Shlaim’s impeccable academic reputation, calm, scholarly presentation and sober, evidence-based analysis all combined to produce a very persuasive speech. In the Q&A virtually no-one had any criticisms to make of Shlaim’s argument, or anything negative to say about Shlaim himself. What this points to is the need for Palestinian solidarity societies to be sensible about who they invite to give talks. There’s no need to rely on people like Azzam Tamimi, who undermine the Palestinian solidarity cause as much as they contribute to it by alienating a majority of those who are not already convinced. There are plenty of scholars and activists capable of providing reasoned, evidence-based arguments to support the Palestinian case, and in my experience they are far more effective than a hundred Tamimis or Galloways.
Shlaim himself was impossibly cute and very likeable. He was also surprisingly funny.
Avi Shlaim is professor of international relations at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and the author of numerous books, including The Iron Wall, Lion of Jordan and Israel and Palestine: Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutations (Verso, 2009).