Over this coming weekend a conference will take place at the University of Exeter on the theme "Settler Colonialism in Palestine" . Organised under the auspices of the university's European Centre for Palestine Studies, it will examine "Israel's colonisation of Palestine", "resistance against the settler colonial regime by the indigenous Palestine population", and "the Palestinian national struggle". The conference (in other words) is a crudely disguised anti-Zionist and (I would say) anti-Jewish conclave.
But then what else could we expect from a centre whose Advisory Board, chaired by the Jew-loving Desmond Tutu, includes other noteworthy Jew-lovers as Noam Chomsky, John Dugard, Richard Falk and Ronnie Kasrils? Just as there is no attempt at balance in the make-up of the Advisory Board, so there is no attempt at balance in the subject matters of the conference itself: nothing about Jewish rights in Mandate Palestine; nothing to suggest that Jews, also, were part of "the indigenous Palestine population"; nothing about the Jewish national struggle.
In one sense I can well understand the anger of those who regard it as a disgrace that the university authorities permit the Centre to operate as a vehicle for a thinly disguised anti-Jewish invective. In another, these authorities can argue that they are committed to academic freedom and its protection, and that if the Centre wishes to promote such a blatantly prejudiced event, so be it. Actually, I have some sympathy for this position. This grubby gathering should have been allowed to proceed on its grimy way, its spiteful deliberations soon forgotten and consigned to the dustbin of academia.
Now, however, a misguided and irresponsible intervention from within British Jewry has guaranteed this will not happen. More than that, this intervention has set some awesome precedents, and has stored up future troubles. I refer to the idiotic initiative taken by the Jewish Leadership Council, whose entirely unrepresentative and self-serving – but, admittedly, seriously moneyed – management managed to elbow its way into the confidence of the vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter, with breathtaking results.
"In the lead-up to the academic conference on Settler Colonialism in Palestine [boasts an Exeter press release] …the University and the JLC have worked together to adopt a plan which, it is hoped, will form the basis of an approach for future similar conferences."
It'll be held up as an example of Jewish influence and power
The JLC "has been invited to nominate two academics to attend and participate in the conference in its current form" and (as if this achievement was not enough to satisfy the inflated egos of JLC machers) "an academic event will be held later in the year and co-hosted by the University of Exeter and the JLC, which will provide an opportunity for further academic debate, ensuring that many topics are covered from a range of speakers on both sides of the debate. The JLC and the University will jointly agree the title, format and content."
So the conference will go ahead, but now with a JLC hechsher, simply because the JLC has been given the right to nominate two academics to attend it. These individuals - however eminent - will be rightly regarded as stooges. But look also at the precedent that has been created. On its website the JLC boasts that "a model" has been established "for universities to engage with the community through the JLC".
The reality is that a body with no academic credentials whatsoever - and with no formal connection with the university in question - has been permitted to nominate participants at an academic event. We may be sure anti-Zionists will seize on this precedent, and exploit it: they will demand the right to nominate participants in all manner of scholarly gatherings that take place on UK campuses. How - given the Exeter precedent (apparently blessed by Universities UK, the body representing all vice-chancellors) - can such demands be denied? But worse will follow.
This intervention by the JLC will be held up as an example of Jewish influence and power. It will be said that British universities are controlled by the Jews. This would be a lie. But at its heart there'd be an awkwardly undeniable truth.