Anti-Zionist Expression on the UK Campus: Free Speech or Hate Speech?

By Klaff, Lesley | Jewish Political Studies Review, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Anti-Zionist Expression on the UK Campus: Free Speech or Hate Speech?


Klaff, Lesley, Jewish Political Studies Review


The last few years have witnessed an explosion of anti-Zionist rhetoric on university campuses across the United Kingdom. Encouraged by the University and College Union's annual calls for discriminatory measures against Israeli institutions and academics, the rhetoric has become even more strident since Operation Cast Lead. A recent boycott-divestment-sanctions campus tour explicitly invoked anti-Semitic tropes. The consequently hostile environment for Jewish students has jeopardized their educational opportunities. The justification for tolerating anti-Zionist expression on campus is always ''academic freedom" and the response of the universities has been one of inaction. This justification is without merit. University codes of conduct and UK law recognize that an important university goal is the promotion of equality of opportunity for minority students and their protection from discrimination, including harassment. Given the growing consensus that anti-Zionism is in fact anti-Semitism in a new guise, this goal is flouted with respect to Jewish students every time that anti-Zionist expression takes place on a university campus.

There has been a proliferation of anti-Zionist expression1 on UK university campuses since 2002 when, on 6 April, 1 25 British academics published an open letter in The Guardian calling for an EU moratorium on funding for grants and research contracts for Israeli universities in order "to condemn [Israel's] policy of violent repression against the Palestinian people in the occupied territories."2 This letter marked the official start of the British "academic boycott of Israel" and acted as a catalyst for the use of the British university campus as a platform for the expression of anti -Zionist views.

Since then, on-campus anti-Zionist expression has been led by the academic unions - the University and College Union (UCU) and its predecessor unions, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) and the Association of University Teachers (AUT) - and by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP). It has predominantly taken the form of calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. A recent example was the combined UCU-BRICUP organized campus tour entitled "Israel, the Palestinians and Apartheid: The Case for Sanctions and Boycott," which took place at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and the Universities of Leeds, Manchester, and Glasgow in December 2009.3

In addition to the calls for BDS on university campuses, there has been an extensive use of anti-Zionist iconography, such as the erection of "apartheid" walls during numerous Israel Apartheid Weeks; organized anti-Zionist protest, such as thirty "Free Gaza" Student Occupations during Operation Cast Lead; and several courses at which representatives of political Islam have been invited to speak. For example, in 2008, Hizballah representative Ibrahim Mousawi conducted extensive campus tours at the invitation of the UCU; in March 2009, Kamal Helbawy of the Muslim Brotherhood gave a series of seminars at the invitation of SOAS; and on 9 February 2010, invited by the student Islamic Society, Hamas supporter Dr. Azzam Tamimi told an audience at SOAS that "if fighting for your homeland is terrorism, I take pride in being a terrorist," and "Israel does not belong to my homeland and must come to an end."4

The use of the university campus as a forum for the expression of anti-Zionist views is by no means unique to the United Kingdom. The United States and Canada have had similar experiences on their campuses. Just two recent examples are an anti-Zionist conference at Toronto's York University on 29 June 2009, and an anti-Semitic, antiZionist speech by Amir Abdel Malik Ali at the University of California, Irvine, on 13 May 2010 during which he referred to the Jewish students present as the "new Nazis."5 Within Europe, anti-Zionist expression has been found in both German6 and Norwegian academia; in the autumn of 2009 the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) hosted a series of anti -Israeli seminars and proposed an official boycott of Israeli academia. …

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