Oxford and the Crisis of the University
I spent Thanksgiving debating at the Oxford Union.
Oxford University is the most prestigious university in the world. And the Oxford Union, hosting debates since 1823, is the world’s most prestigious stage for competing ideas.
These facts made what transpired all the more depressing.
The proposition debated was: “Hamas is a greater obstacle to peace than Israel.”
When first apprised of the topic, I was so certain that an error had been made that I called both my debating partner, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, and Oxford to confirm it. Outside of the Muslim world and the far left, who would even think to argue that Hamas is not the greater obstacle to peace?
Is the Oxford Union unaware that the Hamas charter calls for, indeed the raison detre of Hamas is, the destruction of Israel and replacing it with an Islamic state?
Yet, the proposition lost by a vote of 190 to 130, give or take a few votes. In other words, a majority of Oxford University students voting at the Oxford Union deem Israel a greater threat than Hamas.
As I listened to what my opponents said about Israel and about Hamas, and the applause they received, the reason became clear.
The following statements from my opponents — Avi Shlaim, an expatriate Israeli, emeritus professor of international relations at Oxford, and one his many students, Dr. Mishana Hosseinioun, an American who received her Ph.D. from U.C. Berkeley — are what students routinely hear about Israel at Oxford and other universities throughout the Western world:
“‘Peace’ is code today for R.I.P. — “Rest in Peace” for the Palestinians.”
“Hamas has an obligation to defend the Palestinian people against Israeli aggression.”
“What we are witnessing are [Israel’s] ongoing crimes against humanity.”
“[Israel] has waged innumerable acts of unprovoked and unwarranted acts of aggression against the Palestinians.”
“Hamas has abandoned its more militant ways for a more conciliatory platform of moderation.”
“The world turns a blind eye to the plight of the Palestinians and gives Israel carte blanche to do to Arabs as was once done to the Jews.”
“Israel is behaving like Nazi Germany.” (Applause.)
“Israel has precision weapons … but then refusing to use them . … That shows you that they do want to kill innocent people … basically dedicated to wanting to wipe out these people.”
“The motion before this house is preposterous because it blames the victim [Hamas] and exonerates the oppressor [Israel].”
“Israeli occupation is the most prolonged and brutal military occupation of modern time.”
At that point Rabbi Boteach rose to object, noting, “That’s factually wrong — Chinese occupation of Tibet has been much longer.”
Shlaim: “I accept.” (And then, unfazed, he continued.)
“[Israel] is no longer a democracy; it’s … apartheid.”
“Israel has launched three military campaigns against Gaza.”
“It is these military operations themselves that are cruel acts of state terrorism.”
“The Palestinians have the right to resist the occupation and Hamas is the vanguard of this resistance.”
“[Hamas is] ready for negotiations leading to a two-state solution.”
“Israel is a reactionary and racist colonial power which relies on brute military force to impose its apartheid regime on the Palestinians.”
First, these statements accurately represent the moral and intellectual level of Oxford and nearly all other Western universities. The moral compass at Western universities is simply broken. The moral north points south and the moral south points north. Thus, the good — most especially America and Israel — are regarded as villains, and the worst are portrayed as victims.
The situation is the same regarding truth. “Israel is behaving like Nazi Germany” is, above all, a lie. Outside of the natural sciences, truth is not pursued at the university — indeed, the existence of objective truth is largely denied. “Truth” (it is likely to be put in quotes) is a function of race, gender and class. There is, therefore, no truth about Ferguson, only white truth and black truth.
Second, as George Gilder has written in his superb book, “The Israel Test,” how an individual, institution or nation reacts to Israel provides a good guide to their values. Those with an intact moral compass and who are life- and success-affirming admire Israel. The immoral, the morally confused, and those who resent success loathe Israel. The university is in the latter categories.
Third, if you do not share the universities’ values, it could be a big mistake to send your children to college before they are intellectually and morally prepared for the indoctrination-rather-than-education they will receive there. Therefore, prepare them morally and intellectually and, if possible, do not send them to college right after high school. Let them work for a year, or perhaps travel (for example, given the antipathy to Israel on campuses, a trip to Israel would be both morally clarifying and maturing). The younger the student, the less life experience and maturity they have, the more they are likely to embrace the rejection of your values.
The sad fact is that if you love education, revere the life of the mind, care about the pursuit of truth, think young people need to receive wisdom from their elders, and value moral clarity, the university is the last place you would want to send your 18-year-old.
This column was originally posted on Townhall.com.
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