Newly enobled Lord Polak has accused the National Union of Students of “selective discrimination” by allowing organisations with extremist links to speak on campus while backing the boycott campaign against Israel.
Former Conservative Friends of Israel director Stuart Polak was speaking during a debate on freedom of speech at universities in Parliament – the first time he has spoken about the country since being introduced to the Lords.
He said: “In recent years, an environment of censorship, hostility and intimidation has emerged on university campuses. This current trend and the actions of some student bodies increasingly risk threatening freedom of speech at universities – places where debated and dialogue are fundamental. It can be difficult for Israel-supporting students to hold discussions on some discussions on some campuses because of the prevailing attitude among some students and academics.”
This summer, NUS national executive passed a motion to boycott some Israeli companies. “The boycott campaign is a major infringement on the right to free speech and directly impacts on the ability for cooperation between the two countries,” he told the chamber, advocated more rather less collaboration.
“Britain, Israel and society as a whole have much to lose I this sort of collaboration is stopped. The funding of these programmes should not only be safeguarded but enhanced.”
Lord Leigh said he was moved to speak out after Southampton university, his almna mater, was due to host a conference discussing Israel’s right to exist earlier this year. It was later cancelled but he said: “No other nation state had ever had its right to exist questioned at the university,” he said.
On another occasion, he claimed, Israeli professor Mark Auslander’s talk at Southampton on the subject of optical sensors had to be cancelled “due to intimidation”.
During the debate, called by Baroness Deech, minister Baroness Evans reiterated that the government does not support academic of cultural boycotts. “Indeed, the UK has engaged in 60 years of vibrant exchange, partnership and collaboration with Israel, which does so much to make both our countries stronger.”