This is a guest post by Stephen Hoffman
All this week in Universities across the UK, Israel Apartheid Week has taken place. This appears to be an excuse for those who hate Israel more than they care about the Palestinians to gather, to discuss and inform people how terrible Israel is. In all of this the truth is often a stranger, something (from having attended a few of the events this week) I saw with my own eyes. I also provided briefings for supporters of Israel attending the meeting, so they could challenge, through questions, the lies being said. I believe this is important, so those attending the events who do not have strong opinions either way are shown a point of view that counters the scare stories portraying Israel as a pariah state.
One event I attended was where the Israeli born communist Moshe Machover spoke at City University in London. Machover explained how he saw Zionism as racist and colonialist and that no Zionists were interested in peace, because they wanted to subjugate the Palestinians. Whilst of course Israel is not a perfect country I could not let these lies, which portrayed Zionism as the source of all the world’s ills, go unchallenged. It was for this reason I pointed out that I am a Zionist who strongly supports the two state solution and is pro peace. I am representative of the majority of Zionists who want peace with the Palestinian people, so to claim we do not is simply wrong. I went on to highlight how from partition to peace with Egypt and Jordan to Ehud Olmert’s generous peace offer, many Zionists have not only talked the talk when it has come to peace, but walked the walk. Unfortunately, I pointed out that Palestinian leaders have let down their own people by rejecting peace offers and often not being a genuine peace partner. I said this all calmly; as I believe in situations like this it is important to keep your cool.
Machover though seemed to take offence to his views being challenged. Evidently, he and many other speakers at Israel Apartheid Week are not used to being challenged and find the experience a personal insult. In response to my polite question, Machover raised his voice and started shouting and said Zionism is racist and therefore anti-peace and as a Zionist I am brainwashed and a racist. This was the only time he raised his voice and showed genuine anger. This in a nutshell represented Israel Apartheid Week, a time when speakers spew hatred about Israel and Zionism, often based on no facts whatsoever. When this is challenged they become angry and try and shut down debate. To me, the fact that people like Machover feel they have to resort to these childish tactics when challenged shows the weakness of their own arguments and how easy it is to oppose them.
It also should give hope to those in the Israel advocacy community whose first reaction when it comes to Israel Apartheid Week is to let out a collective groan. I completely understand this and it’s my first reaction too. This is not understandable as university environments can be, and indeed are, at times a hotbed of anti-Israel activity, as illustrated by Israel Apartheid Week. However, it is not a lost cause, because as I have demonstrated the arguments used by those who demonise Israel wilt under close scrutiny.
Furthermore, just this week whilst Israel Apartheid Week was at its height, Oxford University Union showed it would not become a hostage to those who bash Israel incessantly in a way that undermines freedom of speech, expression and academic freedom. A controversial motion calling on Oxford University Union to support BDS (the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement) that would have led to a boycott of Israeli produce, universities and academics was decisively defeated in a vote of the union. Students at the prestigious university voted 69 against, 10 for and 15 abstentions. This was a victory for those who want to engage constructively with Israeli academics and students, rather than engaging in a divisive boycott that would shut down debate and undermine freedom of speech and expression.
People like Eylon-Aslan Levy, the student who George Galloway refused to debate, led the campaign against the boycott. Relentlessly highlighting how the boycott of Israel was not in Oxford students’ interests, he helped make sure that the BDS motion was defeated. In doing so he showed that Universities are not yet completely lost to the anti-Israel crowd and if we put our mind to it those who want a fair and balanced discussion on Israel can win the day. In the campaign against the boycott, not once was language used expressing hate for the Palestinian people. This contrasts favourably with those involved in Israel Apartheid Week who single out Israel and Israelis in a way that is full of hatred and indeed some would say racism.
Israel Apartheid Week can and must be challenged, so that the voices of hatred on campuses across the UK do not win. By doing this we ensure that Universities remain a place for academic freedom, and not hijacked by a small but vocal minority who treat Israel as the devil incarnate.