I’ve been invited to deliver a lecture about Israel’s economy and society at Oxford University. As it is a short lecture, and a respectable forum, I gladly accepted the offer. The invitation was extended about six months ago. Yet now, as my trip approaches, I feel concern. I’m hesitating.
My acquaintances are warning me: Don’t go. Hostile elements will cause disturbances, protest, shout and interfere. The atmosphere at British universities is anti-Israel to an extent unseen in the past. Israel is perceived as a thorn in the civilized world’s side.
An Israeli professor who quietly left a prestigious British university told me: “My academic and social life there was intolerable. Colleagues stayed away from me as if I was a leper. I was not invited to meetings, which were shifted from university buildings to private residences in order to keep me out. The fact I openly expressed leftist views was to no avail. My objection to the occupation and endorsement of a return to the 1967 borders made no difference. In practice, I became ostracized.”
“Today you are a welcome guest in the British and European academic world only if you reject the very existence of the colonialist and imperialistic creature that methodically commits war crimes, known as Israel,” he said. “Today it isn’t enough to condemn Bibi and Barak; in order to be accepted by academia outside of Israel one must condemn the Balfour Declaration.”
British academia’s radicalism highlights the accelerated deterioration in Israel’s status and image. We are in the midst of a freefall on the foreign affairs front. The cold peace with three Muslim states – Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey – has turned into a cold war. Israelis are unwelcome guests in these and many other states, where in the past we were embraced.
Meanwhile, Israel failed in its efforts to isolate Ahmadinejad’s Iran and disqualify it as a member of the family of nations. Ahmadinejad is having a grand time.
Bibi doesn’t see the change
The intimate dialogue that in the past characterized the relationship between the US president and Israel’s prime minister is paralyzed. The pipeline of dialogue is clogged. India and China, the two emerging powers, voted in favor of adopting the Goldstone Report at the UN’s human rights commission. Ever since then, it has been etched on Israel’s forehead as a Sign of Cain.
Friendly governments, such as France and Britain, are turning their backs on us while currying favor with local sentiments. Israel’s membership in OECD, which was largely a done deal in the past, is distancing again – because of the growing negativity vis-à-vis Israel and not because any technical dispute. By coincidence, or not, large foreign investors are pulling out of Israel.
Does everyone hate us? Possibly so, yet the fact is that up until six months ago Israel enjoyed an extraordinary boom on the foreign affairs front, both in terms of its foreign ties as well as in global public opinion. This fact points to one source for the deterioration we’re seeing: The new government in Jerusalem.
Indeed, this is a government elected by the people and it reflects the preferences of voters, who wanted a coalition comprising Likud, Shas, and Yisrael Beiteinu. As such, Netanyahu appointed Lieberman foreign minister, did not agree to a government rotation with Kadima, was unable to arrange a work meeting with the Palestinian Authority president, and conveyed a message of indifference towards the peace process.
Yet worse than this, the 2009 Netanyahu does not understand the world, and he mostly fails to grasp the change taking place within conservative parties, which are close to his political positions. Today they are the source of harsh criticism against the Israeli government; Netanyahu’s government.
The current anti-Israel wave is particularly dangerous especially because it is not limited to the media and to leftist groups that traditionally were classified as “Israel haters.” This wave is rising, expending, drawing young people, and painting the perceptions of the well-established middle class and influential elites.
Israel’s image has hit a nadir; it is isolated, unwanted, and perceived as bad. The world is telling us that should we continue along the same contemptible path, we will lose our legitimacy.
Yet we’re preoccupied with nonsense.