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Editorial Article

University of Southampton – Oren Ben-Dor’s War against Israel's Existence

By Joel Amitai

One of the most egregious cases of ex-Israeli academics who bash Israel from abroad is Dr. Oren Ben-Dor. He grew up in Israel and now teaches legal and political philosophy at the University of Southampton in Britain.

In October 2007, Israel’s largest daily Yediot Aharonot ran an article on a meeting in London of leaders of Britain’s boycott-Israel movement. The event “drew some 150 people, mainly senior lecturers from universities across the UK,” and “among the speakers were also a number of Israelis, such as Dr. Oren Ben-Dor from Southampton University….” Nobody reading a series of articles Ben-Dor has published in recent years -- mostly in the radical-Left, radically anti-Israeli American magazine Counterpunch -- would be surprised that he lent his wisdom to this conference.

In a May 2005 article in the pro-terror neo-Stalinist anti-Semitic web magazine Counterpunch, Ben-Dor condemns Israeli academics and particularly the left-wingers among them. His beef is not only that most of the left-wingers oppose an academic boycott of Israel, but also that, however fervently they may support the two-state solution, they oppose -- the nerve -- Israel’s dissolution. For Ben-Dor, nothing short of Israel’s disappearance will suffice; it’s a central and obsessive theme and clearly his main motive in writing these pieces.

“All those ‘lefties,’” Ben-Dor asserts, “who now call for the academic boycott to be lifted…and call themselves supporters of the Palestinian cause are themselves captives of the Zionist holy cow whose tenets they wish not, and are unable as yet, to question.” No, these lefties, who may favor the formula of “Israel and Palestine living side by side,” still don’t get it: “from the Palestinians’ point of view, an end to the 1967 occupation would not raise the real issue…. The boycott must also demand that the issue of the right of return of refugees to Israel is not allowed to slip away…. The refugee problem is a Zionist crime, an Israeli crime and…Israelis must face it -- whatever consequences its just redress may have for the makeup of the country.”

And in case anyone isn’t sure what that means, Ben-Dor makes it clear: “‘a Jewish and democratic state’ is an oxymoron, a recognition which, one hopes, will cause the gradual withering away of the Jewish state….”

But this article was mild compared to “Who Are the Real Terrorists in the Middle East?,” an op-ed Ben-Dor published for a broad British readership in The Independent during the Second Lebanon War in July 2006. It’s a classic example of why anti-Israeli Israeli academics, whether based inside or outside of Israel, are severely harmful to the country.

“Israel is, yet again, inflicting death and destruction on Lebanon,” Ben-Dor informs his Brit readers. “It tries to portray this horror as necessary for its self-defence. Indeed, the casual observer might regard the rocket attacks on Israeli cities such as Haifa and my own home town, Nahariya, as justifying this claim.”

But lest anyone be so naïve, Ben-Dor disabuses them: “To hide [its] primordial immorality, Israel fosters an image of victimhood. Provoking violence, consciously or unconsciously, against which one must defend oneself is a key feature of the victim-mentality. By perpetuating such a tragic cycle, Israel is a terrorist state like no other.”

Here we meet Dr. Ben-Dor the master psychologist, a pose he adopts often in these articles. Although psychology is not his professional field, he looks deep into the recesses of the Israeli psyche and discerns the demonic evil that lurks there.

Indeed, “the very creation of Israel required an act of terror. In 1948, most of the non-Jewish indigenous people were ethnically cleansed from the part of Palestine which became Israel. This action was carefully planned.” Once again, a baseless claim Ben-Dor makes repeatedly, without any such bothersome accessory as a footnote. Israel in his opinion is so diabolical that no such substantiation is needed. Ironically, it was an Israeli academic, Benny Morris who once worked harder than anyone to spread the myth of Palestinian expulsion, but has since recanted and offered abundant evidence that the large majority of Palestinians who left Israel during the 1948 war did so at their own or their leaders’ prompting­. But why should the master psychologist, Ben-Dor, trouble himself or his readers with such trifles?

Back again in Counterpunch in June 2007, Ben-Dor again slams the Israeli Left because most of it supports Israel’s continued existence within the 1967 borders -- an existence that Ben-Dor calls “a fundamental form of apartheid.” Indeed, the word apartheid appears 29 times in the short article. This word is a ritual incantation of the hate-Israel crowd and there’s not much to be gained from countering it rationally -- pointing out that non-Jewish Israelis have full rights, representation in the Knesset, Supreme Court, and government, and so on -- when the term clearly serves subjective and propagandistic purposes that are dear to the Israel-despisers.

For Ben-Dor, though, the alleged apartheid is not something Israel could ever correct, since “the notion of Jewish statehood necessitates apartheid.” His article “challenges” the “presumption” that “it is morally acceptable to have a state whose legal structures assign preferential stake to all those who pass some test of Jewishness.”

Even if this had been phrased more accurately yes, Israel's identity is based on a Jewish identity, while granting equal rights to its non-Jewish citizens the fair, rational term for Ben-Dor and his political position would be fascistic or anti-Semitic. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that his adopted country, Britain (like China or Mexico), could not exist as they do if it did not “assign some preferential stake” to Britishness (like Chineseness or Mexicanness). The only alternative would be for the whole world to dissolve into some sort of postnational soup a fate Ben-Dor champions only for Israel. For him it is only Jewish nationhood that is inherently immoral, “apartheid,” and the solution is, of course, “a single state over all historic Palestine” that is, the disappearance of all of Israel, the world’s only Jewish state and thus by definition intrinsically evil.

The title of a subsequent Ben-Dor Counterpunch piece in November that year “Why Israel Has No ‘Right to Exist’ as a Jewish State” is refreshingly honest. It couldn’t be more explicit on that point. It’s mostly more of the same, though in this one Ben-Dor expounds on the life of the Jews in the “single state over all historic Palestine” that will exist once Israel, that blot on the cosmos, is dismantled.

It will, of course, be great for them, experiencing “liberty and equality in a post-colonial political settlement”; “both spiritually and materially Jews and non-Jews can find national expression in a single egalitarian and non-sectarian state.” Again, rationally speaking, one could mention the actual situation of non-Muslim-Arab minorities throughout the Middle East, starting with Darfur, but it would be pointless.

Finally in January 2009, in Counterpunch, Dr. Ben-Dor put his finger on what’s wrong with all of us in a peroration called “Israel’s Need to Be Hated.” “Echoing Lebanon 2006,” the article begins, “the people of Gaza are being butchered by murderous pilots of a murderous state. Ground forces will soon butcher many more.” Ben-Dor goes on to express -- another of his recurrent motifs -- his sympathy for Hamas, averring that “assassinating individual members of Hamas, even toppling the organisation, destroying its infrastructure and buildings, will not destroy the legitimate opposition to the arrogant and self-righteous Zionist entity.” Translated, this means anyone who’d want to kill Israelis is good.

And what accounts for the loathsome behavior of the Jewish state? The master psychologist plumbs the mystery: “Israel needs a continuing cycle of violence…. Alas, the pathology of generating violence against oneself…succeeds only at the price of generating enormous hatred…. The sublimated Zionist desire to be hated is the fuel of Israel’s unity and self-righteousness. This self-destructive nature, concealed as a desire for self defense, comes from deep and ancient forces of which Zionism is merely a symptom and a hint.”

Yes, the Eternal Jew and all that; we’re in Mein Kampf territory here. But help is on the way: “That which preserves these self-destructive forces ensures that the eternal victims’ apartheid nationalistic project will be a fleeting phenomenon…. Despite its military might, Israel is a weak and dying state that desires to destroy itself….” In that, at least, the perturbed Dr. Ben-Dor takes consolation.

Without claiming any expertise in the subject, let me venture a psychological hypothesis: Oren Ben-Dor is a very sick man. An obsessive hatred for a country especially the one he grew up in and longing to see it destroyed cannot bespeak psychological health. Be that as it may, his words are poison and he is a deadly enemy of all those, Israelis and friends of Israel, who want the Jewish state to survive.

Joel Amitai is an independent researcher and filmmaker. Reach him at


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