A lec­turer’s un­qual­i­fied bias

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Ge­of­frey Al­der­man

GRE­SHAM COL­LEGE WAS the brain­child of Sir Thomas Gre­sham, a 16th-cen­tury mer­chant and fi­nancier who left a fund to be jointly ad­min­is­tered by the Cor­po­ra­tion of Lon­don and the Mercers’ Com­pany for the pur­pose of in­sti­tut­ing a pro­gramme of free pub­lic lec­tures by Gre­sham “pro­fes­sors”. The Col­lege was es­tab­lished in 1597 and has been ful­fill­ing this prom­ise ever since.

The Gre­sham pro­fes­so­ri­ate has in­cluded many dis­tin­guished ex­perts, not least in the field of law. From 2008 un­til 2012, the Gre­sham pro­fes­sor of law was Baroness Ruth Deech, an author­ity on med­i­cal ethics and an out­spo­ken de­fender of the Jewish peo­ple. Deech was suc­ceeded by Sir Ge­of­frey Nice, a bar­ris­ter who is said to spe­cialise in in­ter­na­tional crim­i­nal law. On Oc­to­ber 7, Nice de­liv­ered, as Gre­sham pro­fes­sor, a lecture on “Gaza-Is­rael” that was so bi­ased as to call into ques­tion the judg­ment of Gre­sham ad­min­is­tra­tors in ap­point­ing him in the first place. I was not present at the lecture; but the text is avail­able on the Gre­sham web­site and you can watch it on YouTube.

Since Nice is not him­self a his­to­rian, of ne­ces­sity he re­lies on sec­ondary sources, and while I would have ex­pected th­ese to in­clude a range of ex­pert opin­ions, Nice in fact re­lies ex­clu­sively on the find­ings of just one his­to­rian, namely Avi Shlaim, whom he cites 18 times.

Shlaim (who re­fused to share a plat­form with me at the Belfast Fes­ti­val back in 2010) is the doyen of the so-called “New His­to­ri­ans” of Zion­ism, the found­ing fa­ther of the his­tor­i­cal school that in­sists that Is­rael was born in “orig­i­nal sin” (the al­leged whole­sale ex­pul­sion of Arabs), that there was no co-or­di­nated Arab plan to de­stroy the Jewish state at that time, and that the roots of the present ten­sions in the re­gion are to be found in Is­raeli in­tran­si­gence rather than in Arab ob­du­racy. Shlaim’s con­tro­ver­sial views have been ex­pertly chal­lenged by (among oth­ers) pro­fes­sor Benny Mor­ris. But — pre­sum­ably since Mor­ris’s dev­as­tat­ing cri­tique does not suit Nice’s pur­pose — Nice ig­nores it. What is Nice’s pur­pose? Noth­ing less that to ex­tol Shlaim’s opin­ion “that vi­o­lence was the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of the Ne­tanyahu gov­ern­ment’s ap­proach to Ha­mas.”

There is ab­so­lutely no men­tion of the ex­plicit anti-Jewish racism that un­der­pins Ha­mas’s world view. No men­tion of its am­bi­tion to de­stroy the Jewish state. Re­peated rocket at­tacks from Gaza into Is­rael are men­tioned, but only in or­der to be ex­plained away — ex­cused, in fact — as re­tal­i­a­tion for Is­raeli at­tacks upon Gaza and upon Ha­mas sup­port­ers in Judea and Sa­maria. More than that, Nice in­sists, Is­raeli lead­ers, both po­lit­i­cal and reli­gious, have en­gaged in whole­sale de­mon­i­sa­tion of Arabs “as a group”. He quotes some forth­right pro­nounce­ments by the late rabbi Ova­dia Yosef but ut­terly fails to put them in con­text. (In fact, Yosef is on record as hav­ing de­clared, dur­ing the Oslo ne­go­ti­a­tions that it was ha­lachi­cally per­mis­si­ble to give up sovereignty over parts of the Land of Is­rael, but only in ex­change for a gen­uine peace).

To­wards the end of his lecture, Nice does, in a per­func­tory way, ad­dress the pos­si­bil­ity that Ha­mas might it­self have been guilty of war crimes. “There is a great deal of ma­te­rial (he ad­mits) show­ing a clear in­tent to at­tack Is­rael as an en­emy but only rarely are char­ac­ter­is­tics of de­hu­man­is­ing /po­ten­tially crim­i­nal hate speech re­vealed.” Ac­tu­ally, as the dis­tin­guished com­men­ta­tor Dr David Pol­lock has shown (on the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute web­site, 2012), Ha­mas me­dia “are re­plete with vi­o­lent images and ex­hor­ta­tions to mar­tyr­dom, in­clud­ing ex­plicit ad­vo­cacy of ter­ror­is­ing, killing, and dis­mem­ber­ing ‘Zion­ists’, whether sol­diers or civil­ians.”

Nice is of course en­ti­tled to his views, how­ever un­bal­anced and prej­u­diced, and to air them. But whether he was en­ti­tled to air them as a Gre­sham pro­fes­sor is a moot point. At the very least, his au­di­ence was surely en­ti­tled to know that he has acted pro­fes­sion­ally for the vic­tims and fam­i­lies of those killed in the Is­raeli at­tack on the Mavi Mar­mara, and that he has made no se­cret of his de­sire to see Is­rael brought be­fore the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court.

Per­haps the Provost of Gre­sham Col­lege (the dis­tin­guished his­to­rian of Nazi Ger­many Sir Richard Evans) can tell us why this nec­es­sary dec­la­ra­tion of in­ter­est was not pub­licly made.

Nice is en­ti­tled to his views, how­ever prej­u­diced

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