In an editorial “Bring him back”, published in the Jewish Chronicle on the 28th January 2016, there was much praise for the statement by King’s College London principal Professor Ed Byrne, in which he expressed his opposition to “any form of disruptive action” and emphasised that “open and uncensored debate can and must take place without fear of intimidation”. This was prompted by the reactions to one of the most recent of the incidents of intimidation and harassment which, for several years now, have routinely been directed against openly pro-Israeli students on several university campuses in Britain. On the 19th January there had been systematic attempts to disrupt a presentation by Ami Ayalon, accompanied by vandalism and a number of assaults or attempted assaults — as widely reported in the national U.K. media. Windows had been smashed, chairs thrown, alarms let off and individuals abused and threatened.
In Britain, as in many other countries, the aggressive intolerance of anti-Zionist propagandists and agitators who target Jewish students who exercise their rights to invite an Israeli speaker to give a talk continues to enjoy more and more widespread support within certain academic circles – especially those influenced by the doctrines of post-modernism and cultural relativism – as well as among politically active students on the left. Very many student unions on a local level, as at the national level, having long been dominated by extreme left-wing activists ideologically disposed to reject Israel’s legitimacy, now endorse the BDS movement.
It was not surprising that the above editorial called for those responsible to be properly punished and the speaker to be re-invited. What is somewhat surprising, however, is that, since then, there has not been any proper follow-up in the Jewish Chronicle – given that a rival publication, the London Jewish News, a free weekly, published a brief report on the 21st March. This quoted a subsequent general and rather unsatisfactorily vague statement about the sanctions meted out: “I can confirm that sanctions have been imposed by the disciplinary committee as a result of the misconduct hearing. These sanctions are a serious matter for all concerned but are confidential to the university and individuals involved. We are therefore unable to provide more specific details, as we cannot comment on individual cases.” Unsatisfactorily vague, because the sanctions can range from a warning (which would effectively be a slap on the wrist, in matters of this gravity) to suspension or expulsion.
It is standard practice at many universities to wait before embarking upon disciplinary action following incidents where acts have been committed which could lead to criminal prosecution, until it is known whether the Director of Public Prosecutions has made a decision to proceed or not to proceed with further action. It is also standard practice not to put in the public domain the names of individuals who are the object of internal disciplinary sanctions – and this can certainly be justified, especially in cases where criminal offenses have been committed and the DPP has, rightly or wrongly, determined that further action is not in the public interest and/or there is insufficient evidence to proceed. Since, however, universities are public bodies and as such have an obligation to be transparent and accountable, there is no justification, in the above case as in others, for not divulging the exact nature of the sanctions imposed and the number of the students were to be punished.
It seems to be the case that most of people involved in the King’s College incident of the 19th January were either not students at all or students of other colleges of London University like the London School of Economics or the School of Oriental and African Studies (as a source within the UK Lawyers for Israel informed me). This fact makes it even more important that there should be detailed follow-up articles, given the considerable coverage the incident received in the non-Jewish media. This coverage provided a significant opportunity for those wanting to campaign for those in charge of British universities to commit themselves always to take seriously the harassment and intimidation of Jewish students and to adopt a consistent policy of punishing the perpetrators of such actions with the proper severity.
Why has the Jewish Chronicle not taken a prominent role in such a campaign? Professor Geoffrey Alderman is a regular columnist for the Jewish Chronicle who has written, sometimes with great insight, on a wide variety of subjects, including academic matters. This respected historian – especially of the Jewish community in England in the 19th and 20th centuries – is also a senior academic who has occupied several highly important positions of responsibility. Why has he not written about the questions raised by the King’s College incident, including the unwarranted and excessive application of the principle of confidentiality?
Update: The 27th May paper issue of the London Jewish News has a fairly long report (posted online on the 24th May) mentioning the action taken by the authorities of the School of Oriental and African Studies against those of their students guilty of acts of intimidation during the incident at King’s College. This London university institution has long had a history of widespread anti-Israelism, with many of its Jewish students feeling afraid to express pro-Israel views or to defend Israel – not only within the student body, but also among its academics, a significant proportion of these voting to support the BDS movement on the 27th February 2015.
Yet again there is a statement issued by the SOAS authorities emphasising confidentiality for all aspects of the affair. This concerns not only the identity of individuals – which can be justified – but also the nature of the punishment imposed, which cannot: “sanctions have been imposed by the disciplinary committee as a result of the misconduct hearing. These sanctions are a serious matter for all concerned but are confidential to the university and individuals involved. We are therefore unable to provide more specific details, as we cannot comment on individual cases”.
Considering how serious incidents of anti-Israel mob violence can be and how they continue to increase — the recent one directed on the 18th May against Jewish students at the university of Irvine, California being a case in point — this is by no means good enough.