Published by Daily Mail
On Wednesday 27th February 2013 at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, the University’s Student Union voted overwhelmingly against the anti-Israel motion to support ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ (BDS) – a Palestinian movement which seeks to isolate Israel on the world stage by severing all diplomatic and economic links with the country, and placing embargos on trade, aid and military cooperation. Israel’s actions are, in short, devoid of all reason and lack any moral justification.
As far as the BDS campaign is concerned, the Israeli Government is guilty of ethnic cleansing, colonisation, racial discrimination, and military occupation. The motion was to have remained in force until such time as Israel ‘ends the occupation and complies with international law’.
But Oxford’s intelligent and discerning students (well, 69 of them: 10 voted for and 15 abstained) were not swayed by the fact that supporters of this jihad include Archbishop-Saint Desmond Tutu, the tree-hugging Green Party, and the revered lefty film-maker Ken Loach. It probably also includes a majority of the Tory-phobic, Thatcher-hating (yes, still) Congregation of the University – the ruling body of academics and college masters who disgracefully continue to withhold an honorary doctorate from its most famous alumna.
But these plucky students did not succumb to populist pressure or submit to academic authority, choosing instead to ignore altogether the motions in support of BDS passed by other universities across the UK, and also by the National Union of Students and the Trades Union Congress.
No, they made up their own minds, after vigorous debate in the pursuit of knowledge, based on reason and the empirical facts.
The motion referred to the ‘hundreds of UN resolutions’ which have ‘condemned the government of Israel’s colonial and discriminatory policies as illegal’. It drew attention to Israel’s ‘policy of collective punishment and killing against the people of Gaza’ which has created ‘a devastating humanitarian crisis’. It demanded ‘dismantling (of) the Wall’; the ‘rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes’; and an end to the ‘occupation and colonization of all Arab lands’.
By some remarkable insight and omniscience, the proposer of the motion, Emily Cousens of Wadham College, asserts: ‘Contrary to media reports this is not a proportionate response of self-defence.’
Funny, that. Because if Israel were to open its borders to all those in Jordan who claim refugee status; if Israel were to take down the security wall and hand to Hamas all the land it claims; if Israel were to cease seeking out Palestinian terrorists and halt the bombing of Gaza’s missile-launchers, the consequences would indeed be existential.
But this, of course, is a mere ‘media report’, so whatever I advocate cannot possibly be ‘a proportionate response of self-defence’.
It is laudable that Emily Cousens believes that ‘we have a moral responsibility to fight injustice’. But why single out Israel at the present time? What about the 288,000 refugees fleeing Syria, or the children being crushed to death under piles of Assad’s rubble? What about the fact that Iran denies women an education, routinely hangs teenage gays, or that Ahmadinejad is building his own ‘apartheid’ wall in the occupation of Balochistan? What about the litany of crimes against humanity being perpetrated in North Korea, China, Russia, Zimbabwe, Indonesia or Sudan?
Where are the OUSU motions against these horrors? Isn’t political torture of any concern? Isn’t the occupation of Tibet sufficiently chronic? Isn’t the imprisonment of ‘Pussy Riot’ an offence against artistic freedom? Isn’t the systematic and brutal persecution of Anglicans by Mugabe of any significance at all?
None of this appears to matter. The dominant undergraduate mindset is that Israel is unique in the world and merits special treatment with specific motions of condemnation and outrage. Some call that anti-Israeli; others call it anti-Zionist; still others call it anti-Semitism. It is undeniable that the BDS campaign attracts an awful lot of Islamist extremists and anti-Semites, all shrouded in moderate Palestinian civility.
Emily Cousens might consider that Israel is one of the few places in the Middle East where Arab women may vote. It is just about the only country in the Middle East where lesbians and gays are not routinely harassed, persecuted, tortured or murdered. The Jewish State is also where more than 300,000 Arab children are education freely in Arab schools in accordance with the precepts of their religion. And these Arab children may grow up to take their seats in the Knesset and hold other government posts. Some have already become Supreme Court judges. One has even risen to become President.
How many Arab states grant such liberties to Jews?
The proposer and supporters of this motion essentially take the George Galloway line. He, too, believes that Israel is unique in the world and should be singled out for special treatment. Actually, scratch that. He believes that Israel has no right to exist at all: it is an illegitimate and artificial construct which robs the Palestinians of their Allah-given land. It follows that he not only refuses to debate with Israelis; he boycotts everything and everyone from Israel because it is the embodiment of the ‘racist Apartheid creed of Zionism’, which he describes as a ‘cancer at the heart of the Middle East’.
Perhaps, having failed to persuade her Oxford peers of the merits of BDS, Emily Cousens might now pursue a private campaign against Israeli injustice with a unilateral boycott of Israeli goods and those companies which use Israeli components. She might start with her mobile phone, the Intel processors in her PC, along with MS Windows, XP, Vista, Firewall software and her USB flash drive. She must make sure that she harasses on a regular basis the governments of all those developing nations which use drip irrigation to feed their populations, and those which use solar-powered windows in construction, whatever suffering and starvation may result from the boycott.
And should she ever have the misfortune to contract Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis or breast cancer, I hope she will remain true to her principles and reject any medical procedures which may involve the use of the PillCam, ExAblate ultrasound, ReWalk or the drug Copaxone. That would be her personal ethical choice, which she would be entirely free to make. But it would be a grave moral injustice for her to seek to deny these Israeli medical advances to those who may be suffering or dying.
The cry to boycott Israel and all Israeli goods is wonderfully naive and idealistic, but it needs to be left in sixth-form debating clubs. Thinking adults understand and appreciate that while Israel may not always be perfect in the administration of justice, the country is a crucial bulwark against Islamist aggression, and an undoubted force for good in a deeply troubled world.