Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Letter to Edinburgh University Student Association

The following letter was written to the EUSA following their vote to boycott Israel because of its 'apartheid'.

The Committee
Edinburgh University Student  Association

May I be permitted to say a few words to members of  the EUSA? I am an Edinburgh graduate (MA 1975) who studied Persian, Arabic and  Islamic History in Buccleuch Place under William Montgomery Watt and Laurence  Elwell Sutton, two of Britain’s great Middle East experts in their day. I  later went on to do a PhD at Cambridge and to teach Arabic and Islamic Studies  at Newcastle University. Naturally, I am the author of several books and  hundreds of articles in this field.

I say all that to show that I am  well informed in Middle Eastern affairs and that, for that reason, I am  shocked and disheartened by the EUSA motion and vote. I am shocked for a  simple reason: there is not and has never been a system of apartheid in  Israel. That is not my opinion, that is fact that can be tested against  reality by any Edinburgh student, should he or she choose to visit Israel to  see for themselves.

Let me spell this out, since I have the impression  that those members of EUSA who voted for this motion are absolutely clueless in  matters concerning Israel, and that they are, in all likelihood, the victims  of extremely biased propaganda coming from the anti-Israel lobby. Being  anti-Israel is not in itself objectionable. But I’m not talking about ordinary  criticism of Israel. I’m speaking of a hatred that permits itself no  boundaries in the lies and myths it pours out. Thus, Israel is repeatedly  referred to as a ‘Nazi’ state. In what sense is this true, even as a metaphor?  Where are the Israeli concentration camps? The einzatsgruppen? The SS?  The Nüremberg Laws? The Final Solution? None of these things nor anything  remotely resembling them exists in Israel, precisely because the Jews, more  than anyone on earth, understand what Nazism stood for. It is claimed that  there has been an Israeli Holocaust in Gaza (or elsewhere). Where? When? No  honest historian would treat that claim with anything but the contempt it  deserves. But calling Jews Nazis and saying they have committed a Holocaust is  as basic a way to subvert historical fact as anything I can think  of.

Likewise apartheid. For apartheid to exist, there would have to be  a situation that closely resembled things in South Africa under the apartheid  regime. Unfortunately for those who believe this, a weekend in any part of  Israel would be enough to show how ridiculous the claim is. That a body of  university students actually fell for this and voted on it is a sad comment on  the state of modern education. The most obvious focus for apartheid would be  the country’s 20% Arab population. Under Israeli law, Arab Israelis have  exactly the same rights as Jews or anyone else; Muslims have the same rights  as Jews or Christians; Baha’is, severely persecuted in Iran, flourish in  Israel, where they have their world centre; Ahmadi Muslims, severely  persecuted in Pakistan and elsewhere, are kept safe by Israel; the holy places  of all religions are protected under a specific Israeli law. Arabs form 20% of  the university population (an exact echo of their percentage in the general  population). In Iran, the Baha’is (the largest religious minority) are  forbidden to study in any university or to run their own universities: why  aren’t your members boycotting Iran?

Arabs in Israel can go anywhere  they want, unlike blacks in apartheid South Africa. They use public transport,  they eat in restaurants, they go to swimming pools, they use libraries, they  go to cinemas alongside Jews – something no blacks could do in South Africa.  Israeli hospitals not only treat Jews and Arabs, they also treat Palestinians  from Gaza or the West Bank. On the same wards, in the same operating theatres.  

In Israel, women have the same rights as men: there is no gender  apartheid. Gay men and women face no restrictions, and Palestinian gays often  escape into Israel, knowing they may be killed at home. It seems bizarre to me  that LGBT groups call for a boycott of Israel and say nothing about countries  like Iran, where gay men are hanged or stoned to death. That illustrates a  mindset that beggars belief. Intelligent students thinking it’s better to be  silent about regimes that kill gay people, but good to condemn the only  country in the Middle East that rescues and protects gay people. Is that  supposed to be a sick joke?

University is supposed to be about learning  to use your brain, to think rationally, to examine evidence, to reach  conclusions based on solid evidence, to compare sources, to weigh up one view  against one or more others. If the best Edinburgh can now produce are students  who have no idea how to do any of these things, then the future is bleak. I do  not object to well documented criticism of Israel. I do object when supposedly  intelligent people single the Jewish state out above states that are horrific  in their treatment of their populations. We are going through the biggest  upheaval in the Middle East since the 7th and 8th centuries, and it’s clear  that Arabs and Iranians are rebelling against terrifying regimes that fight  back by killing their own citizens. Israeli citizens, Jews and Arabs alike, do  not rebel (though they are free to protest). Yet Edinburgh students mount no  demonstrations and call for no boycotts against Libya, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia,  Yemen, and Iran. They prefer to make false accusations against one of the  world’s freest countries, the only country in the Middle East that has taken  in Darfur refugees, the only country in the Middle East that gives refuge to  gay men and women, the only country in the Middle East that protects the  Baha’is.... Need I go on? The imbalance is perceptible, and it sheds no credit  on anyone who voted for this boycott.

I ask you to show some common  sense. Get information from the Israeli embassy. Ask for some speakers. Listen  to more than one side. Do not make your minds up until you have given a fair  hearing to both parties. You have a duty to your students, and that is to  protect them from one-sided argument. They are not at university to be  propagandized. And they are certainly not there to be tricked into  anti-Semitism by punishing one country among all the countries of the world,  which happens to be the only Jewish state. If there had been a single Jewish  state in the 1930s (which, sadly, there was not), don’t you think Adolf Hitler  would have decided to boycott it? Of course he would, and he would not have  stopped there. Your generation has a duty to ensure that the perennial racism of  anti-Semitism never sets down roots among you. Today, however, there are clear  signs that it has done so and is putting down more. You have a chance to avert  a very great evil, simply by using reason and a sense of fair play. Please  tell me that this makes sense to you. I have given you some of the evidence.  It’s up to you to find out more.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis  MacEoin


Unknown said...

Thanks Denis for your clear(and dear) voice and based facts! You know by now that you are a "strange bird" within the European Academic concert. In the Druze village Majdal Shams all inhabitants are syrians that remained there after the 67 war. When asked by TV staff if they would go back to Syria, the answer was:"why should an healthy person get into the bed of a sickman". Best regards from Tiberias- Dujifat

Mike L. said...

Thank you, good sir.

BraveJeWorld said...

excellently put Denis!
And you will not have a shortage of things to write about on your blog... far too many positive things to say that outweigh all the negative press Israel unfairly and biasly receives from international media.
how about a blog on the hospitals set up by the Israeli army in Haiti, the medical corp that was sent to help in Japan, Gazan children and citizens that are taken by Israelis to hopitals in the very same towns that Gaza terrorists shoot at within Israel, the medical treatment in Israel that those in other arab countries fly to to get life-saving operations, the amount of medical research done in Israel that brings the world ground-breaking results and advances in medicine... the lists is looooooong... not only on the medical front but on many many other subjects too.
I urge you to write more :)

jack said...

Dr. MacEoin, I feel your pain and yet feel that as you knock your head on the infamous "brick wall" you may slightly dislodge one brick. Let's hope. At the moment a one eyed lemming is leading the rest (I'd say sheep but metaphors only go so far)
Jack Seiner,

Studley said...


Thank you for taking the time to raise a hand with some events pertaining to the last general meeting at EUSA. I do feel though it necessary to respond to you and at least attempt to explain why the vote resulted in what it did. Two students proposed the motion which was backed by a collection of signatures-(likely friends of the motioneers-if that’s a word). At the University of Edinburgh general meetings for student council in order to raise a motion and vote any Edinburgh student (elected or not on the council) can participate and engage in this democracy regardless of their understanding of the issues. It is a yea neigh process. That is the nature of this student council. And in that sense the allowance of participation is indeed a tribute- the level of participation is a disgrace. Out of a school of 20 000 + students eligible to participate, only 295 people showed up to vote. Regardless of the outcome of any vote - Engagement in EUSA is low, people who do participate are often part of the clique state of EUSA and this contributes to the results of some motions which are made at the general meetings. To diverge for a moment, only one representative for undergraduate general representation was elected this year to sit on the student council out of 20 candidates and 10 available seats. That is not the engagement level our students should be making. I do believe if any issue should be raised it is not the outcome of this vote, it’s in the participation. But digressing Ill address your concern directly;
Some who are knowledgeable and could provide a good debate at these meetings aren’t very likely to attend, and seemingly the results of this vote showed it was unanimous, and I suspect (though I did not attend this meeting due to engagements elsewhere that evening due to not being informed of the meeting until the day of) that had both sides been adequately debated that a mere 15 minutes would not have been enough time to discuss the issue in length. I am neutral of course on the merits of the boycott myself, but I can assure you that as of the present because of this pathetic turn out at this general meeting the results are non-binding, and the vote most likely will be repeated at a latter meeting- As for who will vote next time really depends on the members who are engaged enough in EUSA to bother showing up to vote. Most students are unaware that these meetings are taking place until after it is too late to schedule an appearance. Thank you for sharing your views. I hope this provides a little insight for you on how EUSA and Edinburgh student politics operate.

Daniel Bielak said...

Dear Denis,

Thank you for your understanding and for your good work.

I have been reading your blog for a long time. Your understanding of the situation that the Jewish people of Israel are in, which you express on your blog, and your understanding of the situation that the Jewish people, as a whole, are in, which you express on your blog, is a comfort for me.

I have created a YouTube channel ( on which is presented the reality of Israeli life and culture.

I have created a blog ( on which I have written a brief summary of the history of the situation that Israel is in.

It would be beneficial if young people such as these Edinburgh University students would see the reality of the situation, which is presented on my YouTube channel and on my blog.

Anonymous said...

I so appreciate this article. So very well stated. Thank you for speaking out the truth.

Anonymous said...

Obviously no one here has ever read a human rights report, evens one written by Jewish NGO , about the abuses in Israel and esp the Occupied Territories.

Truth prevails said...

Great to see some objectivity on this subject. The momentum for this nonsense comes from a strange mix of Islamists for whom the existence of a non Islamic state on land formerly conquered by Moslems is an offence to honour;radical anti western left wingers for whom the existence of a liberal democracy unique to the Middle east is unacceptable; good old fashioned anti-semites and woolly liberals who know that to be 'radical chic' they have to have a cause and the anti-israel one seems to be the fashion. For all these strange bedfellow the truth doesn't even come into it.

Louma Levin said...

thank you, it was good to read something true.
I hope that the people that think hatred is a valid political view will eventually realise it leads nowhere good.

All the best

PD Quig said...

Ever since the late 1940's when Brits sided with and armed the Arabs to the teeth--only to see Arab incompetence and cowardice in battle against a tiny Israeli minority--the British have had a hard-on for Israel. Something about having just lost your empire and having had to be bailed out--again--by the Yanks, I guess. Then, having to bear the ignominy of being on the losing team again just a few years later.

Anti-semitism is alive and well in the UK and always will be, but then, their just a bunch of wankers anyway. Who cares?

Assistant Village Idiot said... would be so cool if Israel were really an oppressor, because then we could criticise them and look fearless without putting ourselves in any danger, and we could feel all warm and fuzzy about our morality and nobility without having to actual pay any actual cost. Plus, we get to hate someone under the cover of loving humanity.

So you see, we just have to vote that way. You can't take this from us.

Georg Felis said...

Thank you Professor, may these seeds of wisdom find good soil and take root. They have a lot of weeds to compete with. (I just wish we would quit fertilizing the weeds and hoeing the flowers)

John R said...

The argument that Israel is an apartheid state is utter nonensense and a mantra which is trotted out by leftists who seek to vilify Israel with their one sided account of events and who then go on to deny they are antisemetic

Duddy Kravitz said...

A voice of reason, at last!

Unknown said...

Found this blog via Cranmer. I thank God that there are still people committed to Truth, Fact, Evidence and critical anaylisis and finally Honesty.

Thank you Dennis. What have we come to that we now have to rely on finding Blogs, instead ofbeing able to rely on State News or traditional newspapers!!

Carrie Goldhill said...

As a London Jew, living on the East coast of the US, I was so relieved, happy and proud to read your letter in the defence of Israel. I have copied it to a large distribution list, many of whom have college age children. It long overdue, but we have to teach our children how to step up for Israel. Especially as the campus based anti Israeli propoganda is now being spread throughout many of the top schools in North America. Your comments, hopefully, shall continue to be heard by many. Thank you, so very much. Carrie Goldhill - Pennsylvania, USA

Darren said...

Thank you for your letter. As a jew who is sometimes troubled by Israeli policy, I was heartened to be reminded of what it means to have a flourishing democracy and Jewish homeland in the Middle East.

Anonymous said...

Have free speech and open discourse vanished from the World's universities?

Anonymous said...

It seems slightly odd that the claims of apartheid are so quickly dismissed by the author when 2 different United Nations Special Rapporteurs (Dugard and Falk) have made the case for Israeli apartheid, which has also been investigated and agreed on by the HSRC of South Africa. Simply dismissing the issue by saying that the Palestine is a separate autonomous entity and that apartheid therefore doesn't apply, as some people do, is rather disingenuous. Not mentioning it at all is equally as bad, in my opinion, and makes the good points raised in the letter rather hollow.

Anonymous said...

I was an MSc student in Edinburgh in 1986-87, in Social and Public Policy studies. During that time, 7 innocent Israelis (including my next-door neighbour and her 2 year old daughter) were massacred by an Egyptian "soldier" on the beach in Ras Burqa in the Sinai Peninsula. The general reaction of my "class-mates", all highly-placed civil servants, teachers etc., was that they got what they deserved! It was at that time, too, that Dundee University was considering electing Yasser Arafat as its Chancellor (this was way before Oslo). So I am not surprised by the student vote, but I am ashamed to have a degree from a University that produces that student body.

Anonymous said...

The best part is here:

"calling Jews Nazis and saying they have committed a Holocaust is as basic a way to subvert historical fact as anything I can think of."

followed quickly by

"If there had been a single Jewish state in the 1930s (which, sadly, there was not), don’t you think Adolf Hitler would have decided to boycott it? Of course he would, and he would not have stopped there."

Nazi analogies are outrageous, except when you're the one making them, right professor?

Denis MacEoin said...

A word on the last post by Anonymous, who says 'Nazi analogies are outrageous, except when you're the one making them, right professor?' Have you actually thought this one through. The analogy was the way in which some rather unpleasant people compare Jews to Nazis. Saying that Hitler, had there been a Jewish state in the 1930s would have boycotted it is not an analogy. Your comment, like so many other anti-Israel comments I see, only helps sum up the dire state of many people's brains. I would make an anaology, but you have frightened me off.

elbalserosuicida said...

Professor, your letter is fabulous for scholarly and righteous, it is unfortunate that in today's world, misconceptions and false are part of everyday life and are imposed as truths. The case of Cuba and Fidel Castro's revolution is similar. The world in a largely thought to have been a righteous revolution, while the reality is that it was a dictatorship that has over 50 years. It is sad how even Israel's leaders today have congratulated Fidel Castro that his 80-odd years has recognized that the State of Israel has a right to exist, having supported the Palestinian and Arab terrorism against the Jewish state for over 50 years and Arab terrorists have trained in Cuba. Free cubans living in the United States never tire of comparing the situation of Cubans on the island with apartheid, as the Cubans in their own country have no right to free elections are not allowed to enter the hotels for foreigners, for 50 years were forbidden to establish private enterprises or have market relations with the world abroad while foreigners were allowed to set up businesses only in relation to the Cuban dictatorial state.
Often defend Israel in communist Cuba was dangerous, since the only thing allowed the dictatorship of Fidel Castro was the defense of the Palestinians and the Arab world and the defense of their dictators and terrorists friends like Gadhafi, Yasser Arafat, George Abbas , Saddam Hussein and others. Defending Israel could cost a lot, be accused of counterrevolutionary and worm and create you many problems.
Cubans in the diaspora have always defended Israel and is very sad that no one defends us or support us in the defense of Cuba against the dictatorship of Fidel Castro.
Thanks for your letter and Regards
Profesor su carta es fabulosa por erudita y justiciera, es una pena que hoy en el mundo las ideas equivocadas y falsas son parte de la vida diaria y se imponen como verdades. El caso de Cuba y la revolución de Fidel Castro es similar. El mundo en una gran parte piensa que ha sido una revolución justiciera, mientras la realidad es que ha sido una dictadura que lleva más de 50 años. Es penoso como hasta los líderes de Israel han felicitado a Fidel Castro que a sus 80 y tantos años ha reconocido que el Estado de Israel tiene derecho a existir, después de haber apoyado el terrorismo palestino y árabe contra el estado judío por más de 50 años y haber entrenado terroristas árabes en Cuba. Los cubanso que viven libres en estados Unidos no se cansan de comparar la situación de los cubanos en la isla con el apartheid, pues los cubanos en su propio país no tienen derecho a elecciones libres, no son permitidos a entrar en los hoteles de los extranjeros, por 50 años se les prohibió crear empresas privadas ni tener relaciones de mercado con el mundo extranjero mientras se les permitía a los extranjeros crear empresas solo en relación con el estado dictatorial cubano.
Muchas veces defender a Israel en Cuba comunista era peligroso, pues lo único que permitía la dictadura de Fidel Castro era la defensa de los palestinos y del mundo árabe y la defensa de sus dictadores y terroristas amigos como Gadhafi, Yaser Arafat, George Abbas, Saddam Hussein y otros. Defender a Israel podía costar mucho, ser acusado de gusano y de contrarevolucionario y crearte muchos problemas.
Los cubanos de la diáspora siempre hemos defendido a Israel y es muy triste ver que nadie nos defiende a nosotros, ni nos apoyan en la defensa de Cuba contra la dictadura de Fidel Castro
Thanks for your letter and Regards

Anonymous said...

Thank you. This is a voice we hardly read or hear.
Now we can add Syria to the list of countries you mentioned in your article. And even after the slaughter there, the world's response and reactions almost none excistent. Sure, Lybia has oil and Saudi Arabia too, so there we can see intervention...
How about the fact that the UN has UNRWA just for the Palestinian refugee, who are concidered refugees for the past 64 years.

Unknown said...

Being a published columnist in Europe and living for almost 40 years in Israel, it would be my pleasure to help out in setting the facts straight, as you did.
Well done, sir!

Anonymous said...

It is curious to read Denis MacEoin's letter to the EUSA and comments from readers, which could make one think that Israel has no support and are unfairly attacked day and night (although websites are bursting with similar defence). Quite the contrary, thanks to the extensive lobbying of Zionists and settler supporters and their friends on the Christian right with a good deal of financial backing. In fact, the respect paid to the terrible fate of millions of Jews (and many millions of others) during the Nazi era has silenced a vast number of world citizens who are disgusted by Israeli government policies and abuse of their military power over decades. I have never personally witnessed an "anti-Israel-lobby", if anything I have seen antipathy towards Israeli policies and criticism of their treatment of the Palestinian people. So much for widespread accusation, which many Jews now see as ill-used and detrimental to any debate.
Quite frankly, I don't see at all that Mr. McEion is well-informed on Middle East Affairs - perhaps well-informed on certain aspects, but not about the reality on the ground, which seems to escape many blind supporters of Israel. I met one recently who maintained "we gave Gaza to the Palestinians and they can all move freely wherever and whenever they wish". Obviously someone who has no contact with any reality.
I would suggest Mr. McEoin read "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine" by Ilan Pappe, based on much military archival material and diaries of such "heroes" as David Ben Gurion; "Drinking the Sea in Gaza" by Amira Hass, which documents everyday life in Gaza (before the horrendous attacks in 2008/9) and Shlomo Sand's "The Invention of the Jewish People", (myths of ancestry and homeland). All Israeli citizens.
If Mr. McEoin spent some time among the Arabs who live in Israel, he might come to the same conclusions that many have: that they are second-class citizens and suffer a great deal of racist discrimination (as did Arab Jews when they arrived in Israel from the Arab countries). A journey through Palestine talking to people, who will surely welcome him, about their lives would also be advisable.

Anonymous said...

If Israel's government, which is clearly right-wing and intent on privatisation, which allows settlements to be built as the latest in their tactics to force all Palestinians from their land, behaved in ways that we expect of European democracies, then they would receive less criticism. But they don't and a democracy is not a democracy because you elect a parliament, it goes way beyond that. Can a State for Jews be democratic anyway?
Jews and Israelis are no different to anyone else. I don't compare them to Nazis, but as someone who has intensely studied the repression, dispossession and murder of the Jews and millions of others in Europe, it is clear that there are many human beings today who are as brainwashed and manipulated. And a good number of such people appear to live among intelligent, aware, humane Israelis who are not afraid of living together with their neighbours on equal terms.
There are many forms of apartheid as there are of fascism and authoritarianism. That is the danger: arguing that they must be like this and that to qualify as such.
There may be some questions about the EUSA motion and vote, but I can assure you there are more and more people, including academics, who are extremely well-informed and who boycott Israel for reasons, which can freely be debated, but not denied. Israel and America choose to arrogantly ignore the rest of the world and attempt to bully UN nation states into sharing their contempt of the Palestinians. What choice is left?
Zionists are so convinced by their own doctrine, that they forget the right to equality of all human beings and ignore what does not fit their beliefs. Some of what Mr. MacEoin says here is true, but in general it is a glorification of contd.
Israel, which makes it slightly ridiculous, particularly because the letter bristles with contempt for students and assumptions that the only thing they are doing is attacking Israel.
Stop making Jews fearful that others hate them and simply attack Israel, thus them, for no reason. Look instead towards those who are fighting for justice and peace for all people.