Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Shalom Lappin, a Leftist British intellectual whose opinions I don't always share (I am, after all, a centrist, which means I am to his right), has written a patient and penetrating analysis of the recent events in British academia which bear directly on the question of academic freedom. He does not shy away from looking, describing and interpreting the troubling scenes without flinching.

The current controversies imply two deeply troubling
conclusions. First, large parts of the academic community and the press remain
indifferent to serious violations of academic freedom when committed against
people perceived as holding pro-Israel views. Second, the policy of anti-racism
is applied selectively on campus and in large sections of the British press.
There is admirable concern for defending many minority groups against
expressions of prejudice, but anti-Semitism is not generally recognized as a
serious issue unless it is explicitly identified with right wing groups. Use of
extreme anti-Zionism as a vehicle for group defamation against Jewish students
and the Jewish Community is not, for the most part, perceived as a problem
across the political spectrum, and particularly among what passes itself off as
the left today. Even careful, well documented charges of anti-Jewish incitement
are frequently dismissed as a cynical distraction designed to censor criticism
of Israel and the “lobby” associated with it.

While the government has expressed
support for the recommendations of the All-Parliamentary Committee on
Anti-Semitism, it has done little, if anything, to provide effective political
leadership in dealing with the issues that the report highlights. In particular,
it has refrained from discussing these issues as important questions of public
policy and so defining them as matters of serious social concern on a par with
other varieties of racism and bigotry that blight British society. The
leadership of the British Jewish Community has aggravated the problem by
adhering to its traditional historical model of “quiet diplomacy” and
accommodationism in responding to the growing tide of hostility that we are
observing.

In this somnolent environment the breakdown in the universal
application of academic freedom and anti-racism has been permitted to move into
mainstream university institutions and large sections of the media. It is not
generally identified as a challenge to the democratic institutions of the
country precisely because it is focused on a relatively small ethnic group which
is associated with an increasingly unpopular cause. In fact, as we have seen so
often in the past, when democratic norms are breached for a specific group (and
particularly for the Jews) their viability is invariably threatened for other
groups as well.


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