By Raphael Israeli
Western societies that are dipped in their Judeo-Christian tradition draw from the great Biblical Prophets who used to relentlessly lash out at their secular authorities, in a remarkable display of moral concern for both the domestic and external policies of their countries, whenever they felt that Truth was violated or the wrong prevailed. In so doing, they also ached the pains of the entire world, including their own, for they were aware that evil spirits might concoct lies and conspiracies against the Jewish Commonwealth in which they lived. When they defended their turf against outsiders, they did not do so as servants of their regime but in the name of their revulsion against outside enemies and evil doers. But those hallowed principles have become the prisoners of political correctness in recent memory, so much so that when wrong is done to Western culture or to Israel, western, especially Israeli, intellectuals would rather self-flagellate their public and "admit" sins they never committed, and furnish intellectual rationalizations for the most convoluted arguments raised by their adversaries, rather than take up their country's defense even when its conduct is beyond reproach.
Particularly distressing is the fact that many of those bleeding- heart critics rely for their education in matters in which they are not versed on committed newspapers and pamphlets, that more than they are bound by the truth or what is right , would rather submit to their political agendas, shamelessly reneging on the principles and the morality they usually profess . A case in point is the Israeli daily Haaretz, which is read by intellectuals, professionals and "thinkers", and routinely advocates decent conduct, "correct" policies, moral and transparent government, human treatment of prisoners, permissive behavior and the like. When much-maligned Ariel Sharon run for the top office in 2001, haaretz crowned him with all the epithets of contempt and hostility possible and campaigned against his election, to no avail. But when he announced after his election that he stood for disengagement from Gaza, he suddenly became a saint and all his previous sins were forgotten or forgiven. Even when he was interrogated by police for his and his family's corruption, the usually militant and "righteous" haaretz disregarded the evidence that was otherwise widely reported and elected, so admitted its Chief Editor, that for the sake of preserving a strong Sharon until he performed disengagement, all his corruption would be disregarded, as if one could not be persecuted for corruption while pursuing a "sound" policy ((which proved later disastrous to the country). Intellectuals in the country usually approved of these hypocritical choices, that exposing as fake their pretenses of being liberal, righteous, decent and politically correct.
A Sampling of Oddities
A respected colleague shared the platform with me in a panel that addressed hundreds of donors to the Hebrew University where I am privileged to teach. He spoke brilliantly about his academic domain and was rightly applauded for his remarkable speech. When my turn came to speak about the failures of the Oslo process, he unwarrantedly rose to intervene, arguing that I was talking "politics", namely that I was stating a position he could not accept, while I should be talking "scientifically", meaning outlining a position that he could accept as a politically correct professor, whose vast learning in Biblical studies did not afford him any tool to comprehend the situation and counter my analysis, other that the newspaper that he read lately. Had he conducted research on Oslo, his words would have carried weight, but as a layman, his intervention had no more significance than mine if I had interfered in his analysis of Biblical Joshua. There is something distorted in the phenomenon whereby that same scholar who would have traveled to the edge of the world to collect a footnote for his scientific findings, could so dismissively, without any competence or skill, try to make his unfounded version prevail upon mine. The fact that Oslo did collapse, as I had predicted in my analysis, did not make that scholar change his mind or apologize for his uncalled for intervention. The position of my colleague had nothing extraordinary about it, because it has become a normal practice that whenever I gave lectures for the university, my presentation was always preceded or followed by a remark from the chair that my views did not represent the university. Never was that remark heard when my commonly politically correct colleagues made similar presentations.
A few years back, when the Intifada was raging, an Indian delegation stayed in Israel for a bi-national conference on physics hosted by the Weizmann Institute. I was invited to speak to the participants about global terrorism. I mentioned that most terrorist activities in the world today are committed by Muslims and that it was Islamikaze (my appellation for the so-called "suicide bombers"), acted in the name of Islam. I was not aware that some of the guests were Muslim, and had I known the tenor of my speech was likely to remain unchanged. The convener of the conference, a brilliant Israeli physicist, rose in "defense" of his guests, claiming that there was nothing like "Islamic terrorism", and that he was "surprised" that I was hired as a university faculty with "political views" like mine. While one can understand his sensitivity to his guests, one cannot help reflecting on his political correctness, for what incensed him was not what I stated, that was founded on facts that he could not refute, but my daring to do it. It was as if I had risen during the conference of nuclear physics to deny the existence of neutrons, and castigated the lecturer for bringing shame on the Weizmann Institute. I remarked, in response, that I respected his right to ignorance but that he was under no obligation to demonstrate it in public. I added that I was invited to talk to the group that a minimal measure decency on his part would have required better manners towards an invited lecturer. He called the next day to apologize.
How ironical that the President of the Weizmann Institute, Haim Harari, who cared to devote some research to the question of terrorism, came to the same conclusions as myself regarding Muslim terrorism, though he couched his findings in a much more categorical and less nuanced way than me, as is the wont of hard-core scientists! In another conference in England more recently, I delivered a lecture on radical Islam, which a distinguished professor in physical science attended. He was less vocal and less insolent than his colleague from the Weizmann Institute, but together with the compliments he showered on the presentation, he intimated that he "did not agree with me". Once again, he was not the author of new research that proved otherwise, but he was made up of the same political correctness materials which impelled him to state what he stated. But it had exactly the same validity as if I were to intimate to him that "I did not agree" with the brilliant lecture he delivered on Albert Einstein shortly thereafter, about which I obviously had no say.
In intellectual circles in Israel as elsewhere in the West, which include academe, media, artists and some leading left-wing politicians, whose common denominator is often hatred of their own legitimate government and adulation of its often illegitimate enemy rulers, the above sample of examples has nothing extraordinary to it. Nothing is new, due to the suffocating intellectual ambience that prevails in our universities, where the right of speech is strictly observed, but only to the Left , the "correct" and the conforming, which is often dubbed "scientific", and what is considered as rightist views, which are dismissed as "politics", has been systematically eradicated, demeaned, silenced, excluded and mocked in conferences, professional gatherings, symposia, op ed pages, and academic discourse in general. A few years ago, when the late Professor Yoram Ben-Porat, a social scientist and one of the declared heads of the "Peace Now " movement, served as President of Hebrew University, he hosted a group of European parliamentarians, a renowned forum of anti-Israel hostility, together with some faculty from the university. The guests did not hide their support for the Palestinians during their Intifada, and they elicited our views on the matter, castigating us for running the routine schedule of our university while BIr Zeit University was shut down and prevented from opening its doors. Expectedly, most of the present academics indulged in self-flagellation of their government for its "injustice" towards the Palestinians, much to the delight of Ben Porat. When my turn came, and I explained that Bir Zeit was closed down, not because it was Palestinian but due to the student violence there which made teaching and studying hazardous, I was shut off by the chair of the session, under the claim that I had drifted to "politics", implying that the others before me spoke strict "science", and I later learned that he ordered his staff to exclude me in the future from such meetings. So much for freedom of speech.
Ben Porat's message perked down to other university institutions, either by fiat or by obsequious conformity to the general mood. So much so, that with rare exceptions, every time there was a topic of direct interest to me, even when I published more than others on it, the boycott on me was strictly enforced. There were days when in the Institute of Research of which I have been one of the veteran members, a similitude of balance and debate was kept, even when my view was diluted in many others, and my participation in several research projects was banned as soon as I indicated the direction to which I wished to take my own investigation. For example, it was legitimate to examine all the aspects of a prospective Palestinian state, or the grievances of the Arabs as a minority in Israel. But as soon that one indicated that one should also examine the dangers that the Palestinian state posed to Israel, or the privileged position of the Arab citizens in Israel who pushed for more rights but shunned any duties, one was sure to be pushed beyond the pale. Articles and books by members of the Institute were rightly discussed in symposia, but only reluctantly, and mostly under pressure, would my writings gain a place in the many discussions that took place in the Institute. For example, discussions about Arabs in Israel too place during an entire year, where all manner of academics and non-academics expressed their views, but almost uniformly on the left. I tried to present my position from the floor since I was given no set on the rostrum despite my three books on the subject, but I was always shut off for "lack of time". What incensed me is not my exclusion, to which I have become accustomed, but the public announcement on each instance, that the panel would be followed by an "open debate", but never was a debate allowed.
Some Consequences and Tentative Conclusions
Obviously, the greatest sin one can commit towards the politically correct is to be right and thereby to ridicule their dug-in positions and to wipe out their conventional wisdom. The rise of nationalism among Israeli Arabs, the lethality of Muslim fundamentalism and the vanity of Oslo were clear from their inception, but intellectuals preferred to look the other way, to dig in in their world of denial and to build around them a flimsy web of rationalizations and justifications so as to preserve their narcissistic ego and never admit their misguided delusions, otherwise their aura of authority might be irretrievably lost in the public domain. Ask those people and they will continue to praise Oslo, which has pushed the Middle East to its lowest ebb, and laud PM Rabin its progenitor, as the newfound genius of politics and savvy. They would also condemn his successor Netanyahu for the failure of the process, because of his simple insistence on reciprocity between Israel and the Palestinians, instead of the one-sided "moves of goodwill" which only increased terror and lessened the likelihood of settlement. It is not that these highly intelligent people lost their mind, they simply naively believed that decency, generosity and goodwill must generate a response in kind from the other party. Most of them never understood the conflict and its Arab premises. They refused to see that every retreat and concession on Israel's part only produced more demands and more violence.
The best illustration of this Kafkaesque situation was the celebration of the decennial of Oslo at my research institute, at a considerable cost and the sound of the big fanfare that accompanied it. At the opening session, four lectures were delivered by great scholars who sang the praise of this collapsing edifice, as if it were a monument for eternity and not for their myopia. Not one scholar who would attack Oslo was invited to take part to show that the King was naked. When I protested before hand, I was dismissed by the usual excuse that "only academic considerations" dictated the make-up of the panel, something that could lead any fair-minded person to the conclusion that "academic consideration" equaled a failing one. Conversely, in Scandinavian universities which I visited thereafter I was allowed to raise all the issues that I was prevented from debating at home. Shimon Peres and Bernard Lewis, the relentless champions of Oslo, were invited to highlight the conference as Rabin's hagiography was attaining its apex, but Sharon and Netanyahu who had opposed Oslo, were boycotted and demeaned by some of the speakers. Who said that political correctness is easy to combat?
One cannot deny that following the outburst of Palestinian violence in 2000, in what became known as the Second Intifada, some politically correct intellectuals were shaken up (that is ironically the literal meaning of Intifada), and they began questioning the world of lies and delusions in which they were immersed thus far, and that had been diffused by the conforming media. There were days when this phenomenon of repentance , some of it in public, would fill my heart with joy, but I have grown weary of this attitude of fear and hypocrisy among intellectuals, who are ready to whisper in your ears their "repentance", but cannot still mobilize the requisite courage to get up and counter in public the strong lobby of political correctness. Consequently, my response to them is to reject their "secret" repentance and to insist that it must be declared in the open in order to have any impact. In the West , especially following the September 11 events, there are voices that rebel against the suffocating correctness around them which has driven them to low ebbs. When in Australia in Feb-March 2007, I was amazed at the tremendous responses to my remarks about the dangers of Muslim immigration to the West and at the wide public debate that my words had caused, as if those generally held feelings had been compressed, with few daring to talk about them, but now that the "safety" valves were open, a mighty current of grievances came gushing forth. So much so, that even the credible military commentator of Haaretz, came forth with a harsh criticism of the Gaza disengagement his paper had been championing for months.
In the provincial quagmire of Israel, the politically correct will not hasten to reverse their views in spite of the general collapse of their theses and assumptions. That will happen much longer after the awakening from denial will take place in America and Europe. In the meantime, they will continue to demean their rivals as "extremists", dig in deeper into their old positions, dismiss others as non-"scientific" and aggrandize themselves as the portends of science, and pursue their closed sectarian and elitist activities by inviting each other to conferences, recommending each other for fellowships and sabbaticals and injecting poison into the new generations of students. In the public events that universities and their institutes initiate, in ceremonies and meetings of the Boards, allocation of prizes and designation of honors, only rarely can one find those suspected with politically incorrect views or affiliations. The beaten track or correctness has been the favorite one, much to the growing disgust or a public who is tired of financing the vagaries of its academics. Only when one of those discarded dissidents wins an international honor, like the Nobel Prize, would the university forgive for a moment his "deviations" in order to bathe in the fragrance of his world recognition.
Everyone knows that truth cannot be blocked, nor can mouths be shut in the long run. Therefore, political correctness and the damages it inflicts on society are bound to be exposed and rejected by free societies. The trouble is that young generations of beginning scholars, who are rightly concerned about their careers and do not dare to rebel publicly for fear of being excluded and boycotted, will cause the intellectual world, and with it all society, to pay very high prices before the wrong is redressed.
The author is a professor of Islam and Middle East at Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.