It hasn’t been a good week for free and open debate about the Jewish state on campuses in the United Kingdom. Two separate incidents, one at the University of Essex and a second at Oxford University, have shown just how low opponents of Israel will stoop in order to delegitimize her and squash the free speech of Israel’s citizens and defenders.
Immediately following the announcement of a speech at Essex by Alon Roth-Snir, deputy ambassador of Israel to the United Kingdom, anti-Israel activists on campus began to organize. Their goal was simple: stifle Roth-Snir’s right to free speech on their campus. Avi Mayer, the director of new media for the Jewish Agency for Israel, created a Storify account of the incident and the university’s response. What Mayer describes speaks volumes about the opposition Israel faces on campus from both faculty and students. Mayer quotes the University of Essex Students’ Union President Nathan Bolton from the Facebook event organizing the protest:
I’ve made my position crystal clear. The Students’ Union has a position, which reflects my own, that the state of Israel is a state which its very existance is a crime. [sic] The land was stolen from the Palestinian people and then those same people were then systematically exiled from their own homes and continue to be exiled to this day.
I’m proud to not give him the attempt to justify his states oppression. I’m sure the hundreds of students were too. Freedom of expression isn’t applicable here.
Mayer points out the predictably hypocritical response of the anti-Israel activist Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electric Intifada. While Abunimah was outraged at the attempts of BDS opponents in Brooklyn to squash the departmentally sponsored event aimed at what Jonathan rightly described as hate speech, Abunimah described the actions of protestors at crushing free speech as “great.” The opponents of the BDS event in Brooklyn took issue not with the speech taking place on campus, but rather with the school’s continued sponsorship of events about the conflict that were exclusively anti-Israel in nature.
At Oxford University, a similarly disheartening incident took place between a former Israeli politician and a British MP, George Galloway. The Times of Israel reported on the exchange:
British MP George Galloway quit a debate on Israel at Oxford University Wednesday after discovering that his opponent was an Israeli citizen. The Respect party legislator, who is renowned for being staunchly pro-Palestinian, stormed out of the building saying: “I don’t recognize Israel and I don’t debate with Israelis.”
Galloway was first to speak in the debate, opining in favor of the statement “Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank” for 10 minutes. But midway into his opponent’s address, in which the third-year student referred repeatedly to Israel as “we” and “us,” Galloway inquired whether the speaker, Eylon Aslan-Levy, was Israeli. Upon learning that he was, the MP stormed out of the building with his wife, claiming that he was misled.
“I refused this evening to debate with an Israeli, a supporter of the Apartheid state of Israel,” Galloway said in a statement late on Wednesday evening. “The reason is simple; No recognition, No normalization. Just Boycott, divestment and sanctions, until the Apartheid state is defeated.”
Anti-Israel activity on college campuses is nothing new, yet these incidents are an incredibly troubling trend in anti-Israel circles. Not only have these British groups and individuals decided they disagree with the actions of the Jewish state and its fundamental right to exist, but they would also like to eliminate its right to defend itself in a purely academic setting. If these opponents of Israel are so certain of their moral superiority, what are they so afraid of?