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How to Shut Up Your Critics

Thank God, I often say, for the Israeli press. For where else will you find the sort of courageous condemnation of Israel’s cruel and brutal treatment of the Palestinians? Where else can we read that Moshe Ya’alon, Ariel Sharon’s new chief of staff, described the “Palestinian threat” as “like a cancer–there are all sorts of solutions to cancerous manifestations. For the time being, I am applying chemotherapy.”

Where else can we read that the Israeli Herut Party chairman, Michael Kleiner, said that “for every victim of ours there must be 1,000 dead Palestinians”. Where else can we read that Eitan Ben Eliahu, the former Israeli Air Force commander, said that “eventually we will have to thin out the number of Palestinians living in the territories”. Where else can we read that the new head of Mossad, General Meir Dagan–a close personal friend of Mr Sharon–believes in “liquidation units”, that other Mossad men regard him as a threat because “if Dagan brings his morality to the Mossad, Israel could become a country in which no normal Jew would want to live”.

You will have to read all this in Ma’ariv, Ha’aretz or Yediot Ahronot because in much of the Western world, a vicious campaign of slander is being waged against any journalist or activist who dares to criticise Israeli policies or those that shape them. The all-purpose slander of “anti-Semitism” is now used with ever-increasing promiscuity against anyone–people who condemn the wickedness of Palestinian suicide bombings every bit as much as they do the cruelty of Israel’s repeated killing of children–in an attempt to shut them up.

Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer of the Middle East Forum now run a website in the United States to denounce academics who are deemed to have shown “hatred of Israel”. One of the eight professors already on this contemptible McCarthyite list–it is grotesquely called “Campus Watch”–committed the unpardonable sin of signing a petition in support of the Palestinian scholar Edward Said. Pipes wants students to inform on professors who are guilty of “campus anti-Semitism”.

The University of North Carolina is being targeted–apparently because freshmen were required to read passages from the Koran–along with Harvard where, like students in many other US universities, undergraduates are demanding that their colleges disinvest in companies that sell weapons to Israel. In some cases, American universities–which happily disinvested in tobacco companies–have now taken the step of blocking all student access to their records of investment.

Lawrence Summers, the Jewish president of Harvard, has denounced “profoundly anti-Israel views” in “progressive intellectual communities”, that are–I enjoyed this academic sleight of hand–“advocating and taking actions that are anti-semitic in their effect if not their intent”. Mr Said himself has already described all this as a campaign “to ask students and faculty to inform against pro-Palestinian colleagues, intimidating the right of free speech and seriously curtailing academic freedom”.

Ted Honderich, a Canadian-born philosopher who teaches at University College London, tells me that Oxfam has refused to accept lbs5,000 plus other royalties from his new book After the Terror following a campaign against him in the Toronto-based Globe and Mail. Now I happen to take issue with some of Professor Honderich’s conclusions and I think his book–praised by the American-Jewish scholar Noam Chomsky–meanders. I especially don’t like his assertion that Palestinians, in trying to free themselves from occupation, have a “moral right to terrorism”. Blowing up children in pizzerias–and Professor Honderich’s book is not an endorsement of such atrocities–is a crime against humanity. There is no moral right to do this. But what in God’s name is Oxfam doing refusing Professor Honderich’s money for its humanitarian work? Who was behind this?

John Pilger made a programme for Carlton Television called Palestine Is Still The Issue. I have watched it three times. It is accurate in every historical detail; indeed its historical adviser was a left-wing Israeli academic. But Carlton’s own chairman, Michael Green–in one of the most gutless statements in recent British journalism–announced that it was “a tragedy for Israel so far as accuracy is concerned”. Why Mr Green should want to utter such trash is beyond me. But what does he mean by “tragedy”? Is he comparing Pilger to a suicide bomber?

And so it goes on. It is left, of course, to the likes of Uri Avneri in Israel to state that “the Sharon government is a giant laboratory for the growing of the anti-Semitism virus”. He rightly says that by smearing those who detest the persecution of the Palestinians as anti-Semites, “the sting is taken out of this word, giving it something approaching respectability”. But we can take comfort that 28 brave academics have signed a petition condemning President George Bush’s build-up to war and Israel’s support for it and warning that the Israeli government may be contemplating crimes against humanity on the Palestinians, including ethnic cleansing.

Have Mr Pipes and his chums put the names of these good men and women on their hate list? You bet they haven’t. Because all of them are Israeli scholars at Israeli universities. I wonder why we weren’t told about this.

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Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

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