The decision by the British Association of University Teachers to boycott two Israeli universities did not come as any great shock to me. In the 11 years I served as rabbi at Oxford University, and running an organization that also included a large branch at Cambridge, witnessing hatred of Israel at British universities was par for the course. I participated in many Oxford Union debates on Israel in front of hundreds of students. When our side’s turn came to speak, we were booed and hissed to the point where our words could often not even be heard.
It was for that reason that I decided that one of the goals I would most focus in running the Oxford and Cambridge L’Chaim Societies would be defending and promoting Israel’s image. I invited and hosted Benjamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon and Yitzchak Shamir to lecture at Oxford, and it was no surprise that each brought forth massive demonstrations against them. After all, they were perceived as hardliners. But then we hosted Shimon Peres and the students – I kid you not – tried to have him arrested by the British police for war crimes. Needless to say it was then clear to me that even Israeli doves were hated by huge numbers of British students who were brainwashed into believing that Israel was a Nazi state.
To many American readers, it probably seems incredible that the only country – with the notable exception of America-occupied Iraq – where Arabs vote, namely Israel, would be the target of a British academic boycott. No doubt American readers, who are used to some semblance of equity and justice, are disgusted to read that Israel – a fully-functioning democracy that has taken the unprecedented step of (some would say stupidly) compromising it’s own security in an effort to accommodate its Palestinian enemies – would be boycotted by the British while Arab governments like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria, which persecute and murder their people, treat women like garbage, and stone gays, are given the red-carpet treatment by Britain.
When I was rabbi at Oxford, there were Saudi and Jordanian royalty who were welcomed into the university as students with open arms, even though many of these students were members of families that had for decades denied their people the right to any form of political representation, freedom of conscience, or freedom of the press.
So why is Israel singled out for hatred and boycotts by the British, while brutal and oppressive Arab governments face no similar opposition? Simple. Israel is filled with Jews, the Arab countries are not. And now wholesale anti-Semitism has broken out in Britain over the last few years, the likes of which even I never witnessed in the 11 years that I lived there. From the mayor of London, who called a Jewish reporter he didn’t like a Nazi concentration camp guard, to the explosion of violent attacks on Jewish citizens and institutions, to this boycott outrage against Israeli universities, the latent anti-Semitism that has always existed in Britain is beginning to surface.
Britain’s attacks on Israel have nothing to do with a specific anti-Israel focus and have everything to do with good old-fashioned anti-Semitism. The country that was once the most enlightened in the world and gave civilization the idea of parliamentary democracy is now witnessing the steady rise of contemptible Jew-hatred.
The Jewish community in Britain is very different than its American counterpart. It believes in being low-profile, not making waves, and always trying to reason with its opponents. There is no British equivalent of AIPAC, for example, a body that exists solely to lobby the American government on behalf of Israel. Several such organizations have attempted, and failed, to garner mainstream British Jewish support, because British Jewry believes that this kind of overt pressure is counterproductive, and may even foster anti-Semitism. For this reason, British Jews usually shy away from calling developments like this new academic boycott anti-Semitism. But this is hardly a time for diplomatic niceties.
But if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck. When British academics talk like anti-Semites and demonstrate a visceral hatred for a law-abiding and virtuous democracy that happens to be a Jewish state – while showing an affection or an indifference to brutal Arab regimes – then it’s a fair guess they’re anti-Semites. Israel is the Jewish homeland, and unfounded hatred of Israel is motivated mostly by hatred of Jews.
Not that the British hate Jews per say. They just hate proud Jews. Jews who stand up for themselves. Jews who believe in their own right to nationalism and self-defense. It’s Jewish autonomy that drives them crazy and, hence, Israel is their foremost target. They’re used to obsequious Jews, and indeed, tons of them, sadly, exist in Britain. Jews who believe that Judaism should be practiced quietly. Jews who believe they are guests in someone else’s country, even though such sentiments contradict the very principles of democracy which states that no person is less a citizen than another.
Anti-Semitism in Britain must be combated forcefully. The old way of doing it quietly has failed. Jewish students should get together and organize massive protests against the British Association of University Teachers and call their boycott what it is: out and out Jew-hatred. The ringleaders of the boycott should be named as anti-Semites. Saying that they’re merely ignorant of the real facts in the Middle East, which is what we’re already hearing Jewish leaders in Britain proclaiming, is preposterous. Academics are not a rabble. They are not ignorant. They’re very profession is to know. They have come out against Israel not because they don’t have the facts, but because they have malice.
It is time for the world Jewish community – especially in Europe – to pursue a policy of zero tolerance for anti-Semitism and every other form of racial prejudice. Thousands of years of Jew-hated is enough. This can’t continue indefinitely. Let us stand up to it, forcefully and effectively. We should learn from our brothers and sisters in the African-American community who will not tolerate an iota of racism. Just imagine what would happen to a group of British academics who decided to boycott Morehouse or Spellman College? They would rightly be called racist bigots. Hatred of Jews should earn no less a condemnation.