Well, what fine defenders of freedom and democracy!
TWO institutions which enjoy far more reverence than they deserve are Britain's Chief Rabbi and America's Bnai Brith-Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Both probably rate more respect from the media than from their own flocks. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has denounced the University and Colleges Union(UCU) decision to discuss a boycott of Israeli institutions as a threat to "our liberal democracy".
Sacks goes on about alleged Islamic extremists in colleges, students, whom, according to the government and him , lecturers should be monitoring.
But as the Jewish Chronicle has reported, much of the impetus behind the boycott call comes from Jewish and Israeli campaigners concerned with Palestinian rights, nothing to do with Islamicists.
Sacks' predecessor, Lord Jacobowitz (that title says it) was conservative and too close to big "C" Conservative Margaret Thatcher for most of us, but he did venture some liberal criticism of Israeli expansionism, sufficient to force the cancellation of a Catskill lecture tour because of threats from the Kahanists. On arrival in the House of Lords he proposed a campaign against the international arms trade. Jewish Socialist magazine wondered whether he had considered what Baroness Thatcher and son might say. We have heard no more of the campaign.
Sacks is more predictable than his predecessor. At a Zionist rally in Kenton, north-west London last year, as the Israeli air force was scattering clsuter bombs on Lebanon this Chief Rabbi proclaimed "Israel, We Are Proud of You!"
Now he wants to tell us about terror and extremism, and condemn people for trying to find a way to support Palestinian rights. Contrary to the impression you might get from the mainstream media, Sacks has no authority to speak on behalf of all Jews in Britain, not even of all synagogue goers, nor make pronouncements on what is right or wrong for them.
He is merely the head of the United Synagogue, an Orthodox body which does not recognise equality for women and whose liberalism, not to say democracy, is highly dubious. But now he wants to tell academics their duties, and admonish a trade union because its conference democratically voted for an informed discussion of the boycott issue. The UCU resolution said that academics would have to consult their consciences. What a dreadful idea for some of them that is, I can imagine. But evidently it is not a thought our great religious leader approves of!
Talking of witch-hunts, I dare say we will hear from the Chief Rabbi what he thinks about De Paul University's denial of tenure to Professor Norman Finkelstein. The Anti-Defamation League has made its view clear, in a statement by its Chicago director Lonnie Nasatir:
"The Anti-Defamation League has long been troubled by Professor Norman Finkelstein's vitriolic and mean-spirited rhetoric in his written works and public speaking engagements. His career has been marked by hurtful attacks on those seeking to remember the Holocaust, an obsessive hatred of Zionism and Israel, and a penchant for distorting the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. To the extent that DePaul's decision to deny tenure to Prof. Finkelstein is intended as a repudiation of his hateful and bigoted ideas, we applaud the University for its actions in standing up for its principles. It should be noted that DePaul accepted Jewish students when other universities had strict quotas, and we look forward to continuing the close relationship between DePaul and the Jewish community that has done so much to benefit Chicago and Catholic-Jewish relations".
Finkelstein has not sought to attack "those seeking to remember the Holocaust". As the son of Holocaust survivors he has attacked the use made of the memory by Zionists and others, and the way that many survivors have been forgotten and left in the cold when compensation funds were allocated.
He has also attacked the way Israel treats the Palestinians. And for that he must be punished, and the commandment not to make false witness can be forgotten when institutions like the ADL are dealing with Israel's enemies.
Started as an offshoot of the Bnai Brith friendly society, ADL purports to be leading the fight against antisemitism and racism, but it is distinctly unfriendly to anyone who protests Israeli racism. So much so that some years ago its West Coast wing was caught employing two ex-cops to infiltrate and spy on a wide variety of labour movement, minority and peace campaigning organisations. The roll-call of organisations targetted, including the Bay Area chapter of the International Jewish Peace Union, was impressive; but the two police spies also moonlighted for the South African embassy.
Still, at least ADL is being honest and consistent now. Only a week after it placed advertisements in the press here condemning the UCU resolutions (a warning it intends interfering in British affairs over the heads of UK Jewish leaders). It could have kept quiet and pretended it really believes in academic freedom. But it was probably too arrogant to even consider what people might think about that.