Anti-Israel culture war of British liberal elites is not a grassroots movement

Too many of our leading British academic and cultural institutions are in the thrall of left-wing activists, but anti-Semitism is far from rife at the British grassroots

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The NUJ has been a prominent backer of the boycott
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Peter C. Glover
On 5 July 2012 09:08

Perhaps the greatest irony, however, was that on the very day the British NUJ passed their condemnation of Israel, the International Federation of Journalists was calling upon the Palestinian Authority to secure the release of captured British BBC journalist Alan Johnston. At the time, kidnapped five weeks before the NUJ meeting, Johnston’s kidnap did not even warrant a mention on the British NUJ’s mean-minded agenda.  

Similar small groups of activists have equally influenced key votes at British medical and architect union meetings. British trade unions have also encouraged The South African Congress of Trade Unions and key ANC members to work for a boycott of Israeli goods. In February 2006, the Church of England's General Synod voted to sell off shares , amounting to £2.5 million, in the US earth-moving equipment company Caterpillar as a company "profiting from Israel's illegal occupation" of Palestine.

The British boycotters know what they are doing by striking at Israel's higher educational institutions. Steven Rose, secretary of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, making his case for why Israel should be targeted, explains, "It is precisely because Israel prides itself on its academic prowess…that the idea of an academic boycott is so painful. Israel has uniquely strong academic links with Europe…and…receives considerable financial research support from the EU."

All of which begs two fundamental questions: why single out Israel? And why is Britain leading the international boycott movement so obsessively?

Why Israel? Why Britain?

Writing in the Jerusalem Post in May 2007, Gerald Steinberg noted the impact that years of campaigning by politically active non-governmental agencies (NGOs) such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Christian Aid, War on Want and Pax Christi will have had.  But still: why Israel?

Well, Evelyn Gordon, addressing the issue "Why Britain?" in the Jerusalem Post a couple of years ago, identified what she described as "two obvious reasons". First, Britain's association as America's closest ally and, second, (back then) Tony Blair's personal support of Israel's right to defend itself. But, for me, Gordon gets far nearer the mark when she identifies the role of the activist liberal in British society.

"After all," says Gordon, "the NUJ controls what Britons read in their papers, hear on their radios and see on their televisions; the Anglican Church controls what they hear from the pulpit; the UCU controls what college students hear in class;  unions play a major role in setting and carrying out policy." All absolutely true; but not the whole picture, I think.

It is clear from these various union boycotts that leftwing, highly vocal activists, having ingratiated themselves into key executive power in the UK, are turning the leadership of institutions into bastions of Western liberalism – fed by graduates from equally left-dominated universities. These same universities turn out most of our leading journalists.

As already noted, BBC, anti-Israel, anti-American political bias, in particular, is a thoroughly well documented reality. And though the Anglican Church has many evangelicals (and thus conservatives) in its parish pulpits, the General Synod and hierarchy of the Anglican Church, at least in Britain, remains yet another bastion of leftwing liberalism.  I should know, I am an Anglican Lay Reader.  

Even so, when the Anglican Church entertained more general calls for full boycott of Israel the subsequent grassroots and public reaction was sufficient to divert them to focus on the divestment issue only, the only issue within its specific remit. Similarly, trade union debates on boycotts have often led to calls being rejected outright.

In short, it is premature to conclude, as Evelyn Gordon did in the piece noted above, that as far as the security of the people of Israel is concerned Britain should be written off as "a lost cause".

While it is patently true that too many of our leading British academic and cultural institutions are in the thrall of cabals of left-wing activists, factor in public backlash that often does not attract mainstream – read liberal – media coverage, and the inherently English (note, I do not say British) instinct for fairness, and anti-Semitism is far from rife at the British grassroots.  

That fact alone ought to be anything but culturally 'academic' to our Israeli friends in the Middle East’s only real democratic, non-despotic, state.      

Peter C Glover is a British writer specialising in international affairs, energy and media issues. See: http://www.petercglover.com

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