Friday 19 April 2013

The Closing of the Academic Mind in Ireland. Revisited.

In January of this year, in a tiny Irish town of Cahersiveen, teachers of teenagers with impressionable minds led them into the streets with placards reading “Free Palestine.” Post- Christmas, these schoolchildren were still wearing their red and white Christmas hats. Symbolically, it had become a religious thing to save the Palestinians. When asked who they were freeing Palestine from, a trio of bright young faces answered, “From the Jews.” 

Such is the level of education in that beautiful little town.

They were taught by their teachers that they were on a charitable mission to raise money to plant olive trees. When asked if they were sure that their money would not go to fund Palestinian terrorists their answer was, shockingly, “What have they done to you? They are only against Jews. Jews are evil.” 

They did not know that the questioner was Sarah Honig, an Israeli Jew, and a journalist with the Jerusalem Post, who has experienced Palestinian terrorism.

 In March, the Irish Teachers Union imposed a boycott on Israel. Irish teachers can no longer have contact with their Israeli counterparts. As with the teachers of Cahersiveen, they do so out of a perverted form of altruism.

So let me raise this suggestion. If Irish teachers wish to instill in their students an Israeli boycott they should lead by personal example. May I suggest that all Irish teachers throw away their computers, laptops, Apple apps, and cell phones? All operate by virtue of an Israeli educational system that not only nurtures the free flow of ideas, including expression across the wide spectrum of political opinion, it teaches individual and collective initiative and innovation that gives the world the wonders of our tech-age, as well as the universal benefits in science, medicine, and agriculture that is turning back starvation and disease.

Their communication equipment, with which they teach and relate to the outside world, operates with Israeli ingenuity, a result of our teaching profession.

So, come on Irish teachers, show your students your commitment to your cause. Trash your computers and phones, lest you be called a hypocrite.

If it’s teaching that the boycott is all about then Irish teachers are advised to examine a Palestinian educational system that teaches children to hate Jews. Echoes of this seem to have reached Cahersiveen. 

It also teaches young minds to incitement to violence, that Israel has no right to exist, and the falsehood of a Palestinian history. This is what the TUI is supporting.

The Palestinian leadership stifles opposing voices of protest. They imprison teachers and journalists who challenge the corrupt, violent, and failing leadership of a rejectionism of Israel that leaves the Palestinian Arabs with little hope of political progress.

Now the TUI joins them in stifling the ability of Irish teachers to reach out to their Israeli partners. They did so without allowing debate or an opposing voice. It was proposed and seconded without delay. Is this the way that teachers practice democracy in Ireland?

This is not the free exchange of thought and expression. This is the closing of the academic mind in Ireland.
Once you announce to the world, as did the TUI, that you stop dialogue, that you dogmatically come down on one side of an argument, is the moment when you cease to be a scholar or a teacher. An academic union that denies other academics causes more damage to itself than those it will not communicate with.  

When it is applied against the teachers of one nation, and one nation only, turning the Jewish state of Israel into a nation of pariah teachers, it exposes the manipulation of those that impose the ban.

Israel will continue to prosper with its free exchange of ideas despite the TUI ruling. The true victim is the reputation of Ireland as an open-minded and enlightened society. It has taken a backward step. It has done so because their leading teachers union has been hijacked by people of unthinking and unreasonable extremism.

This Irish boycott is a double-edged sword. It is not only meant to isolate Israel, it is also meant to manipulate public opinion against Israel. Their boycott proposal was dressed up in the language of lies, half-truths, and disinformation, as are most anti-Israel campaigns. If we are to reclaim the legitimization of Israel the disinformation and false narrative of those who act to harm Israel must be challenged.

The adoption of the Irish boycott is a further act against Israel, namely dehumanization. By attempting to remove Israel from the society of the academic world makes it fair game for all sorts of incitement and violence, and by designating it as a legitimate target for legal recourse and abuse, the TUI have acted to dehumanize Israel on fallacious grounds. Just as we heard the evil anti-Semitic words coming out of naïve teenage mouths in Cahersiveen so we must ask what is behind this based act that was steamrolled into acceptance by the TUI?
As Joel Fishman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs pointed out in his “The Relegitimization of Israel and the Battle for the Mainstream Consensus” there is real danger of a link between dehumanization and actual violence.
The Irish teachers boycott is an antithesis to the notion of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and those that placed the boycott proposal to the membership of TUI know this to be true.

The late Ehud Sprinzak, a past associate professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem described delegitimization as a process involving manipulation where an accepted political entity that is recognized as having the right to exist, is transformed into an unacceptable entity without such a right. This political entity is not only seen as misguided and wrong, but undeserving of existence.

Sprinzak said, “The loss of legitimacy effectively means the loss of the right to speak or debate in certain forums….At best, they will be indulged as members of a sub-human species.”

Can anyone doubt after hearing the words of young schoolchildren in a tiny Irish town that this is not happening in Ireland, or that this was not the intention of the Irish Teachers Union?
Noted jurist, Anthony Julius, wrote in his book “Trials of the Diaspora”, “The boycotted person (or state) is pushed away by the ‘general horror and common hate.’ It is a denial, among other things, of the boycotted person’s freedom of expression. To limit or deny self-expression is thus an attack at the root of what it is to be human…Boycotting is thus an activity especially susceptible to hypocrisy. It implies moral judgments both on the boycotted and the boycotter.”

When balanced through the prism of what is taught in Israeli and in Palestinian schools can anyone doubt that there is hypocrisy at play in Ireland?
When the Irish Teachers Union picks out one set of teachers and loathes them above all others, when it simplifies politics and history to fit a biased ideology of victim and oppressor, or imposes a twisted view of good and evil on events that defy such categorization, is the time when academic thinking has been abandoned. As such, it should have no place in an academic union anywhere that purports to represent scholars and teachers.

In the end it is not about Israel at all. It is the way they practice free thought in Ireland. It is about the idea and concept of academia and those who think differently to you. It is about a voice that desires to be heard but has been blocked out by closed ears, ears that refuse to listen to reason.
It is the closing of the academic mind in Ireland.

Barry Shaw is the Special Consultant on Delegimitization Issues to The Strategic Dialogue Center at the Netanya Academic College. He is also the author of ‘Israel Reclaiming the Narrative.’



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