BDS bullies at Galway University

A veteran left-wing former Member of Knesset sent me an email today. “This is really shocking. Beyond belief. We shall overcome” he wrote. He was reacting to this video (explicit language from the start), filmed on 5 March at the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG):

It has been viewed 27,000 times in three days on YouTube. It shows what happened when I tried to speak on the campus against a ‘Boycott Divestment and Sanctions’ (BDS) push at the University. The BDS supporters shouted vile abuse, threatened the students who disagreed with them, and tried to break up the meeting. “You Zionist pr**ks, f*** off our campus, now!” they screamed.

In a welcome move the University has released a statement calling the behaviour “unacceptable” and promising an immediate investigation.

That’s good. But what explains the hatred and intimidation spreading on some European campuses?

First, anti-Semitism. The activist who tried to break up the meeting  – he failed — is Joseph Loughnane, a leader of the NUIG Palestine Solidarity Society. He is on record in 2008 as having said that “the Jews run the American media and push their agenda.” If you launch a campaign to exclude Israeli Jews, but nobody else, from the global academic, cultural, sporting and economic community, then it’s inevitable that your campaign will act as a lightning rod for rising European anti-Semitism. And so it is proving.

Second, ideology. If you really do believe that ‘Zionism is racism’, that the evil Jews ‘ethnically cleansed’ the Palestinians in 1948, have built an ‘Apartheid State’ and are now committing a slow genocide in Gaza — all of which nonsense is the staple diet of progressive intellectual opinion in Europe — then your duty is to deny me a platform on your campus and to attack ‘the Zionists’. The behaviour of the mob at Galway makes a kind of sense.

It is this big demonising narrative and — as Louis Althusser would have put it — the system of concepts that supports it, that is driving BDS activists mad. There is a lot of ‘radical’ anti-Semitism around these days. The border between being radical and transgressive and being anti-Semitic is now porous (think of the quenelle phenomenon) and it is the Anti-Zionist Ideology that is partly responsible.  For inside the walls of this ideology, Israel appears as it did to the young leftists who bombed the communal hall of West Berlin’s Jewish congregation in 1969. They left a note justifying the bombing in terms of “the non-justifiability of the State of Israel”. In registers that are by turns sophisticated and crude, high theoretical and low thuggish, the anti-Zionist ideology tells us that Israel is… non-justifiable. That idea is driving much of the intolerance and intimidation on campuses.

Third, ‘Israel’ and ‘Palestine’ have become tied up with the performance of political identity in the West in a most dangerous way. ‘The Palestinians’ are a stage on which the BDS activists act out their identity. To make that possible, ‘The Palestinians’ must be reduced to pure victims of the evil Nazi-Israelis. For only those kind of Palestinians can enable feelings of moral superiority, purity, quest, meaning, even transcendence of sorts. Palestinians being starved by Assad hold no interest. Palestinians being thrown from rooftops by Hamas members hold no interest. When Salam Fayyad is building up the Palestinian Nation the BDS activists just yawn, or denounce him as a collaborator. Only as agency-less pure victims can the Palestinians play their allotted role as a screen onto which the individual projects his or her identity of the righteous activist. It is the Palestinians misfortune that they have become this. It is a failure of Palestinian leadership not to have understood and stopped it.

About the Author
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). A professor of democratic theory and practice, he is an editorial board member of Dissent magazine, and a Senior Research Associate at The Foreign Policy Centre. He blogs at The Daily Telegraph and World Affairs.