Two bylines caught my attention recently. The resignation of the co-chairman of Oxford University Labour Club, Alex Chalmers, and the announcement that Town Halls and other public bodies are to be stopped from exercising a local version of foreign policy by boycotting ‘unethical firms’ – read ‘Israeli’. The first was in response to the thinly disguised support many OULC members have for Hamas, prompting Mr Chalmers to remark that a large proportion of them have ‘some kind of problem’ with Jews. Coincidentally, the usual suspects at the University support Israeli Apartheid Week where historians and political scientists who, beginning with a myopically distorted narrative, treat a new generation of political lambs to the slaughter to a dose of radicalism. This is clothed in political doublethink in the hope of raising up a few more flag wavers. BDS campaigns are built on the completely false premiss that Israel is an apartheid state. Political naïveté is a characteristic of the young, but to rally behind complete untruth is fatuous, inane and pointless and many Labour MP’s are rightly appalled.
The second prompted this Guardian cartoon which has been widely shared.
The UK (read the Conservatives) are basically planning to enact an anti-boycott law and the pro-boycott cartoon suggests it will run contrary to George Orwell’s warnings about what happens when you erode free speech.
So, in the interests of clarity, here’s what Orwell wrote:
At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to state this or that or the other, but it is “not done”. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing.
In his 1945 essay Notes on Nationalism he explores the erosion of the capacity on reasoned political discourse on the intelligentsia when they attach themselves to a narrow and myopic ideology, much as the Left has attached itself to a default pro-Palestinian narrative, so Jean-Paul Sartre’s support for Maoism, Michel Foucault’s soft spot for Ayatollah Khomeini, and so on.
It has been argued that support for Palestinian nationalism amongst the opinion elite depends on what has been described as ‘Palestinians’ nobility as a people’ or what Bertrand Russell termed a belief in the “superior virtue of the oppressed”. This moral paradigm refuses to accept Israel’s obvious progressive advantages, and that the ideas actually animating “oppressed” Palestinians are completely “antithetical to the values that Western intellectuals offer as evidence of their own moral standards.” Put simply, until the public face of the PA, Hamas, Hezbollah and all the others can find a way to admit to the incontrovertible truth of Israeli existence, democracy and manifest success, an ideology of victimhood will continue to drive their public announcements and justify the maintenance and support of such a narrative to their people. If there is a solution, apart from an extremist, totalitarian one, I fail to see it.
Orwell commented on the intellectual obstinacy of the Left who so often not only fail to condemn atrocities committed by the side they support, but have “a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”