In Newsletter No. 20 we showed how Israel was meddling in Britain’s internal affairs in a way that compromises the integrity of aspects of our institutional life. Some prominent SNP, Conservative and Labour figures had spoken up against the worst abuse, but the overall reaction of the British establishment was one of pitiful acquiescence. The Lib Dem Party has so far kept very quiet.
The pattern continues unabated, as is evident in arbitrary Government actions to disrupt free speech in the Universities, supported by no less than Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation. Central Lancashire, Exeter, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester Universities all intervened in events scheduled for Israel apartheid week, either banning them outright or placing the organisers under unreasonable forms of scrutiny. For example, after pressure from a range of pro-Israeli groups, the University of Central Lancashire pulled an event that sought to debunk misconceptions of Palestine. Leeds University threatened to ban former British Ambassador Craig Murray from giving a talk on Palestine unless he submitted his script for pre-vetting. However most Universities ignored the Government pressure and did not interfere with their students’ right to express their support for human rights.A full account can be seen here, while Ben White’s account is well worth reading.
Significantly, Government has been invoking the highly questionable IHRA definition of anti-Semitism which conflates genuine anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel, and misusing the Prevent counter-extremism strategy, as if support for human rights in Palestine were a stepping stone to terrorism.
There has however been active opposition of University staff and students. Students have spoken up in a video, while 246 academics (including a strong Jewish contingent) from the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), protested in the Guardian of 27 February, and are inviting others to add their names. As the authors point out, the issues raised concern people who take different positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or indeed have other principal concerns. They impact our basic human rights, and strike at core Lib Dem values.
Also indicative of opposition is Tony Greenstein’s petition seeking the revocation of the charitable status of the Campaign against anti-Semitism (CAA), on the grounds that it is a bogus charity and a propaganda outfit that seeks to smear and libel opponents of the Israeli regime.