Unhelpful complacency in fighting BDS and a recent French example of indoctrination masquerading as education

UK Media Watch (formerly CIF-Watch), a site “dedicated to combatting antisemitism and promoting accurate reporting about Israel in the UK media,” consistently provides informative and useful analyses in response to the distortions and falsehoods appearing in the articles and features published by the media outlets monitored by its contributors and researchers.

It also publishes relatively frequently compilations of “good news” items relating to setbacks experienced by campaigners for anti-Israel boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS). Though such items are encouraging and welcome, the way in which they are often presented seems to reflect an optimism which is excessive and not completely convincing. It is good that so many Israeli goods, services, inventions and innovations are increasingly in demand and that they are considered useful, indeed indispensable, even in countries with governments which are unfriendly and unjust in their diplomatic treatment of Israel. Nonetheless, not all Israelis share in the prosperity enjoyed by those involved in the businesses, universities and research institutes which enable Israel to benefit economically from ever expanding international ties.

When it comes to the pernicious ideologies which motivate the wide variety of BDS activists, however, these continue to become entrenched within more and more important institutions and organisations – political, cultural and academic. (The recent analysis by David Collier “Fighting BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions)”, which explains how individuals and associations representing widely divergent opinions and world views can be mobilised to support BDS initiatives, is essential reading in this regard.)   In order to fight against BDS, moreover, one needs to be able to express oneself freely and without fear. Not only in several European countries, but also in Australia, Canada and the United States, Jewish students wishing to exert their rights to defend or support Israel on very many university campuses, rapidly increasing in number, are not only forced on the defensive against unscrupulous BDS campaigners who intend to silence them by falsely labelling them racists (to be excluded from “safe spaces” meant to protect supposedly or actually vulnerable groups of students), but also increasingly often subjected to campaigns based upon systematic harassment and intimidation.

In very many cases university authorities either ignore or treat very leniently such cases of harassment and intimidation.  While the main responsibility for such dereliction of duties is theirs, there is also good reason certain mainstream Jewish organisations (referred to in Caroline Glick’s 2014 article about “Invisible Antisemitism”), not particularly vigorous in ensuring the proper protection of pro-Israel Jewish students – a protection which can only be brought about by insisting that universities enforce a proper system of disciplinary sanctions, including suitably severe ones like suspension or expulsion where appropriate. (Isi Leibler has written about the failings of the ADL under its current management – more and more ideologically selective in the cases of defamation it chooses to challenge.   As regards the UK, many in the current national leadership of the Union of Jewish Students and the Jewish leadership Council have shown themselves to be wanting – not even challenging the insistence by various university administrations upon the supposed need for a policy of absolute confidentiality regarding not only the identity of the students punished internally, but even regarding the sanctions imposed.)

On the 17th June 2016 a pro-Israeli, pro-American and anti-Islamist French blog published a detailed report about the “Bac 2016: Comment l’antisionisme est enseigné à nos enfants (Anti-zionism 101: How French students are disinformed about Israel)”. This report focusses upon the current year’s guidelines for candidates – at school or signed up for adult education courses – preparing for the baccalauréat (the main secondary or high school examination or diploma required to be able to apply for admission to university) who have opted to study the recent history of the Middle East and its conflicts (“The Near and Middle East, a centre for conflicts since the end of the Second World War”). In the section headed “Corrigé”, it lays out a framework with its recommendations about the proper ways to answer exam questions.

If the above guidelines contain much which is unobjectionable and uncontentious they also reflect bias in certain sections, in the form of less than objective terms of reference and certain omissions. Emphasis is placed upon the importance of drawing precise distinctions and using the right terms and yet there are quite a few examples of a more than questionable choice of words:

Concerning the conflict in Palestine, distinguish between the Arab States which wage conventional wars against Israel and the Palestinian people which has neither a state nor an army and organises intifadas (revolts consisting of stone-throwing or acts of civil disobedience) or bomb attacks. …

The concept of terrorism is to be treated with care. For those who support it “terrorists” are “resistance fighters”. …

Distinguish between the concepts of anti-Semitism (hostility to Jews as a religious community) and anti-Zionism (opposition to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine). Not every Jew is a Zionist.

Referring to the 1948 war and the Palestinian question:

The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 in questioned by the Arab countries which launch a military conflict against it. The victory of the Israelis allows them to expand their territory. It also causes the exodus of 800,000 Palestinians. The Israelis claim their right of self-determination in the territory granted to them by the international community. The Palestinians claim the same right, but the state planned for them did not see the light of day.

Under the heading “1967-1977: wars supported by the great powers”:

The United States help Israel; the USSR supports the Arab States. The Six Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973 do not bring any solution.

There is mention neither of the pogroms carried out by Palestinian Arabs at the time neither of the Mandate, nor of the pre- and post-independence pogroms and persecutions which took place in various Arab countries. A major omission – one of a number of serious omissions – relates to the massive numbers of Jews from these countries forced to go into exile and to the significant number who went to settle in Israel.  The San Remo agreements are mentioned only in passing.

It is in principle be easier to lobby successfully for universities to impose proper sanctions against those responsible for harassment and intimidation in the context of the BDS campaigns than to combat those individuals in the education system who abuse their positions to propagandise instead of educating in an honest way, in conformity with academic standards. This latter fight is also vitally important – as eloquently argued in Ruth Wisse’s article “Anti-Semitism Goes to School”, published in Mosaic Magazine on the 4th May 2015, and Stephen H Norwood’s study “Antisemitism in the Contemporary American University” Support from abroad should also be given to the beleaguered representatives of France Jewish community – in this, as in other matters.

About the Author
Paul Leslie is an occasional independent journalist and researcher, living in London. He has degrees from Exeter College, Oxford University and the Sorbonne (history of the Jews of Algeria and Tunisia, in two different colonial systems). Paul Leslie is am a fan of cinema – all genres – and is passionately interested in modern history.