Universities: Anti-Semitism

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:59 pm on 12th June 2007.

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Photo of Lord Mitchell Lord Mitchell Labour 7:59 pm, 12th June 2007

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of Weizmann UK. The Weizmann Institute of Science is located in Israel and is concerned with the development of basic science. It is one of the foremost institutes of its type in the world. I was there last week. The topic of the proposed UCU boycott was hot news, as noble Lords would expect.

The institute is nationally blind. Scientists come there from all over the world; some are Muslim, including Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. All that matters is the science. One professor said to me:

"Don't they realise that the nucleus of the Peace Now movement is located on campuses just like this? Do not they see we are fighting first-hand the same cause as they are and that they claim to espouse from the comforts of their armchairs? I am the one who battles with the authorities to get my Palestinian students here. I deal with the roadblocks and the identity checks. What do they do?".

The proposed boycott is bad for science. It counters the very concept of science, which is about absolute truth and academic freedom. The boycott is also bad for the Palestinians and their desire for nationhood. All that it does is alienate their friends and supporters in Israel and give comfort to their enemies. They have chosen the wrong target.

The proposed boycott is bad for Britain. Boycotts beget boycotts. Two can play at that game, perhaps even three. Israeli academics can equally boycott the UK. If that were to happen—heaven forbid—academics in both countries would be the losers. I now hear rumblings that, if British universities boycott Israeli universities, American universities will boycott ours. Is that what the UCU wants? More to the point, is it what our universities want?