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Written by Student Rights on 17 January 2011 at 11am

Jerusalem Post: Students at LSE shoot down academic boycott motion

Over half of students at joint event hosted by Israel and Palestine student union societies reject boycott.

LONDON – A motion supporting an academic boycott of Israel was defeated at the London School of Economics (LSE) on Thursday night. 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 government. 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 Palestinians. “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,” he added. 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 and worldwide.

“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,” Hochauser said.

He questioned how Chalcraft could sit on the board of the newly created Middle East Center at LSE while supporting a boycott of Israel. 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 academia.”

He added: “It is very difficult to see how the center could have even the minimal amount of academic credibility.” Hochauser said 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.