Avi Shlaim, on British colonialism, antisemitism, and Palestinian rights
Updated: Mar 28
This article by Professor Avi Shlaim brilliantly encapsulates the moral bankruptcy of Britain’s policy towards the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine, and shows how that policy has continued over the last century.
It started with the Balfour Declaration of 1917. That provided for the creation of a homeland for a group of overwhelmingly immigrant people in Palestine but without due consideration of the rights of indigenous people already living there. The latest manifestation is the present Government’s attempt to blackmail British Universities into adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism. It is a highly questionable definition that supporters of the State of Israel have been ruthlessly advancing with a view to silencing legitimate criticism of Israel and themselves.
Both these actions, and much of what Britain has done in the intervening century, have seriously prejudiced the Palestinians, but this latest action is also deeply prejudicial to British people. It promotes self-censorship on matters to do with Israel and Palestine, and sets a disastrous precedent for academic freedom in the UK.
As Shlaim points out “some English universities openly, and courageously, rejected the IHRA definition; about a fifth capitulated to the ministerial diktat by signing up to the definition; and the majority chose not to commit themselves one way or the other. My own university, Oxford, has fixed its colours firmly to the fence”. He goes on to highlight the role of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), describing it as by far the most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group in Britain. Its membership includes around 80% of Conservative MPs, and since the May 2015 general election, it has sent 24 delegations with more than 180 Conservatives to visit Israel.