Anyone who dares criticize Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians knows what to expect: accusations of being “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic.” In mainstream political and academic circles, the topic can be especially toxic as “pro-Israel” zealots go to great lengths to block even a debate, writes Lawrence Davidson.
By Lawrence Davidson
Here is the situation: the threat of aggressive public protests against those assembling to critically discuss the behavior of Israel has become an excuse to shut down such gatherings. The latest example of this tactic, which is really a form of blackmail to impose censorship, took place earlier this month at the University of Southampton in the UK.
An international conference entitled “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism” was scheduled for April 17-19, 2015, at the University of Southampton. It was to bring together lawyers and scholars to examine the legal basis for the establishment of the State of Israel and the rationales (or lack thereof) for its historical treatment of the Palestinian people.
The standard by which these issues were to be judged was international law. The conference would also have examined the issue of exceptionalism when it came to the inadequate legal and diplomatic response to Israeli policies and behavior. Conference participants were to include both those critical of Israel and those who would present a defense of Israeli practices.
This conference had been planned for over a year, yet days before its opening Southampton University announced that it would not allow the gathering to go ahead on its campus because there were “risks to safety and public order.” This was due to expected protests against the conference.
Where did these risks come from? They originated with Zionists and their allies. Specifically, the Sussex Friends of Israel were ready to bring out as many as 300 peaceful protesters. In addition, there was likely to be a very small number of English Defense League members, who are anti-Muslim, pro-Israel, and potentially violent.
Certainly the Zionist rhetoric was aggressive and emotionally charged. The conference was described as a gathering of “Israel-haters,” “a rally of bigots,” a gathering of “toxic speakers,” and an “anti-Israel carnival.” It made no difference to these ideologically driven zealots that what was really planned was a sober investigation of historical patterns of behavior against the backdrop of internationally recognized legal norms.
Though the negative emotional energy ran high, the actual danger from the planned protests was probably quite minimal, and the local police declared themselves capable and ready to handle the situation. Nonetheless, instead of acting resolutely against those who would threaten free speech, the university simply gave in.
It essentially ran scared not only from exaggerated threats of violence but, as seems always to be the case, from the wrath of a small number of financial donors who threatened to stop supporting the institution if it provided a forum for open discussion of issues that cast Israel in a poor light. Essentially, Southampton University allowed itself to be blackmailed by Zionist censors.
One can speculate on what would have been the case if the situation were reversed. That is, if pro-Palestinian demonstrators had implied a “risk to safety and public order” at a Zionist conference upholding Israeli practices. The army would have been called out before such a conference was canceled.
An Ongoing Tactic
This is not the first time this sort of scenario has played out. Back in 2001 the president of the University of South Florida, Judy Genshaft, forced Dr. Sami Al-Arian, then a member of the faculty, to stay away from the campus because of negative and slanderous media publicity and Zionist threats against him.
This all stemmed from his vocal support of Palestinian rights. Here too a university administration allowed itself to be blackmailed by ideologically driven zealots. In the process it abandoned the principle of free speech and allowed censorship to prevail through threats of disruption.
There are other suspicious occurrences that may have been brought about by quieter forms of the same censoring pressures. For instance, in March, this writer was invited to address the prestigious Oxford Union in London on a topic that would, in part, cover U.S. foreign policy in support of Israel. Within five days the invitation was withdrawn.
The quick turnaround called into doubt the Oxford Union’s claim that the cause of the withdrawal was scheduling problems. While it is not possible to say for sure that the reversal was due to Zionist pressure, the present atmosphere of aggressive Zionist efforts to stymie all criticism of Israel and its supporters, makes this sort of occurrence appear suspicious.
What is going on here is not only the censoring of those critical of Israel, but the undermining of the rule of law, particularly international law. The irony is that much of this body of law was promulgated because of the savage persecution experienced by Europe’s Jews and others during the World War II.
However, the Zionist element among Jewry (not all Jews) decided that their future lay not in the support of law, but in the creation of a state through a process of imperial invasion and colonial settlement. They pursued this objective just at the time when both classical imperialism and colonialism were going out of style and the European empires were falling apart.
Thus, even at the moment it succeeded in establishing the State of Israel, Zionism was already an anachronism – an ideology that could only prevail through aggression and racist policies in a world that was trying to outlaw both types of behavior.
That Zionism has, to date, gained its goal is largely due to its having achieved for Israel an “exceptional” status in the West that has allowed it to escape the rule of law. In other words, Israel has evolved into a “rogue” state that is being protected by Western powers, particularly the United States.
Israel has achieved this “exceptional” status by two means: first, the Zionist corruption of Western governments through a lobby process involving the bribing of politicians, and second, through the exploitation of the Western fear of the Arab and Islamic world.
The Zionists always complain that Israel is being singled out. For instance, one of the gambits used to attack the Southampton conference was as follows: “no academic conference on Pakistan, for instance, founded just a year before Israel, would consist solely of discussion on whether it should have been created and how to end it.”
Putting aside the fact that this is an overly simplistic, and thus distorted, description of the Southampton conference, the comparison with Pakistan is off base. Pakistan was created as part of a process of decolonization. Israel was created in defiance of that same process. Zionist ideology, like any form of dogmatic thinking, ends up skewing history to its own needs.
Actually, as long as Israel insists on being “a Jewish state” instead of a democratic state of all its citizens, it must walk the path of apartheid. And, it can only get away with that through successfully maintaining an exceptional status – a status that puts it above international law.
The Southampton conference would have exposed this situation in a factual and sober way – in a way that would be hard for any fair-minded person to doubt. That is why the Zionists went to such lengths to shut it down.
Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest;ã€€America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.