I’m a bit late to the party, but there was almost something amusing about an academic – a 15 year veteran of ‘peace journalism’ – leading a small anti-Israel crowd to interrupt a lecture on a university campus, intimidating members of the audience, waving money in the face of two Jewish attendees, before grandly proclaiming that ‘Any suggestion that I am in any way anti-Semitic is incorrect and unfounded.’
The comedy doesn’t end there. The gentleman was Jake Lynch, Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney. In response to questions regarding the incident, Lynch alleged that the woman, Diane Barkas, a semi-retired English literature lecturer and stand-up comic, had kicked him in the groin – an entirely understandable reaction – and that his waving of the Queen’s visage was a threat to ‘sue her for assault if she carried on which would have cost her a lot of money’; a bit too much like ‘the dog ate my homework’ for my liking.
The lecture in question, on ‘Ethical Dilemmas of Military Tactics’ and the complexities in dealing with non-state militant actors, was being hosted by retired Colonel Richard Kemp CBE, who served as Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, worked for the British Cabinet Office’s Joint Intelligence Committee, and as an infantry battalion Commanding Officer. These credentials signal that he might just know what he’s talking about.
Colonel Kemp, according to an ABC opinion piece by Glen Falkenstein, had been discussing non-state actors in Northern Ireland and Afghanistan and ‘the obligations of soldiers when engaging with civilians and civilian groups’, before Lynch’s mob stormed the hall. Neither Israel nor Palestine had been mentioned.
Writing in the Australian, Peter Baldwin, who was present, condemned the tactics of intimidation employed by the protestors, noting that the suppression of speakers at university campuses is both systematic and planned, spearheaded by advocates of the odious Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, of which Lynch is a leading activist.
Kemp was targeted, not because these ‘activists’ took issue with the content of his presentation, but because he is a supporter of Israel. Testifying before the UNHRC, Kemp declared that ‘during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in the combat zones than any other army in the history of warfare.’
The nature of this putrid fusion of Chomskyism and (Edward) Saidism culminates in this transcendent spectacle: academics stifling academic debate in an institution of higher learning. As well as the chant of ‘Richard Kemp, you can’t hide, you support genocide’, at a man who was both lecturing in public and, er, doesn’t support genocide. As Gerard Henderson dryly described this Shakespearean oratory, ‘hide rhymes with genocide and there was a lecture to disrupt.’ But worse, legitimate criticism of Israel (of which the Israeli press is the vanguard) instead becomes anti-Semitism dressed up as proper, high-minded political discourse. Though being an anti-Zionist doesn’t automatically make one anti-Semitic it’s amazing how many of the former also belong to the latter camp.
It’s this toxic mentality that leads to South African BDS supporters placing the severed head of a pig on the shelves of a Kosher supermarket in Cape Town, or the Southampton University almost hosting an event centred around the right of Israel to exist. It seeks to de-normalise cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, opting instead to, as WA Labor Senator Glenn Sterle argues, ‘isolate a liberal democracy with the intention of its ultimate dismantlement.’
As Western nations have discovered in Mesopotamia and Afghanistan, warfare against jihadi groups in metropolitan centres is difficult and complex. As Colonel Kemp argued in the Algemeiner, ‘ Hamas [uses] a key element – possibly the key element of their strategy – human shields. They want to lure and force Israel to kill civilians. And so you see images of dead babies, dead boys on the beach, women screaming about their children, and no reality can overcome those images.’
To be clear: the reason for Israel’s existence is hatred toward Jews. Whatever one thinks of the partitioning of British colonial Palestine, we are where we are. Countless mistakes were made on the way toward and after the establishment of the Jewish state, including many of Israel’s recent military endeavours. I recall Peter Hitchens writing, in sadness, that Israel’s most recent assault on Hamas would yield nothing except a continuation of hostilities, and ammunition for anti-Zionists.
The above admitted, the nature of the BDS movement cannot be tolerated. There is no case, moral or intellectual, to justify the selective demonisation of Israel, or the de-normalisation of relations between the West, Israel and Palestine. The fallacious comparisons to Apartheid-era South Africa that BDS supporters often make is an insult to the intelligence, especially given the types of governance that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority impose upon the Palestinian people.
Note the sheer size of the anti-Israel protests across Australian capitals last year, with Lakemba featuring a rather alarming rally (‘the solution is jihad’, as a chap on a megaphone kept chanting), and the comparative absence of protests against Bashar al-Assad, who’s killed more than three-times the number of people in Syria in four years than (almost) 70 years of the Israeli-Arab conflict.For that matter, where is the outrage against Hamas’s subjugation of Gazans?
Dissonance aside, the most compelling case against BDS isn’t that certain members of its Australian chapter are nasty pieces of work, or that Israel is the only legitimate liberal democracy in the Middle East, that it enjoys a robust free press and judiciary, or that women, gays, and ethnic minorities enjoy greater rights than in any other country in the region (though they’re all important points to recall). The BDS movement will be a failure in its supposed aims, precisely because it rejects actual cooperation between Israelis, Palestinians, and their respective supporters.This irony was on display when Stephen Hawking decided to boycott Israel’s annual President’s Dinner in 2013 at the behest of Palestinian academics, despite the fact that the device that allows him to communicate to the world runs on a chip made where? Israel.