LSE 'vote' strikes a blow at the boycotters

At the debate: Left, Professor Daniel Hochhauser, and right, chairman Professor Kevin Featherstone

At the debate: Left, Professor Daniel Hochhauser, and right, chairman Professor Kevin Featherstone

A motion calling for an academic boycott of Israel has been overwhelmingly rejected at a debate at the London School of Economics (LSE).

The motion, "This house believes in an academic boycott of Israel", was debated on Thursday in front of a packed audience.

Consultant oncologist Professor Daniel Hochhauser argued against the motion and Dr John Chalcraft, Reader in history and politics, argued in favour.

The event, held jointly by the LSE student union's Israel Society and Palestine Society was a clear success, in marked contrast to the lecture held by PalSoc in December, which resulted in a police investigation after controversial speaker Abdel Bari Atwan called Israel a "racist state" and 30 Jewish students walked out in protest.

After the Bari Atwan event, a series of changes were put in place including a tightening up of security and a strict admissions policy. The university helped the students find an impartial chair.

Gabi Kobrin, president of the Israel Society, said: "It was brilliant to see such a high-quality debate take place after the recent concerning events at LSE.

"It was heartening to see so many people turn down the rejectionist and negative politics of boycott, in favour of engagement and dialogue.

"I hope this showed the importance for Zionist and Jewish students on campus not to shy away from challenges that Israel faces, but rather to tackle them with honesty and confidence.

"The debate was not only a success because the motion was defeated but because it proved that when working together, the Israel and Palestine Societies can achieve constructive dialogue, even when dealing with sensitive issues."

During the debate, Professor Hochhauser said: "It is not the job of institutions to have political views. Boycotts and academic boycotts attack the fundamentals of scholarship and academic credence.

"Israeli academics who are subject to boycott are being discriminated against because they are Israeli, because of their nationality.

"Instead of boycotting, why don't we build bridges and have joint projects in the Middle East? I believe the boycott is completely immoral and destructive. The boycott demonises, ostracises, antagonises, polarises, increases hatred and reduces understanding.

"In the future there will be an understanding [in the Middle East], not because of the boycott campaign, but in spite of the boycott campaign."

In response, Dr Chalcraft said: "It's not a boycott of individual Israelis. Academic institutions in Israel are complicit materially and ideologically in occupation, violations in international law and extensive human rights abuse.

"Israel has singled itself out by the occupation, by settlements, by its covert nuclear weapons programme, by its denial of the right to return, and by massacre and ethnic cleansing."

Raheem Kassam, director of Student Rights, a counter-extremism pressure group that monitors activities on university campuses, said: "This is a great victory for common sense and plurality. The boycott campaign is divisive, dangerous and only serves to widen the gap between communities, students and academics. I hope in light of this vote, many supporters of the boycott campaign will reconsider their position."

Ronnie Fraser, chair of Academic Friends of Israel, said: "The fact that the event was held proved that dialogue works and boycotts don't."

LSE Palestine Society is to hold an event on February 1 with the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta leader, self-styled rabbi Ahron Cohen.

Last updated: 2:12pm, January 20 2011