Interview: Yossi Gal

BDS? It's just a nuisance, says ex-envoy


VOne of Israel's most experienced diplomats believes the boycott movement in academia is merely a "nuisance", but that the "dramatic" rise in antisemitic incidents across Europe is an unfolding tragedy.

Yossi Gal spent 40 years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was a negotiator at the Madrid Peace Conference and rose to become Director General at the MFA. His last posting before leaving the diplomatic service last year was as Ambassador to Paris.

He now has a new ambassadorial position - as vice-president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a role which brought him to London last week to promote the leading university.

The BDS movement, which has a small but vociferous support in the UK, claims it is running a successful campaign. Regarding academia, Ambassador Gal (as he is still known) disagrees.

"BDS is a nuisance," he said. "It makes headlines but the serious academics know it is a contradiction in terms… The term 'academic boycott' is an oxymoron. Science knows no borders. It's ridiculous to talk about academic boycotts. Academics from around the world are coming to partner with us and, by the way, we have 1,700 Arabs in Hebrew University."

He is confident that academic success will overcome prejudice. "Our mission is to feed the world, to cure the world, to understand the world. We are doing this with research into agriculture, medicine, degenerative diseases, cancer, the brain, law, the environment, and everyone will benefit."

Mr Gal preferred not to be drawn on the current debate about antisemitism in the UK. But on the wider front of what is partially an intellectual battle, he raises deep concerns about antisemitism in Europe - and especially in France.

"I spent five years in France. I like the French, but what we have seen recently is a dramatic increase in the number of antisemitic incidents. This is a tragedy not just for the Jewish community, but also for France. The French Prime Minister said time and again that 'France without the Jewish community is not France'."

There are many reasons why French Jews make aliyah to Israel, but Mr Gal knows a main driving force is fear about security.

He said, however: "To the credit of the government, they are doing everything possible to protect their Jewish citizens. Every Jewish institution is guarded by military, there's action against incitement online."

Despite the rise in antisemitism, his assessment of how Israel has been perceived since the beginning of the misnamed Arab Spring is optimistic.

"There is a better understanding in Europe now … If you look at Lebanon, at the brutality in Syria, the situation in Iraq, Isis, Yemen, all the way to Libya, nothing of this has anything to do with Israel or the Palestinian situation."

He ends by saying he was always sceptical that the Arab uprisings would end well, but that, "my dream is to wake up one day and find Israel surrounded by democracies".

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