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Countering Bias and Misinformation mainly about the Arab-Israel conflict

SCOTTISH PROFESSOR RESPONDS TO ISRAEL BOYCOTT CALL

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A Scottish professor responds to The Edinburgh Student's Association motion to boycott Israel.

 

Dr.Denis MacEoin, an expert in Persian, Arabic and Islamic History and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly who earned a PhD at Cambridge and teaches Arabic and Islamic Studies at Newcastle University, responds

TO: The Committee

 Edinburgh University Student Association

 

May I be permitted to say a few words to members of the EUSA? I am an

Edinburgh graduate (MA 1975) who studied Persian, Arabic and Islamic History in Buccleuch Place under William Montgomery Watt and Laurence Elwell Sutton, wo ofBritain's great Middle East experts in their day. I later went on to do a PhD at Cambridge and to teach Arabic and Islamic Studies at Newcastle University. Naturally, I am the author of several books and hundreds of articles in this field.

 

I say all that to show that I am well informed in Middle Eastern affairs and

that, for that reason, I am shocked and disheartened by the EUSA motion and

vote. I am shocked for a simple reason: there is not and has never been a

system of apartheid in Israel. That is not my opinion, that is fact that can

be tested against reality by any Edinburgh student, should he or she choose

to visit Israel to see for themselves.

 

Let me spell this out, since I have the impression that those members of

EUSA who voted for this motion are absolutely clueless in matters concerning

Israel, and that they are, in all likelihood, the victims of extremely

biased propaganda coming from the anti-Israel lobby. Being anti-Israel is

not in itself objectionable. But I'm not talking about ordinary criticism of

Israel. I'm speaking of a hatred that permits itself no boundaries in the

lies and myths it pours out. Thus, Israel is repeatedly referred to as a

"Nazi" state. In what sense is this true, even as a metaphor? Where are the

Israeli concentration camps? The einzatsgruppen? The SS? The Nuremberg Laws?

 

The Final Solution? None of these things nor anything remotely resembling

them exists in Israel, precisely because the Jews, more than anyone on

earth, understand what Nazism stood for. It is claimed that there has been

an Israeli Holocaust in Gaza (or elsewhere). Where? When? No honest

historian would treat that claim with anything but the contempt it deserves. But calling Jews Nazis and saying they have committed a Holocaust is as basic a way to subvert historical fact as anything I can

think of.

 

Likewise apartheid. For apartheid to exist, there would have to be a

situation that closely resembled how things were in South Africa under the

apartheid regime. Unfortunately for those who believe this, a weekend in any

part of Israel would be enough to show how ridiculous the claim is. That a

body of university students actually fell for this and voted on it is a sad

comment on the state of modern education. The most obvious focus for

apartheid would be the country's 20% Arab population. Under Israeli law,

Arab Israelis have exactly the same rights as Jews or anyone else; Muslims

have the same rights as Jews or Christians; Baha'is, severely persecuted in

Iran, flourish in Israel, where they have their world centre; Ahmadi

Muslims, severely persecuted in Pakistan and elsewhere, are kept safe by

Israel; the holy places of all religions are protected under a specific

Israeli law. Arabs form 20% of the university population (an exact echo of

their percentage in the general population). In Iran, the Bahai's (the

largest religious minority) are forbidden to study in any university or to

run their own universities: why aren't your members boycotting Iran?

 

Arabs in Israel can go anywhere they want, unlike blacks in apartheid South

Africa. They use public transport, they eat in restaurants, they go to

swimming pools, they use libraries, they go to cinemas alongside Jews -

something no blacks were able to do in South Africa. Israeli hospitals not

only treat Jews and Arabs, they also treat Palestinians from Gaza or the

West Bank. On the same wards, in the same operating theatres.

 

In Israel, women have the same rights as men: there is no gender apartheid.

Gay men and women face no restrictions, and Palestinian gays often escape

into Israel, knowing they may be killed at home. It seems bizarre to me that

LGBT groups call for a boycott of Israel and say nothing about countries

like Iran, where gay men are hanged or stoned to death. That illustrates a

mindset that beggars belief. Intelligent students thinking it's better to be

silent about regimes that kill gay people, but good to condemn the only

country in the Middle East that rescues and protects gay people. Is that

supposed to be a sick joke?

 

University is supposed to be about learning to use your brain, to think

rationally, to examine evidence, to reach conclusions based on solid

evidence, to compare sources, to weigh up one view against one or more

others. If the best Edinburgh can now produce are students who have no idea

how to do any of these things, then the future is bleak. I do not object to

well-documented criticism of Israel. I do object when supposedly intelligent

people single the Jewish state out above states that are horrific in their

treatment of their populations. We are going through the biggest upheaval in

the Middle East since the 7th and 8th centuries, and it's clear that Arabs

and Iranians are rebelling against terrifying regimes that fight back by

killing their own citizens. Israeli citizens, Jews and Arabs alike, do not

rebel (though they are free to protest). Yet Edinburgh students mount no

demonstrations and call for no boycotts against Libya, Bahrain, Saudi

Arabia, Yemen, and Iran. They prefer to make false accusations against one

of the world's freest countries, the only country in the Middle East that

has taken in Darfur refugees, the only country in the Middle East that gives

refuge to gay men and women, the only country in the Middle East that

protects the Bahai's.... Need I go on? The imbalance is perceptible, and it

sheds no credit on anyone who voted for this boycott.

 

I ask you to show some common sense. Get information from the Israeli

embassy. Ask for some speakers. Listen to more than one side. Do not make

your minds up until you have given a fair hearing to both parties. You have

a duty to your students, and that is to protect them from one-sided

argument. They are not at university to be propagandized. And they are

certainly not there to be tricked into anti-Semitism by punishing one

country among all the countries of the world, which happens to be the only

Jewish state. If there had been a single Jewish state in the 1930s (which,

sadly, there was not), don't you think Adolf Hitler would have decided to

boycott it? Of course he would, and he would not have stopped there. Your

generation has a duty to ensure that the perennial racism of anti-Semitism

never sets down roots among you. Today, however, there are clear signs that

it has done so and is putting down more. You have a chance to avert a very

great evil, simply by using reason and a sense of fair play. Please tell me

that this makes sense. I have given you some of the evidence.

 

It's up to you to find out more.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Denis MacEoin

 

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