My Lords, having only recently retired after nine years of chairing the board of governors of the Ben-Gurion University of Beer Sheva, I can bear witness to the friendly and effective co-operation between Israeli, Arab and, particularly, Bedouin students. Nowhere is political debate more open, and self-criticism, often in the form of revisionist history, more lively than in Israel's universities.
Therefore, the argument that the boycott of Israel's academic community is not an anti-Semitic gesture but only a vote of censure against the policies of the state of Israel is difficult to sustain. Why do those who are demonising and de-legitimising Israel fail to address similar protests to the embassies of Syria, Saudi Arabia or those of the many patently anti-democratic regimes in Africa? The shrill, at times unmistakeably hysterical, tones of these anti-Israel protests betoken prejudice and irrationality; indeed, they are the stuff that racist propaganda is made of. Some of the literature that I see only too often is not many steps away from the spirit of the burning of the books at German universities of the 1930s.
In the New York Herald Tribune earlier this week, the distinguished columnist Thomas Friedman, reporting on a visit to the campus of the Ben-Gurion University, describes with generous, almost wondrous, admiration the young scientists and computer engineers working on a vast variety of new models of life enhancement. Second only to the Silicon Valley, Israel's innovators in the field of high tech are truly torch bearers of progress. Rather than stunt those people's progress, those clamouring for action should urge their Palestinian friends in the West Bank and Gaza to end the fratricidal strife, and to sit down at the conference table and at last talk peace. Were this to be the case, I assure your Lordships that that call would not be unreciprocated.