Envoy: put campus problems in context

The British ambassador to Israel has warned of a "reverse delegitimisation" that is taking place whereby Israelis choose not to study in Britain because its campuses are perceived as "hotbeds of antisemitism".

Matthew Gould, speaking on a visit to the UK, acknowledged that some institutions continued to have serious problems with anti-Israel activity. Where there was antisemitism and intimidation, he said, it needed to be dealt with "incredibly seriously".

But, despite a climate in which a Jewish student was racially abused in St Andrews and extremist and anti-Israel speakers were given platforms at a number of campuses, he denied that the situation on British campuses had changed dramatically in recent years.

"This stuff is not new and not particularly worse than it was 20 years ago," he said. "It's important to put this in perspective: if there are five student unions which vote for a boycott of Israel, there are 115 who don't."

He said that there was a danger of "sending a signal" to Israeli students that they should not consider applying to a British university.

"Most Israeli students have a fantastic time at UK universities," said Mr Gould, who in the year since he took up his post has made strong efforts to develop academic links.

"We need to take the issue seriously, but not so much that Israelis stop coming - and that is happening.

"It's a desperate pity that, on the basis of a cartoonish view, we have basically got to a position where Israelis are thinking twice about coming here.

"This reverse delegitimisation, with the trashing of the British name in Israel, troubles me," he added. "We don't want to get to the stage where Britain is seen as fundamentally antisemitic and hostile."

Last updated: 2:14pm, September 27 2011