LONDON – A motion supporting an academic boycott of Israel was defeated at the
London School of Economics (LSE) on Thursday night.
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In a joint event
hosted by LSE’s Israel and Palestine student union societies, the motion “This
house believes in an academic boycott of Israel” was rejected by around 60
percent of students in a vote.
Supporting the motion was Dr. John
Chalcraft, a reader in history and politics of empire in LSE’s department of
A vocal supporter of sanctions against Israel and of a
blanket boycott of the Jewish state, Chalcraft describes Israel as a “heavily
militarized, nuclear-armed, expansionist apartheid state with extensive illegal
settlement, land seizure and wall-building activity.”
In his speech,
Chalcraft said that an academic boycott was “pivotal” in bringing down apartheid
South Africa, and talked about how the Israeli government funds military
research at Israeli universities, which helps the army oppress the
“The argument is that Israeli universities have engaged
ideologically and materially in complicity with one of the longest occupations
in the 20th and 21st century. We seek that those universities would play a more
pro-active role in civil society in opposing what the Israeli government does,”
Chalcraft said that a boycott call was not aimed at individuals
and that he wanted to rebut those who say that boycotters are a “hardcore group
of anti- Semites.”
The boycotters, he said, are part of “an exciting and
talkative and open movement which has rapidly spread from Palestine to the UK,
France, South Africa, Canada, US and other parts of Europe and even Israel
itself, enlisting thousands of academic supporters committed to social and
economic justice and believing in the possibilities of non-violent transnational
solidarity against occupation and racism when other tactics have failed
miserably; and modeling itself on the highly successful BDS movement that helped
bring down apartheid South Africa.”
“Incredible to think that he is
entrusted with the teaching of young people,” Jonathan Hoffman, deputy chair of
the Zionist Federation of the UK, said in his blog, also claiming that Chalcraft
is a Hizbullah supporter.
Speaking against the motion was Prof. Daniel
Hochauser, Kathleen Ferrier reader of medical oncology at University College
London, who said an academic boycott of Israel was “completely pernicious,
immoral and destructive.
“The boycott demonizes, ostracizes, it
antagonizes, polarizes, it increases hatred and reduces understanding. In the
future there will be understanding, and it will not be because of the boycott
campaign, it will be in spite of it; and I call on everyone to reject the
terrible idea of boycott,” he said to huge applause.
“I work as a medical
oncologist, and the area in which I am involved is involved in the treatments of
patients with cancer via chemotherapy in combination with antibodies that target
specific cancer cells, [an area] which benefits many of our patients in the UK
“The reason we are carrying out these therapies is because
of pioneering work carried out at the Weizmann Institute some 15-20 years ago.
So I personally know that a cessation of links and grants with Israel would have
an immediate and direct effect.
“This is not some abstract or obtuse
issue. We are talking about direct disadvantage in a whole range of conditions,”
He questioned how Chalcraft could sit on the board of the
newly created Middle East Center at LSE while supporting a boycott of
Citing the center’s mission statement – which “works to develop
research and teaching on the societies, economies, polities, and international
relations of the region, which includes Arab states, Iran, Israel, Turkey,
Afghanistan and Pakistan” – Hochauser said: “I find it incredible that he exists
on the board of an organization which wants to strengthen links between LSE and
Middle East universities, and yet he calls for a boycott of Israeli
He added: “It is very difficult to see how the center could
have even the minimal amount of academic credibility.”
also that boycott calls against Israel were hypocritical, as there were no such
calls to boycott British or American academia on account of the invasion of Iraq
and Afghanistan, and no calls to boycott Turkey because of its treatment of the
Kurds, or China because of Tibet.
“Why is Israel singled out?” he asked.
"Prof. Hochauser successfully opposed the motion in an objective and factual manner," Gabi Kobrin, president of LSE's Israel Society said. "When looking at the credentials of his opponent, a Cambridge graduate with a doctorate in the modern history of the Middle East, it seemed like it would be a difficult task. Yet, Dr Chalcraft's arguments were both flawed and insubstantial."
Kobrin said that in his argument, Hochauser constantly stressed the need for building bridges and dialogue emphasizing the need for positive measures to achieve peace.
“I hope this event showed the importance for Zionist and Jewish students on campus not to shy away from challenges that Israel faces, but rather to tackle them with honesty and confidence. The debate was not only a success because the motion was defeated, but because it proved that when working together, the Israel and Palestine Societies, can achieve constructive dialogue, even when dealing with sensitive issues,” Kobrin added.
“We are extremely pleased by the collaboration of the Israeli Society in this event; we believe it reflects a shift on UK campuses from support for the illegal Israeli occupation to an acknowledgment of its impediment to lasting peace in the region,” said Zac Sammour, president of the LSE Palestine Society.
“A victory for common sense and plurality,” said Raheem Kassam, director of Student Rights, an organization which fights extremism on campus about the defeat of the motion. “We’ve seen tonight how working together yields much more. No longer can the boycott campaign claim mass support for its divisive and detrimental campaign.”
After the debate, an incident occurred in which the vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews claimed that an LSE academic threatened to “slap” him.
According to sources, Dr. Martha Mundy, a reader in anthropology at LSE, allegedly told Jonathan Arkush: “I want to give you a slap in the face,” and accused him of defamation after he was heard praising the chair of the debate for being fair.
Mundy is a co-convenor of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), which supports a boycott of Israel. Last month, she chaired a student event with Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the Arab newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi, who said that he would dance in Trafalgar Square if Iran bombed Israel.
Following complaints of anti- Semitism, police are investigating the event, in which Atwan implied the existence of a “Jewish lobby” and supported the efforts of Hamas and Hizbullah.
Speaking to the Jewish Chronicle
after the incident, Arkush said: “It was enlightening to be the object of a vitriolic attack from a person who holds an academic position at LSE.
“I can now understand better the atmosphere in which Jewish students have to suffer on campus. How she believes that screaming and threatening violence will help her cause is beyond me,” Arkush told the community weekly.
“It’s sad when the students are able to have a serious and rational debate, only to end with people like Dr. Mundy threatening people because she disagrees with their views on the chairmanship of the event,” Kassam said.
Mundy declined to comment, despite being given the right of reply to the accusation.