A US rabbi has accused British academia of betraying the nation’s traditions of free speech by encouraging “no platform” policies for speakers who voice support for Israel.
Shmuley Boteach, one of America’s most high-profile Jewish figures, said the UK is known as a country where most of the population is opposed to Israel. Rabbi Boteach, who served as rabbi at Oxford University for 11 years, said hostility to Israel in the UK had got “much worse”.
“British academics are arguably the most virulently anti-Israel group in Europe today. It’s quite widespread throughout British academia. They come out constantly with these boycotts,” he said, asking why the same academics did not support economic blockades of China over its human rights violations.
The rabbi said a “no platform” policy in campuses was damaging Britain’s heritage of open debate and preventing the Middle East being properly discussed.
He cited the disruption of a 2012 Edinburgh University talk by Daniel Taub, Israeli ambassador, and the 2010 visit to the Oxford Union of Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who was interrupted by shouts of “Slaughter the Jews” in Arabic.
“One of the problems that pro-Israel speakers face, on UK campuses in particular, is they are jeered and shouted down by Israel opponents who don’t even have to [debate],” said Rabbi Boteach, 49.
“Britain has distinguished itself for rigorous and robust parliamentary debates. This betrays that tradition. Britain has things like Speakers’ Corner that they don’t have in other countries.”
The Orthodox rabbi addressed the Oxford Union this week on gay marriage. Rabbi Boteach, who has nine children, believes faith and marriage should not be connected, backing “civil unions for all and marriage for none”. His brother is a gay Orthodox Jew who he describes as “a far better human than me”.
He said the Jewish community in Britain, of 250,000, was outnumbered by Muslims and felt reluctant to support Israel. “You have a very vocal pro-Palestinian cause in the UK on campuses and on the streets of London with massive demonstrations,” he said.