Author Archives: Matthew Harris

Opinion: How not to further the Palestinian cause

The other day at a London Underground station, I saw a man who was visibly distressed. A 50-something Asian gentleman in a suit, he’d been waiting for his wife when a man asked him to move out of the way on a narrow path. Except he hadn’t just asked him to move – he’d abused him racially and pushed against him.

I could see that he was upset, so I stopped and he told me what had happened. Imagine, however, if, instead of expressing sympathy, I had told him that he was in the wrong for having been in someone’s way …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 21 Comments

Opinion: Israel has no option but to defend itself against Hamas and Iran

Lib Dem Voice has invited both the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (article published here yesterday) and the Friends of Israel to submit articles looking at the current Middle East crisis. Today we publish this contribution from Matthew Harris, Secretary of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel.

At the pro-Israeli peace rally on Sunday 11 January, Trafalgar Square echoed to the sound of speaker after speaker calling, as the thousands of placards read, for “peace for the people of Israel and Gaza”. As a Liberal Democrat who believes in human rights and the rule of law, I cannot echo those …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 41 Comments

Opinion: Why we should condemn the academic boycott of Israel

The University and College Union’s (UCU) proposed academic boycott of Israel has attracted opposition from many people who might usually be numbered among Israel’s harshest critics. The (Palestinian) President of Jerusalem’s Al Quds University is among those opposing the boycott, in a joint statement with the (Israeli) President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

As a Liberal Democrat, my opposition is rooted in our party’s fundamental liberal belief in free expression, particularly in situations involving conflict resolution.

To boycott Israeli academics, including liberal individuals who strongly disagree with the Israeli government, is not only illiberal, it is also perverse. Imagine a boycott of British universities and academics, based on our government’s disgraceful conduct of the war in Iraq!

Almost worse is the suggestion that Israeli academics might be exempted from a boycott if they distance themselves from their government’s policies. Presumably the proponents of the boycott are planning to summon up the shade of Joe McCarthy to supervise this exercise in thought control?

The proposed boycott is also perverse because it singles out Israel among all the countries of the world. Israel, for all its faults, is a parliamentary democracy. Its universities, like British universities, are open to all citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity. I have been to the Hebrew University and met Arab students, including some who came from the Palestinian territories, and some who came from Israel itself. There are also many overseas students at Israel’s universities. Israel enjoys the same academic freedom as does this country and other democracies.

The tragic irony of singling out Israel is that no other Middle Eastern country has academic freedom, so why only boycott Israel? When other Middle Eastern countries are infringing human rights in ways that directly affect academic freedom, why is the UCU silent?

Posted in Conference and Op-eds | Tagged , and | 39 Comments
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