The reality is that much anti-Israel activity is either illegal or based on misuse of the law and can be challenged by invoking the law properly.
This is the mission of UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) and in the short time it has been in existence, UKLFI has achieved significant successes in its efforts to combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) and is trying to make similar progress most recently in addressing Israeli Apartheid Week.
UKLFI has successfully challenged the implementation of BDS motions at more than 12 British universities and has also obtained the removal of plaques defaming Israel at a number of others.
Most recently, as part of Israeli Apartheid Week, the student union of the University of Central Lancashire organised an event that included a campaign to divest from Israel. This was quickly and successfully challenged and the event was promptly cancelled. The university understood the legal position and acted on it correctly.
It is entirely true that universities have a duty to secure free speech, provided it is lawful, but they are also bound by the public sector equality duty, or PSED, under which they have a legal obligation to have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation and to foster good relations between students of different nationalities, ethnic groups or religious beliefs. These requirements apply to Israeli students as a nationality and also to Jewish students.
The UK Government recently endorsed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which includes the contemporary examples of denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour and applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
The term “Israeli Apartheid Week”, particularly when accompanied by the
main caption for the event “100 years of settler colonialism”, asserts that Israel is in itself an inherently racist endeavour from its inception and is therefore an example of modern anti-Semitism within the IHRA definition.
Universities are therefore in breach of their PSED if they permit events advertised under this banner, especially if, as we have seen with the most recently-held events, they include speakers who have themselves made anti-Semitic statements or supported anti-Semitic organisations.
As a community, we have to come together and continue to insist that universities accept to be bound by their legal obligations and provide a genuinely safe environment for their Jewish and Israeli students.
The situation in the Middle East should certainly be debated in our universities, but objectively and accurately so as genuinely to further the education of our future leaders of society.