Studying stupidity at LSE

1 Mar 2011 by CST

"Antisemitism", writes Anthony Julius in Trials of the Diaspora, "is an affair of ignorance, stupidity, and baleful prejudice." More than that, "antisemitic conspiracy theories comprise the great political stupidity of modern times".

The same could be said for the 'Ziocentrism' displayed by people who explain everything that happens in the Middle East (and sometimes beyond) through Zionist conspiracies. It is a dead-end analysis that shuts down understanding and renders its progenitors stupid and impotent.

The last place you would want to find stupidity is in a place of Higher Education. What, then, should we make of the recent goings on at the London School of Economics, where the Palestine Society hosts conspiracy theorists, the centre for academic outreach to the Middle East is run by people who boycott Israel, and the administration has a bag load of Libyan money it has no idea what to do with?

First, the Palestine Society. Late last year there was the debacle over their hosting of Abdel Bari Atwan, with his talk of a "Jewish lobby" and the predictable chaos of the meeting where he spoke.

Next, the society invited Ahron Cohen of Naturei Karta, a fringe Haredi sect much favoured by Islamists and radical leftists. Cohen came to personal prominence when he attended Iran's Holocaust Denial conference in 2006. Cohen does not himself deny the Holocaust, but rather argues that the victims "deserve[d] it in one way or another." This meeting was cancelled before it took place.

Then this week, the Palestine Society's invited speaker was Alan Hart. Hart trades on a profoundly stupid explanation of world affairs, which revolves around Zionist conspiracies. While professing the highest regard and concern for Jews, he regurgitates conspiracy tropes about how American politics is controlled by "organised Jewish money" and "the organised Jewish vote". He even argues - I believe this is unique amongst Jewish conspiracy theorists - that the reason why American Jews tend to live together as communities in certain areas, is not so that they can walk to synagogue or have easy access to Jewish shops, but rather to maximise their political impact:

The Jews are mostly concentrated in such areas in order for them to become organised into Zionist lobbies. So it’s the organised Zionist money which runs the American politics.

Hart is also, predictably, a 9/11 Troofer, who argues that the Mossad and the CIA brought down the twin towers.

There are lots of people who the Palestine Society could invite to address their membership, if they really wanted to educate themselves about Zionism, or Jews. They could invite Professor Colin Shindler, or Professor Geoffrey Alderman, or Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, to name but three. London is full of erudite, intelligent and thoughful experts on these subjects. But instead of educating themselves, they choose to stupefy themselves.

At LSE, this problem is not limited to the students.

Last year, LSE launched a new Middle East Centre. The Centre's aims are listed as follows:

  • Increase LSE capability to engage with countries in the Middle East
  • Create a platform for the receipt of endowments and financial support for research, teaching, exchange, publications, conferences and lectures
  • Establish LSE as a European centre for Middle East scholarship
  • Strengthen relations between LSE and Middle East universities

Two of the four members of its management group advocate (£) a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Just consider that for a moment: the people tasked with establishing LSE as a centre for Middle East scholarship would like LSE to cut itself off from the country with the widest academic freedom in the Middle East. These are academics, choosing the path to stupidity and encouraging others to do the same.

The Middle East Centre was paid for by the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy and the Aman Trust. LSE has previously named a lecture theatre after the late ruler of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, in return for £2.5m, despite Sheikh Zayed's name also adorning an Emirates-based institution that promotes Holocaust Denial and antisemitic conspiracy theories. Harvard University had the decency to return a similar donation when this connection was pointed out to them.

Now LSE's Middle Eastern mendicancy has caught up with them, in the shape of a donation from the Gaddafi family. Unsurprisingly, what looked like good business a year or two ago now looks like very poor judgement. LSE Director Sir Howard Davies, in trying to defend LSE's record of receiving money from Middle Eastern autocrats while giving management positions in their Middle East Centre to academic boycotters of Israel, inadvertently reveals (£) that stupidity reaches right to the top of his institution:

Sir Howard defended the LSE’s new Middle East Centre, half of whose board support an academic boycott of Israel. “The biggest donor to the School in the past year is George Soros, who of course is of Jewish origin. We operate, I believe, a very balanced view.”

I hope for Sir Howard's sake, that the Times have misquoted him, or taken this quote out of context: because if it is a fair reflection of what he said then it is a truly remarkable statement. It is true that George Soros is "of Jewish origin". It is also true that Pat Richardson, the British National Party councillor on Epping Forest District Council, is of Jewish origin. So what? Does this mean that Soros and Richardson (to pick just two Jews) share a set of views and interests, that can be described as "Jewish", and counterposed to the efforts to boycott Israeli academia?

Anthony Julius concludes his history of English antisemitism by observing that antisemitism is "pernicious nonsense":

[In writing this book] I have mostly been engaged in the explication of nonsense ... and while nonsense is just nonsense, the academic study of nonsense can be scholarship.

I studied at LSE many years ago, and it was one of the most intellectually rewarding experiences of my life. But sometimes, the academic study of nonsense is, sadly, just nonsense.


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“Since 2003, CST has been a stalwart supporter of ODIHR in its efforts to effectively monitor antisemitic hate crime in the OSCE Region. With its rigorous methodology and innovative partnerships with the British police, it is viewed by many as representing the gold standard for NGO responses to all forms of hate crime. I wish CST all success in its exciting new phase of work.”

Michael Georg Link
OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights