The exaggerations of an exile 1

April 13, 2007

I would like to congratulate Exeter University for aiming to set up a European Centre for Palestinian Studies. I hope that it can play its part in the foundation of a Palestinian state. But it won't play such a positive academic and political role if it functions as a centre for vulgar anti-Zionist propaganda rather than as a centre for pro-Palestinian study and learning.

Ilan Pappé ("To some extent we've given up being Israelis", April 6) clings to an essentialist and ahistorical identification of Israel as a necessarily racist and apartheid state. He calls on British academics to exclude colleagues who work at Israeli universities from our campuses, conferences and journals. He implies that a good Israeli is one who "to some extent" gives up being an Israeli. He denounces Jewish student organisations in our universities as agents of a foreign power. He talks as though people who see synagogues in the UK as being answerable for the oppression of Palestinians are not entirely wrong.

Pappé was not successful in building either an academic or a political movement in Israel capable of playing a positive role in building peace - in this, he is far from unusual. What is unusual is the way he made sense of that failure. Having given up on the possibility of his colleagues acting for peace, he transferred his desperate hope on to British academics, as though we were in some sense better.

I suspect he will discover at Exeter that UK academics are a pretty similar lot to those he left behind - they are neither a new vanguard for world revolution nor are they agents of evil Zionist imperialism. They are simply a mixed bunch of people who like reading and writing books and teaching students.

David Hirsh
Goldsmiths, University of London

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