They are not happy bunnies over at the School Of AntiSemitism (SOAS London). Not only did Corbyn lose the election heavily but the US President’s ‘Deal of the Century’ caused a lot of vastly inflated expectations on the Palestinian side to be punctured. And SOAS itself is in crisis. Its Principal Baroness Amos has bailed out after the undergraduate intake fell by 40 percent over two years. And the UK government has said it will cut funding for Universities that fail to adopt the IHRA Definition of antisemitism (there is less chance that SOAS will adopt IHRA as that Nigel Farage will become Pope).
I went to check on morale on Monday evening: the title of the talk hosted by the Palestine Centre (a faculty department, not a student society) was too enticing to miss (see above) ………
Professor Rouhana managed to say “settler colonialism” fifty-eight times during his 48 minute talk. His thesis was that the “settler-colonial” nature of Israel could only be changed if the religious character of the state is removed. Yes I know – Utter garbage. Israel is the world’s only country grounded in Judaism and that’s not changing. Ever.
Garbage but not hugely offensive, partly because it is the kind of cookie-cutter nonsense we have come to expect from Middle East academics.
But there was one element which WAS hugely offensive. To illustrate the influence of Judaism on Zionism, Rouhana played part of this video. At 3.30 Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon reads from Genesis in the Bible, first in Hebrew, then in English. He is seen putting a kipah (headcovering) on his head to read from the Bible – as Jews have done throughout the millennia when praying, to honour G-d (religious Jews wear a kipah throughout the day). The SOAS audience’s response was …. to laugh. Yes they found it funny that a Jew should cover his head to read from the Bible. How ignorant does it get? If you’re reading this and you laughed – shame on you – you’re simply an ignorant racist.
I got the first question. I asked how Israel could be deemed ‘settler-colonial’ when it was itself formed from the Ottoman Empire? And colonies need a colonial power to rule over them: Britain for the British Empire, France for the French Empire, Spain for the Spanish Empire – where is the colonial power for Israel? And a sign of being a colonial power is that lots of people speak your language. English is spoken in India for example; French in Guadeloupe; Spanish in much of Latin America. But Hebrew? Who speaks Hebrew outside Israel?
His answer was pathetic. He said it didn’t matter whether Israel is or isn’t ‘settler-colonial’, what matters is what the victims think it is. So why did he tell a roomful of students fifty-eight times that Israel is settler-colonial? And in answer to my question about the colonial power, he suggested that Britain had been the colonial power for Israel. What? Britain who issued the 1930 White Paper restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine? Britain who at the Evian Conference in 1938 refused to take any more refugees?
Yet again I was left open-jawed at the state of Middle East Studies at British Universities.