By HASKELL NUSSBAUM
Originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post Jun 6, 2009
This month a consortium of Canadian universities and institutions will be sponsoring a conference at York University in Toronto that will effectively conclude that one Jewish state in the world is one too many.
The conference, innocuously named “Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace,” will ostensibly debate whether a “one-state” or “two-state” solution is the best way to advance peace. But the conference’s symbol is a map of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with a zipper sewing up the seam lines between them. And a close look at the speakers and the abstracts of their intended speeches show that the overwhelming consensus will be that Israel should cease being a Jewish state and morph instead into a binational one.
It is a rich irony indeed that the conference is ostensibly proposing that Israel annex the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – a position that once might have been considered solely in the domain of the most right-wing Israelis. But as the program speeches make clear, the proposed solution is not to simply allow Israel to annex territory. Rather, it is to strip the Jewish state of its Law of Return (allowing Jews to immigrate) and uproot the country from its Jewish foundations.
York University’s program makes only a nominal attempt to stir genuine debate. The program is riddled with speakers who take as a given that Israel is an apartheid state that discriminates against Palestinians and that is fundamentally “unjust.” A number of the speakers are recognizable as organizers and advocates of the movement to boycott Israel. Indeed, the handful of notable professors who do not believe that Israel should cease to exist as a Jewish state stand out like vegetarians at a slaughterhouse.
Belatedly realizing the nature of the conference, some have begun to pull out.
Conference defenders have been quick to point to the right of free speech and the value of academic debate to support the program. And it is clear that when discussing Israel and the Palestinians passions are likely to run high. But the issue is not freedom of expression or the value of hearing alternate viewpoints. The issue is not York University’s right to hold such a conference, but rather its desire to do so.
A CONFERENCE is not held in a vacuum. Against a backdrop of the ascendency of Iran calling to destroy Israel, Hamas consolidating its hold over the Gaza Strip and continuing to rain rockets against southern Israeli cities and a global increase in anti-Semitism, is it possible that York University doesn’t understand that a conference calling on Israel to cease being a Jewish Zionist state plays into the hands of those seeking to annihilate it completely?
Never mind that the proposed “one-state” solution is completely unrealistic. Never mind that there is not a single mainstream Israeli political party that would ever endorse it – and that it will therefore simply never materialize. Never mind that a conference held at the end of June, with few students on campus, is mostly an exercise of academics preaching to the converted. The pernicious nature of this conference is not measured by its efficacy at promoting its solution. It’s measured by the legitimacy it confers on those who will build upon it to promote genocide.
This conference, if unopposed, will be copied. The notion that for the sake of peace and justice Israel must be denuded of its Jewish character will be lent the imprimatur of a respected university. In time, nongovernmental organizations, quasi-governmental bodies and international institutions may well quote the conclusions of such conferences, and the movement to boycott Israel will be immeasurably strengthened. Groups like Hamas and Hizbullah will seize on its conclusions immediately, using them to excuse their terrorist activities against the Jewish state.
One need not cut off debate, or the presentation of alternative viewpoints. But is it really too much to expect respected universities not to endorse the destruction of Israel as the world’s only Jewish state?