“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

Ben White, David Irving, An Israeli And Oxbridge Types.

with 30 comments

If you ever watch the Chariots of Fire film you will see an example of upper class English antisemitism, as John Gielgud’s character (the Master of Trinity) sneers at Harold Abraham’s use of a professional coach, and makes a few snide comments about “Hebrews”.

It’s not a big part of the film, but it does set the tone of how Jews have been seen by Oxbridge types over the years. Something to sneer at, something not quite “English” and it’s all done with impeccable accents and characteristic English understatement.

I can not say if that attitude is still prevalent amongst Oxbridge types, but the recent treatment of an Israeli historian suggests to me that might be the case.

Readers will remember how Oxford and Cambridge are famous for their debates, for inviting controversial figures and debating the issues of the day.

In 2007 the Hitler loving, David Irving, mainstay of the Holocaust denying circuit was down at Oxford. A year after that the dictator loving, George Galloway, was invited to speak at Trinity College, Cambridge.

There was no question of ever stopping Galloway from speaking, despite his fondness for Saddam Hussein, questionable performance on Big Brother and defence of the Iranians theocracy on his weekly PressTV show. No question whatsoever.

I am sure if we could look through the invitations sent out by the Oxbridge colleges then we might find any number of other unsavoury individuals, including Irving and Galloway, none of whom were stopped from giving their speeches.

None, that is, except an Israeli historian, Benny Morris.

There was a Facebook campaign to coercethe Cambridge University’s Israel Society and it seems to have worked, the event was cancelled. Whether or not there were any threats or intimidation I do not know, but I would not preclude it.

What I found rather interesting was the instigator of this open attack on freedom of speech, was not a firebrand graduate or a died-in-the-wool militant, rather it was our old friend, Ben White.

Readers will remember Ben White. He’s not very keen on Jews or Israelis having an opportunity to put their point of view, if it runs counter to his own.

Some may suggest that Ben White was being spiteful, inconsistent, non-Voltairian or just a small minded bigot.

I could not possibly comment, but when I see his name and remember his activities, I always think of Chariots of Fire.

Update 1:

From Facebook.

Sorry, if it wasn’t obvious but the creator of the Cambridge protests Islamophobia on campus was Ben White.

Update 2: Over at The Heathlander an interesting argument is posed:

“Firstly – and I apologise for spelling this out, but evidently some people have genuinely failed to grasp it – the right to “free speech” does not entail the right to a platform at the University of Cambridge to spout racist garbage. It certainly does not entail the right to invite an unabashed racist to speak at the University of Cambridge without provoking serious opposition from students who have to live with the consequences of an atmosphere poisoned by racism.

Strong points, except that’s already happened a few times and it is Jewish students that have to live with the outcome of anti-Jewish racism, which is a consequence of the continued obsession with Jewish nationalism, otherwise known as Zionism.

We shouldn’t forget that in 2006, the Cambridge Union debated the motion “This House believes that Zionism is a danger to the Jewish people”.

I somehow feel that the welfare of Jews was not the uppermost sentiment here.

Over at the Electronic Intifada Ben White gloated in a rather predictable fashion. [Warning, linked to cache copy]

Cambridge has one rule when it comes to Jews and another for everyone else.

There is not the slightest concern that these motions, attitudes and the constant drip drip of Anti-Zionism do stir up anti-Jewish racism and put Jewish students and staff in a very difficult situation. No, there is no concern for their well-being.

Update 3: The Cambridge tab hasn’t fully researched their article, otherwise they would see that the creator of the Facebook group was not Jamie Stern-Weiner, but Ben White, as the screen shot above clearly shows. I have no doubt that Jamie Stern-Weiner did a lot of the leg work, presumably under White’s direction.

Update 4: There’s an article on JC and the debacle at Cambridge. Apparently as a result of attacks on him Benny Morris has been invited to lecture at the Department of Political and International Studies, with an expected larger audience.

Update 5: I am grateful to Seismic Shock and James Mendelsohn for reminding me of how intolerant Ben White is, when he has the opportunity to control the freedom of speech/expression of others. This is a good summary of his attitudes.

Update 6: Cambridge was not particularly concerned with the sensitivities of Jews when they invited Jean Marie Le Pen in 2003, even though they were well aware of how abhorrent it was:

”The university’s Jewish Society said Mr Le Pen’s invite was “offensive to all minority students in Cambridge and a danger to student security”.”

It still went ahead so you might conclude that Cambridge is happy to invite and pander to a French neofascist, with a history of antisemitism, but not a world-renowned Israeli scholar and historian, who happens to be Jewish.

Update 7: One of my eagle eyed readers, zkharya, spotted, this in the Varsity Magazine:

“Renowned Israeli historian and Cambridge alumnus Professor Benny Morris has condemned the decision to cancel his talk after accusations of “Islamophobia” were made.

Speaking to Varsity yesterday, Morris said, “I believe that the attempt by several Cambridge students and a lecturer to prevent me lecturing in Cambridge is a violation of basic rights of free speech – just as preventing publication of cartoons depicting Jesus, Moses or Mohammad are violations of free speech.”

Morris also criticised the Israel Society for caving to pressure and cancelling the talk. He said, “I think the Israel Society’s bowing to Muslim-Arab pressures to cancel the lecture was a terrible mistake, evidence of weakness and a bad precedent.” “

Update 8: Jpost has an article too, it remarks on the double standards applied at Cambridge.

30 Responses

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  1. The HeathLander is a complete and utter ignoramus.

    1. Philosophically, he is WRONG about his interpretation of freedom of speech. The reference to the principle (NOT specifically to legal formulations) is that all points of view should be heard, not silenced.

    2. How often do these loony-left academic fools insist they are being “silenced” by the accusation of anti-Semitism?

    3. How often do these hypocritical fools insist Holocaust deniers should not be silenced?

    4. It was just that principle of “freedom of speech” which caused Columbia Uni (in NYC) to say it would have welcomed Hitler. (Indeed, at the time it did welcome a representative of Hitler’s.) Apparently for Columbia and the Heathlander, the only sub-humans, to whom freedom of speech does not apply, are Joooooooz.

    5. He is also WRONG about his literary history concerning Voltaire. One does not need one of Jesus’ aphorisms to crisped exactly to the original Aramaic to be termed “Jesus’ dictum”. It suffices for the idea or rough formulation to have appeared in a later paraphrase of Jesus in Latin or Greek.

    Similarly, the dictum discussed DID arise from Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet). Voltaire famously espoused the principle that he need not agree with a concept to oppose its suppression. He also expressed the concept as a principle worthy of sacrifice of one’s life.

    Specifically, in his Essay on Tolerance, he wrote “Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too.” Further, in a letter of 6 February 1770 to M. le Riche: “Monsieur l’abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”

    Evelyn Beatrice Hall, in her 1906 work The Friends of Voltaire, paraphrased Voltaire’s defense of a certain Helvétius’ writings thusly:

    The men who had hated [Helvétius’ book], and had not particularly loved Helvétius, flocked round him now. Voltaire forgave him all injuries, intentional or unintentional. `What a fuss about an omelette!’ he had exclaimed when he heard of the burning. How abominably unjust to persecute a man for such an airy trifle as that! `I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,’ was his attitude now.

    Even the fastidious New York Times considers this ample justification for attributing the dictum to Voltaire (rather than to Hall):

    So the Healthlander defending the banning of Morris is not only an anti-Semitic fool, but ignorant both of philosophy and of literary history.

    It is rapidly coming to the point at which Britain’s Jewish community will follow France’s in concluding tht there is no fture for Jews in Europe. Incidents like this are one reason why.

    Reza Khan

    04/02/2010 at 08:34

  2. P.S. Three cheers for Modernity for raising the issues in the article!

    Reza Khan

    04/02/2010 at 08:41

  3. I would seriously doubt that the Healthlander is an antisemite, rather a peculiar English concoction that sees animosity towards Israelis and Jews as inconsequential, but is probably happy to play with any intellectual arguments when that needs substantiating.


    04/02/2010 at 15:08

  4. There’s more.


    04/02/2010 at 15:23

  5. […] White versus Benny Morris Jump to Comments Read at ModernityBlog about Ben White trying to ban Israeli historian Benny Morris from Cambridge University – more […]

  6. I would seriously doubt that the Healthlander is an antisemite, rather a peculiar English concoction that sees animosity towards Israelis and Jews as inconsequential

    Heathlander’s may not be the anti-Semitism of malice but rather the anti-Semitism of indifference.

    We saw the results of the anti-Semitism of indifference at the Bermuda and Evian conferences, which fiddled while Europe’s Jews burned.

    Reza Khan

    04/02/2010 at 20:14

  7. No surprises here, this is the same Ben White who deleted comments from his blog and then closed them down altogether, and who also threw me out of his “Israeli apartheid” F/B group for daring to post critical comments. What a champion of free speech he is!

    James Mendelsohn

    04/02/2010 at 21:09

  8. Reza,

    Oh, I think there’s plenty of indifference and subtle racism here, but I think we shouldn’t always attribute to malice (or indifference) what can be explained away with stupidity.

    There is a current in the world which is intensely anti Israeli and is very easy for people to take it up, almost imperceptibly, where dubious ideas and mischaracterisations are taken as accepted truths.

    In that type of environment it is very easy for a young student not to really realise what they’re doing, or how they might be aiding anti-Jewish racism.

    I think a lot of people are fairly thoughtless, lacking in self-awareness, so they do something supposedly with the best of intentions but don’t see, as you say, the racism of indifference.

    Factor in to that, the mentality found in Oxbridge colleges, where people are loath to admit that they don’t know something or haven’t grasped the point, and you can see why such attitudes might appear to come over as antisemitic.

    I doubt if Ben White or the others involved in this nasty campaign have a clue about anti-Jewish racism, or could discuss it at any level.

    My bet is that their ignorance on this topic is probably fairly profound and combined with their educational background, class attitudes, etc then you can see how they come over as rather insensitive, unenlightened and truculent when Israelis or Jews come into the picture.


    04/02/2010 at 21:30

  9. Seismic,

    I had forgotten, excellent point. I’ll update the post.

    One rule for us, another for the likes of Ben White.

    How typically Oxbridge!


    I am thankful that chronicling intolerant people like Ben White don’t get access to power, one only wonders what activities they would get up to, if they had real power.


    04/02/2010 at 21:47

  10. But did white or anyone else actually call for morris to be banned? That’s not what’s on the facebook group is it?


    04/02/2010 at 23:29

  11. Well, you tell me what they’re trying to achieve?


    05/02/2010 at 00:31

  12. Well actually you have made the claim about a call for a ban by white so you can surely easily present the evidence/quotations. As far as I can see from simply, well, reading the facebook group including the letter, it was a protest and registering offense. But as you’ve blogged all about white calling for a ban, I’m sure you can prove me wrong…


    05/02/2010 at 01:06

  13. If you are going to be pedantic then you’ll have to try a bit harder, and read your own words too as I didn’t say:

    “as you’ve blogged all about white calling for a ban”

    What were they trying to achieve?


    05/02/2010 at 01:40

  14. So why all the talk about freedom of speech then? And if you didn’t say white called for a ban, why not correct those who (for some strange reason) thought you were saying that?


    05/02/2010 at 07:04

  15. Once we start saying “these political views may not be heard” — and it matters nothing which views — there is instantly a scramble, by those eager to likewise silence their political foes, to be added to the list of those able to silence people. Censorship begets censorship.

    Leftist bigotry against “racism” (itself a hate-term invented solely to demonise and intimidate) has led to bigotry against any cause unpopular with the left. Israel is now unpopular… so expect discrimination.

    Roger Pearse

    05/02/2010 at 11:04

  16. There’s an extra irony in that White quite happily cites Morris when it suits his own anti-Israel purposes. So shouldn’t White be calling for his own book to be banned on the basis that it approvingly quotes a racist writer?!?

    James Mendelsohn

    05/02/2010 at 14:09

  17. Query,

    I assume that you are somehow connected to this campaign, or at the very least sympathise with.

    The fact that you can’t acknowledge certain things is a bit problematic for any dialogue with you, and you don’t seem to have troubled to read the post very well, despite your desire to be pedantic.

    There are a few subtle points in this post and you might want to ponder what students will learn from banning academics on campuses?


    05/02/2010 at 14:22

  18. Sorry Roger, I can’t make head nor tail of what you’re saying?

    are you saying you’re in favour of Benny Morris being allowed to speak at Cambridge?

    are you saying that you oppose attacks on Israelis?

    are you saying racism doesn’t exist?



    05/02/2010 at 14:24

  19. zkharya

    05/02/2010 at 17:09

  20. thanks 🙂 I’ll update the post.


    05/02/2010 at 17:14

  21. Also White claims he didn’t really want a ban after all:


    05/02/2010 at 17:27

  22. Oh, I am sure that’s what he claims, but Mandy Rice-Davis said it all: “Well, he would [say that], wouldn’t he?”


    05/02/2010 at 17:34

  23. BW/JSW: ‘We find it offensive and appalling that an official student society would want to invite such an individual.’


    05/02/2010 at 20:18

  24. Sorrry, that was directed at ‘Query’ (a query, ‘query’: Are you Ben White or Jamie SW?).


    05/02/2010 at 20:20

  25. No zkharya, that was for you.

    I am saying you would expect Ben White to say such a thing, it is cant, nothing more.


    05/02/2010 at 22:28

  26. It is wrong that this event did not go ahead but also wrong to assert some systemic bias against pro-Israeli viewpoints or prominent Jewish speakers.

    I was at Cambridge at the time of the Le Pen visit to the Cambridge Union. To suggest that what happened then was in any way anti-semitic is nonsense on stilts. Anyone with an interesting or discussion-provoking viewpoint should be heard – and the Union exists to defend that position. In this regard it is perhaps relevant that in the same term that Le Pen visited I am pretty sure the President also got Michael Howard and Greville Janner to debate as well.

    The truth is that some – largely immature students/academics – will always try to play politics by stopping speakers from attending. They should be opposed at every opportunity.

    Perhaps the Israel Society could use the Union to host its meeting?


    06/02/2010 at 12:04

  27. “but also wrong to assert some systemic bias against pro-Israeli viewpoints or prominent Jewish speakers.”

    Martha, I would hope that there would be many at Cambridge against anti-Jewish bigotry, it would be depressing if that were not the case.

    But what is at issue is the rising animosity towards Israelis, and how Jews have to almost justify everything, etc which doesn’t apply to other ethnic or social minorities.

    We’ll already seen how antagonism towards Israelis leads to racial attacks on Jews, I would hope that those at Cambridge would have a better grasp of history and the need to oppose anti-Jewish racism, both modern and ancient.


    06/02/2010 at 13:56

  28. thanks,

    I’ll update


    07/02/2010 at 15:50

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