Here in Britain, we have long believed that our cherished value of free speech means that intelligent and thinking people can hold reasoned debate about just about any topic and enable all views to be heard, considered and answered. How wrong we were!
Of all the world’s political “hot potatoes”, few cause as much polarisation and feeling as the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Sad to say those who support the Palestinian cause from afar, intelligent and thinking people though they may be, almost to a man refuse to hold a reasonable debate on the issue. Anyone expressing a view in any way different to the standard “occupation rhetoric” is shouted down and disallowed from expressing their opinion. This goes for encounters during street demonstrations through to formal debate settings in respected universities and think-tanks.
The Zionist Federation, probably the most politically active Jewish grass-roots organisation in Britain, recently reported on a meeting held at the Tavistock Institute in December, which is sadly typical of what happens when any Palestinian or pro-Palestinian speaker is challenged in such a setting.
I will let the ZF’s report speak for itself…
Title: The Survival and Well-being of the Palestinian People
Speaker: Dr Samah Jabr, a psychiatrist from Bethlehem
Venue: The Tavistock Institute – December 2014
Four members of the ZF, led by Professor David Stone attended.
The title was almost irrelevant to the content. The speaker delivered a propagandistic rant against Israel for an hour and a half to an ecstatic audience of around fifty or so. Among her many outrageous assertions were that Israel routinely opened fire on peaceful demonstrators, that the Gaza war was launched by Israel to “break the will” of the Palestinian people, that the Hamas tunnels were purely to smuggle in food supplies, and that Dr Mads Gilbert (apologist for 9/11) was a respected international medical supporter. She didn’t explicitly endorse Hamas but carefully avoided any disapproval of what she termed “resistance to the occupation”.
Professor Stone was the first to be called to speak when the session was open to questions. He congratulated the speaker on drawing such a sizeable audience but expressed disappointment that a doctor who presumably adheres to evidence-based medical practice should make so many statements for which there was no evidence. He offered a number of examples to a stunned audience. When they recovered the usual shouting down began. Prof Stone continued for some while asking further questions. The chairwoman (Dr Bernadette Wren) made no effort to calm the mob or to discipline the proceedings. Eventually the mike was switched off and one of the “helpers” snatched the microphone from his hand.
There were a couple of other critical questions from the floor. One came from a lady who asked the speaker to comment on the genocidal Hamas charter but the answer was evasive and non-committal, along the lines of “we are just ordinary people trying to end a brutal occupation.” That non-answer was greeted with enthusiastic approval from the audience. A couple of questioners referred to the need to tackle “global capitalism” and “the international media” if the Palestinians were ever to receive justice. These dark insinuations were met with murmurings of agreement and applause.
As is clear in all these types of meetings, the overwhelming majority of participants were strongly supportive of the speaker’s extremist narrative. Also, many of the hecklers’ faces were contorted with visceral, uncontrollable rage and hatred towards any individual who does not share their viewpoint and to Israel.
Once the meeting was over a number of people came to speak with Professor Stone thanking him for his contribution and letting him know of the intimidation they were subject to as employees at the Tavistock Centre whenever they expressed divergent opinions on the situation in the Middle East. They felt heartened that someone else was on their side.