Saturday, February 03, 2007

Dialoguing with terrorists?

Once again, the concept of "academic freedom" in Israel creates a cognitive dissonance of a sort. Is there a limit to it? Is it acceptable to give a platform and a hearing to people who are known to have been actively and unrepentantly engaged in terrorist activity? Whose political agenda declares openly a desire to destroy Israel?

I am of two minds about it: I feel enraged. But I also sense that such an event frames the terrorist-speaker, obliges him to face an audience of his would-be victims and deliver his ideas in congruent speech, not explosives. This dramatic configuration might act as a civilizing factor, a dawning recognition that when people talk, things happen.

Israel is a country where experimentation is part of its ethos and its success. It is to be found everywhere: in technological and scientific research, in the thinking and re-thinking and re-re-thinking of events, actions, history, ways of living, literature. There is a resilience and a curiosity to explore alternatives. It's what makes Israeli-trained engineers so good at what they do. They think differently. And as experiments go, success is not always assured. But what's great about the very process of experimentation is its educational value. We always learn something from them, even when they end in dismal failure.

So maybe this conference can be regarded as a an experiment, a provocative, even abrasive one. Words are spoken, opinions exchanged. Surely it's preferable to the other kind of exchange, even temporarily? No?

I'm not at all sure who is doing right here.

Between Teheran and Tel Aviv

Looking at it as objectively as possible, what stood out was the absurdity of holding a conference about the suffering of those who have caused unspeakable suffering. What was actually happening was that the conference provided a broad platform for representatives of the radical left and anti-Zionists under the pretext of an academic conference. Journalist Ben Dror Yemini who attended the conference published an op ed on it in the nrg website, entitled “In Teheran and Tel Aviv”.

Yemini compared the attack on Zionism at the conference to the attack in another conference—the holocaust denial conference held in Teheran. The university gathering, argues Yemini, is “another milestone—one of many. That we have lost our sanity. That we are committing suicide.
And it is all done very seriously. But the participants are not holocaust deniers. Certainly not. The conference was also attended by serious people who are sensitive to suffering, who identify with minorities. They also have worthy grievances.

Injustice does exist and it is important to protest. However, many of them are on a slippery slope. If the “conference” had been a straightforward fight against injustice these organizations would have been worthy of praise.

But the problem is that almost all Israeli rights organizations have an explicit political agenda. And if the organizations don’t, the key activists do. And somehow, this agenda is also favored by holocaust deniers: It is the agenda which negates Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state.

Jews Don’t Have Human Rights

Prof. Amnon Rubinstein, one of the founders of the Law Faculty of Tel Aviv University, and as far as we know part of the center-Left, also found it hard to disguise his anger that such an anti-Zionist conference was being held at an Israeli university. Prof. Rubinstein, himself an academic, was also harshly crucial of the fact that propaganda and political ideas were being advanced under the camouflage of an academic conference.

Rubinstein explained (in the Ma’ariv newspaper) that “there was nothing scientific about it (the conference, MN), not one academic paper and no academic views. These were the political opinions of a radical camp”.

Rubinstein was most concerned that the conference organizers considered it appropriate to allow a terrorist the right to speak from the faculty’s “Throne of Justice” auditorium but didn’t give one person who had been maimed by the actions of these so called “political prisoners” a voice. “It goes without saying that it never occurred to the faculty heads to put a victim of terrorism against Jews for being Jews on stage beside the terrorist, because everyone knows that Jews don’t have human rights”, wrote Rubinstein.


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