By, Harvey E. Goldberg, The Hebrew University
In the summer of 1981, in London, I participated in a conference on North African society. My work has had Jewish life in Libya as a major focus. Never having been able to visit Libya, I hoped the occasion might be an opportunity to meet colleagues from there. Before the first session, I spoke with some students from Libya. They were surprised at my presence, and expressed curiosity in a friendly tone.
Among the participants from different countries, one other Israeli attended: a student finishing her doctorate. Her research was on the political history of Tripolitania. My studies dealt mostly with daily life within the Jewish community. She was scheduled to speak first.
When my Israeli colleague was invited to the lectern, a person suddenly got up and addressed the chair. He introduced himself as a Palestinian and asked whether it was true that the speaker—who had not yet begun—was an Israeli. Upon hearing that she was, he expressed an objection that he and others were not informed earlier. His critical remarks included the statement that “Israelis are not human.”
He then began to walk out, and was joined by some others. I saw some people hesitate as whether to leave or not. Near me was one of the students with whom I had chatted. At first he did not move, but then I saw him notice a signal from and older person. He then left too.
At the end of the session, I was approached by a man from a university in Tunisia. In concise and crisp French he told me: “In politics we are adversaries; in science we are colleagues.” His statement has always stayed with me.