Universities Tolerating Intolerance
IT says a great deal about the illiberal tendencies of parts of our academic community that the anti-Israeli boycott, divestment and sanctions movement - which often borders on the anti-Semitic - finds support in the humanities faculties of some of our universities.Given the right of people to go about their legal business, and shop where they please, it is questionable that the University of NSW should even tolerate protests against a chocolate shop being established on its site. But it is beyond question that it should take action against protesters using blatantly racist and anti-Semitic language as part of these protests. We expect that, quite rightly, there would be forceful action to stamp out any vilification of, say, Muslim or Asian students. Yet seemingly the targeting of Israeli-linked companies and Jewish people throws up a confected moral quandary.
The BDS movement wins support not just from jejune students eager for an anti-establishment cause but also from some academics, perhaps for the same reason. If it were not so tragic it would be a hilarious paradox that the University of Sydney's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies backs BDS, including preventing academic exchanges. It is difficult to think of an act that is more close-minded or less conciliatory than banning an exchange of ideas between people in liberal democracies. Still, this is what passes muster in some parts of the academy these days.
The blatant dishonesty of this campaign should be identified and condemned. The legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people present a worthy cause, yet to couch their campaign in hateful language about "apartheid" and "war crimes" is demonstrably inaccurate and offensive. No objective view of history could fail to recognise Israel's offers to surrender territory to the Palestinians in return for peace. The landmark Oslo Accords cemented this reality but the olive branch has never been grasped, primarily because Hamas, like Yasser Arafat's PLO before it, simply will not recognise the right of Israel to exist. A peace based on two secure states can hardly be delivered without that fundamental acceptance. When Israel evacuated its citizens and withdrew from Gaza in 2005 it wasn't peace that ensued but bloody battles between Hamas and Fatah. Israel was rewarded with indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into its territory, targeting its civilians. Unless Palestinians accept responsibility for their actions, there can be no serious consideration of a peaceful resolution to their rightful claims for territory, statehood and the return of refugees.
As a pluralistic democracy that provides for the security and well-being of Palestinians, Israel is not remotely comparable to apartheid South Africa. For decades Arabs have had greater democratic and human rights in Israel than in any Arab country. They make up about a sixth of Israel's population and Palestinian Muslims hold seats in the Knesset on a platform of creating a viable Palestinian state. Israel is not perfect and the Palestinian issue must be resolved. But demonising Israel and Jews is not only wrong because it is racist, it is also an incorrect and deceptive interpretation of reality. Julia Gillard is right to condemn the BDS campaign, now so marginalised it has been disowned even by the Greens. We are entitled to expect our universities to take a stronger stand both against racism and in favour of facts.