PRICE OF A BOY­COTT

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT&ANALYSIS -

The Chief Rabbi’s re­marks con­cern­ing the sta­tus of Jewish stu­dents on UK cam­puses ( JC, May 16) can­not be dis­missed lightly. In in­for­mal meet­ings with Jewish stu­dent so­ci­eties over the past 18 months, stu­dents have — time af­ter time — ex­pressed to me feel­ings sim­i­lar to those de­scribed by the Chief Rabbi and by the All-Party In­quiry into An­tisemitism.

Th­ese feel­ings can­not be de­tached from the re­cur­ring de­bate about an aca­demic boy­cott of Is­raeli univer­si­ties. Next week, the an­nual Univer­sity and Col­lege Union con­fer­ence will, once again, dis­cuss a mo­tion rec­om­mend­ing such a boy­cott — the fourth such at­tempt in five years.

As rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Is­rael’s univer­si­ties here in the UK, I have met with a large num­ber of Univer­sity Vice Prin­ci­pals and Chan­cel­lors dur­ing the past year. On a pos­i­tive note, they con­tin­u­ally ex­press their op­po­si­tion to all forms of boy­cott.

At the same time, how­ever, they draw back from mak­ing any con­nec­tion be­tween the grow­ing anti-Is­rael dis­course at Bri­tish univer­si­ties and the back door which this opens for the an­ti­semites to walk in and spread their mes­sage. As such they are pas­sive play­ers, silently hop­ing that the mat­ter will sim­ply go away and that the “rad­i­cal” unions, as they de­scribe them, will even­tu­ally find an­other, more ac­cept­able, cause.

It is true that not ev­ery­one hold­ing an anti-Is­rael po­si­tion is an an­ti­semite. But the boy­cott pro­posers can­not es­cape their own re­spon­si­bil­ity for the in­crease of an­tisemitic sen­ti­ment on cam­pus even if they pro­claim to be af­fronted at the sug­ges­tion. And the Prin­ci­pals and Vice Chan­cel­lors must play a more ac­tive role in stamp­ing out the bla­tant im­bal­ance in the po­lit­i­cal as­pects of pub­lic dis­cus­sions and lec­tures on cam­pus if they want th­ese great Bri­tish in­sti­tutes of learn­ing to re­gain their sta­tus as places of open di­a­logue, places in which stu­dents and fac­ulty with dif­fer­ent so­cial and po­lit­i­cal perspectives can meet and ex­change ideas in a civilised, rather than con­fronta­tional, man­ner.

It is a sta­tus which they are rapidly los­ing through­out the world, to their own long-term detri­ment. Pro­fes­sor David New­man Ben Gu­rion Univer­sity, Is­rael Visit­ing pro­fes­sor, Queen Mary Col­lege, Univer­sity of Lon­don

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