Is Pears Institute fit for purpose?

London-based Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism claims its founding principle is that the study of anti-Semitism is vital to understanding all forms of racism, prejudice and xenophobia. Strange then that both the institute and its partners have misunderstood the nature of contemporary anti-Semitism (i.e. anti-Zionism) and aligned themselves with organisations and academics that are hostile to the State of Israel.

In 2013, Pears Institute organised a conference on boycotts. According to the organisers, the conference was “an academic forum to better comprehend the causes and content of boycott movements and to advance understanding of whether and how BDS [boycotts, divestments and sanctions] sits within the debate on contemporary anti-Semitism.” Instead, the conference was an opportunity for professional Israel haters to air their views, namely London School of Economics’ Dr John Chalcraft, who refers to Israel as an apartheid state, and Philip Marfleet, of University of East London, who characterises Zionism as imperialism.

Moreover, as Jonathan Hoffman, writing in The Jewish Chronicle, has pointed out, Pears Institute “sees nothing wrong with hosting Israel traducers such as Jacqueline Rose who makes anti-Semitic comparisons between Jews and Nazis.”

“It seems to me,” says Rose, “that the suffering of a woman on the edge of the pit with her child during the Nazi era, and a Palestinian woman refused access to a hospital through a checkpoint and whose unborn baby dies as a result, is the same.”

What is staggering is the fact that David Feldman, director of the Pears Institute, refuses to criticise Rose. Rather, he bemoans her critics’ “vicious attacks.” So much for understanding why anti-Semitism is a problem in the 21st century. But should we be surprised? After all, in a recent interview with David Semple for the Jewish Media Agency, Feldman denied that BDS is inherently anti-Semitic:

“The BDS movement is a presence among people who feel that they want to protest against Israel’s policies. I think the BDS movement is a broad church. It attracts support from some people who would like to see a one-state solution, but I think many people are attracted to BDS because they strongly oppose Israel’s conduct in the occupied territories […] I haven’t seen the evidence to suggest that movement as a whole should be characterised as anti-Semitic” [emphasis added].

Now, it seems to me that Feldman is either in denial or has not experienced BDS first hand. I have, however. During the summer of 2014, shops, banks, universities, theatres and entire towns in the UK were targeted by a contingent of BDS bullies comprising Islamic fundamentalists, anarchists, hardcore leftists, self-styled peace activists and Pakistani gangsters. In Manchester, where I am based, the Jewish community witnessed an unprecedented wave of anti-Semitism. In the city centre, BDS protestors enjoyed making anti-Jewish slurs such as “Jews killed Jesus,” “dirty Jewish pigs,” and “Zio-Nazis.” Some BDS campaigners spoke fondly of Hitler and made Nazi salutes. There were several obscene comments about the Holocaust. Jews were physically attacked, threatened and intimidated. Stores with connections to Israel were barricaded, raided and vandalised.

The situation in London was just as bad. On several occasions, tens of thousands of BDS campaigners bullied their way through London’s streets, intimidating passers-by and verbally abusing Jews and anyone else who got in their way. Indeed, Douglas Murray, writing for The Spectator, described these rallies as “disgusting” and “anti-Semitic.” These protestors, he says, are nowhere to be seen when Isis ravages Iraq or Boko Haram commits atrocities in Africa.

The fact that Pears Institute and its director are unable to see the connection between BDS and anti-Semitism is not just worrying, it is a undoubtedly a betrayal of their mission to understand anti-Semitism in all its forms.

There are other problems that need addressing too. Pears Institute was established by the Pears Foundation, which proudly states that it is a “core funder of the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), which works with students to promote conflict analysis and resolution through experiential education.” In fact, OTI is a crypto-Palestinian movement in which students are introduced to anti-Semites such as Aziz Duwaik, the Hamas Speaker in the Palestinian Legislative Council, and George Rishmawi, co-founder of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement.

Some Jewish students have expressed concern that OTI’s “experiential education” is tantamount to brainwashing and anti-Israel incitement. As one student explained, OTI is advancing anti-Israel views “under the 
guise
 of 
academic
exploration.” Moreover, “its veneer of academic legitimacy” is “hampering 
the
 type
 of hard self‐reflection
 that
 administrators
 and
 academics
 on 
campus 
must
 undertake 
to
 address
 the
serious 
problem 
of
 campus
 anti‐Semitism.”

Pears Foundation also finances Crisis Action, an organisation that bewails the blockade on Gaza and wants an EU boycott of goods from Judea and Samaria. Indeed, Crisis Action cites Jewish housing projects in Judea and Samaria as “one of the key obstacles to peace and a source of large-scale violations of international law and human rights.” No mention is made of why the Gaza blockade is in place or why the real obstacle to peace is the decades-old Palestinian Arab refusal to negotiate with or recognise Israel.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that Pears Foundation supports the core costs of the New Israel Fund (NIF) office in the UK and projects in Israel. NIF claims it is opposed to the BDS campaign but will “engage in dialogue with an important organisation that signs one letter supporting divestment rather than summarily dismissing them.” Or as it states on the NIF website, it will not fund BDS activities but will support organisations that “conform to our grant requirements if their support for BDS is incidental or subsidiary to their significant programs.” In the view of Jeffrey Goldberg, in an article for The Atlantic, these are “weasel words” that suggest NIF is not wholly committed to Israel’s existence. NIF, he points out, continues to fund groups that support BDS “so long as they don’t support BDS too much.” In my view, NIF’s approach to BDS is not only disingenuous, it is likely to provoke mistrust among those who would otherwise support NIF.

Taken together, there are real concerns about the Pears Institute and the Pears Foundation. On one hand, both organisations talk down the role BDS and pro-Palestinian activism play in the production and dissemination of anti-Semitism; yet at the same time, they actively support or provide a forum for Israelophobia and anti-Semitism. Their role in public policy making and in the education of students should be questioned by anyone who is concerned about anti-Zionism and the resurgence of Jew-hatred in the 21st century.

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