Israeli diplomats ‘are not allowed to speak’ on US campuses, but North Korean diplomats are, Israeli official says

Israeli diplomats “are not allowed to speak” on US campuses, while North Korean and Iranian diplomats are, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official complained last week.

Akiva Tor, head of World Jewish Affairs in the Israeli government, spoke at a June 9 panel on “the coming storm” on campus over BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign. Asked if campuses should bar pro-BDS speakers, he said:

I don’t think that we need to ban speakers. I think that North Korean diplomats, Iranian diplomats, Russian diplomats, and Israeli diplomats should be allowed to speak unimpeded on campus, and that university students should be able to hear what they have to say. The problem is that right now only the Israeli diplomats are not allowed to speak.

Tor made a similar statement earlier in the discussion, at the American Jewish Committee‘s global forum in Washington. He said Israel backers have failed to organize active support for Israel on campus.

We need to create a situation where on campus there will be much more Israel studies, many more Israel academic events, taking place publicly. We cannot allow a situation where an Israeli diplomat is not allowed to speak on campus, which is essentially the situation right now.

While Tor’s statements may be exaggerated, they surely reflect the growing sense of isolation Israel is experiencing in the world and even in the American scene. The absence of invitations to Israeli diplomats might reflect a soft form of BDS, in which institutions boycott Israel without saying they’re doing so. (And Norman Finkelstein has observed that it is very unpopular to be pro-Israel on campuses these days.)

(The U.S. has no diplomatic relations with North Korea. North Korea has diplomatic relations with Cuba, Venezuela, Peru, Brazil and Mexico in the Americas. I have never heard of a North Korean diplomat speaking on a US campus, but maybe you have?)

Tor also emphasized the role of pro-Israel donors in his talk. He said that there’s a “war on campus,” and Jewish students are showing up, but not Jewish faculty or school administrators, and they have to start speaking out.

“Senior university administrative leadership… all disagree with BDS, they don’t like it, it kills their donor base, they know it’s wrong. But they’re not showing moral courage. And therefore we have to do more to bring them together, to bring them to Israel, to convene them in the Catskills, I don’t know where, but to get them to stand up and be counted and call it what it is, a kind of a new McCarthyism.”

The panel was called The Coming Storm: BDS on the American Campus. The speakers reflected a message coming out of the Las Vegas conference against BDS, that pro-Israel forces have to become more assertive. This will surely create more of a battle, and give BDS more attention, but will it work? It’s Israel’s conduct that is really driving the criticisms of the Jewish state. There was brief acknowledgment on the panel that Israel could be doing more to make peace, but the panelists quickly agreed that the hasbara — or public explanation — has to get better. And spending lots of old people’s money to do that–it’s the dead hand of the past, the young aren’t buying.

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