Print | Email  

Most of Israel's 'enemies' aren't anti-Semitic. They're just dumb

by: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach - Last updated: 2003-07-10

All around me in Belfast, Northern Ireland, last week I was surrounded by unmasked sectarianism, evidence of the deep distrust still prevailing between Catholics and Protestants.

Large painted murals of demonic British soldiers covered the walls of the main Catholic neighborhood along the Falls Road, while the Union Jack and the Red Hand flags of the Protestant paramilitary forces, like the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), covered nearly every inch along the Unionist stronghold of the Shankhill Road.

Less expected was the discovery that the opposing sides in the decades-old Northern Ireland civil war have chosen the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a symbol of their own struggle.

The Falls, which has seen some of the worst rioting in modern European history, has giant painted murals, right beside the Irish Republican Tricolor, depicting Palestinians behind barbed wire fences and Israeli soldiers pointing rifles at them with the motto: "Palestine: The World's Largest Concentration Camp."

Conversely, traveling through Unionist towns and villages one is startled to see Israeli flags flying proudly. Indeed, to an uncritical observer it would seem that Irish Catholics, oppressed as they claim to be by British occupation forces in their ancestral homeland, are in much the same position as the Palestinians; while the Protestant loyalists, transplanted there from England and Scotland by King James I in the 17th century, are the occupying power which, in their opinion, took a backward land and modernized it and now must suffer the incessant carnage of IRA bombs.

The parallel, of course, is highly inaccurate, and while a full comparison of the Irish and Israeli situations is beyond the scope of this article, one of the main differences is that while religion seems to be at the heart of the Protestant-Catholic conflict, it is really peripheral. Simple proof that the IRA is motivated by nationalist, rather than religious interests is provided by the fact that when the pope appealed to the Irish Republicans, in a speech delivered on Irish soil on 29 September 1979, imploring, "Do not believe in violence; do not support violence. It is not the Christian way. On my knees I beg you to turn away from the path of violence and return to the ways of peace," the IRA briskly rejected the pope's appeal.

By contrast, Palestinian fundamentalists who blow up civilians are encouraged to do so by their spiritual leaders and promised virgins in Paradise for the slaughter. Likewise, far from the Jews being transplants into a foreign land to support an overseas king, the Jews
are the land of Israel's longest inhabitants, their biblical claim to the Holy Land acknowledged by all monotheistic peoples.

But it is one perception more than any other - the simplistic depiction of the Arab-Israeli conflict as a colonial power oppressing a weaker people - that has most undermined Israel's standing in the eyes of the world. This point bears repeating because most Jews are today of the opinion that it is all but impossible for Israel to win the world's sympathy in its struggle for survival because the world is inherently anti-Semitic. In the past I have written about the destructiveness of this assumption and the half-hearted efforts at hasbara this self-defeating approach engenders.

When you think no one will understand, you don't make the effort to be understood. The justice of the Israeli cause can be established in the arena of intelligent debate. But this cannot happen so long as the Jewish community embraces the self-defeating attitude that non-Jewish nations are biased, and so why bother?

A CASE IN point is the recent controversy surrounding Andrew Wilkie, Oxford University's Nuffield Professor of Pathology, who told an Israeli doctoral applicant that he was not prepared to take on Israeli students because of the "gross human rights abuses" Israelis inflict on Palestinians. He further asserted that "I am not the only UK scientist
with these views."

Most Jews who read of this outburst were not surprised because they take the anti-Semitism of British academics for granted. I disagree.

Prof. Wilkie is no Jew-hater. Rather, he is an ignoramus, an unscientific and uninformed buffoon who passes himself off as an expert. I should know. In my capacity as head of the Oxford L'Chaim Society for 11 years I regularly brought Israel's leaders to lecture to the
University to counter the flood of pro-Arab propaganda heard in stereo from both Arab and British speakers.

When Shimon Peres spoke at our Cambridge branch, a coalition of Arab and British students tried to have the police arrest him on charges of war crimes. Even the visit by Yitzhak Rabin, whose lecture at Oxford had to be cancelled due to a deadly bus bombing, was opposed by leading Oxford academics. This was after Rabin received the Nobel Peace Prize for the
Oslo Accords.

Did this mean British academia was anti-Semitic? No - or, more precisely, not necessarily. Anti-Semitism is deadly and it is repugnant. And we debase the seriousness of the allegation through misuse.

The university's chancellor, the late Lord Jenkins, accepted my invitation to dinner with Elie Wiesel, and distinguished professors heartily came to our L'Chaim dinner and lecture with Simon Wiesenthal.

Although even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. argued that anti-Zionism is simply a mask for anti-Semitism, it behooves us to be charitable and ascribe the British intellectual hostility toward Israel as resulting from the honored British tradition of championing the underdog.

Of course one has the right to ask: What kind of intellectual would be so easily deceived as to accept that five million democratically minded Jews pose a threat to six hundred million militant-minded Arabs?

But intelligent people have been fooled by even greater deceptions. George Bernard Shaw called Hitler a great man, and Nelson Mandela said George Bush was a greater threat to world peace than Saddam Hussein.

FOR THE sake of argument let us assume that these saintly academics, working in their laboratories under their halos, are correct. Israel is an occupying power that enjoys oppressing Palestinians.

To be sure, even then we would have the right to ask whether Wilkie and his colleagues have similarly denied places in their laboratories to Saudi students, whose religious police forced young female high school students back into a burning building to be incinerated because they ran out without the hijab.

Or whether Wilkie rejected Chinese students over the brutal oppression of Tibet or the slaughter at Tiananmen Square.

Or whether he denied Kuwaiti students entry over their country's 1991 expulsion of 350,000 Palestinians; or denied Jordanian students on account of King Hussein's war against the PLO in the early 70s that killed tens of thousands of Palestinians.

No, it seems Wilkie has a problem solely with Israel.

But the good professor's prejudices are animated not by Jew hatred but by simple stupidity. For Wilkie is, like many British academics, a silly man who speaks before he thinks (he is now apologizing to all who will listen). He's a man who doesn't deserve to be a professor, not because he's prejudiced, but because he contravenes the first law of science:
Refrain from drawing conclusions before you have the evidence. He is one of those unintellectual mediocrities, an ideological extremist who substitutes passion for reason.

The thought that a shoot-from-the-hip, out-of-control uneducated fool is the head of an Oxford science department is much more alarming than if he were truly biased against Jews.

Is Wilkie, who asserts that Palestinians only "wish to live in their own country" aware that for nearly a century they have repeatedly rejected a state of their own if it meant Israel's continued existence? Is he aware that Jordan constitutes 78 percent of the original British-proposed Jewish homeland?

Has he heard of the British Peel Partition Proposal of 1937, the UN Partition Plan of 1947, or the Camp David partition proposal of 00 - all of which were accepted by the Jews but rejected by the Arabs?

Is he aware that in the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War, when victorious Israel made peace overtures to the Arab states, they replied from Khartoum with "No negotiation, no peace, no recognition"?

I would counsel the good professor that next time around, before he decides to become a spokesman for a particular cause, it would be a good idea if he knew something about it first.