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The pro-Israel lobby is colonising British academia with one smear campaign after another

A protestor holds an Israeli flag during a Pro-Israel demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy on May 23, 2021 in London, England [Hollie Adams/Getty Images]
A protestor holds an Israeli flag during a pro-Israel demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy on May 23, 2021 in London, England [Hollie Adams/Getty Images]

Pro-Israel groups and lawmakers are orchestrating a politically motivated smear campaign against the recently elected President of the National Union of Students (NUS), Shaima Dallali. As part of this campaign, aggressive Zionist groups, including the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), published an open letter expressing concern about a social media post that the 26 year old wrote more than ten years ago. It has been seen as a desperate attempt to prevent Dallali from remaining in office.

The post in question made reference to a battle that took place in the early 7th century between Muslims and the Jewish inhabitants of Khaybar, an oasis in the Arabian Peninsula. It suggested that the "army of Muhammad" will return to Gaza.

Such a campaign against anyone remotely pro-Palestinian is nothing new. Dallali is simply the latest victim in a decades-long effort by the Israeli state to harass, smear and threaten pro-Palestinian academics and officials. Similar tactics, for example, were used to unseat the first black Muslim female NUS President, Malia Bouattia, a long-time vocal supporter of Palestinian rights.

The UJS covers 64 Jewish societies at British universities. The union was exposed by Al Jazeera's 'Investigative Unit' for not only receiving money from the Israeli Embassy in London, but also attempting to influence the NUS presidency election to remove Bouattia for her solidarity with the Palestinians and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Image of NUS President Malia Bouattia [Friends of Al Aqsa/Facebook]

Malia Mazia Bouattia is the former president of the National Union of Students of the UK [Friends of Al Aqsa/Facebook]

The union is currently spearheading the moves to expel Dallali. It describes itself as a "proud" Zionist organisation, and its constitution commits members of the UJS to "making an enduring commitment" to Israel. It was the UJS which vilified Bouattia when she described the University of Birmingham as "something of a Zionist outpost" and on another occasion referred to "mainstream Zionist-led media outlets." According to the UJS, such statements were "anti-Semitic". Not every Jew is a Zionist, of course, and not every Zionist is a Jew.

Bouattia explained that she simply meant that Birmingham's Student Union had the biggest and most vocal pro-Israel Jewish society, and that there is a strong pro-Israel bias in mainstream media. In an article in the Guardian, she said that she has "always been a strong campaigner against racism and fascism in all its forms." She also wrote that "to take issue" with Zionist politics did not mean "taking issue with being Jewish."

READ: Without Zionist Arabs, Israel would not exist

In its investigative film 'The Lobby', Al Jazeera brought to light how AIPAC, the largest pro-Israel lobby group in the US, channels money to British campuses through the Pinsker Centre, a pro-Israel group focused on campus advocacy.

David Miller, a former professor of political sociology at the University of Bristol, was fired as a result of pressure from the pro-Israel lobby because of his criticism of Israel. He told Politics Today that such persecution by "the local affiliates of the Union of Jewish Students" is "an attack on academic freedom… It's a strategy which the Government of Israel has been developing for some years, in particular, through the Global Forum for Countering Antisemitism [sic] where they want to target the left, and they want to target Muslims."

Despite being cleared of anti-Jewish bigotry by two independent investigations commissioned by Bristol University, Miller has not been reinstated. "After careful deliberation," said the university, "a disciplinary hearing found that Professor Miller did not meet the standards of behaviour we expect from our staff, and the university has concluded that Professor Miller's employment should be terminated with immediate effect."

READ: This Palestinian refugee witnessed the Nakba, and would go home tomorrow if he could

Such attacks on academic freedom are not limited to Europe and the US. In March, the Israeli Ministry of Defence published a new "Procedure for entry and residence of foreigners in the Judea and Samaria [sic] region" which covers foreigners who plan to live in the occupied West Bank.

The new regulations, claim Palestinian legal experts, academics and digital rights groups, will complicate entry for academics wanting to study or work at any university in the occupied West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem. They will be subject to quotas and other restrictions on academic work.

The policy will come into effect this month as a pilot for the next two years. According to Al Jazeera, it determines that a quota of just 150 foreign students a year will be permitted to study at Palestinian academic institutions. It allows Israel's Ministry of Defence to limit the fields of study at Palestinian universities that are open to foreign students. The same restrictions do not apply to those applying to study at Israeli academic institutions.

However, in order to impose state control over research and teaching, Israel monitors protests and free expression in Israeli academic institutions. It has threatened to close left-wing departments and courses in Israeli universities, including Ben-Gurion University.

Moreover, Israel has been using surveillance and control over educational institutions in occupied Palestine ever since its occupation began. It raids and closes Palestinian universities and schools regularly; bans international conferences; and disrupts lessons by firing live bullets and tear gas into classrooms.

Like their counterparts in Palestine and Israel, students and academics in Britain who are affiliated with pro-Palestine groups, such as the BDS movement, have been victims of witch hunts that have intensified in recent years. Accusations of anti-Semitism by pro-Israel lobbyists are clearly racist attempts to harass and intimidate activists and academics, especially those excelling in their fields or in influential roles, such as Shaima Dallali.

READ: Citing Israeli apartheid, Melbourne University Students' Union endorses BDS

Given the size and sophistication of the pro-Israel lobby, and its considerable degree of influence, an international anti-racist campaign must be put together in support of Dallali rather than the investigation that has been launched by the NUS.

"There can be no place for anti-Semitism within the student movement," the NUS told me. "We are listening to the concerns being raised and we're very concerned about the pain and hurt being expressed. We will take any and all actions that are needed to remedy any wrongdoing and rebuild trust with Jewish students as well as our members, partners and stakeholders."

At the core of this is the adoption of the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance "working definition" of anti-Semitism, which provides examples which equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

We can expect further harassment and allegations of anti-Semitism to be made against those in academia who express solidarity with Palestine. Shamefully, Britain is allowing pro-Israel organisations to colonise the academic sector, much like it has enabled the Zionists in Palestine.

At the time of writing, the UJS had failed to respond to MEMO's requests for a comment.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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