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…and in England

In England, University of Manchester professor Mona Baker ousted two Israeli professors from journals that she edits, on the grounds that they are Israelis. Her action followed a call for the EU to sever all academic ties with Israeli institutions, instigated by Professor Steven Rose of Britain’s Open University and his wife Hilary Rose, professor at Bradford University. The University of Manchester has refused to condemn Baker’s action.

An American-Jewish student Hila Ratzabi arrived in England for a semester abroad in January 2002, she was not prepared for the anti-Semitism that she encountered. She writes:

First off was the cover of the left-leaning New Statesman magazine emblazoned with the words: “A Kosher Conspiracy?” over an image of a Jewish star, its lower point stabbing a British flag. The article, which criticized Israeli policy, generated an angry response from the British-Jewish community. The magazine later apologized for its offensive cover, admitting that it was inappropriate, as the intent was to criticize Israel’s political choices and not Judaism.

On campus, at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, I avoided political discussions about the Middle East; I just felt I hadn’t educated myself enough about the topic. But I soon discovered that many British students who did choose to flaunt their opinions to me about the Israeli/Palestinian situation were completely ignorant. One evening, for example, as I was having dinner at my friend’s flat, my being Jewish arose in conversation. One of her flat-mates, a 26-year-old student, asked: “Weren’t Jews moneylenders in Europe, or something?” When current Mideast politics inevitably entered the conversation, he tried to defend the terrorist attacks against Israel because, he said, the Palestinians were “desperate.” In the center of campus, where students sit to drink and socialize, someone had written in big, colorful chalk letters: “Palestinian Resistance Is Not Terrorism.”

Another student told me that one day her film class was shown a Jean Renoir film called “This Land is Mine,” about a group of teachers in a French provincial town who resisted the Nazis. The professor, a guest lecturer for the day, commented off-handedly that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory today was comparable to the Nazi occupation in France. No one in the class reacted.

I know that I have a lot to learn. But in England I realized that intellectual modesty should not stop us from dispelling clearly prejudiced sentiments.