.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Melanie Phillips: British academics against free speech

If anyone had ever told British academics that there would come a time when they would punish colleagues because of the views they held, and would treat them as pariahs and try to destroy their livelihoods in order to intimidate others into toeing the sole approved political line, they would have been incredulous. In the western tradition the universities are, after all, the custodians of free intellectual inquiry and open debate. Censorship, suppression of ideas and intellectual intimidation are associated with totalitarian regimes which attempt to coerce people into the approved way of thinking.

Yet that is what is now happening in British universities -- and the pariah is, of course, Israel. As the Guardian reported yesterday, the Association of University Teachers is about to debate a proposed boycott of Israeli academics who refuse to denounce their government's policies in the occupied territories. But the motion will 'exclude "conscientious Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their state's colonial and racist policies".' So in true totalitarian tradition, those who denounce their own will be permitted to have a livelihood. Gee, thanks! To survive in the cradle of free expression, Israelis will have to betray their own people. This is a natural development from the implicit -- and sometimes explicitly stated -- assumption that has been coursing through British intellectual circles in the current hate-fest against Israel, that only those British Jews who denounce Israel's policies can be considered to be British; anyone who supports Israel is guilty of 'dual loyalty'.

This requirement to denounce Israel as the price of continued social acceptance is doubly disgusting. First, it is a profound betrayal of the cardinal principle of intellectual endeavour, which is freedom of speech and debate. And second, it is a monstrous inversion of right and wrong, victim and victimiser which turns Israel, the victim of unbroken annihilatory Arab terror for the past half century, into the regional bully while sanitising Palestinian aggression. Yes, the Palestinians have suffered hardship and restrictions in the last few years; but that is because they have been engaged in a murderous war against Israel which has deliberately targeted innocent civilians and against which Israel, like any other country, has had to defend itself. Before this current intifada started, the Palestinians were living under Palestinian governance. If they genuinely foreswore their war of extermination against Israel, there would be no barrier to their quest for self-government and prosperity. To pretend that their difficulties are caused by the victims of their own aggression is simply Orwellian double-speak.

An unnamed academic defends the boycott in the Guardian story 'as a means of registering my protest against Israelis' lack of respect for human rights and continuing illegal occupation of Palestinian land.' This parrot mindlessly repeats the mantra of the left about the 'illegal occupation' in apparent ignorance of the fact that a) the occupation is perfectly legal under international law as the defensive measure against attack that it was; b) that it is not 'Palestinian land' at all but territory that belonged to the British colonial power until it was illegally occupied by Jordan and Egypt and is now -- since they have washed their hands of it -- most fairly to be described as no-man's land; and c) that parts of these territories, such as Hebron, are the sites of Jewish settlement of great antiquity, predating the Arab colonisation by several centuries but where Jews were massacred and driven out by Arab occupiers. If we're talking colonisation here, the Jews of Palestine were the historic victims.

What is notable about the AUT motion is that it reflects the truly shocking ignorance of the region's history and current political reality, the resulting deep gullibility to propaganda based on lies, and the consequent vicious double standards and prejudice that now characterise British received opinion on the subject of Israel. Yet these are our university teachers, the very people responsible for shaping the assumptions of a society, whose own profound ignorance, prejudice and twisted morality are now on such conspicuous display.