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High time for academics to raise their voices in protest

Mar 27,2024 - Last updated at Mar 27,2024

Seven hundred and thirty Israeli academics have signed a petition calling on their government to “take urgent measures to prevent starvation in the Gaza Strip [before] the humanitarian catastrophe gets out of control, causes mass death and becomes an indelible stain”. Signatories included the presidents of Tel Aviv University and the National Academy of Sciences. While they condemned the October 7th Hamas attack on southern Israel and the holding of hostages, they wrote: “Precisely because of this, we cannot stand opposite to the humanitarian catastrophe taking place before our eyes in the last few weeks in the Gaza Strip.”

The liberal Israeli daily Haaretz called this petition “the most extensive public reference to the war since it began”.

With their petition, these academics have joined the small minority of courageous Israelis who have protested the disproportionate Israeli offensive from its outset, some of whom write columns for Haaretz and others on the +972 website.

It is about time for academics to raise their voices in protest. Even Israel’s best friend, US President Joe Biden has scolded the Israeli government and warned that Israel is in danger of losing its foreign friends. In his State of the Union address a week ago, Biden declared, “Israel ..has a fundamental responsibility... to protect innocent civilians in Gaza. To the leadership of Israel, I say this: Humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip. Protecting and saving innocent lives has to be a priority.” This is a theme Biden has adopted time after time in recent weeks as conditions in Gaza have deteriorated to the catastropic level and children and the infirm are dying daily of starvation and dehydration.

Images of skeletal children broadcast on satellite television channels may, perhaps, have impressed Biden who has fully committed himself and his country to the impossible Israeli campaign to eradicate Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank. While he backs Israel in its war, Biden has displayed uncomfortable independence by renewing his call for the “two-state solution” involving the emergence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who rejects this “solution”, has not obliged Biden by avoiding Palestinian fatalities and allowing humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. Netanyahu has taken this stand despite widespread domestic and international accusations against his most loyal ally, Biden, of complicity in Israel’s brutal offensive. His low approval rating in the run-up the November presidential election is partly driven by his refusal to exert pressure on Israel. Instead, Biden has refused to vote for a permanent ceasefire in the UN Security Council and to withhold the bombs and bullets that enable Israel to carry on with the war. Biden’s warning that Israel is losing friends around the world has still not been considered seriously and acted upon by Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has ignored the millions of people in the US, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia who have week after week, month after month, mounted protests against Israel’s war, dismissing the trigger, Hamas’s unexpected, deadly raid which has gripped Israelis with fear and rage.

On March 10, hundreds of anti-war protesters in The Netherlands, another of Israel’s close friends, demonstrated over the presence of Israeli President Yitzak Herzog at the long belated inauguration of the National Holocaust Museum memorialising the 100,000 Dutch Jews and the thousands of Dutch Gypsies who died in Nazi concentration camps. The protest was organised by the Dutch Jewish anti-Zionist organisation, Erev Rav, along with the country’s Palestinian community and the Socialist International. While organisers said they honoured the victims of the Holocaust, they argued they could not allow the event to take place while the war continues. During these last traumatic months Herzog has made remarks blaming the Palestinian people rather than Hamas for October 7th and his words have been cited as proof that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.

On March 23, tens of thousands of Irish men, women and children carrying Palestinian flags marched through the centre of Dublin to rally outside parliament to demand an imme-diate ceasefire and Ireland’s recognition of a Palestinian state. Although Ireland has broken with European Union (EU) partners by demanding an Israeli halt to hostilities, delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza and Palestinian self-determination, Dublin has hesitated to recognise Palestine until the EU as whole takes this step. On this issue, the government does not represent the people. During my trip around Ireland last week, I saw Palestinian flags flying in the provincial cities of Howth and Bray as well as Dublin.

While Netanyahu has dismissed the South African submission to the international Court of justice accusing Israel of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, Jordan, Turkey and, recently, Nicaragua have pledged to file their own evidence against Israel. 

Netanyahu has sacrificed Israel’s most precious global asset, impunity, by waging a cruel war intended to destroy Gaza. Impunity has enabled Israel to shun responsibility for earlier disproportionate attacks on Gaza and the West Bank. Impunity has enabled Israel to build more than 200 illegal colonies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, thereby colonising the territory Palestinians demand and need for a viable state. Constant reference to the Holocaust has conferred impunity on Israel which relies on the slogan “Never Again” — never another genocide against Jews — to counter criticism and reject accountability.

Since it became clear that Israel had launched all-out war on Gaza, there has been increased anti-Semitism — anti-Jewish feeling — in the West. Unfortunately, many people who follow the unfolding of the human catastrophe in Gaza blame Jewish diaspora communities when Israel goes rogue. While many Jews back Israel, Netanyahu has alienated large numbers of Jews who feel he is harming them by prosecuting this war. Thousands of Jewish opponents of Netanyahu’s cruel war have taken part in anti-war protests across the world alongside Palestinians and their supporters.

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