It is not easy being an anti-Zionist academic. They are running low on slogans, as everything that was once edgy, controversial and headline-worthy is now outdated: “A people’s state” is mundane; “A nation’s state” is archaic; “Israel is committing genocide” has been said 1,000 times over by the United Nations Human Rights Council; and “Zionism is racism” is old news.
If they are to meet the expectations one has of anti-Zionist academics, they have to come up with something new. Well, the University of Southampton has.
In mid April, Southampton Law School will host an international conference titled “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism,” which according to organizers “will engage controversial questions concerning the manner of Israel’s foundation and its nature, including ongoing forced displacements of Palestinians and associated injustices.”
Both the conference’s positions and its conclusions are foretold. Professor Oren Ben-Dor, who heads the symposium, has expressed radical anti-Israeli position in the past, and the 80 academics scheduled to attend the gathering, which promises to be something special indeed, share his views.
Conference goers could care less about Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria or the Palestinian territories seized in the 1967 Six-Day War. No, Ben-Dor and his ilk plan to discuss the very notion and legitimacy of the inception of the Jewish state following the 1948 War of Independence.
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, a pro-Israel non-profit international organization, says the academics attending the gathering, among whom are Richard Falk and Ilan Pappe, are known for harboring radical anti-Israel views.
SPME officials have accused organizers of anti-Semitism and, taking their cue from French Prime Minister Manuel Valls who said, “Anti-Semitism, this old European disease … [now] hides itself behind a fake anti-Zionism,” have begun organizing a petition against the Southampton conference.
How can one even try and disqualify the notion of the Jewish state? After all, Israel has two “birth certificates” under international law — the first from the League of Nations, referencing the 1917 Balfour Declaration, and the second from the United Nations General Assembly, which succeeded the League of Nations in handling matters concerning the Jewish state.
It was the Arab states who violated international law by mounting their unprecedented, aggressive attempt to destroy the small, unarmed Jewish community. Fortunately, their nefarious scheme had failed. How can anyone ignore these facts and claim Israel was founded unlawfully?
Well, apparently, there are two ways to do so: The first is to claim — as Arab and Palestinian propagandists often do — that the Jews are not a people but rather a religion, and that the UN was somehow mislead or mistaken when it decided this religion deserved a national home in the form of a state.
This, of course, is a baseless argument. Many in the Jewish people do not base their identity on religion, but rather on a cultural and national foundation, and anyone claiming otherwise is either ignorant, malicious, or both.
This claim also entails quite a bit of gall, since most Arab states are not only Muslim but give Islam its constitutional standing.
The second argument suggests Ashkenazi Jews are not a part of the Jewish people, as they are the descendants of Khazars who converted to Judaism, and therefore they have no right to return to Zion.
This claim was asserted by an Israeli researcher at Johns Hopkins University, based on DNA tests performed on 17 people of Ashkenazi descent. Since the Khazars themselves no longer exist, the comparison is to “people related to the Khazars.” I cannot understand why this comparison was not made, for example, with the Mongols, which would have made the argument that Ashkenazi Jews are the descendants of Mongol converts possible as well.
The Khazari assertion is a trap. While it can be easily disproved, doing so might suggest that there is something to it.
Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that Ashkenazi Jews are of Khazari descent. So what? Are the descendants of converts unable to have national-Jewish views or feelings?
Many great individuals in Jewish tradition are descended from proselytes, including King David, and international law clearly states that those who convert to their religion cannot be denied the right to self-definition.
This is simply another invention, courtesy of the anti-Zionist academia. There is little wonder then, that in his book, “The Jews: A Contrary People,” historian Yehuda Bauer states that the Khazari assertion is racist, as it attributes Jewish origin to biology. Those making such assertions, he wrote, “Fail to understand that joining the Jewish religion symbolizes joining the Jewish people.”
I have no doubt what conclusions the Southampton conference will arrive at, nor what their place will be in Jewish history.
I understand the criticism leveled at Israel over its policies, and I too am concerned by the dangerous moves the Israeli government seems to be heading towards, but there is one thing I fail to understand — how a racist argument has come to constitute “leftist views.”
It seems anything is possible in the anti-Zionist, post-rational world where part of academia dwells — even an anti-Semitic conference headed by an Israeli.