This article by me also appears at CIFWatch
The London Middle East Institute (LMEI), which is based at the School of Oriental and African Studies, used to give serious lectures. Not any more. The recently established Centre for Palestine Studies (CPS) now sits like a cuckoo in the nest of the LMEI.
Last night the first LMEI lecture of the new academic year was presented under the auspices of CPS. Palestine Now: Writers Respond was all about attacking Israel; nothing about studying the Palestinians.
Bidisha (The Guardian), Rachel Shabi (The Guardian), Selma Dabbagh (author), Miranda Pennell (film-maker) and Naomi Foyle (British Writers in Support of Palestine) had simply come to talk about how to fight for “the Palestinian cause” and against “Hasbarah”.
New students heard calls for the destruction of Israel dressed up as justice for the Palestinians, racist calls to boycott Israel and a totally gratuitous Holocaust analogy. Shame on LMEI for allowing this.
Dabbagh, Pennell and Foyle said they supported BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel.
Dabbagh explained that she writes in order to get more people involved in the Palestinian cause and told of how she refused to speak at Jewish Book Week (JBW), when asked to, because of its Israeli government funding.
Bidisha suggested it might have been better for Dabbagh to go to JBW and get her message across to the audience, but Dabbagh said she felt she couldn’t break the call to boycott Israel.
Dabbagh, who is also a lawyer, has been living in Bahrain from where she said she has been helping to sue, not the Bahrain police, but the British police!
Bemusingly, Shabi said that she agreed with the ‘D’ of BDS (divestment) but not the ‘B’ (cultural boycott) which she viewed as a “witch-hunt”. Bidisha said she was equally “ambivalent” about the boycott.
During the Q&A I asked whether any of the panelists had accepted funding from a government whose actions they disagreed with and what the panelists were doing about the oppression of gays, women and dissidents under Hamas rule. I said BDS was racist and that it calls for the destruction of Israel by demanding “the return of Palestinian refugees”.
Naomi Foyle refused to accept that Israel would be destroyed by BDS. Using a crude Holocaust analogy she explained:
“After the Holocaust Jews, who suffered in the Holocaust, were allowed reparations. They had their property returned to them. They were allowed to sue. Of course they were allowed to do it. That was their right. The Palestinian refugees, whose population has mushroomed, are living in squalid conditions, horrendous conditions with no passports, no freedom of movement, no sanitation, no hospital care. These people have keys to their family homes and their right to these family homes must be recognised. Once that right is recognised then the negotiations can begin on what this means for Israel as a state; whether it will become one state, whether it will become a secular state. No one is calling for the destruction of Israel. Is South Africa destroyed now because the blacks in South Africa have human rights? Israel is being asked to evolve.”
Obviously Israel would be destroyed as a Jewish state, but it would have been decent for another panelist to have pointed out to Foyle that it was slightly impossible for 6,000,000 Jews to have had their property returned because they were actually dead, having been murdered by the Nazis. However, no one uttered a word; not even Shabi.
And ignoring that more than 50 rockets had landed in Israel on Monday alone without condemnation from any quarter Foyle stated:
“Palestine is shrinking by the day. We have to say no, we have to put moral pressure on. Palestinians haven’t been allowed, in international opinion, to fight back with armed resistance. That’s been a complete disaster for them.”
Foyle continued that BDS doesn’t call for Israelis to go unfunded by the Israeli government, as “that’s their right as taxpayers”. She said it merely calls for Israelis not to leave Israel to perform and for performers not to go to Israel.
She said she had taken funding from the Canadian and British governments to support her writing and education, and then added:
“If there was a boycott of Great Britain that had any hope of helping the people of Afganistan or Iraq and all I was being asked to do was not travel abroad to a foreign festival; it’s a no brainer.”
This all goes to show that boycotting Israel has nothing to do with objecting to settlements. It is a racist boycott of Israel per se.
Anti-Israel activists neatly try to evade accusations of racism by claiming that “Palestinian society” has called for BDS. In reality, such a call has merely come from a large group of tiny anti-Israel NGOs posing as “Palestinian society”.
Shabi, who described herself as a British/Israeli/Iraqi, then told of her research for her book which involved her seeing how easy it is to buy a house in a settlement and how she had to perfect a “back story” to do this. She said she knew her back story was perfect when her neighbour asked why she was disguised as a “British Jewish religious tourist”.
Meanwhile, Dabbagh admitted that she was “uncomfortable with the way women and gays are treated by Hamas”, but blamed Israel’s “siege” for keeping Hamas in power.
And Bidusha, addressing me directly, said that Palestinian children are brutalised by “the siege of Gaza”. I replied that Egypt is also conducting “the siege”. She had no answer.
As for the future, Shabi concluded that there was already “one-state on the ground” and the discussion in Israel was now just centred around whether it will be a left-wing or right-wing state. This is, of course, pure fantasy from Shabi.
While this brainwashing of new students was taking place a brave girl, Malala Yousufzai, who is 14, was still recovering in hospital after being shot in the neck and head by the Taliban for standing up for women’s education in Pakistan.
SOAS’ students should look to the likes of Yousufzai, not to phoney human rights activists, for inspiration in fighting against real injustice.