Israeli students rebel against their own Oxford club

By Charlotte Oliver, February 13, 2014

A war of words has broken out in Oxford between the university’s Israeli students and its Israel Society.

Yishai Mishor, an Israeli PhD student, voiced his anger at the society’s “right-wing agenda” in an open letter to The Oxford Student — a campus newspaper.

Most of the 40 Israelis at Oxford are not members of the society. According to Mr Mishor’s letter, they believe it “has been co-opted from a cultural society to a hard-line political advocacy group”.

He said its president, Richard Black, “fails to understand the importance of freedom of expression”.

Mr Mishor’s allegations focus on the society’s partnership with StandWithUs, the pro-Israel organisation.

He told the JC: “The Israel Society thinks that, in order to protect what they think is just, they have to silence other people.”

Mr Mishor also criticises the expulsion of one Israeli student, Ariel Hoffman, “for expressing political views different from the president”.

He added: “They have said we shouldn’t air our dirty laundry in public. But if you silence people, then you cannot be surprised when they take it outside.”

The society has up to 410 members, most of them British Jews. Mr Mishor has demanded that it changes its constitution to “give room for all opinions”, or he will appeal to the university to change its name to the “Netanyahu Support Society”.

Following Mr Mishor’s letter, the society released a statement, pledging its “full confidence in Richard Black’s leadership”.

Student Jonathan Hunter, campus director for StandWithUs UK, said Mr Mishor’s letter “panders to some of the worst conspiracy theories about Israel lobbying — that the society is a PR organisation”.

“There are a few Israelis who don’t actually know what our remit is and are criticising us without speaking to us,” he said.

“Yishai went to a student newspaper behind our backs. That is not the way people do things. It has done no good whatsoever for Israel on campus.”

He denied there had been an attempt to stifle opinion. “We have had left-wing speakers,” he said.

Deputy editor of The Oxford Student Ben Goldstein, who is a member of the society, said he was criticised for running the story.

He said: “Members did recognise that they had been quite hard-core and had tried to change that — the problem is there has been a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding.”

A university spokesperson said no request has been received to rename the society.

Last updated: 12:16pm, February 13 2014