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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


Hide the following 14 comments

Honderich, who has been compared to David Icke and David Irving

18.08.2004 16:19

Formerly married to a Jew, Honderich brushes aside allegations that he is anti-Semitic... Honderich added 'ignore what my ex-wife says, she's a stupid kike bitch'. Honderich then donned a tin foil hat, over which he placed a Klan hood, before waving a copy of the Koran and screaming for the Jews to be driven into the sea.

more hateful Arab nationalist nonsense on Indymedia

Defining terror

18.08.2004 16:23

I enjoyed reading this article. I've always wondered how launching cruise missiles into Baghdad is not regarded as terrorism by the mainstream media - after all, the war was not sanctioned by international law - but a Palestinian destroying an Israeli bus is a sick act of terrorism.

Especially as the US has the means to defend itself admirably and was not being invaded by Iraq, whereas Palestinians have no means to defend themselves and are constantly being turfed off their land.

Christopher Bennett

First comment ironic

18.08.2004 16:30

The writer of the first comment - who writes "more hateful Arab nationalist nonsense on Indymedia" - is the only one writing a hateful comment.

It would be nice if he were able to add some genuine criticism than a pathetic attempt at humour to a situation that is far from amusing.



18.08.2004 16:56

Of all the profound questions confronting philosophers who teach in universities, only one can be reduced to six words: "Should I sleep with the students?" Few academic departments evade this issue, and it's unavoidable in Philosopher: A Kind of Life (Routledge), the autobiography of Ted Honderich, a poor boy from rural Ontario who ascended the heights of British philosophy.

Now 68 years old, he's Grote Professor Emeritus of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic at University College London. He's also part of a famous Canadian family: his older brother Beland ran The Toronto Star for many years, and his nephew, John, is now publisher and editor.

Ted Honderich has made a highly readable book by embedding his intellectual development in a narrative of his private life. It portrays him as a complex man, egotistical and insecure, always ambitious, anxious to be truthful yet sometimes evasive.

He's a socialist who barely tolerates anyone who isn't and finds Margaret Thatcher "unspeakable." Yet he campaigned (unsuccessfully) to persuade Prime Minister Thatcher to install his friend A.J. Ayer in the House of Lords, which Ayer thought his eminence as a philosopher deserved. Even now Honderich doesn't see that this exercise, a socialist beseeching his enemy for patronage, was inconsistent to the point of nuttiness.

He's a self-declared prosecco socialist, as opposed to a champagne socialist -- the Italian variety being cheaper. Whatever his bubbly, he's well fixed. Aside from his handsome salary and excellent book royalties, he receives cheques from his multi-millionaire brother Beland and admits that all this clashes with his declared belief in equality. When he falls into a calamitous real-estate deal, money from Toronto keeps him solvent. He's George Orwell's idea of the socialist who gives socialism its bad name -- a Hampstead-dwelling, New Statesman-contributing bicyclist who consorts with vegetarians. He admits to being Boswell-like in the cultivation of the eminent. (He separately entertains A.S. Byatt and her fellow novelist and sister, Margaret Drabble, since they don't get on, or didn't.)

Honderich was born among fractious Mennonites in Baden, a village of 700 near Kitchener, Ont. His father and grandfather were excommunicated for visiting a church of the wrong denomination, after which their relatives forever declined to shake their hands. Ted was the last of six children, Beland being 15 years older. Their father failed in several enterprises, including weekly newspapers, beekeeping and the production of soap. Their mother got appointed village telephone operator, which entitled them to live in the house containing the phone exchange, with a privy and a hand pump for water in the kitchen.

Beland became both brother and father to Ted: "He was as severe a man as I have ever met, taking perfection by his lights to be the only tolerable option." In 1950, well on his way at the Star, Beland got Ted a summer job as a reporter. Thereafter, as Ted made his way through the University of Toronto, Beland encouraged his simultaneous progress in the paper toward feature writer and book-page editor. Briefly, my own life intersected with his. In the late 1950s, he published my book reviews and then, just before going off to England to study philosophy, suggested that I apply for his job. Getting it was important, and I've been grateful to him ever since.

Honderich calls David Hume the "patron saint of philosophers of my inclination" and brusquely dismisses those toward whom he isn't inclined, such as Kierkegaard ("gloomy sod") and Hegel ("unspeakable"). He compares Freud's ideas to astrology and tells with satisfaction how he kept his philosophy department from establishing a chair in psychoanalysis.

That was academic politics, a favourite subject of his. Once a colleague caused him "rage and grief" by telling a selection committee that the whole philosophy department opposed Honderich's elevation to a major job. At a crucial meeting, the head of his department called Honderich a swine. This was serious stuff, but (in the manner of academic politics) it was also serious when someone decided Honderich couldn't have departmental secretaries to address envelopes dealing with his editing of the Oxford Companion to Philosophy; he gritted his teeth and addressed the envelopes by himself. There are hardships in the life of the mind.

He speaks at one point of the sexual temptation presented by undergraduates, which he did not always resist. Sex with students, as he tells it, resembled gravity, something that happened to him rather than something he made happen. At one point he actually says, "I fell into two small affairs, one after another, with undergraduates." Considering that the author has written often on free will and determinism, the verb "fell" seems spectacularly inappropriate.

He calculates that he has had more women than Bertrand Russell but not so many as A.J. Ayer, an example of the competitive spirit that makes British philosophy what it is today. Honderich has seldom been overly prudent. In the 1970s, while part of an open marriage, he was involved with an undergraduate who was romantically connected to a lecturer elsewhere, with presumably the same freedom from bourgeois convention. She sometimes accompanied him to other cities where he would lecture and they would stay with a local professor. "Was it wise, when I had been pressing myself forward for promotion ... to be courting some degree of notoriety? It did not go well with taking the high moral ground." Apparently it didn't harm his career.

He has lived with six women, three of them his wives. Most, alas, are ciphers in his book; certain male philosophers come through vibrantly, but wives, lovers and occasional girlfriends often sound interchangeable. He insists that his relationships have been with persons, not bodies, but little in his account supports him.

Women pass in a blur. A reader who dozes for a moment could miss a couple of entanglements, five of which appear to be in progress simultaneously during one hectic period in the 1980s. A pattern emerges: Each attachment seems to end in tears -- the woman's and Honderich's. There's talk of moodiness, anger and excessive drinking. I'm not sure this philosopher was altogether wise to reject outright the insights of Freud and his followers.



18.08.2004 17:05

Thanks 5775 for that wonderful piece of character assassination, but that doesn't actually tackle any of the issues which he has brought up and talked about.

A great many geniuses have been egotistical, and been womanisers. Let's bring up Newton, as cruel and egotistical, and Schroedinger, as man who lived with a few women AT THE SAME TIME.

None of that makes his point any less valid. Try harder.


Give us more!

18.08.2004 17:40

"Sponger", "consorts with vegetarians", next you'll be telling us he was Welsh!!

Green Bert
mail e-mail:

What is 5775 on?

18.08.2004 19:06

5775 - what has anything you write above got to do with questions raised in the news article?

But even if you want to write how crappy a person Honderich is - surely you should also mention that he has got a PhD and obviously impressed enough people to be made a professor at University College London.

And if Chomsky thinks his writing is good - then I don't think he is anything like the man that you make out.

So why don't you criticise the article rather than the person that wrote it?



never stick to the issue ...

18.08.2004 19:34

... if you are a rabid zionist.

Sticking to the issue is dangerous - people might start absobing the facts, and then would the violently racist supremacist thinking[sic] of the pro-israeli camp be?


No, far better to divert into personality cults and clashes (otherwise known as shoot the messenger).

And in case of emergency - break glass and press 'anti-semite alarm'.

Only like any other slight of hand, divertisment & smoke and mirrors trick, it begins to ware thin with overuse.

Then what?

Call in the mossad. they do a nice line[sic] in false flag operations, assasinations & manchurian candidate production.

Fortunately, they are our allies. Aren't they?

mail e-mail:


18.08.2004 19:55

As though Mossad even exist!!! Honestly, Jackslucid, you are such an anti-semite ;)


another fashionable academic idiot

19.08.2004 11:49

This man is obviously a complete moron. He says that there were just as many "Palestinians" as there were Jews in the partition area allotted to Jews, which is total bullshit. Jews were given whatever area they formed the majority, plus the Negev desert in anticipation of future immigration and settlement. And ethnic cleansing???? How exactly is Israel ethnically cleansing Palestinians? By economic, social, health, etc development so their standard of living was higher than in most Arab countries? By such a lenient occupation that in the 1970s even pro-PLO terrorist people were allowed to be elected mayors, and pro-terrorist propaganda was permitted so long as it didn't directly incite violence? I can't even be bothered to list facts to refute this fool, you people are so indoctrinated in your hatred of Israel and love of the PLO that you refuse to see the truth anyway.


Then why do you bother writing at all, h from Steps?

19.08.2004 12:26

You're only wasting your own time, nobhead.

An Archist

No war but the class case you were forgetting

19.08.2004 12:46

Israel is the main agressor in the conflict and as such i would think that unfortunately no progress can be made until israel pulls out of the west bank and offers concessions to palestinians.

But that doesn't mean i'm going to jump into bed with the palestian bourgeoisie.
Sharon and arafat are both wealthy powerful capitalist warmongerers, and they both need to be overthrown. You cannot justify slaughtering working class israelis, just as youcan't justify slaughtering working class palestinians. We all know who is profiting from this war, who deals arms to both sides, and how sharon and arafat maintain power and porfit margins in the conflict.

And i really coundn't care less what some wanky academic has to say about it all either.

still left wing

Honderich admits he is a liar

19.08.2004 22:48

Honderich has admitted a number of times (e.g. see the 'exchange of letters' on his pretentious website) that he is a liar and that he has repeatedly invented or distorted facts about the conflict to suit his racist agenda.

But, he says, this doesn't compromise his arguments one bit!



20.08.2004 12:55

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

This chap is a joke! And he is supposed to be an intelligent and erudite individual?!! Is something necessarily accurate just because a published information source says that it is? Maybe Honderich sould go back to logic school.

I'll stick with the OED I think...