Hostility to Israel in Britain public life is not new. Nowadays much of the
intellectual assault takes the form of “delegitimization” – a new label for an
assault which has been building up for many years.
highlight flagrant examples of this assault, like “Israel Apartheid Weeks” on
British campuses, the invective against Israelis and “Zionists” in
demonstrations in British city centers, nasty cartoons depicting Zionist control
of the media, picketing of Israeli retail outlets, boycott campaigns and the
intimidation of pro- Israel speakers on campus.
While it is important to
highlight these episodes, they only tell half the story. Why? Because they are
just symptoms of a deeper phenomenon, namely the polite endorsement of
rejectionist ideas about Israel within British liberal
This endorsement follows a “dripdrip” pattern. It is
unspectacular and it meets virtually no resistance. And it is this process which
creates a conducive atmosphere for delegitimization. Quite simply, Israel’s
narrative is vanishing from British liberal public life. And as a result its
legitimacy is being steadily eroded.
HERE ARE eight illustrations of what
• School textbook – The Jews did not accept the UN partition plan in
1947: A leading schoolbook on the Israeli- Arab conflict, written for the
thousands of 15- and 16-year-old students taking public exams, opens its chapter
on the 1948 War of Independence by stating, “The United Nations decision to
partition Palestine meant that two states would be created – one Jewish and one
Arab. Neither side could accept the idea of their homeland being divided and
hostilities between the two soon broke out” (from The Arab-Israeli Conflict, by
Tony Rea and John Wright, Oxford University Press).
Of course this is a
falsehood. And to state that hostilities passively “broke out” is a second
historical rewrite, concealing the invasion of Israel by five sovereign
• Same textbook: Israel and Palestinian terrorists are both
“utterly ruthless” in their use of violence. The same textbook later compares
Israeli policies with aircraft hijackings by Palestinian groups in the 1970s.
The authors conclude: “We can see a large number of similarities in the way
violence has been used by each side. For example, each side has been prepared to
be utterly ruthless in the use of violence.”
“Utterly ruthless in their
use of violence”? Here we have moral equivalence between Israel and Palestinian
terrorism, provided to British school students in a supposedly dispassionate
• World history textbook: Jerusalem was built in a country
Another book for schools called Investigating World
History (Parragon Press) opens its section on Israel by stating: “The ancient
city of Jerusalem, spiritual homeland of the Jews, was in a country called
Palestine.” This of course implies that the Jews “moved in” to the preexisting
country Palestine. (The Hamas Charter makes the same claim, only less politely.)
• Royal Festival Hall hosts prestigious exhibition of news photos featuring dead
Lebanese children: In 2007 the Royal Festival Hall in London hosted an
exhibition in its main foyer from World Press Photo, a prestigious annual
competition of news photographs from around the world. The displayed photos
included images of drug crime in Chicago, break-dancers in Paris and Mexican
soccer fans weeping over their team’s loss. The winning photo was of a car
containing affluent Lebanese driving through Beirut taking photos on their
mobiles of a suburb shelled by Israel during the 2006 war with Hizbullah. The
exhibition also contained four photos of child victims of war, worldwide, during
2006. Three of the four photos were harrowing images of Lebanese children killed
in the Israeli-Hizbullah conflict.
The photo captions gave cursory
information at best about the causes of the conflict. The impression given was
of shocking Israeli inhumanity.
Predictably, there were no photos of
injured or traumatized Israeli children as a result of the 4,000 rockets which
Hizbullah fired into Israel during the conflict. The World Press Photo
exhibition would have been viewed by tens of thousands of visitors to concerts
at the Royal Festival Hall.
• Mearsheimer and Walt present The Israel
Lobby at Chatham House: In 2007 John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of
The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy came on a speaker tour of Britain to
publicize their book which depicts the Israel lobby in the US as secretive and
manipulative, and promoting Israel’s interests over those of the US. Many
critics have highlighted the book’s lack of rigor and logic, and argue that it
panders to the anti- Semitic theme of a powerful Jewish conspiracy. The authors
enjoyed a full house audience when they spoke at the prestigious British think
tank, the Royal Institute for International affairs at Chatham House.
Noam Chomsky as free summer holiday reading from The Times: In 2008 The Times
gave away free paperbacks with its daily edition as part of a twoweek summer
promotion. Most books were light summer reading, including classics like John
Buchan’s The Thirty Nine Steps and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.
But there was one current affairs book – Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival,
several chapters of which contain noholds- barred denunciation of Israel and the
US-Israel link and demonize the country.
• Shlomo Sand’s book The
Invention of the Jewish People is featured by prime time BBC Radio and Borders
bookshop: In 2009 Shlomo Sand of Tel Aviv University published The Invention of
the Jewish People. Sand calls into question the existence of a historic Jewish
people and challenges the link between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.
Sand was a guest on a prime time BBC Radio discussion show during a promotional
visit to the UK.
He did not receive a single challenge, either from the
interviewer or from other members of the studio panel.
attended a book-signing in the central London branch of leading bookstore
• The law firm which is trying to get Israeli leaders arrested
wins a Financial Times award for innovation, and professional acclaim: The law
firm Hickman & Rose, which is leading the effort to have Israeli leaders
arrested for war crimes in the UK, won a prestigious professional award in 2009
for outstanding legal innovation. The award was conferred by the Financial Times
in a competition which was fought over by the world’s largest law firms. The FT
report praised “the unprecedented strides in bringing perpetrators of war crimes
to justice. Hickman & Rose has been among the leaders of that fight, with
its work on behalf of the victims of alleged crimes against humanity committed
against the people of the West Bank and Gaza.”
IT’S NOT just the extreme,
ugly assault on Israel that we have to combat today. From schoolbooks to concert
halls, from free gifts with The Times to Financial Times professional awards,
it’s the liberal climate of ideas in the UK which poses the real, longterm
The eight examples I have given can be multiplied hundreds and
possibly thousands of times in the UK and this is not an exaggeration. Multiply
them across the BBC, Facebook and YouTube, the charities and NGOs, local
authorities, churches and other faith groups, theater, creative arts and
literature, schools, higher education and think tanks, etc.
This is the
intellectual backdrop for the assault on Israel in British public life today.
And this is the context in which long-term responses have to be
The writer is a lawyer and the founder of London-based Israel
advocacy project Beyond Images (www.beyondimages.info). An expanded version of
this article was presented last month at a seminar organized by Stand With Us at
the Israeli Embassy in London.