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Wednesday, July 02, 2003

The Curious Tale of the Oxford Professor Who Hated Israel

R. Shmuley Boteach served as rabbi to the students of Oxford
Boteach's comments in full, from the FreemanList:

The news this week that Andrew Wilkie, Oxford University's Nuffield
Professor of Pathology, told an Israeli doctoral applicant that he was not
prepared to take on Israelis as students because of the "gross human rights
abuses" that Israelis inflict on Palestinians, and his further assertion
that "I am not the only UK scientist with these views," sadly did not come
as a shock to me. When I first received emailed notification from outraged
Jews the world over, who wrote to me as someone who had served as rabbi to
the students of Oxford, I simply thought to myself, "Well, some things never
change."

In my capacity as head of the Oxford L'Chaim Society, which over eleven
years rose to become the second largest student organization in Oxford's
history, I had brought Israel's leaders to lecture to the students and
counter the flood of pro-Arab propaganda heard in stereo from both Arab and
British speakers. The demonization of Israel was loud and frequent. But
whereas Arab heads of State and Ministers were welcomed as official
University guests, Israel's leaders were treated in a somewhat different
manner.

I remember the nearly impossible task of persuading any Oxford college to
join us as an official host for Binyamin Netanyahu, the first sitting
Israeli Prime Minister ever to visit the University. When Yitzchak Shamir
visited with us, nearly all of the leading academics I invited to dinner
with him turned us down. Ariel Sharon, who in 1992 did us the great favor of
opening our new Jewish Student Center in central Oxford, filling in for
Ronald Regan when the former President had to cancel his lecture just days
before he was to arrive, gave one of the Oxford Union's most memorable
orations. Still, he too was snubbed by the nearly all the Oxford academics
whom we always made it a point to invite. That is not to say that the
University snubbed famous Jewish personalities. Lest you believe that it was
only the right-wing Prime Ministers who were snubbed, the same happened with
Shimon Peres. Not only did a paucity of academics agree to dinner with him.
Worse, when we took Mr. Peres to speak at our the Cambridge branch of the L'
Chaim Society, a coalition of Arab and British students tried to have the
police arrest him - I kid you not - on charges of war crimes. And a huge
protest rally was organized against Mr. Peres with bullhorns blaring. Even
the by Yitzhak Rabin, whose lecture at Oxford had to be cancelled on the day
that he was to deliver it as he rushed from England to Israel in response to
a deadly bus bombing in October 1994, was opposed by leading Oxford
academics. And this was well after the Oslo accords were signed and he had
won the Nobel Peace Prize!

Does this mean that British academia in general, and Oxford in particular,
is anti-Semitic? My honest answer would have to be, no (or more precisely,
not necessarily). Firstly, I have always argued that the Jewish community
must proceed with great caution before making accusations of Jew hatred.
Anti-Semitism is deadly and it is repugnant. And we debase the seriousness
of the allegation through misuse. Even when the University inexplicably
singled out L'Chaim from over 300 Oxford societies to try and remove "Oxford
University" from our official title - something for which we had obtained
official permission and which even The Oxford University Tiddlywinks Society
was granted without much hassle - I consistently and publicly disagreed
with the many who said that the University's actions were motivated by
anti-Semitism. Besides, the University has honored many Jewish personalities
and indeed, the Chancellor, Lord Jenkins, accepted my invitation to dinner
with Elie Wiesel, and a high number of very distinguished Oxford Professors
accepted my invitation to dine with Simon Wiesenthal.

What is indisputable, as the Israel-bashing Prof. Wilkie, justifiably points
out, is that most British academics have either little sympathy for, or
outright hostility, toward, the State of Israel. I know that many believe
that anti-Zionism is simply a mask for anti-Semitism, as Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr. so eloquently argued. But let's be charitable for a moment and
ascribe the British intellectual's hostility toward Israel as resulting from
the honored British tradition of championing the underdog. Of course, you
have the right to ask what kind of intellectual would be so easily deceived
as to accept that five million democratically-minded Jews, with no natural
resources, pose a threat to six hundred million oil rich and military-minded
Arabs? But hey, intelligent people have been fooled by even greater
deceptions. George Bernard Shaw called Hitler a great man, and Nelson
Mandela has been saying for months that George Bush is a greater threat to
world peace than Saddam Hussein! So let's continue to be charitable and
simply assume that British anti-Zionist academics choose their position
simply because the Palestinians are, of course, human beings who deserve
rights, and they blame Israel for denying them their rights.

For the sake of argument, let us further assume that these saintly
academics, working in their laboratories with halos over their heads, are
absolutely correct. That rather than being a liberal democracy forced into
militancy in order to thwart the designs of murderous terrorists, Israel is
instead a colonial, occupying power who gets off oppressing Palestinians.
Even then, we would have the right to ask whether Prof. Wilkie and his
colleagues have similarly denied places in their laboratories to Saudi
students whose religious police force young female High School students back
into burning buildings rather than allow them to run out into the street
without the hijab? Has the University turned away the many Saudi princes,
some of whom I befriended at Oxford, because their brutal government
punishes any criticism of the House of Saud with imprisonment and death? Has
Prof. Wilkie rejected Chinese student applicants over the Brutal oppression
of Tibet, the slaughter at Tiananmen Square, or the outright suppression of
all organized religion? Has Prof. Wilkie denied Kuwaiti students entry into
his lab over their 1991 expulsion of over 350,000 Palestinians who they
regarded as enemies of the State (something Israel has never even
contemplated)? Have Jordanian students been kicked out of Oxford over King
Hussein's war against the PLO in the early 1970's that left tens of
thousands of Palestinians dead? I don't think so. When I was at Oxford I met
the extremely friendly Jordanian princesses studying there, even though
their government allows no democracy.

No, it seems that Prof. Wilkie and his ilk have a problem solely with Israel
and noone else. And in my continued effort to be charitable to the esteemed
scientist, allow me to assert that the good Professor's prejudices are
animated not by Jew-hatred, but by ignorance. Prof. Wilkie is no
anti-Semite. He's just an uninformed ignoramus. A buffoon. A silly man who
speaks before he thinks (he is now apologizing to all who will listen that
he didn't mean what he said). A man who doesn't deserve to be a professor,
not because he's prejudiced, but because he contravenes the very first law
of science: refrain from drawing conclusions before you have the evidence.
Prof. Wilkie is one of those unintellectual mediocrities, an ideological
extremist, who substitutes passion for reason. The thought that a
shoot-from-the-hip, out-of-control, uneducated fool is the head of an Oxford
science department is alarming indeed.

Is Prof. Wilkie, who asserts that Palestinians only "wish to live in their
own country," aware that for nearly a century they have repeatedly rejected
a state of their own if it meant Israel's continued existence? Is the great
man of science familiar with the Balfour declaration of 1917 which promised
a Jewish and an Arab state carved out of the Middle East (accepted by the
and Jews rejected by the Arabs), is he aware that Jordan constitutes 78% of
the original British proposed Jewish homeland, has he heard of the British
Peel Partition Proposal of 1937 (accepted by the Jews rejected by the
Arabs), the UN Partition Plan of 1947 (accepted by the Jews and rejected by
the Arabs), Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton's Camp David Proposal of 2000 for a
Palestinian State (accepted by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs)? Is he
aware that even in the aftermath of its greatest victory in the Six Day War
of 1967, Israel immediately made peace overtures to the Arab States who
replied from Khartoum with their now infamous three noes (no negotiation, no
peace, no recognition)?

In the final analysis, intellectual like Prof. Wilkie are not anti-Semites.
They just don't know any better.

Often, those who harbor prejudices against others are told they need to be
reeducated, the hope being that the darkness of their acquired biases will
be purged through exposure to the light. But since you can't reeducate those
who have not been educated in the first place, this remedy is useless with
regards to Prof. Wilkie. Rather, I would simply counsel him that next time
around, before deciding to become a spokesman for any particular issue, it's
a good idea to know something about it first.