The government must do more to challenge anti-Israel sentiment in British universities, according to Lord Sacks.
Speaking in the House of Lords yesterday, the former Chief Rabbi also said democratic freedom in the middle east and beyond is threatened the erosion of free speech and thought – and by those who label Israel “the bad guys”.
He told a debate on the Middle East introduced by fellow Jewish peer Lord Grade that “the government must safeguard “a sustained effort of education and a balanced supply of information”.
On the contentious issue of no-platforming at universities, he said: “Democratic freedom is sustained by media that take it as their task to present more than one side of a complex issue, and by universities that understand the importance of academic freedom, which means giving a respectful hearing to views different from your own.”
“Today, these values are being undermined. The internet and social media mean that people can go through life without encountering views with which they disagree. Some universities have allowed students effectively to ban the presentation of views with which they disagree.
He went on to criticise anti-Israel campaigners stoking tensions on campuses around the country – including those at King’s College London, where last month an event featuring former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon was attacked by a Palestinian solidarity group.
He said: “The human mind finds it hard to handle moral and political complexity and can easily avoid it by dividing the world into the good guys and the demons, and concluding that all you have to do to solve a problem is to first silence, then eliminate, the bad guys.
“Often in the past they were called the Jews. Today they are called the state of Israel.”
Other Jewish peers who spoke during the debate included Lord Livermore, a former aide to Labour leaders Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, and academic Baroness Deech.
Responding for the government, Foreign Office minister Lord Maude said: “Whether on campus or elsewhere, British Jews, like all communities, must be able to live their lives free from fear of verbal or physical attack.”