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British Academic Freedom?

British Academic Freedom?

The anti-Israel campaign raises the question: Does academic freedom exist on campus?


Jewish students in Britain had been bracing themselves for the annual Israel Apartheid Week assault. This time, though, there was a difference. Twenty-four Israeli students had come to British campuses to mount a counter-campaign called Israel Awareness Week. Their presence has been good for Israel, good for British Jewish students, and good for universities that once were places where we put prejudice aside and pursued truth.

Truth has been the first casualty in the vicious campaign against Israel. The charge of apartheid, which began with the notorious United Nations 1975 resolution identifying Zionism with racism, and continued with the equally notorious Conference Against [sic] Racism in Durban a week before 9/11, is both outrageous and untrue. Given all the pressures Israel has been subjected to since its birth, its record in the field of ethnic and religious tolerance has been commendable.

You have only to visit an Israeli hospital to see how people of all faiths and ethnicities are treated alike. All have the vote. All can attend universities. All can be elected to the Knesset. A Druse Arab, Majallie Whbee, briefly served as president after Moshe Katsav’s resignation while acting head of state Dalia Itzik was out of the country. A Christian Arab, George Karra, headed the panel of judges that found Katsav guilty. Are any of these conceivable in an apartheid state?

Israel is one of the most religiously diverse societies in the world.

Israel is one of the most religiously diverse societies in the world. Only under Israeli rule have all three Abrahamic religions enjoyed unrestricted access to their holy sites in Jerusalem. It is the only place where an Arab Muslim can freely criticize the government on national television. Israel is not perfect, but its ethnic and religious minorities have greater rights – vigilantly defended in the courts – than anywhere else in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, in December 2010 Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared: “We have frankly said, and always will say: If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli in it.”

If this vision of a judenrein Palestine is not apartheid, what is? As soon as the anti-apartheid campaigners start working against Palestinian racism, the intimidation and murder of Christians throughout the Middle East, and the brutal denial of human rights that is leading to civil protests in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, then they will have earned the right to be taken seriously. Until then, they should be seen for what they are – political pawns in a very dangerous game.

Engage, Not Marginalize

The anti-Israel campaign has added further weight to the accumulating evidence that British campuses have become centers of anti-Western radicalism. Often it is moderate Muslims who have raised the alarm, saying university authorities are not doing enough to counter the extremists.

In 2007 Ed Husain, an ex-member of Hizb ut Tahrir and now a fighter against extremism, published a book called The Islamist. The first 70 pages are among the most terrifying I have ever read. They tell of how a tiny handful of radical students instituted a regime of intimidation across an entire campus, and show how easy it is to scare the academic authorities into silence and inaction.

On campus, freedom of speech exists for some, but not for others.

That intimidation seems to have worked. With some shining exceptions – Manchester is one – university authorities have not acted when radical, hate-inciting, anti-Israel speakers are invited to address students, nor when pro-Israel speakers are abused or banned. Challenged on the first, they tend to invoke freedom of speech. Challenged on the second, they tend to invoke security concerns. So freedom of speech exists for some, but not for others.

It is not Jewish students alone who are concerned at the failure of university heads to take action. So is the government. Fifteen individuals implicated in terrorist plots and attacks have had some link to British universities. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, charged with attempting to blow up a passenger plane in the US, was president of the Islamic Society at University College London.

University vice chancellors, in their recent review of the situation, concluded that universities should “engage, not marginalize” extreme political views. Lord Carlile, the government’s independent reviewer of terror laws, said the report represented “a total failure to deal with how to identify and handle individuals who might be suspected of radicalizing or being radicalized while within the university.”

Intellectual Hatreds

My own grave concerns come from a sense of history. In 1927 a French-Jewish academic, Julian Benda, published a book whose title became famous: Le Trahison des clercs (Treason of the Intellectuals).

In it he says that academics had historically been guardians of the truth, but had been drawn into politics with potentially devastating consequences. The academy had become the arena for “the intellectual organization of political hatreds.”

That phrase has resonated in my mind for close to a decade now, as university lecturers have sought to boycott their Israeli counterparts, while failing to protest some of the most antidemocratic, anti-free society, anti-Israel and anti-Jewish speakers ever to speak on British campuses.

This is not academic freedom. Academic freedom means the freedom to hold and express views without fear, even when they run against the consensus, even when they are the views of a minority. It means the willingness to let all sides of an argument be respectfully heard.

Like all freedom, academic freedom requires restraint, so that the freedom of one group is not won at the cost of another’s.

When restraint is not self-imposed, it must be ensured by the university authorities.

Which is why it is important that Israeli students have visited British universities to present the other side of the case. Whether they are respectfully heard will be the best test as to whether academic freedom is still honored in British universities.

This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post

April 10, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 18

(15) bob, April 13, 2011 9:10 PM

academic freedom

It is going to get worse and not just in England..its starting in Canada and U.S. and don't forget it was a Liberal proime minister who said "No Jews is one too many" The more education a person gets it seem the less intelligent they get...Lenin was right..."Useful Idiots"

(14) Naomi, April 12, 2011 5:00 AM

Publish this in the British media

It is indeed comforting to read the Lord Chief Rabbi's well-written words. I have found them on the Jerusalem Post website, as well as, where Jewish readers will be consoled that someone with as weighty a position as the Chief Rabbi's can champion their cause. Neverthtless the real test is airing these views to the wider public (especially British, in this case. I hope Lord Chief Rabbi Sacks is successful in securing this article in the columns of The Times, The Independent, the Guardian and other UK media publications, along with their online outlets, because these are amongst the most influential sources of information and opinion that jump on the familiar bandwagon of anti-Israel vitriole.

(13) Wassim, April 12, 2011 3:58 AM

Impressionable youth are victims of cunning old men

When we question Muslims' attitude towards Jews, they say they don't have a problem with "Jews", they have a problem with "Zionists" - they usually try to slip in some line from the Quran about the Jews being "ahl al-kitab" (ie. "people of the book"), as if that line alone is enough to disspell the notion that there is hatred towards anything Jewish! ... But when they see a kippah on college campus they don't bother to differentiate between Jew and Zionist at that point in time. The world is in denial about Islam. It benefits everyone who genuinely wants peace to promote the idea of Reform Islam, except those who would rather see it remain extremist and thereby prevent further proliferation of Islam throughout the world. It's a cruel game these old men are playing, and misguided youth are just dispensable pawns.

Gary Katz, April 13, 2011 1:06 PM

Muslims shooting themselves in the foot

By blaming the Jews for their problems, they prevent themselves from evolving.

(12) Independent, April 11, 2011 7:24 AM

Don't forget Canada

I wonder what will happen at York University in Toronto, it featured in Honest Reporting a while back as a place where Jewish students were intimidated. I agree with Mr Solon that the responsibility for stopping persecution lies with the academic staff of universities. Many seem to be behaving like their counterparts in Weimar Germany. I see that Manchester University is in England an exception.. I wonder how many of the others are in receipt of massive amounts of Arab money. As AJP Taylor once put it "Intellectuals bring to politics not their intellects but their emotions", and in this case their emotions are conditioned by traditional anti-semitism.

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