The ‘Protocols,’ 21st century style
By Benjamin Neuberger
Currently, another academic boycott of Israel is being organized in Britain. The boycott movement does not represent all British lecturers and intellectuals. The organizers are not a majority but clearly rather a small minority. However, there are no initiatives for boycotts against other countries: not against Iran, which is denying the Holocaust and threatening to destroy Israel; not against Sudan, which is committing genocide in Darfur; not against Saudi Arabia, where people are executed for religious infractions, and not against China, which is carrying out oppression in Tibet and Shenzhen. Nor is the hated United States being boycotted, because this would hurt academics who want to get to Harvard, Yale and Princeton.
When I was on sabbatical at Oxford University in 2003-2005, I was astonished to see how many professors and students at the renowned university viewed Israel and Zionism. At Oxford there is a strong intellectual stream that identifies Zionism with racism, imperialism and colonialism. The control of the territories, the settlements and the view of Israel as a refuser of peace have contributed to this, but we would be mistaken if we were to think that the problem will be solved with the withdrawal from the territories and the establishment of two states for two peoples.
In the view of many people at Oxford, the original and historic Zionism is racist. The people of the first immigrations are perceived as white European colonialist settlers who, like the settlers in South Africa, came to a land that was not theirs in order to exploit the Palestinian natives. Time and time again I heard that Israel is an apartheid state. Speakers who express this win gales of applause.
Only recently an “Israel apartheid” week was held at Oxford, during which the call for an economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel was heard. The proposed solution is also South African: not two states for two peoples, not a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state, but rather a single state in which Jews will ultimately be a minority. When ears are blocked, any attempt to explain that two states for two peoples is not apartheid, but rather the deepest wish of the moderates and the peace-seekers on both sides, doesn’t stand a chance.
Anti-Semitic tones are also not illegitimate. When it comes to “the Zionists,” often the reference is not just to the Israelis but also to the Jews (especially the Jews in the United States), since everyone knows about their control of the Pentagon, Congress and the White House and everyone knows that the Jews serve Israel. And thus Israel controls the Jews of the United States, the Jews of the United States control the policy of the United States and the United States controls the world. “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” 21st-century style. I have heard about “the Foxmans” who want to control Europe and about “the Schwartzes” who bribe members of Congress.
Alongside the hostility toward Israel, there is no attempt to criticize what is happening in the other countries of the Middle East. I have attended faculty meetings at the Center for the Study of the Middle East with the ambassadors of Iran and Syria. The Iranian ambassador described his country as a model democracy, where since the Khomeini revolution only justice and human rights have been lamps unto its feet. No one disagreed with him and no one asked a critical question.
The discussion with the Syrian ambassador was also relaxed and friendly. No one showed any interest in the occupation in Lebanon, in the torture dungeons or in free elections in Syria. They invited the Saudi Arabian ambassador for a formal speech the day after the press reported on a student who was beheaded in Jedda.
As an Israeli who is opposed to the occupation and the settlements and supports a solution of two states for two peoples, but also sees himself as a Zionist who wants the existence of a Jewish and democratic state that will also be a state of all its citizens, I felt frustrated that in these circles there is no readiness to see the complexity of the Jewish-Arab conflict. There is no understanding at all of the Jewish history of pogroms, persecution and deportations, or of the meaning of the Holocaust. They do not know, and they do not want to know, that we have historical roots in this country, that our language is non-European, that half of the Jews in Israel did not come from Europe, that those who did come from Europe were considered alien and shunned “Semites” and that the Zionists had no colonialist mother country.
Benjamin Neuberger is a professor of political science at the Open University.