(/sites/default/files/uploads/2015/03/London-BDS.jpg)Last week, in yet another familiarly tiresome portrayal of anti-Semitism parading itself as Palestinian “solidarity,” students and staff at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) voted to initiate a boycott against all Israeli academic institutions. The vote at one of the United Kingdom’s top universities was conducted over the course of a week, and after the announcement late Friday afternoon, partying broke out on the central London campus – along with a request for university authorities to cut their ties to Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
Unsurprisingly, the vote was part of Israeli Apartheid Week, an event taking place from Feb. 23-28 on campuses all over the UK. According to its organizers, this effort will be reprised in the United States, Europe, Palestine, South Africa Ireland, Canada and South America in order to “raise awareness about Israel’s apartheid policies towards the Palestinians and to build support for the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.”
Voters included students, academics and any non-teaching staff, such as campus cleaning and security workers, who wished to participate. Results in all three groups were lopsided in favor of the boycott. Among students it was 1283 in favor, 425 against, for a 75 percent margin. Among the 300 academics who voted, the measure passed 60 percent to 40 percent. And the university’s 40 support staffers who voted overwhelmingly supported the measure by a margin of 91 percent. When all three groups are combined, 73 percent supported the measure, and 27 percent did not.
The figures are somewhat misleading because a substantial majority of SOAS students did not participate in the vote at all, including 74 percent of on-campus students, a number that rises to 86 percent if the students studying abroad are included. SOAS’s total student population is greater than 8,500 students and there are more than 330 members of the teaching staff.
The measure asked voters whether they think SOAS should join the BDS campaign, as well as implement guidelines created by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). Those guidelines outline an “overriding rule” whereby, “all Israeli academic institutions, unless proven otherwise, are subject to boycott because of their decades-old, deep and conscious complicity in maintaining the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights, whether through their silence, actual involvement in justifying, whitewashing or otherwise deliberately diverting attention from Israel’s violations of international law and human rights, or indeed through their direct collaboration with state agencies in the planning and implementation of projects that contravene international law and Palestinian rights.”
The guide further describes a dozen different categories of events, activities, or situations in which one’s participation would constitute a “violation” of that boycott. They include academic events, research and development activities, lobby groups receiving funding from Israel, addresses and other talks by Israeli officials or Israeli representatives of academic institutions, study abroad schemes in Israel, Israeli recognition events, Normalization Projects, etc.
Student Union members and faculty were joined by a host of groups that included the Justice For Cleaners, who are members of the SOAS cleaning staff, the LGBTQIA+ Society, the Kashmir Solidarity Movement and the Tamil Society.
The Open Democracy website insists the vote is emblematic of the academic freedom necessary to penetrate the “smokescreen behind which settler-colonialism is fed both discourse and weaponry.” Israeli universities, “inseparable from the Israeli state,” are taken to task for their “knowledge-production apparatuses that are necessary for the violent development of its colonial army and accompanying imperial expansion of the state.” Hebrew University is singled out for its participation in last summer’s war during which “the Israeli colonial machine murdered over 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza.”
Last October, the Student Union voted to “escalate their support,” of such an agenda, precipitating the non-binding “referendum” that ensued. The Union’s position on the referendum was clarified in January when it insisted “the Union was the instigator of the campaign through that initial UGM (University General Meeting) motion that both reaffirmed support to BDS whist [sic] also calling for the referendum.” There was token resistance against it, but that resistance amounted to between 5 and 10 students. One of them, 21-year-old Moselle Paz, president of the university’s Jewish Society, told Haaretz she expected to lose the vote, but insisted their presence was import an nonetheless. “If we hadn’t made a stand, this whole thing would have gone through without the other side being represented,” she explained.
Paz characterized the vote as “divisive” and “discriminatory,” further warning it would lead to a deterioration of relations between Israeli and Jewish students and other campus groups. She said they will voice their concerns to SOAS Director Paul Webley. “He has a duty of care to foster good relations between different religious and ethnic groups – this referendum does the opposite,” she insisted.
Paz also insisted Apartheid Week engendered a feeling of isolation among Jewish students. “We are too scared to go anywhere so we walk in a group to the station,” she revealed. “People come up to me and say I heard you hate Palestinians.”
Far more telling assessments were offered by other students who told Haaretz the wise course of action was not to speak out for Israel or against BDS, lest they be shunned by their peers. “People would stop talking to me,” said one post-graduate student who wished to remain anonymous. Economics student Avrahum Sanger, 21, said pro-Israeli students did not want to set up a stall in a common room at the university because “it’s too hostile.”
The SOAS Student Union had a different take, with a post-vote press release maintaining the referendum “was conducted in an open, fair and transparent environment” and that “both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigners were given equal platforms to hold panel discussions and debates.”
SOAS’s Head of Communications Katie Price called the vote more of an opinion poll because there is no mechanism currently in place at the university for a formal referendum. She labeled the union’s stance “problematic,” and noted SOAS has “constantly brought this up as an issue to the union.” But she admitted the university can only respond to formal complaints of bullying and/or intimidation. Paz and Sanger have complained to the union, but they haven’t met with school officials. They plan to do so next week.
Prior to the vote, the Student Union insisted it does all it can to maintain neutrality. However a statement posted on their website in January “clarifies” their genuine position. “In the last days we have received some constructive criticism from members of the SOAS community that have rightly believed that the Union has a bias when it comes to the referendum,” it states. “This is correct. Any claim of ‘neutrality’ would now be not only against union policy, but dishonest and false, since the Union was the instigator of the campaign through that initial UGM (Union General Meeting) motion that both reaffirmed support to BDS whist (sic) also calling for the referendum.”
According to 63-year-old student Richard Galber, even SOAS’s Israel Society was pro-boycott. He claims he was thrown out of a meeting for speaking out against the effort to impose sanctions on Israel. “I have never felt so un-belonging as at that meeting,” he said. “It was a very unpleasant sensation. I assumed an Israel Society would be welcoming to Israelis.”
The relentlessness of these ongoing anti-Israel campaigns is having its intended effect. Britain experienced a record number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2014, double the number that occurred in 2013, according to the Community Security Trust, which provides security advice to Britain’s Jews. And while they blamed the majority of those incidents on last summer’s fighting in Gaza, they note incidents had been on the rise regardless.
The Annual Antisemitism Barometer, a report published in January by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA), paints an even starker picture, insisting the UK is at a “tipping point” in a nation where 1 in 4 believe “Jews chase money more than other British people,” 1 in 5 believe “Jews’ loyalty to Israel makes them less loyal to Britain than other British people,” 1 in 6 believe “Jews believe they are better than other people” and “Jews have too much power in the media,” and 13 percent believe “Jews talk about the Holocaust too much in order to get sympathy.”
“The results of our survey are a shocking wake-up call straight after the atrocities in Paris,“ said CAA chairman Gideon Falter.
No, they are not. They are results being reinforced on college campuses, where rank anti-Semitism, as one SOAS official put it, is part of the “atmosphere of open inquiry, mutual tolerance and intellectual freedom.” Such vapid nonsense is nothing more than an endorsement of the bankrupt notion that all ideas, no matter how despicable, are equally valid. Ideas that would abet the elimination of Israel first—with the rest of Western society following behind in short order.
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