Monday, 18 July 2016

Anglo-Jewry adopts IHRA definition of antisemitsim
While we were all busy last week worrying about Brexit and our new Prime Minister, it seems that Anglo Jewry has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of contemporary antisemitismChief Rabbi Mirvis told the Parliamentary Home Affairs committee, who are investigating the rise of antisemitism in Britain, that:
‘I would love it if this group referred to the European Union Monitoring Centre definition, linked to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition, as the guideline: This is what we would like everybody to follow. This is how we want authorities to apply the rules for anyone who steps out of line.’

When the Chief Rabbi says ‘we’ is he speaking on behalf of the 300,000 Jews who live in the UK.  He was not acting alone in endorsing this definition because Sir Mick Davis, in his written submission to the Home affairs Committee stated:

‘It is my position, as well as that of the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust, the British Jewish community’s authoritative voice on antisemitsim and community security, that this committee uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism as its guide as well.’

Would the Chief Rabbi, Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust all recommend that the Home affairs Committee use the IHRA definition unless they intended to use it themselves in future? 
If so, they should all be congratulated in making this decision because it now allows us to say to the Universities, politicians and trade unions, this is our community’s definition and if you cross the line, especially when discussing Israel, we will not have a problem calling you an antisemite.  
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) is an intergovernmental body comprising of thirty-one countries, including the United Kingdom. Although the Community Security Trust recommends that we no longer use the European Monitoring Centre (EUMC) working definition of antisemitism as that organisation no longer exists, the IHRA’s definition of antisemitsim is just a refined version of the EUMC definition.

Chief Rabbi Mirvis also explained to the committee why anti-Zionism was antisemitic saying:

'Zionism has been an integral part of Judaism from the dawn of our faith. The very first imperative given to the founders of our faith, Abraham and Sarah, by God, as recorded in the book of Genesis, was to uproot themselves from Mesopotamia and go to live in Canaan. Ever since that time, that part of the world has been the centre of our spiritual universal. We have prayed towards Israel. Open any prayer book and you will find Israel jumping out at you. It is the centre of what we are.

As a result—further to a political development in the latter part of the 19th century through which Zionism gained an added dimension, spelling out the right of the Jewish people to live within secure borders with self-determination in their own country, which they had been absent from for 2,000 years—that is what Zionism is. If you are an anti-Zionist, you are anti everything I have just mentioned. If you want to criticise a Government, that’s fine.'

Anglo Jewry have been reluctant in the past to adopt a definition and only two years ago, the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism reported that:
There is little if any pressure from the established representative bodies in the Jewish community to pursue the adoption of a definition of antisemitism.’
However when you read what the Chief Rabbi Mirvis told the committee  as to why we why need a definition, you wonder why it has taken so long for Anglo-Jewry to adopt one. He said:
‘A definition is so crucial because, if not for a definition, you could have a person who is guilty of antisemitic comments and who goes on to say that in his 47 years of being a member of a party he has never seen any antisemitism. If you don’t have a clear definition, anybody can say anything about what is or is not, which is why it is so important for there to be that clear definition.

There are some groups who will oppose the adoption of a definition. In their submission to the Chakrabarti inquiry into antisemitsim in the Labour party, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) wrote that they consider:

‘Antisemitism hatred of or discrimination against Jewish people on the basis of their religion or identity’,

and that criticism of the Israeli Government’s policies and actions or Zionism is not antisemitic. They also stated that Zionism is a political ideology rather than:

the right to Jewish self-determination in a land that has been at the centre of the Jewish world for more than 3,000 years.’  

The PSC along with other anti-Israel submissions condemned the use of the EUMC definition of antisemitsim saying it denied their right to challenge ‘the racism of the Israeli state’

It is of some comfort to me personally that five years after I lost my legal action against my trade union, the UCU, the community now has an agreed definition of antisemitism to refer to. If there had been a definition in place then, would the outcome have been different?

Ronnie Fraser


Academic Friends of Israel

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Extremism in British Universities: A Kingston Perspective

Professor Julius Weinberg, the Vice-Chancellor of Kingston University, was invited by Kingston Synagogue to address a meeting last week on this topic.  He appeared to be very happy and comfortable to discuss the difficulties facing Muslim students and expressed concern that Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims are likely to cause friction for each other in the months and years to come.  His delivery was light, jokey and at times verging on the slightly dismissive of people with what might be described as ‘radical’ views, calling them 'mad idiots' at times.

To be fair to him Professor Weinberg’s lecture was really focusing on extremism as it related to Muslim students and Prevent, the Government’s strategy for dealing with extremism in educational establishments. His major concern was freedom of speech: the right not to be offended is not paralleled by a right to be offensive; the relevant question, he said concerns the limits of tolerance and he related back to these themes throughout. 

All this was well and good, however, but his audience, which contained several academics who lecture at Kingston University was more concerned with anti -Jewish feeling at his University and he didn’t say how tolerant he expects Jewish staff and students to be.  Asked by many people about anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian sentiment on campus and harassment of Jewish students at Fresher's week he consistently changed the subject to discuss the feelings of Muslim students, many of them, he assured us came from poor backgrounds.  When confronted with a photo of an antisemitic banner held up at Fresher's week last year, he denied all knowledge of it.

His attitude was consistent at least.  He really didn’t see a problem.  His dismissive approach continued.  When asked if a Holocaust denier like David Irving would be welcome to speak at Kingston, his reply was an emphatic ‘certainly’.  His main focus was on freedom of speech.  He made it quite clear that as long as a person stayed within British law they are welcome to express their views at his University.  It was pointed out that David Irving is a convicted Holocaust denier and his response was that since Holocaust denial is not illegal in this country it is just a debating topic and people who find his views offensive should be more concerned with the debate; after all, he said, Kingston University is a place of learning and people need to be free to debate all topics. 

‘Did you know,’ he asked ‘that Kingston University offers a degree in Holocaust studies?’ He was right, we didn’t know and after researching the University’s web site, I still don’t know.  All I could find on their website was a MA in Human Rights offering a module on genocide and crimes against humanity, therefore not Holocaust Studies.  It is possible that the module has been omitted for some reason from the web site or he is being disingenuous about the module.

He was also asked several times as to what he understood to be antisemitism but flatly refused to answer the question, the reason for this we can only wonder at.  It was therefore no surprise that when asked about contemporary antisemitsm and the call for the delegitimisation of the State of Israel he said he had no problem with a debate at Kingston on discussing Israeli's right to exist. Prof Weinberg was asked if he would allow a debate on the delegitimisation of the State of Israel.  He said he has a problem with a State which is based on a religious ideal. He did not mention if the State concerned was Israel, Vatican City, ISIL (Daesh) or the United States of America.

It was not surprising that he made no mention of the fact that last September, Kingston University was named by the Prime Minister along with  King's College London, University of London's Queen Mary and School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) as the leading universities to give a platform to extremists and hate speakers.

So it would seem that he clearly disagrees with Mr Cameron since when asked about  the National Union of Students  “no platform” policy, he said that while people should always be safe, ideas should not be. It is essential to allow speakers with whom one disagrees to have their ideas tested and challenged

The default position at Kingston University is to allow any speaker as long as he or she does not have links with any organisation on the government's banned list  and had previously signed a declaration not to break the law and agreed to take questions. Gender segregation is not allowed and all meetings must be open to all members of the University.

It is clear from the Professor's views that in his eyes freedom of speech trumps hate speech as long as it doesn't break the law. It would appear therefore that he considers those of us who believe that students of all races and ethnic backgrounds have a right to walk around university campuses without fear of being targeted for either their religious or cultural practices, or their views on Israel are wrong since any offence requires, in his view, more tolerance.

It would appear that Jewish students and Faculty members are being expected to tolerate offensive antisemitic rhetoric and for there to be no limits to their tolerance.  Isn’t this reminiscent of Europe in the 1930’s? ‘It’s just talk’. ‘It will come to nothing’, German Jews said ….

Ronnie Fraser


Academic Friends of Israel

Monday, 30 November 2015

Freedom of speech and antisemitism on Campus

Britain's Universities have a long standing commitment to freedom of speech within the law for their students, employees and visiting speakers. But what do we mean by freedom of speech? - Whose freedom? -Does one person's freedom of speech impinge on another person's freedom of expression? 

Last Thursday the House of Lords held a two hour debate on this very topic, freedom of speech in our universities.  The debate was initiated by  Baroness Deech  and the speakers included a number of a number of University professors and a former Secretary of State for Education. Although their discussions took a wide ranging approach to the current problems on campus, several speakers used the opportunity to highlight the problems facing Jewish students on campus and the academic boycott  Israel.

Over the years my freedom of speech has been threatened  several times and as a result I have had to deal with a great deal of criticism and harassment. It was therefore very pleasing to read Lord Leigh's positive comments about the Academic Friends of Israel in the Lord's debate. When talking about the conference at University of Southampton which questioned Israel’s right to exist he said:

..."the Academic Friends of refusing to call for the conference to be cancelled or even for balance to be added to the programme. Instead, they simply chose to exercise their own right to free speech, to publicly criticise the one-sided nature of the programme, and to expose the questionable biographies of some of the speakers." 

Opening the debate Baroness Deech said that:

"Free speech is under attack because of a widespread culture of victimisation and grievance. People are fearful of the consequences if they express unpopular views and so they stay silent. Academic freedom and freedom of speech are the poorer for it. There is a pincer movement between students blocking speech they disapprove of and the operation of the many laws imposed on universities to promote and control speech." 

She continued that although our Universities legally have to provide external speakers a platform:

"Extreme but lawful views should not be repressed but challenged. But extremist speakers are not being challenged because the students themselves are silencing the challengers."

She then had harsh words for the National Union of Students (NUS) which she said:

"have invented a safe space policy, the gist of which is that students should always feel, “comfortable and safe”. Any idea that has the potential to upset students or cause discomfort is seen as a problem. Some beliefs are branded as dangerous and to be repressed. So the protection of safety for some students means that others are labelled as dangerous and hateful. The NUS wants all campus speech to be empowering, non-judgmental and non-threatening. If it is not, it will be shouted down, obstructed or banned."

The main thrust of her argument was that there are many examples of students closing down academic freedom and that lecturers and the University managements are bowing to students’ whims. In particular she noted that:

"some Israeli or Jewish students do not get to enjoy the safe space that the NUS guarantees to others."

While Jewish students are being denied the right of reply we know that University authorities are failing to block or even question the suitability of extremist  speakers. StudentRights logged 132 of these events in 2012, 145 in 2013, and 123 in 2014. The speakers featured have suggested that there is a Western war against Islam; supported individuals convicted of terrorism offences; expressed intolerance of non-believers and minorities; and espoused religious law as a method of socio-political governance – opposing democracy in the process.

What has happened the concept of learning respect for other people’s views, even when one strongly disagrees with what is being said, why is this  principle no longer acceptable on campus?

To quote  David Cameron, our Prime Minister:

“It is absolutely right that in Britain's universities, students and faculty should be able to criticise Israel, just as they can criticise any country … But it is absolutely wrong that in any of our universities there should be an environment where students are scared to express their Judaism or their Zionism freely”.

This is not a new problem as back in 2008  the then Chief Rabbi,  Lord  Jonathan Sacks urged University Vice-Chancellors:

“to take greater action to defend Jewish students who are made to feel like pariahs on campuses around the UK.”  
Rather than things getting better things are worse as Britain's University campuses have become a breeding ground for contemporary antisemitism as some student societies who identify strongly with the Palestinian cause, express their opposition to Israel by using anti-Israel rhetoric which often invokes and perpetuates antisemitic tropes. Although they may not intend to be antisemitic, the effect of their rhetoric is often to harass those students who support Israel, many of whom happen to be Jewish and closes down debate.

The trend over the last 12 months has been for some anti-Israel speakers to make outrageous and unsubstantiated claims about Israel and Jews, some which cross the line into antisemitism yet when Israeli activists complain they are accused of attempting to shut down  discussion of Israel. Academic freedom on these terms is a one way street; it's okay for me to criticise Israel but it's not acceptable for you to defend the state. 

When the issue of antisemitism is raised, boycotters and anti-Zionists are inclined to respond  by accusing the person who raises the issue of antisemitism of doing so in bad faith, not because they are really concerned, but in a dishonest attempt to frighten people and stop them from criticising of Israel. This is known as the Livingstone Formulation.

One of the criticisms of the academic conferences at Exeter and  Southampton was that there was a lack of balance amongst the speakers. Although two pro-Israel activists were parachuted into Exeter, Universities do not have a legal obligation to provide balance at an academic conference. Although the authorities at Southampton were assured by the organisers  that it was going to be quality academic and balanced conference it turned out to be nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to give academic approval to the Palestinian narrative that the Jewish people have never had a connection with the land of Israel. That tenured academics could seriously suggest that the anti-Israel fest that was proposed had the credentials to be considered as a serious academic conference is a misuse of academic freedom.

Our Universities have a legal duty to take all reasonable steps to prevent campus rhetoric and freedom of speech not to be polluted by antisemitism. One of the problems  facing both Jewish students and University authorities is understanding when freedom of speech crosses the line into antisemitism? When does criticism of Israel cross the line into antisemitism

We all know when the line into antisemitism is crossed. The Community Security Trust, pro-Israel activists and the Jewish community all know but cannot agree on a definition. Ten years after its inception the EUMC working definition antisemitism may be the best that is available but unfortunately is not the answer.

Why is it so hard to convince people this latest form of antisemitism, a mixture anti-Zionism and anti-Israel sentiment is the real thing?  Why are  people, especially those on the Left not willing to accept our word for it when we tell them that they have crossed that line? Is it because it's not against the law to be an antisemite and there is no definition to stop them?

One of the irony's of campus life is that the National Union of Students (NUS), whose actions have created an environment of hostility and intimidation towards Jewish students by supporting BDS, adopted the EUMC definition of antisemitism at their 2007 Annual Conference and reaffirmed their support for it at their 2010 and 2013 Annual Conferences. At their  Conference in 2015, NUS pledged to fight antisemitism on campus. The reality is that it is a worthless pledge because NUS cannot on the one hand support BDS directed at Israel and on the other hand say this action is not directed at British Jews. The outpouring of hatred directed at British Jews over Israel's actions the 2014 Gaza war make a nonsense of this claim.

Trying to fight antisemitism on campus without the use of an accepted definition of modern antisemitism  only makes the job harder than it needs to be.

I would suggest that if Anglo-Jewry had a definition which it was comfortable with then the government, the media, the Universities and  the unions, would be aware what we consider to be modern antisemitism. We would then be entitled to say that if you cross that line and it must be reasonable for us to consider that you are an antisemite.

Since there isn't a consensus on what constitutes modern antisemitism how do we persuade University authorities what antisemitism is? In the meantime the anti-Israel activist will continue to say that I am not an antisemite because I say so, and I should know because I oppose antisemitism and I also know that anti-Zionism and anti-Israel sentiment are not antisemitic.

Dr. Ronnie Fraser


Academic Friends of Israel 

Monday, 3 August 2015

Extremism leads to Terrorism.  Are Jewish schools exempt?

Recent press articles have equated Jewish schools with radical Muslim schools some of which promote segregation from the wider society. This is worrying but unsurprising.  About 18000 children aged 5 to 16, attend Jewish schools in the UK. The schools range from those who describe themselves as having a ‘Jewish Pluralist Ethos’ like JCOSS to Talmud Torah Tiferes Schlomoh which ‘has been branded a failing school by Ofsted, which judged it spends too much time teaching Jewish religious studies’ (Ham and High, 9 April 2015).

All  sensible  people would applaud the Government’s new, revised Prevent strategy on Extremism and Terrorism and would do whatever they can to support it.  Prevent concludes that extremism leads to terrorism.  We may think nothing like this would happen in our schools but recently in Israel an alleged ‘terrorist Jew’ fire bombed a Palestinian house in Duma killing a small child. It is too easy to say it simply would not happen in Britain. We cannot be complacent: firstly it might happen here, and secondly even if it doesn’t, our detractors are starting to tar us with the same brush as the Muslim extremists as was shown in a Sky News report on this subject last week by a National Secular Society spokesman 

Most of our Jewish schools strive to teach our children the value of tolerance and respect for the wider community, indeed in many Jewish schools there are non-Jewish students learning alongside the Jewish students in harmony and respect.  However the Prevent strategy has gathered evidence which shows worryingly a different picture both globally and in the UK:

‘There have been allegations that a minority of independent faith schools have been actively promoting views that are contrary to British values, such as intolerance of other cultures and gender inequality. There have also been reports that some independent faith schools have allowed extremist views to be expressed by staff, visitors or pupils..’ ( Prevent Strategy Review 10.32)

Can we in the Anglo Jewish community be certain that this does not apply to any of our independent faith schools?

The problems begins to  arise in those Jewish schools, some of which are state funded, which do not wish to teach the children to mix with the general population, often insultingly referred to as ‘goyim’. Their curriculum is limited, not including for example sex education, or Science, Music or Art in full. The School’s view is these subjects are not deemed suitable or necessary for its children. The result is that children in these schools are not being exposed to British society. Would it not be better for the children from these so called ultra-orthodox schools to be taught about all that society can offer and then educated,  having that knowledge, that as Jews they need to be circumspect as to how much it is proper for them to avail themselves of?

What is required is a dialogue with the Rabbis who run these schools, explaining just how dangerous and potentially disastrous this blinkered approach could be. Isn’t there a profound risk that extremism in the Jewish world will turn into terrorism, and then fuelled by media reports, become anti Semitism?

Our non-Jewish friends may believe us when we tell them that it is only a minority of schools who act in this way. However the figures show that as much as one in four of the 10000 primary school children in Jewish school do in fact go to schools which the majority of Anglo Jewry would consider right wing; the schools with these limited curriculums are thus failing to teach pupils all that society can offer.

Indeed such is the concern in the wider community that  the  Government’s Chief inspector of schools has only this week said that he will ensure that all schools teach the importance of British values as a “top priority” and he referred specifically to those with a large  Jewish and Muslim intake. 

We need to face up to the potential dangers and help ourselves.

Lola Fraser

Academic Friends of Israel

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Pro-BDS does not mean Pro-Palestinian

The international Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement directed at Israel has probably found more support in Britain than in any other Western democratic society. Directed at Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, BDS is in effect antisemitic, even if that is not the intention.  The long term aim of the BDS  campaign is the replacement of the Jewish  state with a Palestinian one.  They are no different in this respect to the Arab nations who have always been unwilling to accept a Jewish presence in the region.

Since 2002 British activists have been party to this aim by initiating calls for academic, trade union, media, medical, architectural, and cultural boycotts of Israel. Britain's trade union movement which is mainly controlled by the Left, works closely with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and is a key member of their  British BDS campaign. Unions which are affiliated to and fund the PSC include Unite, Unison, the GMB, the RMT, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the UCU. The NUT is just one of several British unions using their considerable influence in the global labour movement to persuade unions in Europe and around the world  to adopt BDS. As a result relations between the largest British unions and their Israeli counterparts are probably now at their lowest point for many years because of British support for the Palestinians. 

It therefore came as a nice surprise to hear that a delegation from the Israeli union for government employees, which is part of the Histadrut,  paid a short visit to Britain at the end of June and met with the TUC  as well as their opposite numbers in the First Division Association, the union for senior civil servants. Unfortunately a meeting with the GMB had to be cancelled at the last minute. The outcome I am told was good and further visits and meetings  and now planned both in UK and Israel.

Visits such this are very unusual nowadays because of the anti-Israel stance of the British unions, yet it in the late 1960s and early 1970s it was commonplace for union delegations to visit Israel and their Israeli counterparts to travel to Britain every couple of  months.  Leading Left wingers of the time, Franks Cousins and Len Jones along with TUC General Secretary Len Murray all believed that the role of the British trade unions was to help the peace process by building relationships between the Israeli and Palestinian trade unions and not just support one side against the other as is the case today. Although the TUC is affiliated to the PSC and supports the boycott of Israeli settlement goods it is committed to a two-state solution with an independent Palestinian state living side by side with a secure Israel .

Britain's two largest unions Unite and Unison were also invited to meet the Israelis. Since they both have a long history of anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian rhetoric and  conference resolutions condemning Israel their failure to reply to the invitation may have been more than just an administrative oversight. Maybe they value their support for BDS and the PSC more than they do for the opportunity for dialogue to try and help build links between Palestinian trade unionists and Israelis?. Unison proudly says it "has been campaigning in solidarity with the Palestinian people for over 20 years", so unless there is a genuine reason for missing an opportunity for dialogue  it makes a makes a nonsense of Unison's claims  to help the Palestinians.

If Unite and Unison don't want to talk to Israelis then they should  talk to Palestinians like Bassem Eid instead rather than blindly follow the edicts of the PSC. Eid wrote in an article for the Washington Institute:
..."BDS spokespeople justify calling for boycotts that will result in increased economic hardships for the Palestinians by asserting that Palestinians are willing to suffer such deprivations in order to achieve their freedom. It goes without saying that they themselves live in comfortable circumstances elsewhere in the world and will not suffer any such hardship. It would seem, in fact, that the BDS movement in its determination to oppose Israel is prepared to fight to the last drop of Palestinian blood...."

Where is the evidence that pro-Palestinian campaigners such as the PSC, UNISON or any of the unions done anything to help improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians?  There seems to be plenty of anti-Israel rhetoric and talk of solidarity but very little else. British trade unions like Unite and Unison and the UCU appear to focus on the conflict in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine almost to the exclusion of other international issues. Over the last ten years this has involved all them in considerable costs in terms of money and resources, yet none appear to be directly involved in any aid or training programmes for Palestinians run by international trade union bodies such as the ITUC. Their support for the PSC appears to be more about the political ideology of the Far Left who want to destroy Israel than it is about helping the Palestinians.

So let's change the narrative and help the Palestinians ourselves and the first thing we can do is to ask the unions to show us exactly how all the thousands of pounds they have spent on BDS has helped the Palestinians in any material way whatsoever - pity the Palestinians - pity the poor union members whose money is being squandered on Israel hate rather than Palestinian humanitarian aid. Our second move has to be to label BDS supporters as anti-Israeli rather than pro-Palestinian.

Ronnie Fraser

Academic Friends of Israel

Saturday, 6 June 2015

BDS derailed?

According to the press last week was a good one for the Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions movement (BDS) with headlines such as, "Netanyahu condemns UK students over pro-boycott vote" and "Fury as NUS leaders vote to boycottIsrael".  But if you look behind the headlines, the last two weeks have not turned out as well as the BDS movement would have expected and the options open to them are severely limited in terms of implementing the motion.

The BDS movement's joy with the students pro-boycott vote was short lived because within 24 hours of the national executive of the National Union of Students(NUS) voting to affiliate to the BDS movement, Universities UK, the umbrella body for Britain's Universities, reaffirmed its opposition to an academicboycott of Israel. What is the point of a student union now asking their University's Vice-Chancellor to support a boycott of Israel when they know what the answer will be? On top of this setback two weeks ago Britain's University lecturers trade union, the UCU Congress debated and voted for a BDS resolution only to hear the motion declared "void and of null effect."  The BDS movement will no doubt claim both the UCU and NUS votes as successes and ignore Universities UK .

Since 2003, the UCU has been trying to implement what they now call a "general pro-boycott policy directed at Israeli products and institutions, including academic institutions. " Every time they have tried to do this they have been unable to do so  because it would pose “a serious risk of infringing discrimination legislation".

The boycotters intention this time was that all UCU members would be sent "a dedicated e-mail, reminding them of (the UCU's) policy on Israel, and with a link to the PACBI (Palestinian BDS) guidelines and any misrepresentations of UCU's policy (would) be corrected publicly.” If the UCU had gone ahead and sent out such an email they would have been in breach of the legal advice they received in 2007 in which Counsel advised that: 
“It would be beyond the Union's powers and unlawful for the Union, directly or indirectly to call for or to implement a boycott by the Union and its members of any kind of Israeli universities and other academic institutions; and that the use of Union funds directly or indirectly to further such a boycott would also be unlawful."

That the motion was declared "void and of null effect" begs the question does the UCU actually have a policy supporting BDS? I would suggest not as they are  effectively neutered since the UCU cannot directly or indirectly campaign for BDS. In addition union officials such as the General Secretary cannot speak in favour of BDS when they represent the union at International bodies or rallies because to do so would leave the union in breach of their legal advice and infringe Britain's equality and discrimination legislation.

The NUS"Solidarity with Palestine" motion was passed by the NUS’s national executive committee by 19 votes to 14, a move which committed the union to affiliate to the BDS movement. The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) said that the decision  “undermines interfaith relations and suffocates progressive voices for peace on both sides”. NUS deputy vice-president, Joe Vinson  tweeted after the vote that “antisemitism is like a virus, it mutates and infects everything it touches. It's mutated into BDS and NUS is infected”.

NUS now finds itself in a similar position to the UCU and cannot actively campaign for BDS because of constitutional restraints. The motion confirms this point as it asks NUS "to develop legal advice for unions adopting BDS to defend their democratic decisions from attacks." This time, the options open to the boycotters to implement BDS in Britain are limited  and we have to be thankful for Britain's discrimination laws for not allowing them their head.

The fact that the UCU or the NUS are willing to support BDS and ignore our Universities legal duty to eliminate harassment and foster good relations between persons of different nationalities, ethnicities and religions shows what sort a society we now live in. Is it any wonder that our University campuses tend to be a breeding ground for contemporary anti-Semitism as the anti-Israel rhetoric used by pro-Palestinian supporters often invokes and perpetuates anti-Semitic tropes?  NUS  should be listening not only to the concerns of UJS about the effect on Jewish students but also their own members such as the University of Southampton Students Union who expressed real concern over escalated tension and division between student groups at the University as the result of the build up to the anti-Israel conference that was due to be held there  last April. 

Ronnie Fraser


Academic Friends of Israel

Monday, 4 May 2015

The Academic Friends of Israel

Why do only 259 people "like" the Board of Deputies of British Jews?

With over 75% of the internet population in America on Facebook, social media is becoming more  and more influential in shaping opinions throughout the world and especially about Israel.  Social media also takes up a lot of one's time, as some of us are constantly checking  Facebook and Twitter for the latest news.

Later this month the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BOD) will elect a new President. The role of the Board of Deputies, which was established in 1760, is to protect Jewish life in Great Britain.  To maintain its position as the leading representative body for Anglo-Jewry, the Board of Deputies has like everyone else a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter account.  Last summer's fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas war highlighted how powerful a propaganda tool social media had become. For example the posting  by Amnesty International UK  "Gaza : Stop the arms, Stop the killing " had  32,000 "likes" and 13,500 retweets.  At the time I thought, "Wow, with all those retweets and "likes"  this certainly gets your message out there."  

With this in mind I looked at the number of "likes" on the Facebook pages for a selection of both pro-Israel and Pro-Palestinian  organisations. The results of my survey are certainly not a foolproof guide to their popularity and reach, as one can "like" more than one organisation and the figures can be massaged.

The number of "likes" are important because if you go to a Facebook page looking for information, a large number of "likes" could influence whether you accept or not the information displayed on the page as correct.

If  you or your organisation have a large number of "likes" you can be a force to be reckoned with. On the other hand if the number of "likes" on your page is minimal you are in trouble especially if you are a large organisation.

This is what I found, it's not a complete survey but it raises a number of questions.(figures downloaded on 26 April 2015)

Pro-Palestinian organisations

Palestine Solidarity Campaign                   397,000 "likes"   
The Stop the War  campaign                     112,000 "likes"
Friends of Al Aqsa                                      351,000 "likes"
War on Want                                                29,000 "likes "

Pro-Israel organisations

Sussex Friends Of Israel                             14,500 "likes" 
Campaign Against antisemitism                   7,100  "likes"
Zionist Federation                                        2,000  "likes"
Jewish Leadership Council                             422 "likes"
The Board of Deputies of British Jews            259 "likes"

My first reaction to these figures was to question whether the figures for both the pro-Palestinian and the Anglo-Jewish organisations are genuine, as there is such a disparity between the two.  Could it be true that only 259 people "like" the Board of Deputies  and that the number of people who "like" the Palestine Solidarity Campaign  (PSC) are  more than the total number of Jews in Britain. Then I looked again at Amnesty International UK and found that they only have  235,728  "likes". This poses the question are the PSC's figures genuine or not? Is it realistic to say that they have more supporters and reach than Amnesty International UK ? If these figures are correct and the PSC has more support than Amnesty International  then we are in serious trouble- who is responsible for dealing with this? Who should? Are the people who "like" them mainly Muslims or the general public? I am no lover of Amnesty International but what does this say about British society today?

According to the PSC annual review, "The number of people ‘linking’ PSC on Facebook rose from 60,000 before summer with 18.6 million people being reached in one week alone." Was increase in the number of "likes" solely the result of the Gaza war? If you wanted information about Israel and the war last year you didn't go to the Board of Deputies website but elsewhere.

Are the  259 "likes" for the Board of Deputies a reflection of them being out of touch with Anglo Jewry and social media?  The  Jewish community certainly thought last summer that the BOD did very little to support them and Israel. Why do the Sussex Friends of Israel, have more "likes" than the rest of the community organisations combined? Why is it pro-Israel grassroots  groups such as  Sussex Friends Of Israel and the Campaign Against Antisemitism, both of whom stepped up to the plate last summer when the leaders of Anglo Jewry dithered,  have a significant presence on the Facebook  and Twitter and are able to react to events with direct action?

Consider this, 2,378 people like the Facebook page of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. That's  nearly ten times as many as the UK in a country with only 70,000 Jews  as compared to 280,000 in Britain. 

When it comes to Twitter,  Anglo-Jewry seems to have got their act together a lot better, the PSC has 20,000 followers, the BOD 6000, the JLC 4000 and the Sussex Friends of Israel 8300. 

How is it that the BOD can have 6000 followers on Twitter and only 259 "likes" on Facebook, it doesn't make sense? What I do know is that Facebook and Twitter are very powerful tools when it comes to getting your message across and standing up for Israel. Could it be something to do with the fact that the BOD's primary role is to defend the rights of the Anglo-Jewry and Israel comes a poor second?  They need to acknowledge that the two are inextricably entwined. Maybe they also need a better understanding of how social media works and the need to react immediately?  Whatever the reason the new President of the Board of Deputies will have his or her work cut out to ensure the BOD more actively supports Israel  on social media when the next conflict erupts and they need more than 259 people  to "like" the Board's Facebook page.

Ronnie Fraser
Academic Friends of Israel