Rabbi claims Israel is a taboo subject for UK Jewish students
In an op-ed written for the Jerusalem Post, American rabbi Shmuley Boteach complains of having been ‘silenced’ when he tried to tell an audience of Jewish students in London about democracy in Israel and ‘the blessing it can be to the innocent Arab citizens of Israel’s autocratic Arab neighbors’.
In all my debates on Israel at the Oxford Union spanning 25 years, I have never once been barred from responding to attacks on the Jewish state. Yet this week, for the first time in my life – having spoken at universities across the world – I encountered a form of censorship in the most unlikely of all places: when I spoke to the Jewish Society at King’s College, London.
He said his run-in with his audience began when he claimed that:
Israel is the great hope for the spread of human rights throughout the Middle East. As I spoke, I could see my hosts growing restless, and the discomfiture on their faces surprised me. I was in for a bigger shock, however, when my hosts essentially stopped me in the middle of my remarks. I am always happy to respond to questions, friendly or hostile, but I have rarely been interrupted so abruptly by people who invited me to speak.
When I asked for an explanation, I was told by the president of the organization, a young man wearing a yarmulke, that the Jewish Society has a policy against speaking about Israel. The group, he said was non-political and focused on ‘Jewish subjects’.
I was dumbfounded. Was Israel not a Jewish subject? It was as if Israel had become the Voldemort of nations, the country that dare not be named.
I asked if I should speak about lox and bagels, klezmer music or Manischewitz wine. My sarcasm seemed to go right over my hosts’ heads. For them, Israel and Judaism seemed unrelated. I asked if the murder of Israeli citizens in countless terrorist attacks over the past month was likewise a ‘political issue’, or one of human rights.
Boteach’s op-ed, which went on to claim that British Jewish students were too “cowed” to talk about Israel on campus, was immediately attacked by the Union of Jewish Students.
Russell Langer, UJS Campaigns Director, wholeheartedly denied the accusations, saying instead that British Jewish students were “extremely active” in debates about Israel.
We work closely with students across the country in determining the best way to fight the delegitimisation of Israel on each campus. Israel engagement is a core value of ours.