Majority of Oxford Union students say pro-Israel lobby stifling debate
British university’s prestigious debating society hosts Arab forum, majority of student audience approves motion claiming pro-Israel lobby in US suppresses criticism of Jewish state. Panelist: It wasn’t the Israeli lobby that made Egypt, Jordan, or Syria dictatorships
A series of heated exchanges marked the arrival of the Doha Debates at the Oxford Union Tuesday night, where two-thirds of the student audience approved a motion claiming that Israel’s supporters are stifling western debate.
This was the first time that the Doha Debates, a unique forum for free speech in the Arab world, have held an event outside Qatar.
The debate took place amid mounting controversy over the role of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States and accusations that it has suppressed criticism of Israel – a charge that the lobby vigorously denies.
Norman Finkelstein, a leading academic critic of Israeli policies, argued in favor of the motion claiming that the Pro-Israel lobby sows confusion to avoid being held to account:
“They claim that the (Arab-Israeli) conflict is so complicated that it would require rocket science to penetrate its mysteries,” she said.
Finkelstein maintained that the American people are ignorant of solutions to the conflict that have been available for 30 years due to the “misinformation, disinformation, and sheer fraud which masquerades as scholarship that is validated by mainstream media.”
'Lobby didn't make Egypt or Syria dictatorships'
The journalist and writer Andrew Cockburn supported this view, claiming there are “red lines” in discussing Israel that no politician or journalist in the US would dare cross for fear of being demonized or driven out of public life.
Dr Martin Indyk, former US Ambassador to Israel, and Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, argued strongly against the motion, saying that last night’s event in Oxford was proof of a lively debate on the subject.
He said controversy over a recent book by former US president Jimmy Carter – branded anti-Semitic in some quarters – was further evidence that criticism of Israel was not being stifled.
His fellow panelist David Aaronovitch, the journalist and broadcaster, dismissed accusations of conspiracy around the lobby, insisting that Americans naturally identified with Israel, a country surrounded by autocracies, because of their belief in democracy: “It wasn’t the Israeli lobby that made Egypt, Jordan, or Syria dictatorships,” he said.
He added that what may be true in the US is not the case in Europe where there is no such movement to sow confusion or stifle debate.
“But if debate is stifled it isn’t coming from the pro-Israeli lobby as some Danish cartoonists found out to their cost,” he said.