A few weeks ago I was approached by the Oxford Union and asked to debate the proposition “Resolved: This House Would Torture to Save Lives.” Sensing an ambush, I declined but offered instead to debate, for the negative, “Resolved: This House Would Grant Terrorists all the Protections of the Geneva Conventions.” No reply was forthcoming.
Now I see that the Oxford Union has found an even more tendentious topic: “Resolved: This House Believes that Israel has a Right to Exist.” So Israel’s presence in the world, the right of seven million people to a sovereign existence, is a fit topic for debate? Is there any other country in the world whose right to exist the privileged young men and women of Oxford would think open to question? Jordan? Her sovereignty dates to 1946, just two years before Israel. Is that up for grabs? How about Great Britain? Bangladesh? Cuba? In fact, there is no other country whose very existence is considered debatable. Now what does that say?
That the Oxford Union would have chosen this topic now is not entirely surprising. As Melanie Phillips has documented in Londonistan, and as Barbara Amiel has recounted (she quoted an ambassador at an ostensibly polite dinner party vilifying “that shitty little country Israel”) anti-Semitism has made a roaring comeback in Great Britain. It isn’t just a matter of intellectual fashion. Physical attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions are scarcely noted in the press. And every aspect of British life is colored by the BBC’s relentlessly anti-Israel reporting.
But the Oxford Union has gone beyond fashionable anti-Israelism and into the realm of farce with this debate. The two debaters who will argue for the affirmative are Norman Finklestein and Ted Honderich! This is like asking Ayman al Zawahiri to speak on behalf of the United States. Finklestein is notorious as an enemy of the Jewish state. Here’s Alan Dershowitz’s takedown of his scholarship. During the 2006 war in the Middle East, Finklestein said “Every victory for Hezbollah over Israel . . . is a victory for liberty.”
Honderich is on record as supporting Palestinian terrorism “within historic Palestine” (i.e. Israel). He has declared that
All of us should take part in all forms of boycott against retail stores and other businesses dealing with neo-Zionist Israel, divestment, civil disobedience, non-cooperation, not voting, picketing, ostracism, naming, symbolic public acts, strikes and whatever else is rational against neo-Zionism.
There are also two participants who will argue that Israel has no right to exist – Ilan Pappe, an Israeli who counts Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh among his friends and believes that the chief of Hezbollah should be “put on a committee to decide the future of Israel,” and a Palestinian named Ghada Karmi, who, guess what, agrees with the other three.
Not since the infamous “This House will not fight for King and Country” in 1933 has the Oxford Union so disgraced itself.