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Alan Shatter
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As if Israel simply woke up one morning and chose to attack Gaza

A grotesque, fact-free letter by 620 Irish academics accused Israel of ethnic cleansing and genocidal violence
Trinity College Dublin, Ireland (iStock)
Trinity College Dublin, Ireland (iStock)

On Saturday, November 4th, exactly four weeks after Hamas’s barbaric murderous assault on Israel, the Irish Times published at the start of its Letters to the Editor section, a grotesque letter signed by “academics and scholars” said to be “in or from Ireland” solely critical of Israel. The letter was misleadingly headlined by the paper “War in the Gaza Strip,” as if Israel was and is unaffected by the current conflict.

Eleven professors’ names appeared below the letter in the paper’s print edition. The online version carried 620 names. Every university on the island of Ireland, both in Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland was represented. However, where they identified themselves as associated with a specific university or other college, the vast majority presented as professors, scholars and lecturers who obtained their academic qualifications and lecture in the Republic.

While five of the University College Galway academics identified as part of the Irish Centre for Human Rights within the college’s law school and a Birmingham University signatory described himself as “a Reader in Constitutional Law & Human Rights,” none of the 620 disclosed anything to indicate any individual expertise on the Middle East or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And yet, relying on their status as “academics and scholars” to create an aura of gravitas, insight and expertise, the 620 embraced early 1950s Soviet era Stalinist originated ideology to criticize “Israel’s 75 years of colonization and occupation of Palestinian lands” and lambasted “Israel’s current war on the Gaza Strip,” which they depicted “as a campaign of ethnic cleansing” and “genocidal violence”.

Any uninformed person reading the headline and letter would have assumed Israel had simply woken up one morning and chosen to attack Gaza. In their fantasy world, no UN resolution had in 1947 prescribed the creation of a Jewish state and also the creation of an adjacent Arab state. Israel, after declaring its independence in 1948, had not been attacked by its surrounding Arab neighbors nor had Egypt occupied Gaza and Jordan the West Bank and East Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967. Israel had also not entered into the Oslo Accords in 1993, ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005 nor had Hamas in a violent coup assumed power in Gaza in 2007, imposed a brutal regime and initiated six major conflicts since then by the indiscriminate firing of hundreds of rockets at Israel.

The 620 regarded the entirety of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza as occupied territory and called on “all universities in Ireland to immediately sever any existing partnerships or affiliations with Israeli institutions” until “the occupation is ended… Palestinian rights to equality and self-determination are vindicated and the right of Palestinian refugees to return is facilitated”.

Put simply, over 600 of Ireland’s academics and scholars proposed that all engagements between Irish and Israeli universities end until Israel ceases to exist and then they can be revived, which is something of an oxymoron. This was no call for a two-state solution nor simply for Israel to end all involvement with Gaza and the West Bank. Their call was fully aligned with the objectives of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Iran. It is also clear that the letter’s signatories do not know or do not care that almost 20% of Israeli university students are members of Israel’s Arab community and that many Israeli academics prior to this awful war were frontline political opponents of the grossly incompetent Netanyahu led extremist government.

An interesting question is who drafted the letter and how many of those who signed the letter fully understood the language deployed by the drafter or drafters? Bearing in mind their self-promoted intellectual prowess, it is to be assumed they all understood what they signed. Interestingly the few critical letters in response published by the Irish Times opposing a boycott of Israeli universities missed the fact that the 620 advocated the end of Israel as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people.

The letter, clearly written weeks after 7th October, dishonestly depicted the pogrom in Israel that day as “an incursion by Palestinian armed groups” which “included criminal attacks against civilians,” deliberately minimizing and distorting the horror and barbarity of the Hamas terrorists’ war crimes and crimes against humanity. It contained no explicit reference to the estimated 2,000-3,000 Hamas terrorists who invaded Israel, the 1,200 murdered (including Israeli/Irish citizen 22-year-old Kim Dante murdered at the music festival), nor to the depravity which included the torture, rape, burning alive of victims, the chopping off of limbs, beheadings and mutilation of bodies. No reference was also made to then-8-year-old Israeli-Irish citizen Emily Hand initially included in those slaughtered by Hamas in Kibbutz Be’eri but later found to be a hostage in Gaza.

In presenting what occurred as an incursion “which included criminal attacks” the academics also omitted any reference to the 3,000 rockets fired indiscriminately at Israel that day, the over 240 men, women, children and babies kidnapped and those still held hostage, the continuing firing of rockets ever since ( now exceeding 9,500) and the then recently televised explicit promise by a Hamas leader to replicate the atrocities of 7th October.

While all 620 bizarrely presented by their assertions as experts in international law, their letter entirely ignored that Hamas’s leaders and operatives by their conduct on 7th October, the continuing indiscriminate rocket fire, use of civilians as human shields, firing rockets adjacent to homes, schools, hospitals, mosques, hospitals and UN facilities and constructing tunnels under them for terrorist installations, imprisonment of hostages and denial of Red Cross access to them are guilty of multiple war crimes. It also ignored that a state under continuing attack has both the right and duty under international law to fully defend itself and its citizens, which includes targeting aggressors who embed themselves among civilians.

In any European country other than Ireland, 620 university professors and scholars, many of whose salaries are paid out of public funds, signing a letter so fact-free and frugal with the truth would be a public scandal and generate controversy. Public concern would also be expressed about the impact of their letter and views on any Jewish students they might teach or assess. Lawyers, in particular those presenting as experts in Human Rights, who referenced the Hamas savagery of 7th October as simply “criminal attacks,” failed to depict them as war crimes, ignored the kidnapping of hostages and the indiscriminate firing of thousands of rockets, would lose all credibility. But in Ireland, outside of a few critical letters published in the Irish Times, no one cared. It seems the academics’ and scholars’ perspective coincided with that of many Irish journalists and too many of Ireland’s politicians and general public.

Of course, the general public assumes that university scholars, those with doctorates and who are professors are intellectually more able and better informed than most. Academics work hard to obtain such status and doing so requires a great deal of consistent intellectual rigor and careful use of language in their chosen area of expertise. It is that intellectual rigor, which includes fact-checking and peer-reviewed research that generates both admiration and respect. The absence of such rigor in the Irish Times published letter and the paper prominently publishing such distortion is truly shocking.

Hamas’s obsessive commitment to Israel’s extermination, which the 620 present as endorsing, and its consistent violent opposition to any permanent peaceful resolution of the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict since the Oslo Accords has brought nothing but disaster to both Israelis and Palestinians. If truly seeking an end to conflict, a more intellectually rigorous and fact-based approach by the 620 would have been a call on Hamas to stop the rockets, release the hostages and surrender to prosecution for their egregious war crimes and crimes against humanity. To Jewish students shopping around, thinking of attending an Irish university, I say caveat emptor, buyer beware!

About the Author
Alan Shatter is a former Irish Minister for Justice, Equality & Defence, a former chairperson of the Irish Parliaments Foreign Affairs Committee, a Fellow of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, Chairperson of Magen David Adom Ireland, a retired solicitor advocate and author of academic legal works and also novels. His most recent academic article can be found in the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs ( Volume 17, Issue One, 2023) critical of the Israeli governments proposed legal and judicial reforms.