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Israel asks British government to pressure universities to fight BDS

January 30, 2014 at 3:45 am

Israel has asked the British government to “lean on universities to prevent their participation in academic boycotts of the country”, according to a report in The Times.

In a meeting this week with the UK’s Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, Israeli Science Minister Yaakov Peri slammed the academic boycott campaign, and urged Willetts to “to try and put some more influence on the vice-chancellors to see who are the speakers, who are the leaders for the movement”. An Israeli media report of Peri’s meeting with Willetts quotes the Israeli minister as asking the British government to “eliminate” the effects of the BDS campaign on UK campuses.

Peri also expressed concern, says The Times, “about invited speakers to certain universities expressing anti-Semitic views”, and said that “he had instructed the Israeli Ambassador in London to inform Mr Willetts if such an event was about to take place”.

According to the Israeli media, Willetts responded to Peri’s concerns by outlining the ways in which the British government is seeking to “curb these [BDS] activities”, and also by referencing recently published Universities UK guidelines on guest speakers. Those guidelines, said Israel Hayom this week, are supposedly “raising hopes in Israel that it will prevent outbursts against Israeli speakers at British institutions”.

With appearances by Israeli diplomats routinely attracting protests, Israel may look to the section of the Universities UK guidelines that suggests for events falling under the Public Meeting Act 1908, those disrupting proceedings would be committing an offence.

These latest developments come soon after the discovery that the Israeli Embassy in London employs two people “whose full-time brief is to monitor and counter BDS attempts”. Last year, pro-Israel campaigner Ronnie Fraser lost a high-profile legal case against the University and College Union (UCU), an anti-boycott initiative linked to the Israeli government.

Meanwhile, on UK campuses, student-led campaigns targeting complicity in Israeli apartheid continue to make headway, with a BDS motion passed at the University of the West of England recently, and G4S losing out on two contracts following concerted efforts by activists.