Universities: Anti-Semitism

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:49 pm on 12th June 2007.

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Photo of Baroness Cox Baroness Cox Crossbench 7:49 pm, 12th June 2007

My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend on this important debate. I, too, shall focus on the proposed academic boycott by UCU, which is deeply disturbing, regardless of whether it is eventually upheld. Any form of censorship in institutions of higher education is inherently antithetical to the fundamental principle of free of speech. The academy must be the heartland of this freedom, where all ideas and the freedom to express them must be allowed, except those which violate the law. Unpopular ideas should be challenged and fallacies exposed, not silenced.

It is ironic that the proposed boycott of Israeli universities and academics would silence many who are critical of their own Government, often on grounds similar to those which prompted the proposed boycott. The double standards of the boycott are remarkable; that Israel allows criticism and demonstrates its commitment to democracy, while many neighbouring countries, which deny free and open discussion, and allow the use of hate-filled and manifestly anti-Semitic propaganda even by small children in school, are not subject to any proposed boycott by UCU.

As my noble friend reminded us, the Education Reform Act 1988 enshrines the fundamental legal requirement for academic institutions to protect freedom of speech. Under the law the police have an obligation to assist the authorities in the protection of this freedom. Will Her Majesty's Government take all necessary steps to ensure that the academies and the police are fully aware of these obligations and fulfil them regarding this proposed boycott of Israel and on any other issues which might generate the appalling threat of censorship and denial of academic freedom in our land?