From schoolbooks to concert halls

Israel’s vanishing narrative in British public life.

British Anti-Israel Protest 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
British Anti-Israel Protest 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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.
Analysts routinely 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 intelligentsia.
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 I mean:
• 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 states.
• 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 schoolbook.
• World history textbook: Jerusalem was built in a country called Palestine.
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.
Sand later attended a book-signing in the central London branch of leading bookstore Borders.
• 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 challenge.
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 formulated.
The writer is a lawyer and the founder of London-based Israel advocacy project Beyond Images ( An expanded version of this article was presented last month at a seminar organized by Stand With Us at the Israeli Embassy in London.