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Monday, June 18, 2007

Howard Jacobson on the academic boycott

'My point, anyway, is simply this: few nations make a good job of winning even when the victory is, as one might say, clean. But when the war never finishes, when those with whom you thought you had made peace transmute into your enemies in another guise, and when they are more ruthless in their ideology and methods than any state dare ever be, it should surprise no one if terrible injustices ensue. We saw what happened in London when bombs went off in the underground; we saw our police force lose its nerve and an entirely innocent man shot dead. Now multiply that by a hundred and conceive it happening every day. And nobody is threatening to drive us into the sea.

'Imagining how the Six Day War might have turned out had the Arabs not so quickly lost it might be futile now but it wasn't futile at the time. One cannot overestimate the sense of foreboding felt by Jews around the world, and indeed by Gentiles not yet poisoned by prejudice and propaganda, in the weeks before the war was fought. Relief is a word one hears again and again in documentaries about the war, relief felt by even the most battle-hardened soldiers that a war which might so easily and catastrophically have gone against them was won. If this relief was extreme and gave rise, in some instances, to extreme policies, that was because the fear had been extreme. No one offering to have an opinion about Israel dare discount this fear. You do not, if you are Jewish, have a short memory. And if you are Jewish and Israeli catastrophe exists in a continuum that encompasses both past and future. Yesterday's victory is only yesterday's victory. Tomorrow can easily bring defeat. Never mind the size of your armoury. Someone else will always get a bigger one. That this logic will not make you an easy or relaxed adversary hardly needs saying. Continuous war and fear of war must make wary and suspicious even the kindest of hearts. Considering this unceasing agitation and dread, it strikes me as miraculous how many of the civic arts of civilisation and culture have managed to flourish in modern Israel.

'What, like the wall dividing Israel from the West Bank? Well, we are strange about walls. As walls go this one certainly isn't the prettiest. If it is still there in a thousand years time, as I sincerely hope it isn't, our offspring will not visit it on aesthetic grounds as we visit what is left of Hadrian's Wall or the Great Wall of China, but it serves an identically practical purpose, which is to keep out enemies. Never mind that Palestinians are not barbarous tribes from somewhere else, bent on invasion. As long as they come into Israel primed as human bombs, that is how they will be viewed.

'They are, of course, in their own eyes, justified in blowing up any bus they can climb aboard. Violence does not come out of a clear blue sky; and, however complex the causes of their suffering, the Palestinians have as much reason to be bitter as any people on the planet. But to understand the motives of a suicide bomber and not the motives of those who seek to keep him out is to understand nothing. In the present climate, however, it is almost impossible to make the case that some of Israel's most detested actions (I do not say all) are themselves responses to provocations. At a certain stage the pieces are pushed from the table. Israel can make no legitimate response to a provocation because Israel is not itself legitimate. This, too, is a change from the Left's earlier position. Israel was not considered illegitimate when it fought the Six Day War. Nor is it held to be illegitimate in those UN resolutions it is frequently called upon to honour. The illegitimacy of Israel is a rabbit pulled out of the hat. A defeated, diminished or depleted Israel would have posed no problem of legitimacy. We could have visited its remains in sorrow, as we visit Auschwitz. Israel only became illegal when it did not go away.'

Read it all.

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