Conflicting with Conflict Studies
Israel advocate Elaine Black asked Dr Dennis MacEoin to respond to an article written by Professor Stuart Rees published in onlineopinion supporting the stand taken recently by Associate Professor Jake Lynch at Sydney University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. Professor Lynch had advocated denying Israeli academic Dan Avnon from visiting and working with the university.
Associate Professor Lynch supports BDS.
Ken MacNab, head of CPACS has acknowledged receipt of the letter saying: “Thank you for your observations on the Professor Avnon controversy. I have passed them to Professor Rees and Associate Professor Lynch. I am not sure if or when they will reply – both are heavily involved, overseas and here, in other duties at the moment.”
Dr. Denis MacEoin is a former Lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies, Newcastle University UK. and a former editor of The Middle East Quarterly.
Dr MacEoin’s letter: “I recently read Professor Stuart Rees’s defence of the immoral and academically reprehensible Jake Lynch.
In Quantum Mechanics, there is a theory of parallel universes, and right this moment I fear I have stepped into a parallel moral universe wholly different to that occupied by Professor Rees and the man he defends. At its simplest, my objection to both these men is this, that they have overturned one of the most basic principles of all academic work. An academic does not, under any circumstances, discriminate, whether against his colleagues or his students. When I taught at university, first in Morocco, then in England, I knew there would be no excuse if I discriminated against someone on the grounds of his or her gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or nationality.
But Jake Lynch has done exactly that, and the equally prejudiced Stuart Rees has commended him for it. Both of them deserve to be sacked. Instead, Stuart Rees is high-handed and preening in thinking he and Lynch are on the right side of the moral debate, by laying false charges against one country out of all the countries in the world, namely Israel.
In fact, what they are doing amounts to the exoneration of some of the most vile regimes and the condemnation of a human rights-based democracy. Their condemnation is based on the falsification of some facts and the re-interpretation of others to distort and defame on the basis of their own political and ideological prejudices.
But let’s look at the facts. Let’s start with the Middle East. Wherever you go, there are tyrannies as well as new dictatorships based on religious extremism, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (which has just forcibly shut down the country’s last synagogue, and which is making efforts to drive out the rest of its Coptic Christian population). As for Syria, what need I say? In fact, the only democracy in the Middle East is Israel. The international human rights organization, Freedom House, has just declared Israel to be the only Free country in the region. So, I begin to ask myself, why Lynch and Rees don’t say a word about the wrongdoings of Egypt, Lebanon or Syria, but froth at the mouth when anyone dare mention Israel. Of course, it doesn’t stop at democracy as such. Israel is the only country in the Middle East (and beyond) that gives full rights to women. Rapes do occur, but Israel’s level of sexual violence is massively eclipsed by Australia’s.
But Lynch and his devotee criticize Israel. Israel gives full rights to homosexuals, and organizes gay rights parades. Critics of Israel would do well to try to organize such a parade in Jordan, Egypt, Syria (even when there’s peace), Lebanon or any other country in the neighbourhood, and they should ask themselves why gay Palestinians flee to Israel from certain beatings and death. There’s another category of Israeli non-discrimination: religious minorities. Israel takes this seriously. Elsewhere in the Middle East, the number of Christians has been steadily declining for years, but in Israel, Christians have been increasing in numbers since the foundation of the state. In Gaza and the West Bank, Jews are forbidden to set foot, and Mahmoud Abbas has recently said that Jews will be banned from a future Palestinian state.
Why not take a look at the Bahai’s, severely persecuted, executed, imprisoned and more in Iran, but free in Israel, where they have their world headquarters and some of the loveliest gardens and buildings on the Mediterranean? Look at Israeli universities: 20% of students and many staff are Arabs. That percentage is slightly higher than the Arab percentage in the population. Not long ago, I walked around the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and everywhere I went I saw young Arab women wearing scarves. That is, to borrow Professor Rees’s phrase, an example of ‘professionals’ standards and responsibilities’ in action. Rees writes of Lynch’s ‘principled refusal’ when he turned down an Israel professor who wanted to do research at Sydney University. Really? Exactly what principles allow a teacher to refuse to have anything to do with a qualified researcher on the grounds of his race or nationality? Was it because Don Avnon was Jewish? Since almost all Israelis are Jews, it seems that Lynch will turn down any Jewish student. It’s a Jewish state, Mr Lynch. You cannot separate criticism of the state from criticism of the people who created it and live full, productive lives in it. Do you not sense how close you are to crossing a line? Does Professor Rees not see that Lynch’s refusal is anything but ‘principled’?
The Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions movement is a vicious, deeply biased, and dishonourable matter. Major human rights offenders round the world are passed over and given a clean sheet, but Israel, a major human rights enforcer, is sneeringly treated as the world’s pariah. It singles out one people – the Jews – and holds them to account for all the world’s ills. That, literally, was the tactic used in Russia and eastern Europe in the late nineteenth century to excuse anti-Semitism. The same tactic emerged between the 1870′s and 1945 in Western Europe, notably in Germany, Austria, and France. Do I have to spell out just how Jews were vulnerable to the ‘blame them for all wars, revolutions and plagues’ slur? The same charges were levelled from the 1930′s in Nazi Germany, followed by the Holocaust and attacks on Jews in Poland, Lithuania and elsewhere.
Identical accusations are made daily in the Muslim world, especially in Egypt, Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan and other Arab countries. On television, in the press, and in school classrooms the public are told that there is nothing evil of which the Jews are not capable or have not done. BDS is the identical charge, though wrapped up in pretty cloth and intellectualized. It has no place in an honest university. BDS models itself with profound insincerity on the movement to boycott and sanction South Africa in order to bring an end to apartheid, a hideous, unjust, and tyrannical system of social engineering that finally backfired on the white rulers of the country. In fact, BDS supporters repeatedly level the charge that Israel too is ‘an apartheid state’. This is where the falsehood of the movement comes fully into the light.
Anyone who has spent time in Israel knows perfectly well that there is nothing remotely resembling apartheid there. Arab Israelis are full citizens, entitled to all the benefits other citizens enjoy. They have a vote, they serve in parliament (even though many Arab MKs are fierce opponents of the state), they serve on the Supreme Court, they are diplomats, they work in most professions, their women are much more emancipated than Arab women elsewhere. Are they discriminated against? Up to a point, just as Aborigines are discriminated against in Australia, Maoris in New Zealand, Pakistanis in the UK, Hispanics in the US – need I go on? But none of that is apartheid. In Israel, there are no signs saying ‘No Arabs’. Arabs eat in the same restaurants, attend the same universities, swim in the same pools, and from time to time marry Jews (except that Islamic law forbids Muslim women to marry non-Muslims: isn’t that a form of apartheid that really would merit action?).
BDS is based on a lie, yet Jake Lynch and Stuart Rees think it is something that justifies discrimination against Israeli researchers. In what sense, I repeat, was Jake Lynch’s hateful action ‘principled’? Professor Rees goes on to argue that ‘the rationale behind the boycott of academic institutions involves the complicity of a nation in the occupation of Palestine, in the continued siege of Gaza, the stealing by settlers of Palestinian lands and the decades of containment in camps of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees.’ This really would require a short book to explain. But I would suggest that the professor obtain and read some serious books on the subject before he makes more unprincipled accusations. What he calls ‘the occupation of Palestine’ is nothing of the sort.
To begin with, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank were never part of a state of Palestine, a country which has never existed. When Israel won them, they belonged to Egypt and Jordan, and nobody breathed the slightest complaint that they were occupied by those countries. So much for the clamour for Palestinian independence. In 1967, Israel was forced to fight a defensive war against Egypt, Jordan and Syria, whose leaders threatened to destroy Israel, just as the Arabs had threatened to do in 1948, and just as Iran’s rulers threaten to do today. If you can’t add all that up and grasp what sorts of dangers Israel faces, you are callous beyond measure. After the war ended, the United Nations issued Resolution 242. If Professor Rees hasn’t read this, it is perhaps time he did so. It allows Israel to occupy these territories until a peace agreement can be reached and a Palestinian state established.
Then (and not till then), Israel must withdraw from some but certainly not all. Since the Arabs, notably Hamas, have rejected peace out of hand (I suggest that Professor Rees read their Charter too, where he will see such statements as these: ‘An uncompromising jihad must be waged against Israel’, ‘[Diplomatic] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences to find a solution to the Palestinian problem, contradict the Islamic Resistance Movement’s ideological position’, or ‘There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except jihad. Regarding the international initiatives, suggestions and conferences, they are an empty waste of time and complete nonsense.’
Since 1967, Israel has bent over backwards to make peace. It handed the Sinai peninsula back to Egypt in 1979, and dismantled all its settlements there. Egypt offered peace and Israel responded. In 2005, Israel handed Gaza back to the Palestinians and removed all Israeli settlements in the hope of achieving peace. Some hope. All the Gazans did was to commence regular firing of what has reached over 12,000 rockets into Israeli civilian areas. In 2000, when a magnificent peace deal was inches from both sides, Yasir Arafat walked away. He went back to Ramallah, where he launched a massive and long-lasting series of terrorist attacks. What is there in that to encourage Israel to pull out of the West Bank? Nevertheless, Israel has done its best to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table. Mahmoud Abbas threatens to destroy Israel. Nothing changes.
Rees speaks of ‘the stealing by settlers of Palestinian lands’. This is only true in some cases. When a peace agreement is reached, Israel will remove all illegal settlements, just as they did in Sinai and Gaza. Why doubt them? They have done it before, whereas their supposed partners for peace have launched major wars and persisted in deadly terrorist attacks. He also refers to ‘the decades of containment in camps of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees.’ What is he twittering about? The only reason Palestinians remain in camps is because the Arab countries in which they are based simply will not give them citizenship. They are deliberately held where they are for no other purpose than to let the Palestinian PR machine to hold them aloft and blame their existence on Israel.
But Israel didn’t even force them out in the first place. If Professor Rees has ever read archive material, he will find plenty of documents showing that Arabs resident in the new state of Israel were told to leave by two Arab organizations, the Arab Higher Committee and the Arab Liberation Army. This is historical fact, and if Jake Lynch and Stuart Rees have any respect for serious historical study, then they must recognize just what is going on here. The chairman of that Higher Committee was Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husayni, who had spent the war in Berlin, meeting Hitler and planning a Middle Eastern Holocaust with Himmler, while broadcasting Nazi propaganda on an Arabic-language radio station.
Those who criticize Israel should decide whose side they are on: al-Husayni’s, or the thousands of Jews in Haifa and elsewhere, many of them Holocaust survivors, who pleaded with their Arab fellow-citizens to stay, only to be turned down and then blamed for creating the refugee situation.
Rees continues ‘A more important point is that scholars such as Professor Avnon, work in privileged organisations, are free to travel and can enhance their prestige by attending other universities around the globe. By contrast, Palestinian academics and students have few resources, experience only containment and few chances to study overseas.’ What on earth is that about? Does Rees not know that Omar Barghouti, founder of the Global BDS Movement, is according to wikipedia “currently” studying for his Masters in Philosophy at Tel Aviv University, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omar_Barghouti - and upon which Barghouti comments : “My studies at Tel Aviv University are a personal matter and I have no interest in commenting.” The university has announced it has no plans to expel him after a petition was lodged by students calling for his expulsion. Is Professor Rees not grown up enough to know that some people and some nations are more or less privileged than others. Most Western countries are greatly advantaged above most African or Asian countries. So what? We do all we can to give opportunities to the disadvantaged, but we can’t expect to transform other nations. Israel sends aid missions round the world, providing medical and other assistance after earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters. It encourages Arab students to study in some of the best universities in the world and to work in one of the world’s most technically advanced countries. It treats Palestinians in its own hospitals and recoils at the Arab woman with severe burns who returned to the hospital that had saved her life, wearing a suicide vest and planning to explode it among the doctors and nurses who had treated her. Which side are these haters on?
Again, we are told that ‘the literature suggests that most Israeli academics are concerned with their own careers and turn a blind eye to the cruel policies of their State.’ What bigoted nonsense is that? What literature? Who wrote it? What justifies such a sweeping statement in the first place? What does Rees say to the fact that very large numbers of Israeli academics are anti-Israeli, often actively so? (See ‘Israel’s Academic Extremists’, Solomon Socrates, Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2001, pp. 5-14.). Making huge generalizations is one of the first things any undergraduate is taught to avoid. Clearly, Professor Rees could learn a lot from his own students. The BDS movement is, as I have said, despicable. Of course Palestinians suffer human rights abuses, but until they renounce violence and drop their longing to wipe Israel and Israelis off the face of the region, they must surely expect to face some of that. They have been fighting and using falsehoods for several generations now, and they have learned nothing from it. A hand stretched out in peace, a classroom in which children are taught to like Jews and not to hate them, an Arab-Jewish concert, and all terrorists in prison (where they deserve to be) would go a long way towards making life easy for the Palestinians. The BDS campaign will get them nowhere. In 2005, the Israelis left behind in Gaza large numbers of state-of-the-art greenhouses in order to kick-start the Gazan economy. Within days, the greenhouses had been ripped to shreds and the Gazan economy was kicked to pieces by the Gazans themselves.
That is the sort of behaviour the BDS movement encourages. It seeks to harm Israel while offering nothing to the Palestinians. What use is that?”
At the time of publishing, Dr MacEoin had not received a reply.
Dr. Denis MacEoin is a former Lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies, Newcastle University UK and Former Editor, The Middle East Quarterly