October 11, 2006
Lecturers have been accused of fuelling campus anti-semitism by their threat to boycott Israeli universities.
Senior Israeli politicians warned that a wave of anti-Jewish racism was spreading through British universities.
Jewish undergraduates were increasingly falling victim to anti-semitic attacks and abuse while Israeli university dons feared being boycotted by British academics.
Israeli education minister Yuli Tamir voiced concerns that some sections of British academia harboured “strong anti-semitic feelings”.
Lecturers’ unions have passed motions agreeing to boycott Israeli universities by refusing to cooperate with them on research projects and conferences.
The stance was intended to exert pressure on the Israeli government but Ms Tamir said some language used to justify the boycott crossed into anti-semitism.
She also accused supporters of academic boycotts of undermining peace negotiations by stifling debate in Israel as lecturers “closed ranks” to defend themselves.
Ms Tamir today called on Education Secretary Alan Johnson to do more to avert a boycott of Israeli academics in an unprecedented face-to-face meeting on the issue.
She also called on Mr Johnson and universities to crack down on anti-semitic incidents directed at Jewish students on campus such as swastika graffiti and verbal abuse.
A Parliamentary inquiry on anti-semitism found last month that attacks included a brick thrown through the window of a Jewish student residence with a poster saying “slaughter the Jews” pasted on its front door.
A knife was stuck in the door of another student residence.
Some student unions had proposed motions calling for a boycott of Israeli goods even though it would restrict the availability of kosher food on campus.
The MPs’ inquiry concluded Jewish students “feel disproportionately threatened” in British universities. The conflict in southern Lebanon had heightened tensions, it found.
‘Something that should worry all of us’
Speaking at the Israeli Embassy, Ms Tamir said: “More and more Jewish students in university feel intimidated and feel they have been exposed to one degree or another of anti-semitism.
“This is something that should worry all of us.”
Meanwhile one lecturers’ union, the Association of University Teachers, last year passed a motion boycotting two Israeli universities, Haifa and Bar Ilan.
Another, NATFHE, voted in May for widespread boycotts of Israeli universities and academics. It condemned “apartheid” policies against the Palestinians.
Soon after the vote the two unions merged and the policies are not binding on either.
However the new union, the University and College Union, is expected to debate a new boycott motion in 2007.
Ms Tamir said: “There is never one motivation for a boycott but there’s a deep sense of anti-semitism that emerges when you hear the way people criticise Israeli policies.
“It’s not only a matter of anti-semitism, but anti-semitism is obviously there.
“Some of the language used to defend the boycott seems to be over and beyond reasonable political criticism.”
She said that British academies were far more vocal than counterparts in other countries in calling for a boycott.
“The good explanation is that British academe sees itself as more influential than academe in other parts of Europe” she said.
“The not-so-favourable explanation is there is very strong anti-semitic feeling among some members of the academic world here.”
She added: “In a way what a boycott does is it weakens the possibility that there will be a real debate in Israel and there will be ways to change or support the way the government behaves.
“It is dysfunctional and it is using the wrong political tool and it creates within the academic community quite a lot of restricted dialogue and an attempt to silence down the differences.”