Alternative to demonisation of Israel on campus

This is the introduction to We Believe in Israel’s booklet “Zionism, Israel and the Palestinians:  towards a constructive debate, published this week. In it, Professor Alan Johnson, senior research fellow at BICOM, tackles issues around the Israel/Palestine debate in the UK including the apartheid smear and the BDS movement.

‘Me’ or ‘Him’ – Thus begins the war. But it ends with an awkward encounter: ‘Me and him.’ – Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian poet, from A State of Siege, translated by Fady Joudah, 2002.

Who are the good guys? That’s what every well-meaning European, left-wing European, intellectual European, liberal European always wants to know, first and foremost. Who are the good guys in the film and who are the bad guys? In this respect Vietnam was easy: The Vietnamese people were the victims, and the Americans were the bad guys … [But] the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a Wild West movie. It is not a struggle between good and evil, rather it is a tragedy in the ancient and most precise sense of the word: a clash between right and right, a clash between one very powerful, deep, and convincing claim, and another very different but no less convincing, no less powerful, no less humane claim. – Amos Oz, Israeli novelist, How to Cure a Fanatic.

University campuses are a vital part of global civil society and can play an important role in supporting Israeli and Palestinian democrats working for the ‘two-states for two peoples’ solution to the conflict. Only this solution can balance the legitimate demand of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples for sovereign independence and national self-determination.

However, too often these days, students are invited to pick sides and hate. They are told to participate vicariously in the dead-end conflict between what the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish called ‘Me or Him’ rather than help the two parties work out together how to become ‘Me and him’.

They are urged to cheer and boo, reducing the conflict to the simple tale of right and wrong, rather than see it for what it is, a tragic clash between right and right, as the Israeli novelist Amos Oz put it.

Students are told they must boycott Israel (and only Israel) but rarely if ever are they helped to see how they can work with Israelis and Palestinians to encourage their deep mutual recognition and so contribute to peace.

There are many sectarians on the prowl in the universities these days. They want to establish a culture of hatred against Israel on campus, so they abuse ‘the Zios’ and smear Israel as the ultimate Bad Guy.

It’s not surprising there have been some violent incidents and a growth in antisemitism. If the ‘debate’ continues like this, there will be more of both.

This well-organised extremism is stopping a constructive and serious conversation developing on campus about Israel and Palestine. It is also preventing the emergence of a positive campus activism that is in solidarity with the progressive and democratic project of mutual recognition and peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians: an activism that helps both parties reach the ‘two-states for two peoples’ solution.

This pamphlet aims to clear the space for that better conversation and that more useful activism. It challenges the one-sided presentation of Israel as the ultimate Bad Guy. Perfect, Israel is not; not by a long chalk. But neither is it the demonised caricature presented by the campus extremists: a ‘Racist-Imperialist-Apartheid-Nazi-Baby Killing-Genocidal State that controls global media, global politics and global finance’.

If we can get Israel into proportion then perhaps the constructive debate that we desperately need can finally begin.

Link to the pamphlet:

About the Author
Professor Alan Johnson is the Editor of Fathom: for a deeper understanding of Israel and the region and Senior Research Fellow at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM).
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