The Times Higher Education Supplement
06 April 2007
Published: 06 April 2007
An Israeli academic has suggested that Jewish student groups are courting Muslim anger by aligning themselves with the state of Israel.
Ilan Pappe, who is leaving Haifa University to take up a chair in history at Exeter University this year, said some Jewish students had become "ambassadors of Israel".
He said: "Muslim anger is directed at them not because they are Jews but because of their unqualified support for the state of Israel, which Muslims see as an oppressive country."
Professor Pappe, who previously accused Israel of "ethnically cleansing" Palestinians and supported a boycott of Israeli academics, was responding to suggestions that Jewish students were under increasing threat from anti-Semitism on campus.
In its response to the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry on Anti-Semitism published last week, the UK Government notes "real concerns that practice (in addressing anti-Semitism) is not consistent across the sector".
Professor Pappe played down those claims. "Jewish students are not taken away by MI5 for questioning," he said. "Muslims are feeling real pressure from the state organ, whereas Jewish students are on the winning side. The Semites who suffer racism today are Muslims, not Jews."
Mitch Simmons, the Union of Jewish Students campaigns officer, said: "We are worried that he will use his position to influence debate and that his views will gain more legitimacy."
Michael Harris, president of Manchester Jewish Students' Society, said that it was "extremely worrying" that a man with such views had been appointed.
Geoffrey Alderman, a visiting research fellow at University of London's Institute of Historical Research, who describes himself as "an unashamed Zionist", said those opposing Professor Pappe's appointment were "on dangerous ground". He added: "No one should be barred from a position because they hold unpopular opinions."
Other academics have complained that criticism of Israel on campus too often turns into generalised attacks on Jews.
David Hirsh, sociology lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, said:
"Jews who decline to identify themselves as anti-Zionist are treated as though they are racist. There is a direct route from that to the creation of an anti-Semitic atmosphere."
Letters in todays THES on Pappe -
would like to congratulate Exeter University for aiming to set up a European centre for Palestinian Studies and I hope that it can play its part in the foundation of a Palestinian state. But it won't play such a positive academic and political role if it functions as a centre for vulgar anti-Zionist propaganda rather than as a centre for pro-Palestinian study and learning.
Ilan Pappe (THES 6 April) clings to an essentialist and ahistorical identification of Israel as a necessarily racist and apartheid state. He calls on British academics to exclude colleagues who work at Israeli universities from our campuses, conferences and journals. He implies that a good Israeli is one who "to some extent" gives up being an Israeli. He denounces Jewish student organizations in our universities as agents of a foreign power. He talks as though people who see synagogues in the UK as being answerable for the oppression of Palestinians are not entirely wrong.
Pappe was not successful in building either an academic or a political movement in Israel capable of playing a positive role in building peace – in this he is far from unusual. What is unusual is the way he made sense of that failure. Having given up on the possibility of his colleagues acting for peace, he transferred his desperate hope onto British academics, as though we were in some sense better.
I suspect he will discover at Exeter that UK academics are a pretty similar lot to those he left behind – they are neither a new vanguard for world revolution nor are they agents of evil Zionist imperialism – they are simply a mixed bunch of people who like reading and writing books, and teaching students.
Goldsmiths, University of London
Ilan Pappe is reported as being concerned that if Jewish students concentrate on defending Israel "they then risked drawing Muslim anger against the state of Israel and themselves".
I do not see myself as defending Israel in the plethora of anti-Israel talks that are given on campus but merely putting Israel's point of view, one that is rarely raised by the many speakers.
The option of not letting an audience know that there is another narrativeis anathema to me.
The only anger I have ever encountered is from members of the public who have come specifically for a talk, and after a talk I often engage with Muslim students in constructive and extremely polite debate about Israel/Palestine.
Pappe need not worry about Muslim-Jewish relations on campus for, on mine anyway, they are excellent.
As for his recent appointment, I hope Pappe does not let his politics affect his overriding duty to his students to be objective. One must remember that as an anti-Zionist lecturer he precludes the idea of a Jewish state in the Middle East, whereas a Zionist lecturer will never preclude a Palestinian one.