Ray of hope that bullies needn’t always win

  • 2a-David Saks stats
Advocating for Israel, as anyone engaged in that thankless task knows, is being rendered all but impossible in an environment where the thinking on the issue is becoming progressively more unhinged.
by DAVID SAKS | Aug 05, 2015

How does one put across a reasoned, factually argued case when brute invective, ad hominem abuse, brazen untruths, omissions and emotive sloganising is all that is coming from the other side?

This would be less of a problem if the latter approach was confined to individual letter writers or spokespeople for organisations that have an overt anti-Israel agenda.

The problem is that overwhelmingly, the same unbalanced, emotion-driven rhetoric is being served up by those who, at least theoretically, should be expected - simply from a professional point of view - to adopt a reasonably nonpartisan approach that weighs and takes into account all conflicting claims. They include university academics, political leaders and the mainstream media in general.

I am not even bemoaning the absence of occasional commentary explicitly supportive of Israel. What is becoming more and more apparent is that even the taking of a neutral, even-handed stance on the question is being thrust off the table. Nowadays, no-one can attempt a middle-of-the-road analysis without being reviled as a Zionist stooge and therefore an apologist for colonialism, racism, apartheid, ethnic cleaning and baby killing.

Under the circumstances, it is to be expected that those without any particular axe to grind prefer to stay out of the whole debate rather than jeopardise their professional standing. When it comes to Israel, a pernicious form of ultra-leftist post-colonial McCarthyism has taken root, with those espousing virulent anti-Israel positions being given free rein to impose their ideology on everyone else while forcing all dissenting opinion to the margins.

I was for many years grateful to be a product of the humanities faculty at Rhodes University. It was particularly shocking to learn, therefore, that shortly after last year’s Gaza conflict, members of that faculty voted by a substantial margin in favour of a resolution making any participation by Israeli academics (as well as “official representatives from Israel”) in university programmes, academic or otherwise, conditional on their first condemning the actions of the Israeli government.

Specifically, it was resolved that Israelis be “requested” prior to being formally invited on campus to make a statement “renouncing the use of lethal military force by the Israeli government against unarmed civilians in Palestine”.

That Israel was deliberately targeting civilians was presented not as an interpretation, and a strenuously contested one at that, but as a given fact from which no dissent was allowed.

What it amounted to was that an institution ostensibly founded on the principles of free intellectual enquiry and debate, was dictating to other scholars what opinion they were required to adhere to as a precondition for being allowed to practise their profession. It is scandalous that such a resolution could have been seriously debated at all, let alone passed - and with just a handful of dissenting voices to boot.

I have little doubt that many, if not most, of those voting in favour of the resolution, did so out of fear of being labelled as Zionist sympathisers and ostracised by their peers. It is some comfort at least that the university itself declined to endorse the policy.

However, the incident was depressing evidence of how, far from making a reasoned, scholarly contribution to the discussion as one would expect professional intellectuals to do, academics are among the worst offenders when it comes to spreading jaundiced misinformation.

Nor is it a new development for Israeli academics - over and above their counterparts from anywhere else in the world - to be confronted with demands that they condemn their own country before being allowed to speak, regardless what their subject might be.

A few years ago, an Israeli national arriving to deliver a paper at the annual SA Sociological Association (SASA) conference was informed at the last minute that he was expected to make such a statement; when he refused, the entire gathering staged a walk-out, without a single person remaining to protest against this shameful treatment of a colleague.

Subsequently, it was made official SASA policy that Israeli academics be included in its programmes only once they had made an appropriate statement distancing themselves from Israel’s actions.

The outlook looks bleak indeed, but fortunately, not all appears to be lost. Recently, a group of young South African leaders stood up to a sustained campaign of abuse, threats and intimidation to go on a six-day exploratory visit to Israel under the auspices of the SA-Israel Forum.

None of them had been in any way pro-Israel to start with, and not a few had even taken an active part in boycott campaigns against it. On hearing them report back on their visit, there is no doubt that their views have undergone a profound change, not because they have suddenly become pro-Israel and/or anti-Palestinian, but because they have heard and honestly engaged with views differing from the narrative that had been presented to them as the sole truth and come to their own conclusions.

It was a rare but welcome indication that the bullies needn’t always win, and that space still remains for the Israel-Palestine question to be honestly, constructively and, perhaps above all, civilly debated in our society.


  1. 3 bds works 05 Aug
    PR Gone Wrong On Israeli Propaganda Trip, participant speaks out http://ymlp.com/zjGKRe 
  2. 2 nat cheiman 06 Aug
    BDS does not Work. It sits on its tochas and tells lies.
    It is despicable.
  3. 1 Denis Solomons 11 Aug
    They say that the bigger they are , the harder they fall !


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