An Israeli academic has lashed out at British Jewish students ahead of his arrival in the UK.
Dr. Ilan Pappe, of Haifa University, has been instrumental in organizing previous, failed attempts to boycott Israeli institutions in Britain, and is now set to leave Israel and take up a chair of history at the University of Exeter in south west England, where he hopes to set up a "center for Palestinian studies."
An article in the British Times Higher Education Supplement (THES), entitled 'Historian hits out at Jewish student lobby,' extensively quoted Pappe as complaining that UK Jewish students have formed a "lobby" aimed at quashing open debate on the Middle East.
"…Professor Pappe may find that Britain is not the haven of peace and tolerance he seeks. Jewish students' groups have already complained about his appointment, saying he is anti-Zionist," the article said.
"Jewish student organizations have ceased to care for the interests and concerns of Jewish students but have become a front for the Zionist point of view. They act as an arm of the Israeli embassy," Pappe was quoted as saying.
But Pappe's allegations were dismissed by Jonathan Levy, Chairperson of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) in Britain. "His allegations are factually wrong," Levy told Ynetnews. "We take every opportunity to have a balanced debate and have a conversation. I'd like to see evidence to the contrary," he said.
"We are the only national representative of Jewish students, and we have democratic processes. Our actions represent the majority of students in this country," Levy added.
"We are not acting on behalf of any embassy. And it happens to be the fact that the vast majority of Jewish students in this country support the State of Israel, the freedom of Israeli academics to practice their profession in this country and in any country they want to, and to be able to act as Jewish students in a way that is free," he said.
Levy added that Pappe's presence in Britain "will be used to promote the boycott issue, which is ineffective, and which goes against the freedom of speech that he thinks is so important. This will do nothing but create a hostile atmosphere."
Mitch Simmons, Campaigns Director of the UJS, said: "Jewish students are not against free speech in any way. We are for proper robust debate and dialogue and not diatribes from one side to demonize the other."
"You have to expect to get as good as you give," Simmons added, saying: "People who disagree with you are going to say it clearly. Pappe has extreme views, abhorrent to much of British academia, and to Jewish and non-Jewish students. They have every right to say they disagree with him. This is a free society, as it is in Israel. If you're a strong academic, you can deal with it, and stop whining about it."
'Pappe trying to silence Jewish students'
A British-Jewish academic, who asked to remain anonymous, said Pappe's allegations were themselves an attempt to silence opposing voices. "This is not a defense of free speech, but a suppression of it," he said.
"Pappe and others of his view confuse disagreement with lobbying. They appear to be incapable of accepting the fact that many Jewish students as well as non-Jewish students do not accept their opinions. When these students express disagreement, they are accused of lobbying," he added.
The academic also attacked the nature of the Times' reporting of Pappe's comments, saying: "The coverage in the Times Higher Education Supplement - which is celebrity coverage - provides him with a platform for attacking Jewish students. They are responding to extreme anti-Israel activity on campus.
In fact, Jewish student have not in general made any effort to restrict free discussion of Middle Eastern affairs on British campuses but have themselves been exposed to a considerable amount of abuse, which occasionally crosses the line into racism and defamation," he said.
"Talk of Jewish lobbies - even if not intended as such - is little more than an instrument for traditional bigotry. The THES has decided to promote this toxic discourse," he added.
The source also noted the "minimal coverage" given to the cancellation of a lecture at Leeds University on "Islamic anti-Semitism in the Middle East." The talk, which was supposed to be delivered by German historian Dr Matthias Kuntzel, was cancelled by the University of Leeds's administration which cited "security concerns."
"This was one of the most grotesque suppressions of academic freedom that has taken place in British universities in recent times," the source said, adding: "Interestingly, neither the university union nor the mainstream press, in particular the THES saw fit to make a major issue of it."
Regardless of events unfolding in the UK, many of Pappe's colleagues in Israel are glad to see him go, according to Menachem Kellner, Professor of Jewish History at Haifa University.
"He is not a popular man in Israel, I'm very pleased," Kellner told Ynetnews, adding: "He's done his best to blacken the name of his university, and misrepresented it. I can't be help but be happy about this. Let's hope he stays there."