Wednesday, July 09, 2003

A professor at Oxford University, Andrew Wilkie, finds himself in serious trouble after having turned down an Israeli student who applied to work in his lab on the stated basis that the student had served in the IDF. The professor has had to apologize, and now the university has apologized for him and has launched an investigation, which may even lead to the firing of the professor for his alleged discrimination. This raises a number of issues:

  1. The alleged discrimination was not an the basis of race, creed, color, gender, or sexual orientation, or any of the usual types of discrimination. It was expressly on the basis of the student having served in the IDF (contrary to much of what I've read, Wilkie is completely explicit on this point, and did not turn the student down on the basis of his race, religion or citizenship). Some people think the IDF is a racist, murdering instrument of oppression and denial of human rights to the Palestinian people. Does Oxford really want to get into this debate? Would Oxford have disapproved of a professor in 1947 turning down a German student on the basis that he had been a guard in a concentration camp? Would that be discrimination against Germans? You may not agree with that analogy to the IDF, but doesn't the professor have the right to hold that view? Can you really discriminate on the basis of your feelings of moral disgust, when that moral disgust is based on reasons which are perfectly arguable, and indeed are the views of the vast majority of moral people who have thought about the issue? Israel is on the wrong side of history. Just how far on the wrong side of history is Oxford prepared to be?

  2. The professor's real problem was that he tried to make a point of his disgust at the policies of the Israeli government. If he had quietly turned the student down, and not tried to make a political issue out of it, none of this uproar would have occurred. In effect, the university is trying to censor his political views, and the views of anyone who might think like him, under the guise of policing its anti-discrimination policies. Because they are threatening to fire him, it will be abundantly clear that certain political views can no longer be spoken aloud at Oxford University. Moral people will have to meet in private to discuss their heretical views. If Oxford attempts to use its anti-discrimination policies to police a political issue, they will effectively destroy much of the moral force in their anti-discrimination policies.

  3. Since all Israelis who don't fall into religious exceptions have to serve in the IDF, you could argue that discrimination on the basis of having been in the IDF is tantamount to discrimination on the basis of being an Israeli, and therefore unacceptable. It is here that the irony in Oxford's position becomes exquisite. For it is not the case that all Israelis who don't fall into certain religious exemptions have to serve in the IDF. Israelis of Arab descent do not have to serve, and as a practical matter most do not serve (Muslim Druze and Circassian men are subject to military service on the decision of their communities, and Bedouin can and do volunteer). Seeing as the main role of the IDF now is to brutalize the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories, it is not unreasonable that Israeli Arabs not serve in the IDF. What is amazing, however, is that Israel limits the citizenship rights of its citizens depending on whether they could be required to serve in the IDF (not on whether they did serve, as that would limit the citizenship rights of ultra-Orthodox Jews who didn't serve for religious reasons, and this point proves that the limitations are essentially discriminatory against Arabs). All citizens can vote, but there are a whole litany of other citizenship rights that are denied to Arabs, some of which are denied for their status as not being Jewish, and some of which are denied based on the completely bogus excuse that such rights should be limited to those prepared to defend their country. So the deep irony is that Israel discriminates against its own citizens on the basis of whether they could have served in the IDF, and Professor Wilkie is in trouble for allegedly discriminating against an Israeli for having served in the IDF. He could make the argument that his actions were intended to protest the racial discrimination of the state of Israel based on its denial of citizenship rights to those not allowed to serve in the IDF. If he accepts students who had served in the IDF, isn't he being a racist by implicitly endorsing the discriminatory practices of Israel? Does Oxford want to be seen as siding with the discrimatory policies of the State of Israel?

  4. Much is made of the fact that Israel has some kind of moral superiority over its Arab neighbors because it is a democracy. Once we understand that Israel is only nominally a democracy, and actually discriminates against its own citizens, can we understand where the moral superiority really lies. Being a democracy entails more than giving a minority group the ineffectual right to vote. For all intents and purposes, Israel is a military dictatorship, and its policies are those of the handful of generals who run the country. Even such citizenship rights that Arab citizens of Israel now have are being constantly eroded by the Israeli legislature and courts.

  5. All of this fanfare hides an issue which is worthy of debate: is it a good idea to academically boycott Israeli scholars until Israel does the right thing by the Palestinian people? These type of boycotts are already in place, and are becoming more common. Will they have any good effect? Did similar boycotts against South African academics have any effect in ending apartheid, an idea which is close to that of Zionism (which is, regardless of what anyone will say, racism, a point that was made in the UN conference held in early September 2001, and forgotten in the light of what happened later that week)? Is it fair to punish a group of people for the sins of their country, especially if the group is more likely to contain people who disagree with these sins? Will the boycott have any effect on the blockheads who run Israel? Will it actually make things worse?

  6. This particular instance of alleged discrimination is quite harsh. Although people do refuse to serve in the IDF, their treatment by the Israeli state is quite severe, and those who will not serve are true heroes. It seems to be a bit much to refuse a student because he didn't want to ruin his life in Israel by refusing to join the IDF. There is also the issue of what he did in the IDF. He might have been in an office filing reports, or he might have been in the Occupied Territories shooting Palestinian children in the face. Should Professor Wilkie have asked him some questions before deciding he did not want him in his lab? Or is any participation in the IDF aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity? Some of the things that the IDF does are probably not objectionable, but much of what it does is extremely objectionable. Given what the IDF does, it is quite arguable that the Nuremberg Principles would require everyone to refuse to serve in the IDF.

  7. The Professor actually wrote:

    "I have a huge problem with the way that the Israelis take the moral high ground from their appalling treatment in the Holocaust, and then inflict gross human rights abuses on the Palestinians because they (the Palestinians) wish to live in their own country."

    This was his real sin. The ultimate taboo is to point out that the Holocaust is being used as a weapon against the Palestinian people. 'Never again' is used to justify any and all outrages, on the basis that they will lead to absolute security for the Jewish state. This is no less than a completely obscene argument, as the Palestinians have nothing but stones and the bombs strapped to their own bodies to defend themselves against the ethnic cleansing being imposed on them, and the Israelis have one of the most powerful and effective armies in the world, nuclear weapons, and the power of the United States behind them. Anyone brave enough to point out that Hitler's ultimate victory is to create this fake insecurity in the Jewish people which they use to treat the Palestinians as the Nazis treated the Jews is labelled an anti-semite. This argument is made on the basis that the Jewish people are being held to higher standards than others, and so are being singled out for hatred. Unfortunately, the State of Israel and its apologists have given up any and all claim to insist that their critics weigh the crimes of Israel against humanity against other crimes in the world. You have to have clean hands to make that argument, and their hands are covered in blood. It is an insult to moral people around the world to hear that they cannot make up their own minds about the horrors being imposed by the State of Israel, that somehow they must weigh these horrors against other horrors in the world, with the punishment for expressing one's moral opinion being insulted with the label of anti-semite. Am I not allowed to make even the slightest criticism of Israel because somewhere in the world someone might be doing something that is arguably worse? Are we going to stop criticizing murderers because there are mass murderers in the world? Do I have to weigh some complex system of relative evils before I can complain about any evil? In fact, Israel is so often criticized simply because people feel that such criticism might have an effect on the collective Israeli conscience - the criticisms of Israel are actually a compliment in that people feel, perhaps wrongly, that the Jewish history of being oppressed will lead the country of the Jews to do the right thing. The fact that the apologists for Israel are stooping to name calling betrays a desperate awareness that people are slowly becoming alive to what the Zionist experiment entails. The effect of all this is to render the term 'anti-semite' completely meaningless. Any term that applies equally to Ernst Zundel and David Duke on one hand, and Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu on the other, has lost all meaning. As it is now most commonly used, 'anti-semite' seems to refer to those who are against brutality and moral outrages against humanity. By misusing the term, the current generation of defenders of Israel have ruined a term which gained a considerable moral force in the light of the Holocaust. Future Jews will not look kindly on them for taking all the meaning out of the word just so their pet country could continue its gross inhumanity against the Palestinian people.

  8. There are Zionist arguments circulating, particularly in the United States, that European support for the Palestinians is the new anti-semitism, in that blaming the Jews for their treatment of the Palestinians makes the European treatment of the Jews during the 30's and 40's more understandable. Leaving aside the fact that the whole world outside the United States is united in its moral disgust at the actions of Israel, and the fact that Americans only support Israel because of their appalling ignorance of the facts due to the misleading coverage of the Middle East provided to them by the disgusting American media, this is again an obscene argument. If the Israelis or their apologists wish to test Europe's bona fides, they should stop oppressing the Palestinians. Until then, they lack the moral standing to criticize the natural moral outrage of the whole world, including the Europeans. Remember, it was the failure of the world to complain about the early actions of the Nazis in the 1930's that led directly to the disasters of the 1940's. Some of the more radical Zionists, even ministers in Sharon's cabinet, are making public statements that if carried out will lead to a humanitarian disaster. Is the world supposed to stand idly by because to say anything will hurt someone's feelings? The Israelis and their apologists have to come to realize that the jig is up - the world is rapidly losing its patience with what they are doing to the Palestinians. It is not just hurting themselves and the Palestinians, but has led to much of the terrorism we have seen in recent years, much of which Europe has had to suffer.

  9. How did this become an issue of discrimination? Isn't it an issue of academic freedom? As long as it does not fall under one of the standard categories of discrimination, what we have here is a discrimination action being used to stifle freedom of speech and association. It is Professor Wilkie's lab; he has to work with his students. The relationship of professor to student is a personal one. Who will Oxford force him to associate with?

  10. If every academic institution in the world boycotted anyone who had ever served in the IDF, it would have an effect on Israel's ability to oppress the Palestinians.

One of the many problems of Israel is that Israel provides citizenship rights based on religious affiliation, or rather, on stated religious affiliation (which explains why the country is full of Russian Orthodox fake 'Jews'). Israel had the choice of defining itself as a state whose purpose would be to support and encourage the Hebrew language and culture, and other Jewish cultures, without discriminating against any of its citizens, but instead has chosen to define itself in explicitly discriminatory terms, a process which continues to get worse (this isn't hopeless: Israel could still decide to redefine itself). All of this of course was made possible by Hitler, whose actions made the notion of a Jewish sanctuary seem quite reasonable in the late 1940's. In the twenty-first century, allowing a country to discriminate against its own citizens, people actually born in the country whose ancestors were born in the country, seems positively insane and evil. The deep contradictions in the State of Israel itself put the alleged discrimination of Professor Wilkie into its proper context.