Zionist hit by abuse at SOAS debate

By Marcus Dysch, December 23, 2009

The co-vice chairman of the Zionist Federation was subjected to antisemitic abuse after revealing his identity at a university debate on Israel and the Palestinians.

Jonathan Hoffman was asking a question at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) in London. When asked to state his name, there was loud jeering and screams of “Jew”, “not welcome here” and “he’s Jewish”.

He had been raising concerns about the presence of Bongani Masuku at the debate, titled: “Israel, the Palestinians and apartheid: The case for sanctions and boycott”.

Mr Masuku is a South African trade unionist who, the South African Human Rights Commission say, gave a “hate speech” and wrote a blog in which he said “Zionists belong to the era of their friend Hitler”.

Debate chairman Tom Hickey, of the University and College Union, told panellists they could not answer the question, and moved on.

The event was organised by Bricup, the British Committee for Universities for Palestine, and was attended by representatives of a number of anti-Israel groups, including Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods.

Mr Hoffman, who has reported the incident to the Metropolitan Police’s hate crime unit and the Community Security Trust, said: “If one goes to a Bricup meeting with the likes of Masuku at SOAS then you know it’s not going to be a pleasant evening. But that’s no reason for people to turn antisemitic.

“Although there are people who want simply to debate the Middle East, these events also attract rank antisemites. They are attracted like fleas to a dog. We cannot let these people have it all their own way. However upsetting it is, we have to challenge the lies.”

Mr Hoffman has also complained to the BBC after it changed an initial website report of the event following a “storm of protest” from Bricup.

The corporation’s first report of the incident was headlined “Jewish man jeered at Soas university debate,” making clear that Mr Hoffman was abused.

But it was later replaced with a new piece, entitled “Row breaks out over university meeting”, quoting Jewish anti-Zionist campaigner Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Bricup’s Mike Cushman. Both said there had been no antisemitism at the meeting.

Bricup claimed on its website that the heckler had shouted “now you know” rather than “Jewish”.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “When we became aware of the video of the SOAS meeting, we asked for comment from the ZF, SOAS and the SOAS Palestine Society. After publishing the story it became clear that there was more to what had happened in the meeting than was apparent from the video, and the story was amended to reflect the differing views of those who had been at the meeting.”

Raheem Kassam, of student anti-racism campaign group Student Rights, said: “The overpowering racist jeering as displayed by some audience members at the event is a stark and chilling revelation of what can happen when extremism is allowed to take root in universities.

“This man was first shouted down, then ignored by the event chair and panellists. Why? From what we heard shouted when he was speaking, because he is Jewish.”

CST spokesman Mark Gardner said: “Mr Hoffman merely repeated what the South African Human Rights Commission had said about Bongani Masuku’s alleged incitement of antisemitism. For daring to raise this he was jeered with outright hatred.

“The UCU’s attitude to antisemitism is disgusting, and those who collaborate with it should be ashamed of themselves.”

Last updated: 1:16pm, December 24 2009