In a recent vote taken in Bournmouth, the chosen representatives of the British University and College Union (UCU) decided to reinstate a boycott of Israeli academia. The protest is directed, as usual, against Isreali occupation of Judea and Samaria (we've pulled out of Gaza already!), as well as the rough handling of the Palestinian people in general.
It would be pointless to rehearse here the usual arguments for and against Israel's presence in the "occupied territories". Isreali treatment of the Palestinians, both in the "territories" and in Israel, leaves much to be desired. So does its policy in a myriad other fields. One may best sum up this aspect of the discussion with the words of Prof. Sari Nussibeh, a man whose family has a long, intimate, connexion with the land, and who cannot be accused of indifference to the suffering of the Palestinian people:
An International academic boycott of Israel, on pro-Palestinian grounds, is self-defeating: It would only succeed in weakening that strategically important bridge, through which the state of war between Israelis and Palestinians could be ended, and Palestinian rights could therefore be restored. Instead of burning that bridge, the international academy should do everything within its power to strengthen it. (In a letter to University Presidents in Israel).
Still, there is a great deal of irony in the fact that the scholars of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are the ones to initiate and lead this boycott. After all, what became the Israeli-Palestinian conflict broke out during the British mandate over the land. To make things worse, the fire was fanned intentionally by British imperial agents.
To put things in context: in order to build the Empire on which the Sun never sets, the British used the time-honoured tradition of divide et impra. As the inimitable Sir Humphrey Appleby once pointed out, this policy was put to devastating effect in retreat from Empire. This strategy resulted naturally in many local conflagrations, to name but a few: India-Pakistan, Cyprus and Ireland. Here, too, the British left behind a legacy of spilt blood and ardent hatred.
Now ask yourselves: which are the hotspots most disruptive to world peace today?
Israel and Kashmir immediately come to mind as likely candidates for Gold and Silver; after all, both conflicts involve nuclear weapons. Both lands were under British rule before gaining independence. Iraq, a worthy candidate for Bronze, was also a part of the Empire; some parts of it are under British occupation even now. Only in North Korea (thank God!) weren't the British in any way significantly involved.
Some of the greatest hindrances to world peace in our time thus appear to be the refuse left behind by the British Empire. It would be better, therefore, for British academics to focus their attention on the legacy of their own country's past, rather than lecture those who have been left behind to clean up the mess.
And if they really care for the suffering of millions of Palestinian refugess – many of whom live without hope and in squalid conditions – they should exercise their influence at home, and invite the refugees to immigrate to the United Kingdom. To be sure, a great many of the Palestinian refugess would gladly exchange their current place of exile for London, say, or Bournmouth.
First published in Hebrew in: http://www.karmel.co.il/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=295