Alleged 'Lawrence of Arabia syndrome' among British leftists and Israeli Paternalizing

Bradley Burston wrote yesterday in Haaretz that, by authorizing individual boycotts of Israeli universities and academics, the British academic left is repeating the Lawrence of Arabia syndrome. He accuses British leftists of wanting to succeed where Palestinians failed and playing heros for Palestinian rights:

There's something quietly Kipling about this, something understatedly White Man's Burden about this, something subtly racist about this.
Oh, yes, there it is again. Lawrence of Arabia Syndrome.
Who, after all, is the real hero of the struggle for Palestinian rights?

Paul Mackney, apparently. Mackney is secretary-general of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), the largest university and college lecturers' union in Britain.''

Burston's statement seems to allude that the British lecturer's attitude is racist because in doing something on behalf of the Palestinians the lecturers show a lack of consideration for the ability of Palestinians to fight for themselves.

However, Burston never considered that this might be about the feeling people have of the occupier's willingness to destroy the natives by means which are incommensurable with the natives ability to defend themselves. He also never considered that the overprotection given to Israel by a powerful ally, the US, and the international community, is the product of an intentionnally induced mechanism of the 'white man's burden' he is referring to, initiated by zionists, perpetuated by the state of Israel and made eternal by the memory of the shoah. Or may be he considers that the burden of the white man should only consist of the guilt toward jews, excluding all other human calamities and horrors, just because Israel seems to consider that its 'calamity' is heavier and more important than others: the Palestinian people and their own intractable existence.

Burston should be more cautious about labeling the British boycott as a 'Lawrence of Arabia' syndrome: There is not one side to the story of Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence of Arabia's portrait as the hero of the liberation of Arabs from Ottomans, immortalized by his famous book 'Seven pillars of wisdom' and by David Lean's movie with Peter O'toole, is misleading.

The Bar at Le Baron hotel, Aleppo.

Last year we visited Syria, a beautiful country where different layers of civilisations coexist sometimes in one archeological site, from 6000 before Christ to Alexander the Great, to the beautiful roman Palmyre, the Omeyyades, the crusaders, the Ottomans, the French and other distant invaders. In Aleppo, every tourist pays a visit to 'Le Baron' where Lawrence used to enjoy a drink. As other tourists, we undertook the ritual with a sense of historical grandeur. Seated in the same room and drinking at the same bar the great man used to visit, we discovered, during our conversations with the 'natives', that they never considered Lawrence as a saviour, they rather considered him as a spy bringing political, social and geographical divisions to the middle east by imposing the Hejazi king Fayçal Ibn Husayn (1), an outsider, on the ME people and leading his army to occupy and divide part of the fertile crescent (Lebanon, Irak, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Palestine) into different kingdoms attributed to Fayçal's sons(2). Fayçal, an imported king, well domesticated by the British, signed the Weismann-Fayçal agreement which recognised the Balfour declaration authorising a jewish state in Palestine. After all, this was not the land of his ethny, he comes from Saudi Arabia and what was important to him was to maintain his statute as a king with the help of the British. Lawrence was instrumental in all this. For local populations of the ME, this came as a blow, surprising them at the end of the Ottoman occupation, unprepared as they were to resist the British and their own rulers in their support for zionism, not well organised and therefore incapable of displaying a unified military and political front against the zionists.

There is one more obvious reason why I wouldn't compare the British boycott of Israeli academics to a 'Lawrence of Arabia' syndrome : not only the Israeli empire is not on the brink of collapse like the Ottoman when Lawrence conducted his 'mission', but the British lecturers asscociation does not work for the British government; unlike Lawrence, they are not motivated by political and personal ambitions but by moral concerns.

Can we finally raise and understand, without conceptual confusion, the moral issue behind the demand for the boycott, without being labeled as anti-semites and accused of having a 'lawrence of Arabia' syndrome ? Can we simply recognise that the pro-boycott people, leftists or not, have a moral problem with the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians ?

(1) Faisal bin Husayn (Arabic:فيصل بن حسين May 20, 1883September 8, 1933) was for a short while king of Greater Syria in 1920 and king of Iraq from 1921 to 1933. He was a member of the Hashemite dynasty. He was born in Taif (in present-day Saudi Arabia) in 1883, the third son of Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca, the Grand Sharif of Mecca. In 1913 he was elected as representative for the city of Jeddah for the Ottoman parliament. In 1916, whilst on a visit to Damascus, he joined with the Al-Fatat group of Arab nationalists, and his father became king of Hijaz. Faisal also worked with the Allies during World War I in their conquest of Transjordan and the capture of Damascus, where he became part of a new Arab government in 1918.

He led the Arab delegation to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and, with the support of the knowledgeable and influential Gertrude Bell, argued for the establishment of independent Arab emirates for the area previously covered by the Ottoman Empire. His role in the Arab Revolt has been well described by T.E. Lawrence in "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" On January 3, 1919, Faisal and Dr. Chaim Weizmann, President of the World Zionist Organization signed the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement, in which Faisal accepted the Balfour Declaration. On March 7, 1920, he was made king of Greater Syria by the Syrian National Congress. But in April 1920, the San Remo conference gave France the mandate for Syria, which led to the battle of Maysalun on July 24, 1920; Faisal was expelled from Syria by the French and went to live in the United Kingdom in August that year.

The British government, mandate holders in Iraq, were concerned at the unrest in the new country. They decided to step back from direct administration and create a monarchy to head Iraq while they maintained the mandate. Following a plebiscite showing 96% in favor, Faisal agreed to become king; so, in August 1921 he was made king of Iraq. He was instrumental in making his country fully independent in 1932. He died on September 8, 1933, when he had a heart attack whilst he was staying in Bern. He was succeeded on the throne by his son Ghazi. He was portrayed by Alec Guinness in the 1962 movie Lawrence of Arabia.

(2) The British had, in the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence previously promised the Hashemite family lordship over most land in the region in return for their support in the Great Arab Revolt during World War I.

Since March 29th 2006