PRICE OF A BOYCOTT
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