Dr. Alex Grobman
Divestment campaigns are back in the news once again after a short lull. Their objective is to terminate university investments in Israel in order to impede the country’s economic growth and development. By using “economic warfare,” they want “to destroy Israel's economy,” according to Fred Taub, president of Divestment Watch. As part of this campaign, attempts are made to prevent Israeli academic and political leaders from speaking on university campuses. Another goal is to eliminate Israeli academic research funds since Israeli academics are viewed as key elements and “collaborators” of the Jewish state.
An association of dozens of Palestinian charities, unions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) organizes these divestment campaigns according Gerald Steinberg, professor of political studies at Bar Ilan University. Why do “politicized churches” and academics demand divestment from Israel, he asks, but not from Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt? A number of the groups and individuals are ideologically opposed to Jewish sovereignty and to the existence of a Jewish state. Others have simply been duped by the media that all too often reports Arab propaganda as fact.
Irish academics are particularly adamant in boycotting Israeli academic institutions. In a letter to the Irish Times on September 12, 2006, 61 Irish professors urged academic institutions throughout the world to boycott Israeli institutions of higher education.
The Jerusalem Post reported that when Professor James Bowen of the Department of Computer Science at University College Cork was questioned about Hamas's charter and inflammatory language, (which openly calls for the extermination of Jews in Israel), and was asked whether those who signed the petition would consider boycotting Palestinian academic institutions as a result, Bowen replied, "the accusation of genocide against Hamas is libelous. The responsibility for ending the conflict lies with the aggressor. Israel is the aggressor."
The Irish embassy in Israel condemned the petition as “counterproductive,” yet the Irish government has helped foster this enmity because of its own negative attitudes towards Israel. By examining the government’s views toward the Jewish State, we can see how Irish academics reflect their own government’s attitude toward Israel, and why they are so tenacious in advocating this boycott.
In Ireland and the Palestine Question 1948-2004, professor Rory Miller explains that the Irish believe they possess a unique insight into the Arab/Israeli conflict because of their neutrality and their distinct “moral” position in the international arena. This endows them with the right and obligation to seek peaceful solutions in international interaction.
Ireland granted Israel de facto recognition in 1949,but did not grant it de jure recognition until May 1963. Part of the reason was Ireland’s aversion toward partition, which was a result of its own fight for independence from Britain. The Irish saw partition as a cruel means of solving territorial disputes that would not bring peace.
An even more fundamental reason for Irish opposition to granting Israel recognition Miller suggests, was that from the late 1940’s, the Irish clergy, political parties, the general public and the media have had a special interest in the Holy Land because of their concern about the Christian Holy Places, especially in Jerusalem. The Vatican had supported the internationalization of the city and the holy sites, and the Irish were greatly influenced by the “Vatican factor,” and adamant that the rights of Catholics be maintained. When the Irish granted de jure recognition, this did mean any inherent or overt acceptance of Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.
Oil is an additional factor why the Irish side with the Arabs. Miller quotes the Irish Times in mid-1963 that “if it comes to a matter of competition for the friendship of Israel or the Arab League, nobody can doubt what the outcome will be: the oil- rich Arab states possess an attraction denied to Israel.”
The rights of Arab refugees are another ongoing concern as was Israel’s refusal to withdraw from the Golan Heights and the “occupied territories.” Failure to resolve the refugee issue is viewed as the “greatest single obstacle,” to peace in the region. The Irish did not have the political and diplomatic clout to compel Israel to compensate the Arabs and allow some of the refugees to return to Israel. Instead, they donated funds to United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA).
A further area of contention occurred after the Irish provided troops to serve first as UN observers and later as members of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Whenever there was a conflict between the Christian militias and Irish soldiers, the Irish blamed Israel.
This led Israeli Ambassador Shlomo Argov, Israeli Ambassador to Britain and Ireland, to wonder how people in Dublin could sit around “smugly” and “pass judgment” about events in another part of the world. He found it particularly difficult to understand how the Irish could be so “insensitive to the Christian minority in Lebanon,” and later charged Ireland “of leading the pack in [the] constant flagellation of Israel.”
Miller sees PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat’s visit to Ireland in mid December 1993 as recognition of Ireland’s ongoing effort to advance the position of the Arab refugees and support of the PLO. The visit also demonstrated the extensive backing the PLO enjoyed among the Irish people.
When Israel instituted roadblocks to protect its citizens against terrorist attacks, Irish politicians attacked Israel. This demonstrated a callous disregard for the suffering of Israel at the hands of Arab terrorists, and a failure to recognize that a major provision of the Oslo Accords was that the Palestinians were now responsible for the security of the Israel. The Irish Times reported that between 1994-1997, 131 Israelis had been killed and 446 wounded by Arab terrorists.
The Irish government condemned the escalation of violence against the Israelis between 2000 –2004, but criticized Israel for its policies and actions that exacerbated or prolonged the need for Arabs to use violence. They even had the temerity to stand behind Yasser Arafat even when there was evidence of his corruption and duplicity. Given the Irish government’s rationalizations for Arab terrorism and intransigence, it is not surprising that Irish academics would be among those who want to harm the Israeli economy and its schools of higher education.
Americans should actively oppose the Irish and any other academic groups that engage in this unjustified and morally reprehensible activity, because as Fred Taub points out, divestment campaigns are an attack on the U.S. “Foreign governments,” he urges, “should not be allowed to dictate US foreign policy,” and they must not be permitted to promote the destruction of the economy of another democracy.
Israel's economy, Taub concludes, “has a direct impact on the US economy because Israel is a key developer of new technologies, including in medicine, computers and even space exploration; not to mention that it is the democracy and free-market economy example for the Middle-East…. The Arab boycott of Israel is the single biggest impediment to peace, as peace can not be sustained without economic cooperation.”
An historian, Dr. Grobman’s most recent book is Battling for Souls: The Vaad Hatzala Rescue Committee in Post War Europe. He is also co-author of Denying History: Who Says The Holocaust Never Happened? His newest book is Nations United: How the UN is Undermining Israel and the West.