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Oren Ben-Dor Granted Permission to Judicially Review Cancellation of Southampton Anti-Israel Conference


Editorial Note

Last week, Dr. Oren Ben-Dor, an ex-Israeli professor who teaches law at the University of Southampton, U.K. was given a green light by the court to proceed with law-suit against the University of Southampton.  As IAM reported, Ben-Dor, a radical leftist, tried to organize twice a conference on whether Israel has a right to exist - a topic that created a substantial backlash. Citing security concerns, the authorities cancelled the conferences. No date of court hearing is set yet.

It is not clear what type of legal arguments would be used in court, but Ben- Dor has a long history of a writing that verge on anti-Semitism. 
To examine what mounts to anti-Semitic speech, there are three separate bodies that took this issue to test. The 2005 EU Working Definition of Anti-Semitism; the 2010 Fact Sheet of the State Department; and the 2016 University of California Principles Against Intolerance.

The EU Working Definition of Anti-Semitism states that "Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include: Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor."  The Working Definition also declares that anti-Semitism is "Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis." 

According to the Fact Sheet of the State Department, anti-Semitism is, "Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis"; "Blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions"; "Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation"; "Multilateral organizations focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations"; "Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist."

According to the University of California Principles Against Intolerance, "In particular, opposition to Zionism often is expressed in ways that are not simply statements of disagreement over politics and policy, but also assertions of prejudice and intolerance toward Jewish people and culture...Anti-Semitism, anti-semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California." 

When assessing Ben-Dor's writing with the indices mentioned above, he is an anti-Semite on three counts.

First, he denies Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. Ben-Dor has written in 2007 "Why Israel Has No Right to Exist as a Jewish State," where he stated that "The non-recognition of the Jewish state is an egalitarian imperative that looks both at the past and to the future. It is the uncritical recognition of the right of Israel to exist at a Jewish state which is the core hindrance for this egalitarian premise to shape the ethical challenge that Palestine poses. A recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state means the silencing that would breed more and more violence and bloodshed." He then ends his article by a typical neo-Marxist critical utopian goal of a bi-national Jewish Palestinian state, stating "Only a single egalitarian and non sectrarian state over all the whole of historic Palestine will achieve justice and peace." 

Second, his criticism targets Israel alone. 

Third, Ben-Dor wrote in an article in 2008 that "the Holocaust’s significance lies beyond the actions by the Nazis who actually perpetrated the violence and who justified these actions by turning this significance into a militarist object of an idea. The same claim can be made in relation Zionists and their Jewish opponents." By suggesting that Israel can do to its opponents what Nazi Germany did to Jews, Ben-Dor fits to the description of anti-Semitism.  Also, Ben-Dor appeared in the conference "One State for Palestine / Israel: A Country for All Its Citizens," which was shown on the TV program Arabic Hour on April 18, 2009 (Ben-Dor speaks at 19:45 mins into program) where he stated "It is the denial that there is something so Jewish in that which has provoked the holocaust and the dealing with which has been so successfully postponed by the holocaust." Ben-Dor cites Jean-Francois Lyotard, the French political activist-turned-philosopher, in stating that Lyotard "called the jews with a small j to distinguish it from actual Jews, as a phenomenon that belongs to human being and thinking. In the same way that terrorism is a phenomena that may be distinguished from actual terrorists. We must not be external and representational, of rights and duties, in thoughts and action. We must connect to what is, but not the is of unjust acts. but the is the deepest primordial self concealing is, the how of the people that perpetrate these acts, who justify rationalize them as no choice as we saw in the Lebanon destruction and the Gaza massacre." Ben-Dor invokes Lyotard who universalized the meaning of Auschwitz, for the need to remember all other victims ranging from political prisoners in Stalin’s labour camps to causalities of Western neo-colonial control under the guise of development, including the Palestinians.

Ben-Dor should be aware that being a Jew does not automatically grant immunity from being labeled an anti-Semite. One can be both Jewish anti-Semite and Ben-Dor fits this description on many counts. Hopefully, the court would take this into consideration. 

Legal academic granted permission to judicially review cancellation of controversial Southampton Law School conference
APR 12 2016 2:07PM  
By Katie King

Exclusive: Freedom of speech row over cancelled “anti-Semitic” event to hit the courts

A professor of law has been given permission to proceed with a judicial review challenge against Southampton University.

Legal Cheek can reveal that last Wednesday professor Oren Ben-Dor was shown the green light to continue with the second such claim he has brought against the Russell Group institution.

He is being represented by barristers Shivani Jegarajah and Mark McDonald, both from Mansfield Chambers,

This is the latest step in a long-running and bitter row between Ben-Dor and the university over a controversial law school conference about the existence of Israel entitled, ‘International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism’.

Ben-Dor — along with engineering professor Suleiman Sharkh, also at Southampton — attempted to organise a three-day academic conference last year, but the uni was having none of it. They pulled the conference last April, over fears about security.

The proposed event was fraught with controversy from the start. Outspoken phone hacking lawyer Mark Lewis even threw his two cents in, suggesting that wannabe lawyers from Southampton could be looked on less favourably in the fierce bid for training contracts because of the “anti-Semitic” conference.

Last year’s convention never happened, and Ben-Dor — himself from Israel — brought a legal claim against the decision. Unfortunately for him, Mrs Justice Andrews DBE refused permission to have the decision judicially reviewed in April last year.

Fast forward to 2016, and Ben-Dor and Sharkh’s conference was once again stopped in its tracks. The professors claim that they were given the thumbs up from the Russell Group uni to run the event, but only on the condition that they foot extra security costs amounting to almost £25,000.

Unable to surpass this hurdle, the professors — once again — sought redress in the courts, in a legal battle partially crowdfunded by 135 generous backers.

There’s no doubt that the proposed conference is on a controversial subject matter, hence its polarised reaction, but academic freedom of expression is very much at stake here. The professors’ solicitor, Paul Heron from Public Interest Lawyers, summed this up when he said:

Freedom of speech, no matter the subject, is an essential pillar of a democratic society. This freedom is even more important in an academic setting.
So far, it looks like the professors are making good progress in their fight for academic freedom. Last October, Lady Justice Arden, sitting in the Court of Appeal, directed that the application be heard in the administrative court. A hearing was held last week before Mrs Justice Whipple, where permission was granted. It is understood that the judicial review will deal with both this year and last year’s cancellations.

As yet, no next hearing date has been listed.


Anti-Israel professors green light for legal claim on conference
April 13, 2016
Professors from Southampton University have had a judge’s permission to pursue their legal claim against their employer for putting the kibosh on a conference questioning Israel’s right to exist.

Lady Justice Arden, sitting in the Court of Appeal, last week said the case brought by Israel-born Professor Oren Ben-Dor and Palestinian Professor Suleiman Sharkh could be heard, with a hearing date due to be set.

The conference, called ‘International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism,’ was pulled for a second time after the university insisted Ben-Dor and Sharkh stump up £24,000 for additional security costs, and ordered the three-day event be cut to two days.

Jewish and pro-Israel groups in the UK were accused of applying “political pressure” by conference organisers, who said it was a matter of free speech. A crowd-funding campaign has financed their legal action.


Higher education
Academics take their university to court over Israel conference
Southampton University professors claim free speech at stake as they challenge costs imposed for security at conference on Israel
 Southampton’s Prof Oren Ben-Dor said; ‘There have been no threats of violence. [The costs] should not be imposed.’

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent

Tuesday 15 March 2016 18.14 GMT Last modified on Thursday 17 March 2016 12.27 GMT

Two professors who were asked to stump up £24,000 to cover policing and security for a conference on the legitimacy of Israel are challenging Southampton University in a test case over academic freedom.

For the second year running, the university has placed obstacles in the way of the proposed three-day gathering. In 2015, permission for the session was granted then withdrawn; this year, financial conditions have been imposed on the organisers amid fears that the conference will provoke mass protests.

Both professors work at Southampton: Oren Ben-Dor, who was born in Israel, teaches philosophy; Suleiman Sharkh, who was brought up in Gaza, lectures in engineering. The conference was entitled: International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism. It has now been postponed to spring next year.

One of the declared aims of the conference is to “educate a whole new generation of young Palestinian lawyers and legal and political scholars about new possible arguments and concepts in order to use international law better”.

Last year the conference was criticised as partisan by the Jewish Board of Deputies and MPs including Eric Pickles, then the communities secretary, and Caroline Nokes, the Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North.

According to the two professors, the university decided this year to reduce the conference from three days to two, withdrew premises suitable for a dinner and required the organisers to pay £23,873 for security, as well as extra funding for policing if more than 600 protesters gathered at the campus.

Prof Ben-Dor told the Guardian: “There have been no threats of violence. [The costs] should not be imposed on conference organisers. The uniqueness of academic space is being compromised.

“The issue is about who pays for the freedom of speech. What makes this conference unique is these excessive demands [to sustain] freedom of speech because of the conference’s controversial nature.” 

The judicial review challenge against the university’s decision to charge for security is due to be heard on 6 April by the high court in London. It is expected to deal with both last year and this year’s cancellations.

Following changes to costs orders for judicial review challenges introduced by the government, the claimants rely partially on crowdfunding to pay for the case – a resource that is being exploited increasingly for claims.

Their crowdfunding page explains: “After a protracted process, the university initially changed its stance, but in giving permission it was on the condition that organisers should pay security costs of nearly £25,000. This amount was required for the hire of private security and fencing.

“This financial demand was based on inflated risk levels (in the absence of any intelligence),” they said. “Putting such a burden on organisers would mean that controversial debates could be silenced by any one, by simply threatening to hold a demonstration.”

Paul Heron, the solicitor at Public Interest Lawyers representing the professors, said: “Freedom of speech, no matter the subject, is an essential pillar of a democratic society. This freedom is even more important in an academic setting.

“We are of the view that Southampton University were put under unreasonable and unjustified pressure from parties outside the university and that when properly scrutinised there was simply no credible reason to cancel the conference.”

Neither Southampton University nor Hampshire police commented on the latest case. Responding to last year’s cancellation, the university said it had “an excellent track record of upholding free speech and remains committed to its legal obligation to ensure freedom of speech within the law is secured for staff, students and visiting speakers”.

The university said the decision to stop last year’s conference was based on “concerns that the safety of staff, students and visitors could not be guaranteed” because large demonstrations were anticipated. It has argued that costs for academic conferences are not usually paid by the university but covered by organisers of each event.

Hampshire police says it follows national guidance set by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) on charging for services. This states: “There are some functions that police officers perform that are provided beyond day to day policing, and in some of these cases there are powers in law for a police authority to recover the costs of this additional policing under the provision of special police services.”


Transcript of Oren Ben Dor speech at Arabic Hour 

Oren Ben Dor – A sense of justice, world Jewry and the one state solution.

“A sense of justice, world Jewry and the one state solution. In thinking about a sense of giving some Jew back, justice, and how relating this theme to world Jewry, and overcoming Zionism, there is a need to dwell nearer than any (programatic?) words of what ought to be done. Two states, one state, there are deep forces that may well make sure that neither will happen.
The ownership of tribal thinking goes very deep. And I think we should go, at least show the need to go that deep and I’ll try to articulate something that (acaim?) towards a French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard called the jews with a small j to distinguish it from actual Jews, as a phenomenon that belongs to human being and thinking. In the same way that terrorism is a phenomena that may be distinguished from actual terrorists. We must not be external and representational, of rights and duties, in thoughts and action. We must connect to what is, but not the is of unjust acts. but the is the deepest primordial self concealing is, the how of the people that perpetrate these acts, who justify rationalize them as no choice as we saw in the Lebanon destruction and the Gaza massacre.

Only then, mirroring an ethical reflection becomes possible. Without mediation, without hiding behind the seemingly most relevant, but nevertheless distant language of big yes’s and big no’s of programs and solutions. Current affairs is not yet the actuality of the actual. To just be an anti-Zionist however morally irrefutable it is and however in a sense Zionism causes the injustices in Palestine it is still not finding a connecting issue to the apartheid being and thinking of the people whose god (drows?) drove them into perpetrating and rationalizing these injustices done to the Palestinians in the Jewish name. Indeed Zionism may just be a symptom and not the cause, the latest (unity?) behind the no choice of the massacre in Gaza can give us a hint of the ways Zionism preserves through the economy of hatred and actually succeeds in preserving a certain paradox that it gets and succeeds by generating hatred against itself.

It is important to connect the Jewish and Zionist question, because pathologies of Zionism, its racist mentality, its righteousness and something that is not often mentioned, its self destructiveness and collective suicidal tendency that holds it together, its desire for self destructiveness as well as the stake in bestowing protection on the (free reign?) for having the desire to these self destructiveness, all these pathologies may be in the service of righteousness and agressive victim apartheid mentality that pertain to Jewish being and thinking. The reactions of Jews to Zionism could not be more varied and seemingly contradictory, sometimes supporting Zionism as Jews, sometimes oppose it as Jews. Very generally, surveying those reactions, of those making observations along the way, I would like to suggest that there is a point, and there is a pratical (run at that?) of arriving at a one state in Palestine when anti-Zionists should talk about the connections between being Jewish and being Zionist. I would like to suggest the possibility that Zionism is a historical manifestation of Jewish being, a negative one, whose foretold failure contributes to the further fortifications of Jewish being and thinking.That assimilating exile of a suppressed trauma of separation that characterizes their thinking.

The so called moderate, or left Zionist, claimed the right of Israel to exist in safe borders. By advancing this claim, they completely ignored the racist premise on which the state is based. This means that first they completely ignore highly marginalized or idefinately postponed the need to address past expulsions of Palestinians. A state with Jewish character and majority could only be established by the well planned programme of expulsions of 750,000 of indigenous people in Palestine. Second, they also ignore that superior stake in the Israeli state which is assigned to all those that pass the test of Jewishness. This superior stake, translates into in-built discriminations of non Jew Arabs in all walks of life from immigration to resources viewing them as a demographic threat. Yet nothing prevents these seemingly moderate Zionists from rigorously interpreting on egalitarian principles to other political conflicts in the world. Those seemingly moderate Zionists then confine their criticism of the Israeli state to the banner of ending the occupation and the 2 state solution. Side by side of stating the right of racist Israel to exist in safe borders.

The moral comdemnation of the state called for reforming but never to replace it with a state that would address past injustices and would provide for equality of citizenship for all its citizens. When confronted as to their contradictory position, those so called ‘lefties’, Zionists, some of whom are highly respected humanists, bring up their modern Jewish identification to the fore. This identification, which does not seem to be based on religion, involved conscriptions of ordering memory in the form of the collective trauma of anti-Semitism, pressure of assimilation and of the Jewish holocaust. They then claim it is in the Jewish interest as people and nation to have a Jewish state. Liberal Zionists then, claim that Israel is unique, and is a less than ideal solution tp a unique predicament, there is indeed no choice. As Joseph Masaad aptly puts it ‘Liberal Zionist Jews would claim in effect that Israel has the right to be racist’, no choice but to be racist. Namely the right to dispossess, to occupy, to discriminate.And this claim is the basis for their otherwise unexplained black spot of murderous righteousness. It is in their Jewish identification and I would say Jewish identification and I would say thinking and thinking like Jews that despite being secular that makes them righteous Zionists. Many Liberal Zionists oppose the so call Jewish fundamentalism but nevertheless would cling loyally to the horrible actions that are done in the name of the Jewish state, with no wink of the eye.

But here is a a point, they (left wing Zionists) can argue with an anti-Zionist about Zionism but..that would be manageable for them but the moment the anti-Zionist would connect Zionism to criticism of Jewish being and thinking liberal Zionists would vehemently oppose the move as going one step too far, describing the anti-Zionist as anti-Semitic or a self hating Jew. What causes this pathology of denial that enable so effectively rationalizations of this contradictory position of a Jew that rejects connecting anti-Zionism to the Jewish question? What is the nature of the internal fetter in operation here? We have to take their claim that Israel is unique and not relegate it to a mere oversight to be overcome. Liberal Zionists are indeed unique we must not tame them and the uniqueness of the contradictions of their being and thinking should not be tamed into some general humanism but rather is quite psychotic in nature is to be mirrored back to them; can anti-Zionism as is currently configured do that? I mean do that; finding a connective tissue to this psychosis rather than merely pointing something out to them? To criticize Zionism as immoral is as easy as pie, but to find the connective tissue to it, is very very hard. The more they are punished, the stronger the psychosis becomes.

Let us look at what is then; rather than the (representations??) of what ought to be; victim mentality, that hides aggression and supremacy, that living force and unity that is nourished by the desire to be hated stems before all else from sublimated hatred of and supremacy towards all others. That hatred of all others is a manifestation of self hating which is itself symptomatic of an unresolved trauma and separation from some basic human ability, some ethical ability of humans to respond, to mirror, to be responsable, to be (‘flicker’?) in the connectiveness of all living beings. The attributions of self hatred to anyone who criticizes Zionism being Jewish is a good clue to that collective psychosis of self hatred that they project onto others. The more this psychosis interacts with people whether violently or ethically it assimilates them into a column of victim-hood and hatred and when they do not like that and hate that all the better, the stronger the Zionist become. The economy of hatred is nothing but a project of deep sense of separation that must never be touched even if it comes at the price of rationalizing contradiction and when happens in nationalism contexts becomes must, must murder as I said, with a wink of the eye, like we saw in Gaza.

I would like to move from Liberal Zionist to Jews against Zionism. Modern lefty Jews against Zionism are like the liberal Zionists seek to first criticize and then neutralize the genuine Jewishness that liberal Zionists identify themselves with so they subject liberal Zionists to a genuine humanist critique; liberal or Marxist. Anti-Apartheid struggle like any other anti-Apartheid struggle. Why not saying just anti-Zionist; what is it that makes them Jews apart from the immediate expediency of calling themselves such so as to overcome any criticism of anti-Semitism by Zionists. Furthermore what makes their Jewishness such that it would object to Zionism. Modern secular Jews against Zionism is the most political correct way of entering the acceptable discourse of anti-Zionism. At the heart of this political correctness is a claim that the acknowledgement of the Jewish experience of persecution and anti-Semitism including the remembrance of those experiences must not lead to ethno-nationalism of the Zionist kind. The whole upshot of acknowledging the Jewish predicament whilst separating it from Zionism is to avoid playing into the hands of the new possible form of anti-Semites who would now resort to objections to the use made of the holocaust to justify the horrible actions that are now done by the state of Israel in the Jewish name.

The whole upshot of Jewish against Zionism, modern secular Jews against Zionism, left Jews, is to say not in my Jewish name. For Jews against Zionism, Zionism, abuse of the holocaust memory is precisely to forget the general humanist message of the holocaust. Thus for Jews against Zionism, political correctness dictates that it is not religious conflict but rather a colonial one which is rooted by colonial imperialist ideology. The possibility of this abuse by Zionism is a necessary continuation of the very pathology that they want to separate from it is ruled out, expelled, to the extent of which of which Zionism might continue the provocation that characterizes the mysterious history of anti-Jewish thinking however enlightened Jews who are involved in their communities in the diaspora and in exile a point the Jews against Zionism do not allow to bring to the surface, remains concealed and forgotten. Jews against Zionism separate the Jewish and the Zionist question. It is precisely this obsessive surrender to political connectedness, this convictions about exclusions of debating the authentic and fateful Jewish continuum between Zionism and the holocaust which makes both violent manifestations that both paved the way for preserving the Jewish faith which makes Jews against Zionism so very Jews.

It is the denial that there is something so Jewish in that which has provoked the holocaust and the dealing with which has been so successfully postponed by the holocaust. Furthermore, by the exclusion they allow Zionists to go on unhindered because Zionisms Jewish core is not allowed to be connected to. What makes so very key in the historicity of the survival of the Jewish being and thinking is not confronted. Jews against Zionism become indirect sophisticated Zionists despite their good and humane intentions. To wit Zionists in the sense of preventing any possibility of sticking a wedge in the denial, in foreclosing any possibility of genuine mirroring and by entrenching further the political correctness of separating Jews and Zionists. The Jewish Question disappears into a general humanist discourse, that is then represented as a moderate as opposed to fundamentalist Jewish thought. The necessity of expelling Jewish fundamentalism, thus opening a possibility of them to be the moderate and become very important in their efforts. Secular moderate Jews against Zionism is I contend (aids?) neutralize Jewish pathology in so far as concealing that pathology behind humanist ottitude, thus enabling the very Jewish pathology to unfold unhindered in history. The voice of Jews against Zionism and the political correctness of Palestinians that will say “we have nothing against the Jews” means that Zionism that is based on Judaism is thereby becoming either fundamentalist or if liberal based on overcoming misconceptions and misuse by Liberal Zionist Jews of Jewish history.

Further the result is that the Jews against Zionism makes their identity as Jews as incoherent and diluted. What exactly makes them Jews becomes (incorrected?) but nothing would prevent them for going and celebrate many feasts of hatred of all others. So my essential point is that if we look to the left’s broad responses, Jewish responses to Zionism we will find no help at all – the left has nothing, nothing to say in order to find a connective tissue to the Jewish pathology that actually moves Zionism and the deeper historicity that Zionism is just a fleeting phase of. So, not drowning in political correctness of the left, we try I think as anti-Zionists, stop being, (praming?) it into a conflict like apartheid south Africa or like Northern Island, no no no, it is a conflict that participates in historicity of the Jewish people and of the Jewish people it makes it a Jewish based conflict; Jewish based denial which is unique. If we don’t do this, we have become complicit with this different historicity. (applause)

And now I will have my last 3 minutes, take 3 minutes just to say if it is not in the left or rather seeing that the left is actually participating in a deeper story we have to look if we want to reconfigure anti-Zionism we actually have to look to the right wing of political, of Jewish reaction to Zionism. It’s there which we find the clue at last to the deeper historicity that the Jews are, or Zionism is a part of. something that the left tries to forget, to conceal. The right wing Jewish broadly divided into two camps, I’ve no time to develop that, one camp is the Haredim, who are, object to Zionism out of a doctrine of waiting of passivity. As professor (Ovitzky?) told us, not trying to force the end. It’s not that they like Zionism, they absolutely abhor it, and live completely in exile, continuous exile from it, but it is passive waiting. And they just observe the gradual decline of the political modern identity of Judaism.

The other camp, is the camp of the religious Zionists, is a camp that actually connects, to er, um, is more sophisticated in the sense that it tries to connect to the here and now in a dialectical matter that says ‘okay for the time being we’ll use political Zionism, secular Zionism as a donkey of the messiah by collaborating with it. And they become more and more Zionist, more and more sanctifying the land, redeeming it, but as their spiritual father of the religious Zionists Rav Avraham Cook says look Zionism I am collaborating with it, when he commented on Herzl and so on. Em, Zionism I collaborate with it, but it is fleeting, it is a fleeting phenomenon, in a big history, in a big redemption, it will go through a destructive phase, it is destructive, because it has this internal contradiction that leads it to self destructiveness. But this self destructiveness has a positive role in history, a positive role to play, in the overcoming and waiting for the redemption. So what I want to say, what we are observing, the self suicide of Zionism, the generations of hatred against itself, the connections, the concealment of the left, to actually nourish that pathology, the idea that this pathology is just temporal and will self destruct leads us to see that Zionism is in fact, and Ill end with that, Zionism is in fact, is a symptom of a coming conflict, recurring conflict, which is not just tameable, to a colonial conflict. It is a conflict that characterizes human thought between two ways of looking at the relationship between human beings and the divine. One which is based on separation, chosenness, victim hood and is not confined only to real Jews, but another one which relates with Spinoza, with Buddhism and with Heideger who was silent on the issue of the Jews, relates again to the mysterious connectedness to all being. So being just anti-Zionism is not enough, I think we have to look at the deeper picture, because otherwise, we many be complicit with the deeper history that only the right wing understands.” (applause)



MAY 21, 2005
Academic Freedom in Israel is Central to Resolving the Conflict

I write as an ex-Israeli, who happens to be a British academic. I write because experience has taught my conscience the harm that results from silencing free historical debate, the danger inherent in not letting the Other’s voice challenge national heroic myths.

All my education in Israel was one sided, treating the Other as the enemy, the murderers, the rioters, the terrorists — without alluding, in any way, to their pains and longings. For my teachers and, as a result, for me also, for many years, Zionism was beyond reproach; it was a return to the promised land as a result of persecution, it was draining the swamps, it was building a state based on Jewish genius.

The Holocaust, in which half of my own family was murdered, provided a continuous supply of blinding collective memory — a memory of victim-hood, and as a result, a source of self-righteousness, much, much self-righteousness. The Holocaust (in Hebrew, “ha-Shoah” – the catastrophe) has always had the monopoly on memory in Israel, leaving no room for al-Naqba (Arabic, “the catastrophe”), the price that the Palestinians paid for the creation of the state. For my teachers, and for me, the 750,000 Palestinian refugees of 1948 were bitter enemies defeated in a war, not human beings with feelings, memories, lost lands and shattered self-respect.

I write this article because, shockingly, the denial and marginalisation of the Other’s story is continuing to this day in Israeli academic institutions. I write as an attempt to make a first step to denounce my association with this denial, to denounce my previous self. But I do not write just as a means to quickly remedy my bad conscience — knowing the powers of collective memory and collective denial, I acknowledge that there is no quick fix for that.

Instead, I write to make two urgent points which are germane to the upcoming debate on the AUT boycott of Israeli universities. First, overcoming naqba-denial in the Israeli academy is central to resolving the conflict in Palestine. Second as an academic of Israeli origin, I know that an academic boycott is needed to create the academic freedom which is needed to overcome naqba-denial.
Naqba-denial in the Israeli academy

Changes, especially those which require mirroring, have to come about organically. The vicious circle that mirroring has to transcend, that of victim-hood and hatred on both sides, has to be dissolved from within, rather than lifted with a dramatic flourish by the external logic of crime and punishment. And that is precisely why something has to be done about the denial and marginalisation of the naqba in the Israeli academy. The organic change that Israel so desperately needs cannot happen until the Other’s story is heard.

It should be noted that Dr. Ilan Pappe of Haifa University has called for a general boycott of Israeli academic institutions — his call was incorrectly paraphrased and narrowed in the reasoning provided by the promoters of the AUT boycott motion dealing with Haifa University. As I understand Pappe, his boycott call relates to the way in which the Israeli academy silences and marginalises, directly and indirectly, any attempt to discuss the crimes of Zionism in Palestine. As I understand him, Pappe seeks a boycott of all those Israeli institutions that silence this debate. Pappe protests against the censorship imposed by the dominant Zionist voice in Israel, as manifested in the highly stagnant and uncritical academic platform which hinders any possibility of debating, not to say rectifying, the crimes of Zionism.

With very few honourable exceptions, of which Pappe is one, those academics who consider themselves part of the Israeli left are part and parcel of the Zionist voice which silences the Palestinian story. The Israeli left has always been against the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. There is no denial of that occupation either in the Israeli academy or in Israel generally; there are many “peace activists” who call for its end. But it is important to see that the Israeli Zionist left silences the Other’s story by limiting the problem to “the 1967 occupation”. Once the problem is limited like this, these lefties can assume the role of “innocents” who are unjustly targeted by a boycott whose promoters seek to open the Israeli academy to the bigger story. These Zionist lefties have good reason to be anxious — they are themselves the very sophisticated obstacle to the debate that Pappe wants to generate, but cannot, in the nationalistic academy, namely the debate about Zionism. The debate, if successful in Israel, would open to question the authenticity of the Israeli left.

It is not the occupation of the 1967 territories which is the point of the debate that the Israeli academy smothers and marginalizes. Instead, the big issue is the Zionist occupation of Palestine, the pre-1967 occupation which displaced the indigenous population in the process of establishing a state based on a dominant religion and ethnicity. All those “lefties” who now call for the academic boycott to be lifted (surprise, surprise …) and call themselves supporters of the Palestinian cause are themselves captives of the Zionist holy cow whose tenets they wish not, and are unable as yet, to question.
Creating academic freedom: the need for a boycott

An academic debate silenced by active, or passive, nationalism is evidence of smothered academic freedom. This is clear, not only from Haifa University’s treatment of Pappe and his few colleagues, but also from the inability of an important debate to take off in Israeli academic circles. The dominant paradigms of debate are well guarded — in order to keep the totality of the Zionist occupation of Palestine out of the discussion. Only a well-informed and firm external boycott will change this pathological academic complicity in keeping the Zionist question in the cupboard.

But why a boycott against all Israeli academics? Are they not innocent people who merely advance knowledge? Should we mix neutral academic activity with political debate? The answer is that Israeli academics are all accomplices to the smothering, delegitimizing and marginalising of debate by their institutions. By not raising their voices against their corrupt institutions, they betray the ideals that should guide them as academics. The official responses, by Haifa University, to the AUT boycott resolution show the lack of internal readiness and confirm exactly why outside pressure is necessary. Deep internal fetters, well embedded in the Israeli collective memory, will not allow the start of an academic debate that would result in the shattering of these inhibitions.

These Israeli inhibitions are disappointing, but the resultant need for external pressure must be recognised. Given this, the abstract, detached institutional responses from some leading British universities are also disappointing and play into the hands of the Zionist lobby. (Dare one say that related inhibitions, derived from a different, albeit related, collective memory, are at work here?) Criticism of the boycott is couched in terms of the need for academic freedom. How ironic it is that academic freedom, the very factor which is absent from the Israeli academy, the very factor whose creation provides a powerful motivation for the boycott, is the one whose pretended existence is used by critics of the boycott, including British institutions.
A general boycott

Moving away, but only for a moment, from the issue of naqba-denial in the academy, there are arguably very good reasons for a general boycott of Israel, in such areas as trade, sports and so on. Here, parallels with South Africa are not out of place. Such a boycott is separate from one directed against naqba-denial in the Israeli academy. When academics are included in a general boycott, it is as a result of their belonging to a population which is boycotted because its various activities nourish a criminal state.

Unlike the silence about the larger issue of Zionist culpability for the naqba, there in an extensive internal debate among Israelis about the occupation of the lands conquered in 1967. This has reached a stage where a general boycott on Israel would help to stop the occupation and the many crimes and Human Rights infringements that result from it.
It’s not just the occupation, it’s the naqba

But from the Palestinians’ point of view, an end to the 1967 occupation would not raise the real issue. Again, the opportunity of silencing the real issue will surely be seized by Israelis in their withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. Any boycott must make sure that the world does not let Israel off the hook if it just ends the 1967 occupation. The boycott must also demand that the issue of the right of return of refugees to Israel is not allowed to slip away. No one is entitled to dispose of individual Palestinian rights in this matter or to forcibly transmute these rights into compensation. The refugee problem is a Zionist crime, an Israeli crime and, as such, Israelis must face it — whatever consequences its just redress may have for the makeup of the country.
A word of caution

But, in using a boycott to force Israelis to accept the Palestinian right of return, caution is necessary. Unlike the case of the 1967 occupation, it would be naive for a boycott to demand an immediate resolution of the refugee problem. Israel (and some so-called “moderate” Palestinians, dare I day) must be made to face the refugee issue. But Israel must also be allowed the time to deal internally with it. Caution is needed, because this is the point where the Zionist nerve is really sensitive.

At present it would be a mistake to declare a boycott explicitly against Zionism. Israelis are not yet ready to respond to a boycott phrased as such. If anything, a boycott “against Zionism” would play into the hands of those who are adept at manipulating the Israeli sense of victim-hood and would be very likely to make Zionist sentiment stronger.

Holding a mirror to the face of Israelis, exposing to them the unconscious preservation of their racism must be done slowly if it is to achieve the desired end — the gradual recognition that “a Jewish and democratic state” is an oxymoron, a recognition which, one hopes, will cause the gradual withering away of the Jewish state in favour of genuine co-existence. This process, which also involves Israeli society meditating on the relations between Zionism and Jewish Being, will take time. Indeed, the Palestinians also need time to overcome their nationalism intensified by the victim-hood and hatred that has resulted from the actual and symbolic oppression and domination they have suffered.

It was the excommunicated Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza who had, as one of his main principles the idea of “caution”. The “how” is as important as the “what”. The case of Israel is unique, perhaps, in its history, in its denials and complexes. An ill-phrased boycott will not allow the internal process to occur and this means bloodshed.
The academic boycott is needed to kick-start the process

Final resolution of the crisis in Palestine requires Israelis to face up to their responsibility for the Palestinian naqba. It is primarily, if not exclusively, in the Israeli academy that the necessary debate must start.

But for this to happen, academic freedom to debate naqba-denial and the Zionist question must not merely be “allowed” or “granted”. For academic freedom to be properly discharged, for it to be worth anything, much more is needed. Bearing in mind that, at present, the debate about Zionism and the Naqba is highly disadvantaged in the uncritical Israeli psyche, the active legitimation, facilitation, care for growth and flourishing of such a debate should be seen as a duty incumbent upon the Israeli academy and its academics. In other words, this debate must be allowed an equal opportunity and competition in the marketplace of ideas in Israel and, for that, active assistance will be needed to compensate for its current disadvantage in that market. The Israeli academy must allocate specific resources and opportunities for the debate to take off. But anyone who is willing to face facts can see, from Haifa University’s treatment of Ilan Pappe and those he has sought to defend, that, without external pressure, these conditions will not be met. If there were no other reason, that alone would be sufficient reason for the academic boycott.

The academic boycott is not simply another facet of a general boycott. It is much more important than that. The academic boycott is central to starting the process of Israeli self-examination that is a core prerequisite to a resolution of the conflict.

OREN BEN-DOR, originally from Israel, is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.

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