When I did my Masters at the School of Oriental and African Studies the Israel Society there was a genuine counter-balance to the anti-Israel propaganda being disseminated by the SOAS Palestine Society. Students of all political persuasions could question Israeli politicians and diplomats and watch superb Israeli films like Beaufort.
Now, sadly, the SOAS Israel Society has been taken over by anti-Zionist activists Sharri Plonski and Dimi Reider (of the anti-Zionist+972 Magazine website) who desire so-called Palestinian refugees (including many who were never born there but, what the hell, let’s call them “refugees” anyway) to be allowed into Israel and destroy its Jewish sovereignty. On Monday they held the event Is BDS Working?
Their Facebook page states:
“The global campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel almost always sparks polarized discussion on its legitimacy and desirability, but the nuanced question of its effect on the ground is often lost in the debate. Join our panel discussion as we explore the effectiveness of BDS and its stated goals: End of occupation, right of return, and equality for the Palestinian citizens of Israel.”
Plonski said she looked forward to a “discussion”, but warned (clip 1) that if there were any untoward interruptions she would call security (and you wouldn’t want to upset the dictatorial Plonski). Each speaker then slammed Israel after which they got asked compliant questions by a compliant audience. But there was no “discussion”.
The evening reached its Orwellian zenith when the panel was criticised for the lack of a Palestinian presence. Plonski agreed and said she would work hard to have one next time. But what about the Israeli government’s views, one might have asked? I doubt Plonski will be working too hard to have those aired on one of her “discussion” panels.
Where was the “discussion” in allowing an unchallenged Ilan Pappe to state:
“What do you do about a rogue state like Israel? How do you treat it? What is the right policy towards a country, a state, that violates systematically all the United Nations’ resolutions, that violates systematically and abuses civil and human rights? This is now the conversation, this is why all these pro-Zionist Jewish communites are so fidgety, this is why all the Israeli Embassies have nightly meetings ‘what do we do?’, not changing Israeli immoral behaviour, ‘how do we now justify Israeli immoral behaviour?’”
And in allowing him to demean what blacks went through in apartheid South Africa when he said:
“South Africa had the right to exist. And Israel has the right to exist. Apartheid had no right to exist. Therefore, we all worked for the change of regime in South Africa. The kind of regime Israel maintains in the occupied territories, the kind of regime it maintains towards its Palestinian minority in Israel and the kind of policies it pursies against Palestinian refugees has no right to exist. And I think that is what the (bds) campaign is all about…We are talking about a change of regime and we don’t even suggest bombing the Israelis to change the regime as we would have if it had been an Arab country.”
Where was the discussion in allowing Dr John Chalcraft to make the ridiculous assertion that BDS was responsible for loss of business amounting to $7bn? (I would be surprised if it were even $7)
Chalcraft thinks that organisations that are usually unconcerned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when conducting business with Israel will now start to be concerned about the prospect of “nasty, grungy looking campaigners” (clip 5) showing up on their doorsteps with pictures of murdered Palestinian babies (incidentally, see here for Daniel Hochhauser’s total demolition of Chalcraft’s arguments when they debated This House Believes in an Academic Boycott of Israel).
Chalcraft denied BDS was racist by simply stating:
“Is there any other state in the world that is, right now, engaged in a project which has all sorts of affinities with nineteenth century settler colonialism?”
But we know that just like Pappe, Plonski and Reider, for Chalcraft the real problem is not “the occupation”, but Jewish Nationalism.
Chalcraft spoke of:
“interesting rifts in both Israeli society and academia that are opening up right now that BDS can exploit, because if you have a non-violent strategy of resistance then you do have to divide, in this case, Zionism”.
He spoke of rifts between the settlers and the IDF, between the segregationist movements on the buses and the more liberal Zionists and also between Liberal Zionists in America, like Thomas Friedman, and other “Newt Gingrich-style-Adelson-casino-owning movements in the United States”.
Chalcraft’s mention of Sheldon Adelson with its strong implication of Jewish money and power (see CiFWatch for analysis on why this can be considered anti-Semitism) was a theme taken up by Dr Lee Jones of Queen Mary’s College. Jones was there as a sort of constructive critic of the BDS movement. He thought that BDS on its own wouldn’t succeed without some bigger overall strategy, so he gave advice:
“Attacking the idea that you must not ever criticise Israel in the United States, otherwise you are some kind of disloyal Jew, for example. That does need to be challenged in the US and opening up different options for US foreign policy could be a start…which then forces the government into changes. So that’s the kind of dynamic that I’m talking about.” (clip 4)
Hannah Weisfeld’s (from “pro-Israel” Yachad) main arguments were that Israel has a right to exist, that BDS has had little impact on Israel and that BDS wouldn’t work anyway as it keeps Israelis on the defensive. She didn’t think BDS was anti-Semitic, but she described what Israel was doing beyond the Green Line as “criminal”.
Weisfeld just wants Israel to end “the occupation”, even if that is achieved by BDS. But because she also doesn’t think BDS will succeed she also gave some advice to the BDS movement (clip 3):
“A unified Palestinan strategy is hugely important and you are much better placed than me to suggest whether BDS is having that impact on Palestinian society. I come from the perspective of what I think is going to end the occupation…I don’t think the BDS movement is racist. I think there are elements in it that are questionable and I think there are parts of its aims that are highly questionable in terms of whether you think Israel has a right to exist or not. I don’t think people who engage in BDS engage in it because they are anti-Semites.”
“I think we would be having a very different conversation in this room if the BDS movement was about a targeted (settlement) boycott. I am not saying that I would necessarily support it, but I think the entire debate would be different, because I think the position would be a position that does not put people on the defensive because it recognises the legitimacy of the other side to exist and I think that the level of criminality that exists inside the Green Line, over the Green Line is not distinguished…is exactly the reason BDS will not succeed in ending the occupation.”
How disappointing that Weisfeld thinks that neither singling out the one country that just happens to be Jewish for a boycott nor the desire of BDS to end Israel’s Jewish sovereignty are racist. And neither does she totally dismiss the possibility of herself supporting a targeted boycott of Israelis who live on the West Bank.
On top of all this Weisfeld never articulated what she expected to happen after any such unilateral settlement withdrawal by Israel. What happens if rockets fired from the West Bank then start hitting Tel Aviv, for example?
And how has the Israel Society at SOAS been hijacked like this? You would have thought that university societies existed to reflect their subject matter in a positive light. However, students at SOAS are now being fed horrendous lies about Israel not only by the SOAS Palestine Society but now by the SOAS Israel Society as well.
1. Plonski introducing event:
2. Weisfeld talks about Yachad and adresses BDS:
3. Pappe speaks of Israel’s “criminality” as an admiring Plonski watches on and Weisfeld ponders a targeted settlement boycott:
4. Dr Lee Jones of QMC on “the Jews”:
5. Chalcraft on anti-Israel activism:
6. Dimi Reider on the cultural and academic boycott: