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'Palestinian terror - morally justified'

Lawrence Smllman | 18.08.2004 16:03 | Repression | Terror War | London

A leading radical philosopher, who has been compared to Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre and praised by Noam Chomsky, says Palestinian "terrorism" is a moral response to Israeli ethnic cleansing.

Ted Honderich, a professor of philosophy at University College London, plans to take the same message to the Edinburgh International Book Fair on Thursday, where tickets to hear his speech have already sold out.

The philosopher plans to begin his talk at the Opus Theatre with a close look at definitions of terrorism, particularly when it applies to Palestine and the expansion of Israel outside its 1967 borders.

He concludes it is "killing and maiming for political and social ends … illegal in terms of national or international law", and suggests Iraq could also fall into this definition.

"It needs remarking, seemingly, that the plain definition of terrorism, which essentially takes it to be a kind of illegal political violence, cannot but include terrorism by a state," he told on Wednesday.

Considering causes

"America is now engaged, as I say, in the principal piece of moral stupidity of this time … it is as if the causes of terrorism that are neo-Zionism and Palestine do not exist," he added.

Honderich does not limit his criticism to Washington.

"In Britain we used to hear the government line about being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime in our own society.

"The government has stopped saying that now. I fancy that one of the reasons is anticipation of people asking about being tough on terrorism and tough on the causes of terrorism."

Neo-Zionism blamed

Honderich told he believed that though "it would have been just to carve a Jewish state out of a part of Germany … it was right to assign a part of Palestine to the Jewish people" due to their substantial population in the region.

In the land assigned to them by the United Nations, "there were an equal number of Palestinians and Jews in that part of Palestine". There were 80 times as many Palestinians as Jews in the other part of Palestine.

However, defining "neo-Zionism" as the movement to expand Israel outside its pre-1967 borders, he condemns some Israeli policy today as an "ongoing rapacity of ethnic cleansing, the violation of the remaining homeland of the remaining Palestinians".

"It dishonours the great Jewish moral and political tradition of resolute compassion for the badly-off, a tradition now exemplifed by Noam Chomsky."

"This rape of a people and a homeland is in its wrongfulness a kind of moral datum … and issues in a moral right on the part of the Palestinians to their terrorism," he concludes.


Formerly married to a Jew, Honderich brushes aside allegations that he is anti-Semitic.

But his objections to neo-Zionism have lead to several vicious email campaigns and even lead to a leading UK charity to refuse a sizeable donation.

Criticising Tel Aviv has become a dangerous business, he claims.

"A new American dictionary, Merriam-Websters' Third New International Dictionary, defines anti-Semitism as 'sympathy for the opponents of Israel'," he says.

"This tells you of the usefulness and the responsibility of lexicographers. The brazenness of the definition calls for a reply. It is that in the sense in question we ought all to be anti-Semites.

Anti-Semitism, he insists "is not to be taken as prohibiting condemnation of the violation of Palestine".

Lawrence Smllman