In his letter giving his recollections of the debate around the (successful) attempt to ban the Sunderland Polytechnic Jewish Society in the 1980s (Solidarity 238), Brian Plainer highlights the “natural bias” of “500-600 mostly overseas Arab/Islamic students”, which he believes represented “a significant block vote in favour of banning the Jewish Society”.
Brian is on thin ice here. Lazy assumptions about the “natural biases” of a given ethnic, cultural or national group also made up part of the thinking of the “Jew = Zionist = supporter of Israeli government policy” equations in the heads of the pro-ban constituency.
Certainly, it is true that particular views — including reactionary ones — do gain majority or mass currency amongst particular groups, and sometimes for good (or at least understandable) reasons. For example, the basic affinity (however low-level or unformed) that many (perhaps most) Jews feel for the state of Israel is an entirely understandable product of a relatively recent experience of genocide. We argue against such instinctive affinities and strive to replace them with thought-through working-class internationalism, but we try to understand them — sympathetically — and fight attempts to use them to conduct anti-Semitic witch-hunts by way of identifying all Jews with Israeli government policy.
We understand — sympathetically — why students of an Arab or Islamic background might feel an instinctive hostility to Israel. But many go beyond instinct.
And anyway our starting point is working-class internationalism, not the dismissive notion that Arabs will go along with any measure — no matter how reactionary or even racist — that appears to feed into their “natural biases”.