An op-ed by David A. Harris
Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee
The Jerusalem Post, January 19, 2010
In 1933, shortly after Adolf Hitler became the German chancellor, the Oxford Union famously adopted a resolution which said “That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country.” The measure was passed by a vote of 275 to 153.
Winston Churchill reacted by saying that “one could almost feel the curl of contempt upon the lips of the manhood of Germany, Italy, and France when they read the message sent out by Oxford University in the name of Young England.”
Shortly afterward, his son, Randolph, tried to have the resolution stricken from the books, but the motion was resoundingly defeated by the Oxford Union.
In other words, otherwise bright students at a distinguished British university are capable of foolish things. At least in this case, it must be said, “Young England” rose to the occasion six years later, when the Second World War began, and revealed its true colors of patriotism, courage and grit.
Recently, another British student union was presented with a controversial proposal. The London School of Economics (LSE) debated whether to seek the twinning of this world-renowned institution with the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG).
After a spirited discussion, the motion was carried by a vote of 161 to 133. The university administration distanced itself from the decision.
As an alumnus of LSE, I am ashamed of the student action. Sure, LSE has a reputation for feisty politics, but this is taking it a bit far.
IUG was established in 1978 by none other than Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Yassin, it will be recalled, was the founder of Hamas. In 2007, a New York Times reporter described IUG as “one of the prime means for Hamas to convert Palestinians to its Islamist cause.” Indeed, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, IUG “has emerged as a training ground for the political and spiritual leadership of Hamas. Many Hamas leaders who are also academics have taught at the university….”
Yassin was hardly cast in the mold of a Western liberal educator. Among his many public utterances, he declared that “reconciliation with the Jews is a crime” and that “Israel must disappear from the map.” He claimed that Israel is, in fact, Muslim land and is to be reserved for those of the faith “until Judgment Day.”
And Yassin didn’t just limit himself to rhetorical flourishes, either. He pursued “armed struggle” against Israel, targeting civilians and blessing suicide bombers.
Moreover, in 2007, during the civil war in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah forces, the latter entered the university and found rocket-propelled grenade launchers, rockets, assault rifles and ammunition, all of which was subsequently shown on Palestinian television.
Two years later, Israel struck two IUG buildings which, according to military spokesmen, were used as “a research and development center for Hamas weapons, including Kassam rockets.” Those rockets were used to attack indiscriminately Israeli towns and villages near the Gaza border, with the aim of killing and terrorizing residents.
When I first heard the news that the LSE Student Union voted to twin with IUG, I was speechless.
How could students at a world-class university that celebrates the open and respectful exchange of ideas find common cause with the academic standard-bearer of Hamas, a Sharia-based, obscurantist, violent group?
How could they claim solidarity with an institution that is actively involved in a long-term campaign to destroy a neighboring nation – and a democratic one at that?
How could they, living in a world of pluralism, gender equality and sexual freedom, join themselves at the hip to such a regressive, repressive social environment as IUG?
How could they, students of a university which was one of the stepping stones in British society for Jews to gain equality, identify with a school that preaches hatred of Jews and celebrates their murder?
The answer, I fear, is the bizarre alliance that has emerged in the UK between the keffiyeh-worshiping far left and Islamic extremists.
When neo-fascists come along spouting reactionary slogans about women and gays, the far left unhesitatingly denounces them. But when misogyny and homophobia emanate from the lips of Islamists, they’re likely to get a deferential pass from the suddenly culturally-sensitive.
Ken Livingstone, former London mayor, and George Galloway, Member of Parliament, are two prime examples of what the communists referred to as “useful idiots” – those who, in their ultimate naiveté, would help the extremists ascend to power, only to be the first in line for destruction once the goal was attained. In the case of Livingstone and Galloway, they’ve rarely met a Middle Eastern radical with whom they couldn’t agree. And, of course, they have their counterparts at LSE and on other university campuses, in trade unions and in the media.
The LSE Student Union vote was a sad day for the British academy. It betrays all the values that have made Britain a beacon of liberty and enlightenment.
One can only hope that this decision will follow the path of the 1933 Oxford Union resolution – and make its way to the dustbin of history as rapidly as possible.