Sunday, 13 February 2011

LSE Palestine Society & ‘The Academic Boycott: Helpful or Harmful’

By Zachariah Sammour

On January 13th 2011 the LSE Palestine Society and LSE  Israel Society jointly hosted a debate entitled ‘The Academic Boycott: Helpful or Harmful’ which saw Dr John Chalcraft of the LSE speak in favour of the motion and Professor Daniel Hochauser of UCL oppose it. 

The debate was, in many ways, a success for the society and for the general BDS movement. Not only did the event serve to make a mockery of comments made by some members of the LSE student community that the Palestine society has ‘no regard for student welfare’ and have been ‘pursuing an aggressive, alienating and one sided agenda’ this year, but it also provided an excellent platform for the academic boycott which has largely trailed in the shadows of the wider call for economic boycott of Israel. 

Most importantly, however, the debate is indicative of the shift on LSE campus, and hopefully across the UK, from vacuous and futile attempts by Israeli groups to legitimise and justify the illegal and immoral occupation of Palestinian lands and towards discourse aimed at establishing the best tactics to bring about an end to that occupation. 

The debate itself was of an extremely high quality, with two distinguished academics providing rigorous and insightful analysis of the efficacy and merit of the call for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions. Despite two isolated incidents, one in which an audience member was harassed and called ‘Hamas’ and another in which an LSE academic was insulted, the crowd and the speakers conducted themselves in a respectful and polite manner and contributed to an interesting and thought provoking event. 

The motion eventually fell by a slight majority, no doubt partly due to the fact that the LSESU Israel Society were able to register over 160 non-LSE audience members, however the very fact that the issue was debated at such a prestigious academic institution and jointly hosted by the Israel and Palestine societies is a massive step forward for the movement.

The fact that an Israeli group would take part in a debate reflects the shift in UK campuses from support for the illegal Israeli occupation to an acknowledgment of its impediment to lasting peace in the region. This event represents an active effort by both societies to explore tactics aimed at ending this occupation, and bringing about a just solution to the conflict.

It seems that the goalposts have shifted, and this must undoubtedly be seen as a victory for student advocates for Palestinian rights, and we commend the Israel society for taking the bold step forward in engaging in constructive, progressive dialogue focused on tactics that could end the occupation, rather than attempting to continue to defend an increasingly obvious immoral and illegal occupation as other similar groups at other universities seem to do. 

Hats off to LSESU Israel Society and Israel Society President Gabi Kobrin for being a part of the event, and for taking the bold step in moving the debate forward to more progressive and meaningful territory.

(  for footage of the event:  )

1 comment:

  1. Except that the motion was defeated by an overwhelming majority and the LSE academic who was 'insulted' threatened assault.

    But otherwise great.