Conference turns into anti-Israel ‘hate-fest’
A BRITISH-BASED academic has defended comparing the State of Israel to Nazi Germany at a conference in which antisemitic conspiracy theories were openly aired.
Dr Ghada Karmi, who lectures on the Middle East at Exeter University, insisted that the term untermensch — used by the Nazis to brand “inferior” non-Aryan people — could be legitimately used to describe Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians.
Speaking at the conference, in Cork, Ireland, Dr Karmi also claimed Jews had flocked to Mandate Palestine because they were “an unpopular, unloved people”.
In further scathing remarks, the Palestinian academic and author described European Jews who fled to the Middle East as a “group of foreign immigrants trying to behave as they were indigenous”.
Board of Deputies President Jonathan Arkush was among those to condemn Dr Karmi’s outburst. He told the JC: “We predicted this conference was going to turn into a hate-fest and Dr Ghada Karmi’s disgraceful intervention has ensured that it will be remembered as exactly that.”
More than 40 academics, along with a further 100 hard-core pro-Palestinian campaigners, arrived last Friday for the gathering, which was held over two days at Cork City Hall, and moved to a hired venue on University College Cork’s campus for the final day.
Among the organisers was ex-Israeli law lecturer Oren Ben-Dor — whose own university, Southampton, had cancelled the conference on health and safety grounds in 2015. Addressing the audience, which included former Labour frontbench MP Clare Short, Professor BenDor said: “Jews need to become human again” and claimed Jews possessed a “victim mentality” and a “suppressed desire to be hated… to be boycotted”.
In a further contribution, Marxist professor, Joel Kovel, declared that, after the 9/11 New York terror attacks, “as the towers were burning, five painters were cheering on the process from across the river — they were Mossad agents.”
Mark Gardner, director of communications at the Community Security Trust, said the extreme antisemitic nature of the some of the speakers’ comments confirmed his organisation’s initial fears over the event. Speaker Dr Ghada Karmi
Mr Gardner told the JC: “When this conference was first planned at Southampton, CST warned that it was not simply just another “anti-Israel hate fest”, but something fundamentally worse. To nobody’s surprise, we were proved correct. The only silver lining is that no British university would agree to host it, but it was British-based academics who made it happen.”
Discussions over the word “untermensch” were sparked at the event at on Saturday after an “academic paper” written by Professor Yosefa Loshitzky, from the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) used the Nazi terminology to describe what she called Israeli “crimes against humanity” in Gaza.
Dr Karmi, a research fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter, rose from her seat at the front of the hall to state: “Untermensch’s equivalent in English is ‘sub-human’. And subhuman is how people in Gaza feel they are being treated by the Israeli army.”
She continued: “We are not allowed to use words the Nazis used as if they were true and unique only to what the Nazis did to the Jews. It is not right. For Palestinians, I don’t think they make a distinction between what happened to the Jews in Germany and what is happening to them. That is something we need to remember. ”
Ms Karmi, who was born in Jerusalem but has lived most of her life in the UK, had earlier offered her thoughts on Jewish immigration into the then Palestine after the Holocaust. She claimed: “Most of those Jews wanted to go to the US or to Europe — they did not want to go to Palestine. However, we know western states were unwilling to admit them. Palestine seemed a good solution.”
She added: “The Jews were not wanted in Europe, they were an unpopular, unloved people, who were off-loaded into the area.”
Piaras Mac Éinrí, one of the event organisers and a geography lecturer at University College, Cork, decided at one stage to take the floor to express his displeasure at the tone of the debate.
He said: “Comparison between Israel/Palestine and Nazi Germany is not only historically unfounded, it is also unhelpful. I feel strongly about that. I think we should stop doing this, it does our movement no favours.”
In a separate lecture — in front of academics from other UK universities including Cambridge, King’s College London and the University of Kent — Mr Ben-Dor hit out at what he called “extreme separateness”, suggesting “separateness” and “exceptionalism” were “the State of Israel’s raison d’etre”.
Asked later by the JC to explain his remarks, the academic said he was referring to “European, not Arab Jews”. He added: “Judaism itself is interacted with Greek mythology. It’s complex — it cannot be reduced to a sound bite.”
Claiming that Israel was “worse than South Africa”, he said: “Israel is an apartheid state built on apartheid. Israel is not like South Africa at all — the kind of legalism in Israel is the kind to use tricks of law to prevent looking from within.”
“Self-hatred is levelled at any Jew who criticises Israel.”
Mr Ben-Dor’s comments were condemned. Barry Williams of the Irish4Israel group said: “Once again we see Oren Ben-Dor dehumanise Jewish people. While we are repeatedly told criticism of Israel is not antisemitism, Oren crosses the line and seems to enjoy doing so.”
There was a further attack on Israel’s foundation from Richard Falk, who called the country’s creation the “most successful terrorist campaign in history”. Making the conference’s keynote speech last Friday, Mr Falk accused Zionist leaders of escalating a campaign of violence around the world.
Mr Falk, who recently authored a rejected UN report that attempted to label Israel as an “apartheid state”, also claimed Western “guilt” over the Holocaust allowed the state to come into existence in 1948.
The only pro-Zionist speech over the three days was made by Geoffrey Alderman, a politics professor at the University of Buckingham and a former JC columnist. Prof Alderman spoke of the need to recognise “Jewish rights” under the terms of international law in the Israel. His 15-minute speech was heard without any dissent from the audience.
Prof Alderman later told the JC: “I have absolutely no regret about coming to Cork and delivering my speech.
“Several people came up to me afterwards, and I have also had emails, from people who say I have made them think differently on the issue.”
Following the conference, when asked about Dr Karmi’s remarks, a University of Exeter spokesman said: “We have an unwavering commitment to tolerance, respect and inclusivity. These qualities are at the heart of who we are and what we expect from everyone associated with the university.”
The Israeli embassy in Ireland expressed dismay that a platform had been provided to people questioning Israel’s right to exist.
Comparing Israel with Nazi Germany does us no favours’
Cork City Hall, the venue for the gathering