Tel Aviv: We had just pillaged our way through a sumptuous meal in a fashionable restaurant and were dawdling over the last dregs of a wonderfully dry Mediterranean red when the casual after-dinner banter meandered its way into a zone best avoided on such occasions. Even otherwise little or no purpose is served debating the vacuous ideological posturing by the Left-liberal intelligentsia, especially on state-funded campuses.
But the temptation to be provocative proved to be irresistible, and I asked our host, an Israeli with a healthy disdain for those who nurse half-baked notions of liberalism or are given to preening from their left-of-centre perch, “Do you have a JNU too?” It took a few seconds for him to realise what I was referring to. He burst out laughing and said, “Oh yes, we have Tel Aviv University.”
A senior journalist from an Indian newspaper, a former student at JNU, who was sitting across the table was apoplectic with rage. “That’s not fair.” Why, I taunted him, what’s not fair about calling out those who live off tax money and squander resources that would be better utilised giving a leg-up to the meritorious? “What else is the state meant for?” he retorted, visibly upset. Surely it’s not meant for keeping those who rail and rant against the state in clover?
On Tuesday morning, while reading The Jerusalem Post over breakfast I was reminded of the previous evening’s conversation. The front page had a story on how a group of students at Tel Aviv University had observed ‘Nakba Day’ on Monday, commiserating with Palestinians who observe May 15 as the ‘Day of Catastrophe’ to mourn the creation of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948 through a UN resolution.
The accompanying picture told an all too familiar story: Twenty-somethings in jeans, T-shirts and sneakers, their hair tousled and faces set in unsmiling Boy Scout determination, holding hands to form a human chain. Presumably this photo-op display of amateur ‘solidarity’ with the ‘oppressed’ Palestinians was followed by lighting of candles, something that our homegrown jholawallahs excel at. A short distance away, another group of students, waving the Israeli flag, raucously declared their loyalty to the state.
By itself, the demonstration of disloyalty and the counter-demonstration of loyalty would not have fetched either publicity or comment. But Monday’s robust sloganeering drew both attention and comment. The new ‘Nakba Law’, adopted by Knesset in March last year, had been put to the proverbial litmus test, which it passed with distinction.
The ‘Nakba Law’ allows Israel’s Government to deny financial assistance to organisations and institutions that, to quote the Post, “use Israeli taxpayers’ money to fund activities that have the goal of undermining the very moral foundations of the state of Israel”. The ‘Nakba Law’ was contested by the usual suspects who believe it’s their inalienable right to undermine the state, and that the exercise of this right should be underwritten by the taxpayer. The Supreme Court tossed their petition into the nearest wastepaper basket.
Human rights organisations with a fetish for Israel-bashing cried foul and unleashed a campaign of calumny, accusing the government of snuffing out freedom of speech and violating the right of dissent. They were proven wrong on Monday. But the law was upheld in both letter and spirit. In Israel, elaborate security arrangements are made for any gathering that has the potential of resulting in violence in a more profound manner.
Monday’s gathering at Tel Aviv University, given its emotive nature, qualified for such security arrangements. The authorities gave permission for the rally, provided the participants paid for the security arrangements, the bill for which was a tidy sum. On the other hand, those students who had gathered to wave the flag for Israel were provided with security at the state’s expense.
India needs its own version of the ‘Nakba Law’. For instance, every time students at JNU gather to chant slogans against the Republic of India, or organise a rally in support of Maoists or Kashmiri separatists, authorities should call for massive deployment of police and make the participants pay the bill.
Such protests, apart from being abhorrent because they militate against the very constitutional foundations of our Republic, often lead to clashes and cause deep resentment. Hence, security arrangements would be absolutely in order. It would be equally in order for those undermining the state to pay for those arrangements.
We could yet reclaim JNU, and similar taxpayer-funded institutions, from the clutches of pseudo leftists and deracinated liberals who believe it’s their inalienable right to be pampered by the very state they love to hate.