4 June 2024


Emeritus Professor Peter Hacker 


St John's College, Oxford


Oxford antisemitism and the Gaza War


It is very disturbing to hear such accounts of the antisemitism you have encountered here in Oxford. The only advice I can give you is to look first of all to your safety. If you are being threatened, avoid confrontation or discussion. After all, the last thing fanatics wish to do is to discuss anything or to reconsider their position.


I take it you would like me to explain the phenomenon of Oxford so-called anti-Zionism, which is in effect a form of antisemitism. Criticism of Israel is not anti-Zionism, and few people are more critical of their country than Israelis themselves. But denying the legitimacy of the State of Israel itself as a Jewish state is antisemitism.


What we have seen in Oxford is a large number of Oxford academics, more than 550 – and a significant number of JCRs – have signed documents accusing Israel of genocide and often demanding disinvestment in any Israel connected enterprises as well as an arms embargo on Israel as it strives to defend itself against Hamas, Hizballah, Syria, Iraq, the Houti tribe in Yemen, and Iran (who master minds this onslaught on Israel. In addition, Oxford students have staged sit ins in various places in the University with appropriate placards calling for the destruction of the State of Israel.


How is this possible? How has it come about? What can you do about it? How should you respond?


As always, the story is complex and the human motivations confused, sometimes well-meaning but ill-informed, sometimes malevolent and bigoted.


1. Gaza War is for the 2020s what the Dreyfus trial was for the 1890s. It divides society into anti-Zionists and pro-Israelis. To be sure, it was the Dreyfus Trial that moved Theodore Herzl to create the Zionist Movement and to dream of a nation state for the Jews where they would be safe from antisemitic persecution.


2. The demonization of Israel, and the revolting accusations of genocide against Israel, when it was subjected on 7 October 2023 to a genocidal slaughter by Hamas, a terrorist organization that is officially committed to the slaughter of all Jews in the State of Israel bears a remarkable similarity to the medieval blood libel, with the UN and its various subordinate branches in the role of the Catholic Church and the Nations of the world in the roles of the various bishops and bishoprics, monarchs and princes who murdered thousands of Jews on the basis of the accusation that the Jewish faith required Jews to murder a Christian child for ritual purposes in order to commemorate their killing of Jesus, the son of God.


It is above all the UN that is responsible for the continuing 76-year-old problem of the Palestinian refugees. And the UN, with its huge preponderance of Islamic nations, is the most anti-Israel institution in the world. Israel has been condemned in the UN more than all the other countries in the world together, including such dictatorships or terror states as Iran, Myanmar, Libya, Somalia, Russia, Yemen, Pakistan and China. The numerous countries that rally in support of Hamas, such as South Africa, Spain, Belgium, etc. are moved by their own internal and external political interests and allegiances.


There never would have been a Palestinian refugee problem had the UN not created UNWRA. More Jews have been evicted from Arab nations than the sum total of Palestinians who fled from Palestine in the 1948 Israel War of Independence. UNWRA allowed people to claim refugee status for unlimited generations, and Arab nations refused to allow Palestinian refugees to become citizens.


2a. Incidentally, the disgusting blood libel in this form originates in England. It originated in a text written in 1173 by one Thomas of Monmouth, entitled The Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich, alleging the murder of a Christian boy William in Norwich in 1144. A similar allegation was repeated in Gloucester in 1168, when the body of a boy named Harold was found floating in the Severn. A similar case occurred in Bury St Edmunds in 1181, in Winchester in 1192, in Lincoln in 1202, Winchester again in 1225 and 1232, in Norwich again in 1230, in London in 1244, in Lincoln again in 1255, Northampton 1278 (the idea that the Jews needed the blood of a Christian child to make Mazot, was a German contribution). Jews were expelled from England in 1290 by Edward I. Thereafter England’s contribution to antisemitism was largely literary: Chaucers’ Tale of the Prioress, written more than a century after the expulsion of the Jews from England, is a repulsive piece of antisemitic writing that perpetuated the blood libel. Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice added to the fund of literary antisemitism in which Shylock was played as a comic evil figure until the 1830s, and Dickens’s Fagin added further fuel to a flourishing fire. The story of these repulsive beliefs and belief systems is told by Anthony Julius in highly scholarly but profoundly depressing book The Trials of the Diaspora: a History of anti-Semitism in England (OUP, 2010).


3. Hamas is­ an offshoot of the Moslem Brotherhood. It is funded by Qatar and Iran, and trained by Iran. In 2005/6, Israel, under the leadership of Ariel Sharon, withdrew from the Gaza Strip, which it had occupied since the Six Day War of 1967, dismantled Israeli settlements and forcibly evicted settlers. He handed over the administration of the Gaza Strip to the PA. The USA, in a fit of messianic democracy, forced an election in the Gaza Strip. Hamas won and proceeded to murder all the PA officials. Hamas is the elected government of Gaza no less that the Nazis were the elected government of Germany in 1933.


3a. Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the PA got his degree from the Moscow Patrice Lumumba University, department of Zionology, in which he wrote his doctorate proving that the Holocaust is a fiction and that Ashkenazi Jews are not really descendants of the Jews of

Ancient Israel, but Khazar converts.


4. By the way, you should understand what exactly the Gaza Strip is. It was, after all, just another part of the British Mandate territory of Palestine. During the early phases of the Israel War of Independence, on October 1st 1948, the self-declared National Palestine Council, meeting in Gaza, elected Amin el Husseini (a Nazi, friend of Hitler, who avowed his intention to exterminate all the Jews in Palestine) as the provisional government of All Palestine. King Abdullah of Jordan, who wanted the whole of Palestine for himself, immediately denounced the All-Palestine Government. However, on October 12, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon recognized it, and on October 17th Iraq did too. However, when Egypt invaded the nascent State of Israel, it captured the Gaza Strip and brushed aside the All-Palestine Government. El Husseini went to Cairo, where he remained. The fictitious All-Palestine-government was disbanded by Nasser.

            The Gaza Strip was ruled by Egypt from 1948-1967, but, contrary to the demands of international law, it did not allow the 200,000 Palestinians there to settle in Egypt. Israel conquered the Gaza Strip in the Six-Day-War in 1967 but transferred it to the PA after the Oslo Accords.


The history is hideously complex and extensive scholarship is needed to discover as much of the truth as one can. Why should Oxford academics, JCRs and students, who are almost totally ignorant of the history of the Israel-Arab conflict, the Israel-Iran conflict, the role of Russia in the current conflict (it exploits it, and distributes fake news in order to distract attention from its war in Ukraine), put their names to such vile documents as they have?


5. Many different factors are involved. First, there is a very large Islamic community in the UK, exposed to Hamas propaganda. Hamas uses London as its main European propaganda base. Ismael Haniyah admitted the importance of what Hamas calls The Outside to cultivate the myth of Israel as a European, white, colonial settler state in order to push for a European and American arms embargo against Israel, to call for boycott, disinvestment, and sanctions, as well as maximizing agitation – with great success. Only 25% of British Muslims apparently even believe that Hamas committed any atrocities.(1)

            Secondly, the BBC Middle East editor is Jeremy Bowen, a long-term Israel hater and systematic falsifier of the facts. The Guardian and Independent newspapers are similarly profoundly biassed against Israel, grossly misreporting events. In particular, they take Hamas figures of fatalities and Hamas report of Israeli atrocities for the truth. These are left-wing newspapers, and left-wing Antisemitism is now perfectly acceptable in the West.


            Why is left-wing antisemitism so popular now? It has Marxist roots, for Marx divides the peoples of the world into oppressors and oppressed, victimizers and victims. Jews, the longest oppressed people in human history, are not allowed to be victims. This is

i. partly because Marx himself was an antisemitic Jew, who linked the Jews with capitalism.

ii. partly because of the American backing for Israel in recent decades (i.e. guilt by association) and America is blamed for the ills of capitalism (and for successive unjust wars).

iii. partly because Israel won the 6 Day War and the 1973 War, so they are oppressors of the Palestinians on the West Bank – despite the fact that Israel has, again and again, offered the PA virtually everything they demanded (Rabin, Barak, Olmert), only to have it rejected.

iv. Partly because left wing antisemitism is self-righteous (unlike right wing antisemitism).

v. In Britain, left wing antisemitism became popular and respectable under Corbyn and Livingston.


6. Why the appeal to the young?

             Many young students have a paranoid streak: they are in debt up to their eyeballs, but their university course in no way ensures subsequent employment; the course they are studying is often very disappointing; often they are not doing well in their studies.  (We are creating the seedbed for future fascism). With this paranoid streak, it is natural to look for a scapegoat, some group to hate. It is a relief to be part of a mob screaming together for a cause that is ‘good’ (most of them know nothing about the issues).


7. Why the appeal to academics?

            Partly through naïve belief in the misinformation spread by Jeremy Bowen’s BBC broadcasting, and by the newspapers they read, viz. the Guardian and the Independent.

            Partly through ignorance and stupidity: few know the difference between the ICJ and the ICC.(2) Even fewer understand what was meant in International Law by the ICJ response to the South African question of whether the rights that South Africa wished to ascribe to the Palestinians were such as could be the plausible basis for an accusation of genocide. The affirmative answer to this did not indicate anything about the plausibility of commission of genocidal crimes by Israel.(3)

            Partly because if so many others are signing this document, it must be good to side with them.

            Partly through a deep desire to feel self-righteous. This was patently the case with the first round of 42 Oxford academics who sent an Open letter to the Prime Minister in November 2023. One of the most vocal of them, a Canadian woman by the name of Roxana Banu, was very keen to emphasize that when she heard about the October 7th massacre, she went to visit a Jewish friend of hers and wept with her over the fate of the Israeli hostages. This made it clear how clean her hands were and how impartial she was, so that the horrendous anti-Zionist views she advanced had to be right and her demand that Israel announce a cease-fire that would ensure the survival of Hamas as a fighting force was warranted. I am reminded by a remark by George Orwell:

If you have embraced a creed which appears to be free from the ordinary dirtiness of politics – a creed from which you yourself cannot expect to draw any material advantage – surely that proves that you are in the right? And the more you are in the right, the more natural that everyone else should be bullied into thinking likewise.(4)


1. Hamas propaganda is broadcast regularly by Al Hiwar, the London studios of a Muslim-Brotherhood aligned TV station. The editor in chief is a British academic Dr Azam Tamimi. Another Hamas academic resident in the UK is Dr Anas Altikriti, who is CEO of the Cordoba Foundation. They specialize in denying that Hamas committed any atrocities. They have a combined following of 400,000 on X.

2. ICJ is a judicial organ of the UN established in 1945, with 15 judges elected by the UN general assembly and security council. It is concerned with state representation and with international law governing relations between states. The ICC was established in 2001 by the Rome Treaty to establish criminal responsibility for international crimes by individual people within its jurisdiction (genocide, wars against humanity, war crimes and aggression. It has jurisdiction only over signatories to the Rome Treaty (US and Israel are not signatories (neither are China and Russia), since while it was being drawn up, it became clear that it was so worded as to be used against them). An ICC prosecutor can launch an investigation on the ground by consulting the government and judiciary of a potential accused – this was not done by the current prosecutor)

3.  When the SA government duly brought a case against Israel, the ICJ ruled that Israel must “immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” 4 out of 5 judges in their opinions argued that the final clause qualified the opening clause (only the SA judge opposed this interpretation,

4. Orwell, ‘Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool’