Shmuley Boteach, former University of Oxford Rabbi, says that Jewish students are ‘cowed’ to speak about Israel in UK campuses due to an overall hostility toward the country demonstrated by the refusal of Jewish speakers in universities among other acts.
For Boteach, London and the UK as a whole are fertile ground for anti-Israeli action implemented through the widely supported Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel. The outspoken rabbi said of Jewish students:
“[They] had become so cowed by the omnipresent hostility and bullying on and off British campuses that they were afraid to engage in a dialogue about Israel”.
In response, Russell Langer, the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) Campaigns Director, said the Rabbi’s claims are unfounded because Jewish students are actively engaging in on-campus debate over Israel. Langer highlighted that Jewish students who are creating their own Israel societies are doing their part in the fighting against the delegitimization of Israel, reassuring the Rabbi that the debate on the Palestinian-Israeli issue is balanced at King’s College, Jewish News reports.
Boteach says that even if Jewish students choose to stay silent to avoid offending others, they’re harming the Jewish state. He emphasizes:
“[E]ven if they have the best of intentions in staying quiet, even if they seek not to “offend,” they denigrate the Jewish state and Jewish life. It’s time to stand up to the bullies.”
Boteach said that UK professors are some of the most anti-Israel forces in Europe by continuously boycotting Israel and denying freedom of speech to pro-Israel professors, politicians and others. The rabbi said according to Ian Burell in The Independent:
“One of the problems that pro-Israel speakers face, on UK campuses in particular, is they are jeered and shouted down by Israel opponents who don’t even have to [debate].
Referring to the UK’s tradition regarding freedom of speech in Parliament and other platforms, Boteach says it’s a shame the same doesn’t apply to UK universities:
“Britain has distinguished itself for rigorous and robust parliamentary debates. This betrays that tradition. Britain has things like Speakers’ Corner that they don’t have in other countries.”
Boteach talked of various incidents of denied freedom of speech in universities. He cited one in which he was invited to speak at King’s College in London only to be interrupted mid-flow by the hosts who said the Jewish Society had a policy against political debate around Israeli state issues.
While the majority of British Jewish students choose to stay silent or avoid action altogether, Boteach says that some are ‘courageous advocates for Israel’ always showing up at his speeches or debates. In an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post, Boteach makes the case that in the four days he spent being interviewed by UK journalists, he sensed hostility toward him.
Breitbart reports that anti-Israel action in the UK is on the rise. Citing Community Security Trust data, Breitbart argues that in the first six months of 2015, 473 anti-Semitic incidents have been recorded — twice as much in the same period a year ago.