The academic Left and its quarrel with Israel

At its annual congress at the end of May, the University and College Union (UCU) in the UK will urge its 120,000 members to sever academic associations with Israeli institutions, according to reports in the British media.

For several years the UCU has been calling for a boycott of Israeli academics. Shamefully, UCU members voted in May 2011 to disassociate itself from the EU working definition of anti-Semitism. In disgust, four leading Jewish academics in Scotland quit the UCU and the British government called on the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate the union.

Tom Hickey, the man who put forward the latest draft motion to dissociate from Israeli universities, recently praised Stephen Hawking for boycotting Israel, saying: “If he can do that then all of us should think of doing it. This isn’t about targeting Israeli scholars but targeting the institutions.”

This is nonsense. Targeting institutions is bad enough. But recent history shows that individual Israelis are routinely boycotted and blocked from speaking in Britain.

Last year, Professor Moty Cristal, was prevented speaking at a conflict resolution event in Manchester on the grounds that he is an Israeli. Professor Cristal was due to address trade union officials and the managers of the Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust but was then told he wasn’t welcome.

The trade union boycott of an individual Israeli is pure discrimination. This is despite the fact that Professor Cristal is a supporter of the two-state solution. All of which suggests that he was prevented from speaking because of his nationality, rather than his politics. What’s worse is the suspicion that his appearance was blocked because he is an Israeli Jew. Presumably, the trade unionists would not have boycotted an Israeli Arab.

More recently, far-left British MP George Galloway walked out of a university debate when he realized a fellow speaker was an Israeli. “I don’t debate with Israelis,” said Galloway. “I don’t recognize Israel and I don’t debate with Israelis.”

These are just two examples – and there are many more – where individual Israelis are boycotted and harangued by the British Left.

The fact is the Left comprises half-witted cultural constructivists who relativize anti-Semitism by pretending it doesn’t exist (hence the UCU vote in May 2011) and fetishize the thuggish ideology of Palestinianism. It’s especially sad that the UCU, which is at vanguard of UK higher education, is setting such a bad example to its students by promoting anti-Semitism.

It’s even more galling when one considers that academia is one of the few spaces where Israelis and Palestinians, and Jews and Arabs in general, could co-operate. David Newman, dean of the faculty of humanities at Ben Gurion University, says that an academic boycott “just destroys one of the very few spaces left where Israelis and Palestinians actually do come together.”

And the Anti-Defamation League has described academic boycotts as an affront to “academic freedom and the promotion of the free exchange of ideas.”


Meanwhile, the UCU has done nothing to calm fears that anti-Semitism is a disturbing phenomenon on British campuses. A recent survey revealed that Jewish students at Edinburgh University face a “toxic atmosphere” in which they are forced to hide their identity. Many are quitting courses “in despair” following anti-Israel demonstrations. The Scottish Jewish Student Chaplaincy and the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities have said the university is not a safe place to be Jewish.

Then there’s Israel Apartheid Week. This is when campuses in Britain (and around the world) are buzzing with the most appalling anti-Jewish sentiment. As well as the erection of “apartheid” walls, bizarre street theatre and anti-Israel music events, pro-Palestinian activists have been known to harass or even attack Jewish students.

On British campuses, Jewish students are sometimes referred to as “Nazis” or are taunted by activists who praise Hitler and the gas chambers. Last year, a Jewish student, who was filming a man making obscene references to the Holocaust, was punched and bitten by a Muslim activist. When the assailant was acquitted in court, Palestine Solidarity Campaign activists shouted “Zionists always lose.”

As Electronic Intifada boasts, “the failure of pro-Israel activists to detract from our activities in any meaningful way should be seen as a further sign that the debate on UK campuses is now happening very much on our terms.”

It is alarming that some Jewish students feel they can no longer study at a UK university. The complicity of British academics and the cowardice of university leaders and associations like the UCU is largely to blame for this situation.

The situation is not helped when anti-Semitic speakers are invited to attend university events, such as Hezbollah’s Ibrahim Mousawi, and radical cleric Abu Usamah, who has defended Osama bin Laden.

I have argued elsewhere that pro-Israel groups must put forward a counter-narrative and demonstrate to students that supporting Israel is progressive. Israel has a free press, a healthy trade union movement and several co-operatives. It is a world leader in science and technology. Israeli women are guaranteed gender equality, homosexuals enjoy full civil rights and Israeli Arabs have the vote. These are the very values which are in short supply in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, the UCU and the Left in general no longer champion the progressive values it pretends to espouse because of its unholy alliance with Islamism and Palestinianism, both of which are pernicious anti-Semitic ideologies that are hell-bent on eroding the world’s only Jewish state and undermining Western values.

So when the UCU gathers for its annual congress next Wednesday, I predict that nobody will express concern over the fate of Jewish students in Britain. And it’s totally unrealistic to expect the UCU to say anything positive about the State of Israel. I can only hope that the UCU’s obsession with Palestinianism is a fad that will eventually prove to be as embarrassing as the Left’s defense of Soviet Russia and Maoist China in the 20th century.