Yesterday, 28/01/2016, I was at the University of Kent to hear a talk by Amira Hass titled ‘Israel and the Palestinians: Colonialism and Prospects for Justice. The event itself was a collaboration between The Centre for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies at Kent University and the Palestine Centre at SOAS, University of London. One of these universities, SOAS, is already a notorious hotbed for extremism, the other, Kent, seems to be desperately trying to catch-up.
Dr Bashir Abu-Manneh is the head of the centre for Postcolonial studies at Kent, like other academics of his type, it can be seen from his own activity that he has long lost sight of what academia and critical thinking is about. This event, following one just the evening before attempting to create BDS activists on campus, is simply a sign of a deteriorating environment.
Amira Hass is an Israeli columnist at the Haaretz newspaper. For the last 20 years she has lived in the Palestinian areas, originally in Gaza, but more recently moving to Ramallah in the West Bank. Amira is an example of one of those Israelis nobody should have heard of. Standing for politics that receive no support in Israel, Amira’s opinions reflect none but a handful of oddballs. Every nation has people like Hass hidden in the shadows. What makes her ‘special’, what makes her a marketable commodity, are hundreds of millions of people outside of Israel that simply want Israel gone. The audience of Amira Hass are not peacemakers, but warmongers.
There were around 200 people in the hall to hear her talk. Perhaps 60 of them students from the university. The rest, activists from the local Palestinian support groups. The talk itself was relatively predictable and in 45 minutes, she did not mention Arab violence once. The intifada’s, both of which apparently were ‘benign’, were mentioned in name twice but never detailed. Rather, the violence, all of it, was Jewish.
In usual fashion, events in Israel were taken out of context, exaggerated, misrepresented, and as one would expect from an activist who long ago forgot how to actually ‘report’ a news item, important details were either deliberately sidestepped or completely forgotten. Sleight of hand in her description of events with the Bedouin of the Negev, allowed Hass to suggest that it didn’t matter which side of the 1967 border was being discussed, the end result for an Arab is always the same. Gross distortion of a deliberately sinister kind, and an unforgiveable misrepresentation of the simple fact that Arab Israelis are *factually* living as equal citizens in a liberal democracy.
At events like this I always feel sorry for the uninformed in the audience. They are vulnerable to a propaganda exercise that is designed to spread lies and hatred. Although that, I suppose, is the sole purpose of the talk in the first place. I also resent the idea that a university in the UK can give a platform to such distortion without feeling the need to provide an alternative voice.
The argument that a university is there to hear all voices is an acceptable theory, but is simply not one that holds up to inspection. As we have seen recently elsewhere, these anti-Israeli activists disrupt and silence pro-Israeli speakers wherever they are due to speak, and one campus event in the past few weeks, even saw violence.
Free speech only works when it works for everyone. If you hide behind free speech when it suits you, but employ the heckler’s veto when it doesn’t, you simply engage in a form of ‘red fascism’, which is precisely the tactic currently being used by anti-Israeli activists. The university, any university, should make permission for these one-sided events conditional on a free speech for all platform. If they do not respect free speech for others, they shouldn’t have any themselves.
So the evening went on, and Amira Hass had been discussing Israeli ‘war crimes’ for 40 minutes, and the majority of the audience were hanging on her every faltering word. When suddenly, without warning, I heard mention of the ‘Elders of Zion’. As had occurred with me at a different event when Gerald Kaufman had mentioned ‘Jewish money’, I got lost between the sentences as I tried to make sense of what I was hearing. Hass was discussing a hidden agenda, a secret group of Jews, plotting and planning beyond the reach of Israeli democracy – by extension, this secret group were to blame for the ‘war crimes’, for the death of innocent Palestinian children. Hass was spinning tales of a Jewish cabal, of shady secretive control, of unworldly plots and sinister deeds. A road that leads to dead children. Hass was resurrecting a classic historic antisemitic blood libel in a British university.
Hass had stepped back in time to explain the perpetual occupation, to present a reason why after 49 years, no movement had been made towards peace. Without Palestinian violence, Israeli actions become irrational, with Israeli democracy, they become inexplicable, and someway, somehow, this illogical unreasonable position needed to be explained away. All that is left is conspiracy. This is what she said:
“And I ask myself did the Elders of Zion really sit together at the beginning of the Seventies and then during the nineties, and plan, and have all these military orders, all these changes? I believe that they knew for sure that they don’t want to give back the land and in the Nineties, my conclusion is that they wanted to do everything possible to stop(?) the two state solution.”
Beyond Israeli democracy, beyond the will of the voters, beyond the desires of peacemakers like Rabin and Peres, there are invisible Jewish decision makers. They planned from the early 1970’s, never to let the territories go, they manipulated, they connived, they controlled as puppet masters do. A conspiracy of a Jewish cabal that places the profit to be won from the occupation above the will of the electorate and the lives of innocent children. And it is called the ‘Elders of Zion’.
I missed many of the following comments as I tried to come to terms with what I had just heard, as a Jew in the UK in 2016. In a university. Hass continued about freedom of the press, about how she came to live in Gaza and then I began to find my bearings again as she turned to a question on BDS.
This too was informative. Amira Hass began to promote BDS but with a clear failure to understand its central ideas. She told the crowd that BDS makes Israelis nervous, but suggested identifying strategic targets rather than a strategy of ‘random fire in all directions’. Hass suggested petitioning European governments to remove the visa waiver for Israelis, so they would need to apply to travel. She reinforced this by mentioning this is what she already tells foreign diplomats when she gets the chance. And then another stroke of strategic brilliance. She put forward that attacks against Israel as a whole can be seen as antisemitic, so it is far more productive just to target settlements.
This instruction tells you everything you need to know about BDS. As a movement BDS is not about the 1967 occupation, but what they see as the occupation of 1948. The enemy of BDS is the entire state of Israel. But to state this out loud is to invite criticism, to expose the antisemitic underbelly of the entire boycott movement, so it is best to try to hide this goal. Here was Amira Hass in public admitting she is actively promoting BDS, actively petitioning foreign governments and winking and nodding at other activists, showing them the way to avoid the antisemitic label.
I didn’t stay for the reception. I didn’t like the company. And the University of Kent? Are they sliding down the slippery slope to ethical and academic oblivion? One thing is for sure, some of the people at the event on their campus yesterday took a solid step towards extremism, the rest, well they are all just a little bit less intelligent than they were the day before.
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