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SOAS in (predictable) hysterics over an invitation to Israel’s ambassador

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I do not know Mark Regev personally, more’s the pity. He has always struck me as a canny and capable media performer and an intelligent and erudite spokesman.

SOAS

He is undoubtedly used to cold receptions and unpleasant interrogations. Still, one is inclined to wonder at his boldness. Having last year ceased to be Netanyahu’s spokesman in order to become Israel’s ambassador to the UK, he would have been forgiven for enjoying the relative peace and quiet afforded by his new, (ostensibly) less public role. You would not, perhaps, have expected him to take up an invitation to speak at SOAS, the University of London’s unofficial madrassa and School of Protest.

Mr. Regev has been to SOAS before, and witnessed the violent reaction ‘provoked’ by the mere fact of his presence. So he will have been expecting the torrent of vile abuse, the announced protests, the petitions, and the angry demonstrations that began almost as soon as some fool deigned to inform the ‘SOAS community’ of the planned visit. Given the violence which resulted from similar protests at UCL late last year, and the threats issued at the last round of protests at SOAS (the trans and gender-identity officer from SOAS SU tweeted that… err… xbrey would ‘be around later on to fuck shit up’) we find ourselves in the absurd situation where an ambassador from an allied nation speaking at an English university must be praised for his bravery.

I should declare an interest before wading further into the mire.

I consider myself a friend to Israel. It is a modern state, more progressive and tolerant than it is fashionable to admit (and certainly more so than any of its neighbours). A large part of its population is sane and generous and secular; it is this faction which has raised wealth from barren and oil-less deserts, creating and maintaining and improving the only democratic state between Cyprus and India, and doing much to fight against reactionary overreach by their own nation even whilst Islamist crypto-fascists fire rockets at them.

They deserve our thanks. Instead, they are subjected to boycotts, divestment and sanctions; a BS movement (or was that BDS?), led by our own supposedly tolerant, progressive and enlightened students, which could not tell and does not care about the difference between Yesh Atid and the Hasidic lobby, and which would rather side with the racist, fanatical and rejectionist Hamas than the Muslim democratic reformers in The Joint List. The SOAS set claims to ‘protest apartheid’. It is curious, then, that they should ally themselves with a faction which states in its founding charter that its territory, and indeed the world, must be judenrein.

It is because I support the state of Israel that I strive to be a stern critic of the Likud-UTJ-Jewish Home coalition government. The constant and undignified obeisance paid to the ultra-Orthodox right undermines Israel’s great potential, and is almost the sole reason that Israel’s secular population lacks the support of a written constitution. And no sane person can claim that Israel’s handling of the Palestinian question is beyond reproach.

The ‘SOAS community’ has helpfully published a whole litany of objections to Mr. Regev’s presence in the form of a mini-manifesto, signed by everyone from the ‘Decolonising Our Minds’ society to the ‘SOAS Herb Society’. Mr. Regev, if he is allowed to speak at all, will almost certainly be too polite and measured to address them specifically. I, on the other hand, am not a diplomat, and I have one or two questions for the SOAS ‘community’ that I thought I would share with you.

First, its statement boasts of a ‘landslide’ 73% vote in favour of an academic boycott of Israel. I should like to know the turnout of this vote. Given that the SOAS SU claims to stand for truth and integrity, I am sure it would not countenance misrepresenting the views of the whole ‘SOAS community’. Let it, then, be proved that no such misrepresentation has been propagated.

Second, if the turnout is high and the support as unanimous as the ‘community’ claims, does it not rather undermine the argument that allowing Mr. Regev to speak amounts to an act of oppression against a marginalised group? Either Palestinians at SOAS are an embattled minority or they are not.

Third, in what conceivable sense does an unpopular speaker threaten academic freedom, as the ‘community’ claims? Surely the opportunity to hear and to question an opponent, especially one as important as Mr. Regev, shows that SOAS has a healthy respect for academic freedom. Surely shutting down the event, which is the ‘community’s’ aim, is a blow against academic freedom and freedom of speech, both of which the ‘community’ claims (ludicrously) to uphold?

Fourth, does not the ‘landslide’ vote and alleged popular support for ‘the community’s’ position disprove the assertion that Mr. Regev’s presence is a threat to Palestinian students? The fact that the event will be policed by the Israeli embassy’s own security team is a legitimate point of concern, but has anyone in ‘the community’ paused to ask why such measures are deemed necessary?

Might it not have something to do with the fact that supposedly pro-Palestinian demonstrations at analogous events have in fact been violently anti-Israel? Were it not the case that the sort of majority opinion claimed by ‘the community’ has so often been aggressive and tyrannous in nature, I suggest that the Israeli ambassador would not feel so threatened as to require the presence of an armed detail. In other words, aren’t ‘the community’ responsible for the very measures against which they now protest? And if ‘the community’ is as committed to upholding the rights of minorities as it claims to be, should it not wholeheartedly support the presence on campus of a man speaking in defence of Israel?

Fifth, the statement says that ‘SOAS management cannot guarantee that this event will take place within the acceptable boundaries of academic freedom and free speech, free from intimidation of all participants.’ Now, that sounds to me like a threat. So, see ‘fourth’; the fact that such stringent and drastic and alarming security measures are in place is testimony to the vile and violent nature of the ‘protesters’ whom the community supports.

Finally, to claim, as ‘the community’ does, that Mr. Regev’s presence means that SOAS management has ‘ignored’ the concerns of students is evidence of nothing but entitlement. Shocking though this may be to students of a certain nature, it is possible to listen to an argument and disagree with its conclusion. I, for example, have read – carefully – the statement issued by ‘the community’; it is because I have read it carefully that I can be confident in essaying my opposition to it. The attitude and tacit assumptions of ‘the community’, which presumes that no one who reads its prospectus could possibly disagree with its conclusions, is evidence of the very privilege which I don’t doubt it abhors in other people.

So no, I cannot see the force of their claims. The SOAS ‘community’s’ opposition to Mark Regev is deeply suspect; evidence, I suggest, of a suspicious and unedifying animus against Israel. Contra what they would have you believe, it is possible to disagree with Israeli policy whilst supporting the Israel’s right to exist; further, it is possible to object to Israeli policy and yet welcome the opportunity to hear, and to confront, a man whose job it is to defend said policy.

Mark Regev’s visit is an opportunity to engage an emissary of the Netanyahu regime in dialogue and argument. It is something to be welcomed, not opposed. I sincerely hope that the visit will go ahead, and that sensible students will take the opportunity to find value in it. In other words, I sincerely hope that SOAS belies the image its own union sets before the world.

 

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