Wednesday, May 11, 2005

British Teachers and an Israeli Fellow Traveler

Originally published in The Jewish Press.

The recent vote by Britain's Association of University Teachers (AUT) to boycott two Israeli universities was spearheaded by a Birmingham lecturer who calls for Israel's destruction.

Prior to the vote, proponents distributed a message from Ilan Pappe, an Israeli academic at Haifa University, one of the targeted schools, urging support of the boycott motion.

Pappe, long associated with Israel's Communist party, has also advocated the state's destruction. A so-called "new historian," he has made a career of misrepresenting, distorting and fabricating Israeli "history" to advance what he acknowledges to be his pro-Arab perspectives.

Several years ago, a Pappe protege at Haifa, Teddi Katz, wrote a master's thesis claiming that Israeli forces had massacred some 200 Arabs in the village of Tantura in 1948, during Israel's war of independence. Veterans of the accused brigade sued Katz for libel and, when confronted in court, Katz signed a statement acknowledging his assertions were false: "... It is clear to me now, beyond any doubt, that there is no basis whatsoever to the allegation that the Alexandroni Brigade, or any other fighting unit of the Jewish forces, committed [the massacre he had claimed]." A subsequent university investigation also found Katz had falsified his data.

Pappe nevertheless defended Katz as having revealed some higher truth which should not be muddied by factual details, a stance consistent with his own manner of writing "history." He has also complained that he has been persecuted by Haifa University for his stance in the Katz affair.

Britain's AUT supported Katz's discredited massacre story and parroted Pappe's complaints on its website in the run-up to the boycott vote.

Anti-Israel bias in British academia is hardly surprising, given the distorted coverage of Israel in much of the British media and longstanding antagonism toward the Jewish state among both the ideological Left and the Establishment Right in Britain.

Nor is it entirely surprising to find individuals such as Pappe, a subscriber to the truths of Communism, rail against his own state to the point of supporting its dissolution.

But to explain what is a recurrent pattern of Israeli academics, cultural figures and others promoting biased attacks on the nation, it is necessary to look beyond the self-justifications to the psychology of societies under chronic siege.

For more than half a century, most of the Arab world has demonized Israel and Jews, called for the state's extermination, and sought to act on its annihilationist agenda, while much of the wider world has lent at least tacit support to the Arab campaign.

The enmity is psychologically corrosive. Very often members of besieged communities choose to accept at face value the indictments of their accusers in the hope of thereby escaping their predicament. They may seek to reform their community in a manner consistent with the attackers' indictments. Or they may simply abandon what they have come to see as a tainted identity. Or they may join the attackers as a means of more thoroughly separating themselves from their status as victim.

The long history of Jewish Diaspora communities, chronically besieged, is replete with such behavior, including actions that contributed to large-scale shedding of Jewish blood. A significant example is the god of Pappe's political universe, Karl Marx, and his rabid screeds against "the Jews." Historian Isaiah Berlin wrote of Marx's anti-Jewish fulminating: "He was determined that the sarcasms and insults to which some of the notable Jews of his generation, Heine, Lassalle, Disraeli, were all their lives a target, should, so far as he could effect it, never be used to plague him."

The Palestinian Authority, from its establishment in 1994, used all its resources, including its schools, media and mosques, to vilify Jews and Judaism, urge war against them and their wholesale murder, delegitimize Israel, and call for its annihilation. It taught Palestinian children, in their schools and on children's television, that it was their duty to dedicate themselves to Israel's destruction. Not only is Pappe silent on this genocidal campaign, he sides with the attackers, embraces their objectives, and declares that he does so in the name of "humanism."

In taking this stance, he has won the approval of the besiegers and assured himself visiting professorships and invitations to lecture on campuses beyond the threatened shores of Israel.

Eagerness to jettison an identity under attack and to reap the concomitant benefits is a powerful impetus to a perversion of values such as Pappe's. It would behoove the observer of Israeli, or Jewish, Israeli-bashing to look beyond the indictments at the facts and to consider the motives.