. It is true that Israel was a state created where no such state had existed before. But so was Iraq, Syria, Uganda and Togo. They were all products of decolonisation, all lines drawn on a map by a bureaucrat with a pencil and ruler. Why, pray, does no one debate the legal foundations of the existence of Nigeria? It is controversial enough. It comprises various tribes and religions with terrible unease, so much so that a near genocidal war was conducted to subjugate its southeastern portion. Yet no one questions its legality.
2. It is true that Israel’s foundation involved the displacement of a settled people. This was in many cases tragic and led to injustices that cry out for resolution. But they are not unique. When the states of India and Pakistan were created, their subjects trekked across the subcontinent to resettle in one country or another – causing the deaths of thousands and wars for decades to come. Likewise, the Amerindians were displaced by European colonists. Where is the wailing and gnashing of teeth over them on Sunday morning talk shows or in student unions?
3. It is true that Israel’s contemporary borders were framed by conflict and remain controversial. Again, who wouldn’t want to see them settled in a manner that provides peace and security for all? But where is the conference questioning the legality of North Korea’s existence and condemning its terrorist attacks on the South? Or a conference challenging Rwanda over its policy towards Hutu migrants and its alleged support for rebel movements in eastern Congo?
Many nations began with ethnic groups displaced or crammed together within borders drawn by a bureaucrat (MAS PIETROSON)
In short, what is it about Israel that makes people debate its “legality” so much more often than they do that of other states? Why is it held to such an impossible standard? Why do its critics regard it as unique among newborn states struggling to survive?
Why, looking beyond this conference, is Israel the one country in the world whose critics so often conflate its government and its people – even seeking to punish the former by boycotting the latter? It is perfectly possible to dislike Benjamin Netanyahu and criticise the Israeli state’s actions in Gaza without assuming that Netanyahu speaks for all Israelis or that all Israelis approve of what happened in Gaza (indeed, it looks like he’s about to lose an election). No one would suggest that David Cameron’s austerity programme reflects the views of every Briton or that the British are constitutionally mean because the bedroom tax happened. And yet such obvious distinctions are often forgotten when talking about Israel. People chant that “Israel Must Be Stopped”, that “Israel Has Gone Too Far” and that “Israel is an Apartheid State” – as though its entire people had blood on their hands. When it comes to Israel, there is a unique enthusiasm to call into question its very right to exist. Strange, isn’t it?
Doubly strange when one considers that Israel’s very foundations are moral. Oh, the government is often wrong, as most governments are. But, for its people, the country has a sacred purpose.
The King David Hotel, bombed in 1946 by Zionist paramilitaries (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The creation of Israel was controversial, shaped by terrorism and armed conflict. One might say that the Jewish peoples were not gifted a country by international consensus so much that they carved one out that the world finally accepted. Acknowledging this controversy is important because it reminds us that Israel was born out of acts of resistance – resistance to anti-Semitism, fascism and racism. Whereas once Jews were at the mercy of societies in Europe, now they had won for themselves a homeland in which they were their own masters. Their struggle for self-determination was no different to Martin Luther King Jnr’s against segregation or to Nkruhmah’s against imperialism. And to question the legality of something won out of resistance to historical oppression – to genocide, no less – is to misunderstand the meaning of resistance itself. Resistance by the good against the bad is both necessary and just.
To challenge the right of Israel to exist is, therefore, morally obtuse. It is to forget the flames from which this Phoenix arose. They were the flames of Auschwitz, in to which millions of men, women and children walked and never returned.