Shimon Peres, a stately and upright 85 year old, was elected President of Israel by the Knesset in 2007. I have an earlier biography of his ‘Fighting for Peace’ – he’s seen it all. He got out of Poland in ’34, fought hard to establish Israel, and has been fighting to keep it there ever since. He won a Nobel Peace Prize in ’94 for his work on the Oslo accords, the closest to peace that Israelis and Palestinians have come. Peres was Oslo. These days he is seen as a realist dove. He is not in favour of attacking Iran – he calls for an international alliance to turn Iran from an atomic bomb. The Peres Centre for Peace is responsible for, among other initiatives, making the case for reducing the number of checkpoints in the West Bank and working out the equitable distribution of water.
Yesterday Peres addressed staff and students at the Sheldonian, Balliol College, Oxford University on the topic of ‘Globalising Peace’. He was the subject of a banning/boycott campaign which included PACBI, and some other groups. Here he is captured on a phone by the look of things (update: better vid from the JC – dead link last time I looked – shows the interruptions)
As well as the chanting you can hear in the video from the tens of students protesting outside, he was heckled every five minutes by 8 kitsch pro-Palestinian activists touting the usual slanders – ethnic cleansing, apartheid, mingled with protest about the settlements. I guess maybe they thought that Peres might have forgotten about the Palestinians for a minute. I always wonder why the facts don’t speak for themselves – why do they need exaggeration, discrimination into ethnic cleansing, occupation into apartheid. I’m cheered that Balliol let students into the event on a first-come-first-served basis, even though the event was evocative of Maoist youth shouting down the dalai lama.
Here we have a pro-Palestine movement of mostly led by, from what I can gather, white Stalinists, that shouts about debate and free speech as a way to make hair-raisingly discriminatory points and policies against Israel, but when there are moves to give an Israeli a chance to make his case you realise that free speech and debate are simply convenient pretexts. Double standards and contorted values characterise this movement.
Peres talked about the origins of Zionism in antisemitism and it occurred to me that the dominant kind of anti-Zionism fits the bill of globalised antisemitism pretty well these days. The weirdly intense and aggressive kind which of confuses Zionist with Jew, perpetuates war, subordinates all principle to the single cause, and has given more principled anti-Zionists, particularly Jewish ones, reason to recoil.
The boycott campaign against Peres – supported by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel is the most recent bit of evidence that the boycott is a continuation of the campaign against a peace settlement with nationally-minded Jews in the region, which came into focus with the Arab Revolt of 1936-9. It isn’t possible to boycott the leading Israeli peacemaker and at the same time make a credible claim to want peace in the region. The boycott campaign is a rallying cry for Palestinian militancy. The peace in question is a simple victory – a forcible end to the Jewish state.
So, Ali Bahrer Chair of the Hebrew University’s Arab Students Committee, has the right to refuse to shake Peres’s hand. Certainly the opportunity to vent your disapproval at a leader on a walkabout doesn’t come up every day. That he did this while screeching “child murderer” was hateful as well as politically facile, and to treat Peres as if he had set out to kill 108 Lebanese civilians who sought refuge from the war between Hesbollah and Israel in a UN shelter at Qana was nasty. But for his idiotic outspokeness Bahrer didn’t deserve (and Peres had no part in it) harassment, the removal of his student card or the termination of his accommodation. This is no way to treat a member of the most excluded social group in Israel who has merely spoken his bile, however idiotic. The Hebrew University has since reinstated them.
“Muslims, Christians, and Jews peacefully coexisted in various places for centuries, but the establishment of a political movement called International Zionism, which has no connection to Judaism, created a regional crisis and a chasm between Muslims and most practicing Jews.
The organizers of the meeting could have invited real Jews, like the members of Neturei Karta and representatives of the Islamic and Christian religions to participate, but the presence of Arab leaders and Zionist regime officials politicized the gathering.”