ODVV interview: The US uses Israel and Saudi Arabia as the bulwarks in the Middle East

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Publish Date : 07/25/2018 14:26
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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict drags on with no conclusion on horizon. Israel celebrated its 70th birthday recently as the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem despite opposition by the international community. It is against this backdrop that academics find it challenging to criticize Israel and its policies, especially as they are sometimes accused of anti-Semitism.

A prominent Jewish British academic says the campaign to conflate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism has been pursued energetically and with a good deal of success, but the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement and especially the academic boycott of Israel has caused Israel a great deal of unease and prompted people to "re-evaluate their attitude to Israel".

Jonathan Rosenhead, an Emeritus Professor of Operational Research at the London School of Economics and Political Science and chair of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine tells the Organisation for Defending Victims of Violence that successive US governments have used their veto power to support Israel and it has given Israel impunity to violate international law.


"All US governments including the present one have deployed their veto in support of Israel. It is this diplomatic immunity which gives Israel impunity to pursue their violations of international law and human rights," he said. Prof Rosenhead says the United States "uses Israel and Saudi Arabia as the bulwarks of their policy in the Middle East." The powerful Israel lobby in the US, according to the British lecturer, is also ruthless in punishing, by supporting opponents, "any politicians who criticize Israel systematically".

Prof Jonathan Rosenhead took part in an interview with ODVV and responded to some questions about the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the US policy towards the crisis, the British government's stance on the conflict and the freedom to criticize Israel. The following is the text of the interview.


Q: In the recent years, hundreds of British academicians took part in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and refused to take part in joint research projects with Israeli universities and institutions or participate in events funded and organized by Israel. Do you think the participation of British lecturers and researchers in this movement has impacted or in any way changed the Israeli policies towards the Palestinians?

A: The Academic Boycott movement was launched by PACBI, now absorbed into the Boycott National Committee, in 2004. The British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, BRICUP, was set up in the same year. Initially while there was support from a small cadre of pro-Palestine activists, there was a great deal of hostility from colleagues who found boycott contrary to their assumptions about academic life. This changed steadily in our favour, as one Israeli atrocity after another – for example invasion of Lebanon, attack on Gaza, the flotilla – caused people to re-evaluate their attitude to Israel. We rapidly gained majority support at annual conferences of the university teachers union, and nowadays most university teachers see academic boycott as a legitimate policy, even if they don’t practice it themselves.

One doesn’t bring down governments by academic boycott. But with a country like Israel it forms an important element in exerting pressure; the country’s academic institutions greatly fear growing isolation from the international academic community. A whole Ministry of Strategic Affairs has been set up to counter Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, BDS. The Israeli government, in fact the President, has said that Israel faces two strategic threats – the Iranian bomb, and academic boycott. The policy of alleging anti-Semitism grows directly out of the wish to counter this threat.


Q: As an academician, do you consider yourself free in criticizing the policies of Israel? Is it acceptable to conflate every instance of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism? What's the root of this conviction that criticism of Israel means promoting anti-Semitism?

A: The campaign to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism has been pursued energetically, and with a good deal of success. The key weapon has been the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. This manages to muddle up genuine anti-Semitism with criticisms of Israel’s policies, Zionism, and racial discrimination against Palestinians. Because of the ‘imprimateur’ of IHRA and the power of the concept of Holocaust this has had a considerable degree of success, with governments, and in the UK with local governments, and even political parties. This has had a chilling effect on political discussion, and on the sort of meetings that, for example, students think their universities will allow them to hold. Many people have been suspended from the Labour Party for making statements not about Jews but about Israel – and party members are now quite confused about what is and is not anti-Semitism and what it is safe to say.


Q: Actually, the Palestinian people have many demands including the right of return for the thousands of refugees scattered across the Middle East and beyond, an independent and sovereign Palestinian state which includes East Jerusalem and an end to the siege of the Gaza Strip. Do you think the international community pays attention to these demands and do you see them likely to be fulfilled?

A: I have no special expertise or experience in this area. But the ‘international community’ is to a considerable degree a fiction. The US regards Israel as a powerful strategic ally in the region, and European governments are unwilling to go against the US on a matter that is of marginal importance to them. So they make critical statements, but do nothing, and in practice support Israel. The Palestinian people have rarely been in a weaker international position. The civil society movement, which puts pressure not only on Israel but their own governments is the one sign of medium-term hope in the situation.


Q: What do you think about the impact of the Brexit vote on the British government's stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? The Labour Party in Britain is apparently outspoken in supporting the Palestinians. Is the government of PM Theresa May on the same boat with the Labour Party?

A: The Labour Party is ‘recovering’ from a long-term period of right wing, pro-Israel leadership. They have been in practice mostly pro-Israel rather than pro-Palestinian. Most current MPs were selected in that period, and are also highly critical of the elected left-wing party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is a life-long supporter of the Palestinian cause. But that of course has left him vulnerable to charges of anti-Semitism, through the conflation mechanism described in the second question. It is hard to be sure which tendency would win out if a Labour government comes to power. The Brexit nightmare, debacle is still continuing and unravelling, and it is impossible to know what effect its outcome could have on Israel and Palestine.


Q: What's your viewpoint about the approach taken by the U.S. President Donald Trump to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Why does the United States frequently use its veto power in the UN Security Council to defend Israel? Doesn't the unconditional support for Israel by the successive U.S. governments make the realization of the rights of Palestinians impossible?

A: All US governments including the present one have deployed their veto in support of Israel. It is this diplomatic immunity which gives Israel impunity to pursue their violations of international law and human rights. The US uses Israel and Saudi Arabia as the bulwarks of their policy in the Middle East. The powerful Israel lobby in the US is also ruthless in punishing, by supporting opponents, any politicians who criticize Israel systematically. But public opinion in the US, especially Jewish opinion, is steadily turning against Israel. In the end, and with successful campaigning, this could begin to change US policy.


Q: As a final question; what do you think about the decision by President Donald Trump to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem? How does this decision affect the relations and developments in the region?

A: I fail to understand the US policy of which this is one element. Perhaps there is no cohesion – Trump is not a reliably joined-up thinker. That it is a tilt against Israel is clear – but by removing the illusion that the US is some kind of honest broker, which it hasn’t been for decades, it might remove some unhelpful illusions. The Palestinian Authority needs to do some strategic thinking; it has seemed unable to make the hard choices necessary to promote a change in the dire situation of its people.



By: Kourosh Ziabari

“ ODVV interview: The US uses Israel and Saudi Arabia as the bulwarks in the Middle East ”