Plans have been unveiled for university vice-chancellors from across the country to join a landmark delegation to Israel.

Minister Jo Johnson will head the trip, which will take place under the auspices of Universities UK.

Sir Steve Smith, the vice chancellor of Exeter, spoke of the first of its kind delegation during a meeting of the Board of Deputies yesterday. He said he would take part in the initiative as an “show of support for academic links with Israel”.

It comes amid concerns over the nature of discourse about Israel on some university campuses, with several high-profile attempts by anti-Israeli protestors to shut down talks by speakers from the country. There have also been recent cases of Holocaust denial leaflets being distributed on campus.

Last month, ahead of Israel Apartheid Week, Johnson wrote to higher education bosses warning them of their responsibility to ensure Jewish students don’t suffer “discrimination, harassment or victimisation”. A number of IAW events were cancelled, with one university cited the government’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.

Reacting to news of the planned delegation, Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies, noted “the strong academic contacts between Britain and its most dependable ally in the Middle East and that such links greatly benefit both countries.  The Board believes in building bridges not boycotts”.