What is it with these British academics and their moral posturing? In the face of the current boycott threat of their Israeli colleagues, I’d like to draw some attention to a positive example being set in, of all places, Italy.
Yesterday the Italian journalist Magdi Allam visited the synagogue of Rome to kibbitz—about Israel. What makes this visit historic is that Allam is a Muslim who has just published a new book, “Viva Israele”. He as long been a staunch supporter of Israel’s right—and need—to exist as the Jewish state it is, a position he knows would land him “in front of a firing squad in any Muslim country.” He’s not much better off here in Italy, where he goes about with a private fleet of bodyguards. Italian universities have seen their fair share of anti-Israel bias in the past few years, making them no exception to what is sadly becoming the rule. But Allam persists tirelessly in his careful, studied Italian, preaching tolerance and respect while elucidating the dangers posed by the Islamic hate ideology that has found such a comfortable nest even in our most pluralistic of institutions. For him the root of conflict is not Israel’s existence as a Jewish state in the heartland of the Middle East, nor is it the occupation of what may also be called the disputed territories. For Allam, the real problem is the outright Arab-Muslim rejection of Israel. “The lesson to be learned,” Allam writes in Corriere della Sera, “is that recognition of Israel must be the starting point, not the goal to be reached. There is no negotiating the right to life.”
The British academic position is what Haaretz’s Bradley Burston rightly referred to as “moral masturbation”. It’s easy to hate Israel. Just check out this book that’s been creeping up on google every time I punch in the words “hate” and “Israel”. The author is one Priya Gandhi-Ganesh and the book’s ineloquent title is, “Why I Hate Israel”. No one, to my knowledge, has ever bothered to review this incendiary piece of garbage, but the blurb says it all: “the most refreshing aspect of this book is the explicitly stated position that the author hates Israel. Gandhi-Ganesh argues from Hinduism, Christianity, International Human Rights, and ethics why her hatred is justified and even encouraged.” Yes, you read correctly: hatred has become ethical. The author neatly enlarges the circle of traditional Jew-hatred to include the once-neglected Hindus. So I ask: who is left to invite to the party?
While one side argues over who hates Israel more in the name of human rights, elsewhere there is some real bridge-building going on. While Great Britain is busy forfeiting its place as a useful interlocutor, Italy just might steal its seat at the negotiations table.
Marc Alan Coen – also in THE NEWYORKERS column of this blog.