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CAUT Bulletin Archives

November 2009

Naive support for anti-Israel conference

Dorit Naaman rightfully condemns the attempt by Jewish organizations to stifle debate in Canada on the future of Israel and Palestine, a debate that is lively in Israel, perhaps more so than here (Bul­le­tin, October 2009). But her own comment shows why defenders of Israel are correct in seeing the planned York University conference as part of a wider effort to deny Israel the right to exist as the homeland of the Jewish people.

Not content to discuss the reaction of Jewish organizations, to analyze its pos­sible effects on academic freedom and to report on the openness of public discourse in Israel, Naaman must also highlight a warning, made in 1902, that a Jewish state would be “small (and) petty … orthodox and illiberal,” exclusionary and narrowminded in its policies.

This is not a critique of Israel as it actually exists; it is the biased representation, by an assimilationist Jew of a century ago, of what he took to be the essence of the Jewish people and of a Jewish state, were it to come into being. It is, in fact, an expression of disdain and bigotry. If such a statement were quoted in a text about the future Palestinian state, it would be condemned as racist.

Naaman’s commentary unwittingly highlights precisely what opponents of the York University conference understand to be its disingenuous premise: the meeting will showcase academic discourse that is motivated, at least in part, by prejudice.

It is one thing for Israelis to ponder the future of their state in light of the current stalemate and of the price it exacts from Palestinians and will exact in increasing intensity from (Jewish) Israelis. It is another thing altogether for people motivated by prejudice and animosity to use an academic forum to deny a member state of the United Nations its very right to exist.

The “coordinated campaign” of pro-Israel organizations against the York University conference may be deplorable as an attack on academic freedom. But it is a logical response to another coordinated campaign that is much more dangerous, because it is, despite the positive motivations of some participants, objectively aligned with the efforts of groups and states whose stated aim is the erasure of Israel from the map.

Raphaël Fischler
School of Urban Planning
McGill University

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