David Rose

The phrase ‘Israeli genocide’ is non-controversial. We’re in a dangerous place

One tour of Oxford’s Gaza camp tells you that Hamas’s wider strategy is working


The camp in Oxford (Image: Sky News)

May 10, 2024 15:12

Oxford’s anti-Israel protest camp lies a ten-minute bike ride from my house.

When I paid a visit on Wednesday afternoon, a member of a group of kippah-wearing Jewish students had just managed to persuade the organisers to let one of them address the camp’s inhabitants, to try to explain why Israel’s actions in Gaza do not amount to a genocide, and why equating the Jewish state with Nazi Germany and denying its right to exist should be seen as antisemitic.

To his friends’ evident distress, although he was allowed through the barriers that ring the camp and handed a microphone, he was soon drowned out by a chant of “free, free Palestine”.

I went back for another look this morning, and although most of their residents appeared to still be asleep, the number of tents appeared to have more than doubled. There were more than 50 of them, covering most of the spacious lawns outside Oxford’s natural history and anthropological museums.

More disturbing were some of the slogans on the banners pinned to the camp’s perimeter fence. The one that worried me most, both for its content and grammatical infelicity, read: “Oxford men wrote Balfour. Divest from genocide.”

According to a statement from the camp’s organisers, “there is no university in the history of human civilisation that is more complicit in violence, dispossession and the building of destructive colonial empires than the University of Oxford”.

The Met Office says the fine spring weather that has lasted all week is about to break, but it looks as if the tents will still be there until the end of term in June.

Israel’s defeat in the war for public opinion started to unfold on October 7, while hundreds of terrorists were still at large in Israel raping and murdering civilians. But there’s something about the Oxford camp and its sister in Cambridge that suggests to me it has reached a new level of seriousness.

Comparing the IDF to the Nazis perfectly fits the International Holocaust Remembrance Association definition of antisemitism, yet like the allegation of genocide, it has seemingly become non-controversial.

As for the banner citing Balfour – who actually studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, not Oxford – its subtext is blindingly obvious: he should never have issued his 1917 Declaration promising a home for the Jews in Palestine and, for this sin, future generations of Britons must now atone and pay reparations, as part of our wider repentance for creating “destructive colonial empires”.

Until last autumn, such arguments were generally confined to the far left. Now they have become mainstream, endorsed by some of our brightest young minds, along with well over 100 grown-up Oxford academics who signed a letter in support of the camp published by The Guardian.

Some pro-Israeli Jews affect not to be bothered. If Israel has become the world’s Millwall FC – whose supporters used to chant “no one likes us, we don’t care” to the tune of Rod Stewart’s hit song Sailing – that, they suggest, is a badge of pride.

I find this attitude dangerously short-sighted. Some of the university protest camps in America may have been broken up by police, and condemned by the Biden administration, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they have been followed by the president’s announcement that the US will not supply bombs to Israel if it launches an offensive against Rafah, Hamas’s last remaining stronghold in Gaza.

The polarisation of opinion over the current war has been intensifying relentlessly ever since the massacre, and as it continues to deepen, it becomes ever harder for Israel’s liberal Western allies to provide support.

Meanwhile, what seem to many Jews to be unanswerable arguments – such as that if Hamas wants a ceasefire, it can have one any time it wants, simply by releasing its hostages – are just not getting through. Among large swathes of Western opinion, responsibility for ending the violence must fall on Israel alone.

There’s not much sign of light at the end of this tunnel. It’s not at all clear how – or even whether – the damage can ever be repaired. But Israel’s standing is currently declining in places where it matters week after week, and ignoring this is not going to help.

This column has already suggested that one of Hamas’s key war aims was to isolate Israel internationally, and that in its eyes, this made the death and destruction that Israel was bound to inflict in Gaza after an attack as dreadful as the October massacre worthwhile. This week’s events near my own home and at the White House suggest it is even closer to being achieved.

May 10, 2024 15:12

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