Academic Friends of Israel

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The Academic Friends of Israel (AFI) is a pressure group formed in 2002 to fight the academic boycott of Israel. According to its website, it works closely with the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Union for Jewish students. [1] It was incorporated as a limited company in November 2004. 

The activities of AFI have mostly focused on the UK academic trade union's attitude towards Israel and on the general boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

People

Principals

  • Ronnie Fraser - Founder, President. Founder and President of AIA, Ronnie Fraser was born in the United Kingdom in 1947, the child of Jewish refugees who had fled Nazi Germany in 1939. [2] Since 2001 he has pursued a career as a teacher of mathematics in colleges of higher education, including Barnet College. He has written several papers on the attitudes and policies of the British trade unions, the Left, and the Trades Union Congress toward Israel. He joined the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) in 1998 and became a member of the University and College Union (UCU) in 2006. In March 2013, Fraser lost a case against UCU in which he claimed that it was institutionally anti-Semitic because it has passed motions that called for discussions on the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli universities.
  • Rabbi Jonathan Sacks - Head Patron

Advisory Board

  • Manfred Gerstenfeld - Chairman of the Board of Fellows, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.Gerstenfeld (born in 1937) is former Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, where he founded and directed the Centre’s Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism program. [3] He is the author of many books including Revaluing Italy; Environment and Confusion; Israel's New Future Interviews; Judaism, Environmentalism and the Environment; and The Environment in the Jewish Tradition-A Sustainable World. His latest book, Europe's Crumbling Myth,s exposes the origins of post-Holocaust anti-Semitism. In an interview with the website ‘IsraelSeen.com’, Gerstenfield stated that 'by far the worst of the huge hate-mongering against Israel comes out of large parts of the Muslim-controlled world. This hatred has no limits in its sickness.' [4] In the same interview he also claimed that the BDS movement as a sensor of what is rotten in the university world. [5]
  • Henry Grunwald Q.C. - President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Grunwald is the former President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and previously chair of the Jewish Leadership Council. After the conclusion of his second term as President he was appointed the President of World Jewish Relief. [6]
  • Amir Lev
  • John D A Levy - Director of the Academic Study Group on Israel and the Middle East. Levy spent nearly a year as a social worker in South London, before joining the Zionist Federation, in 1970. John is the Executive Director of The Academic Study Group on Israel and the Middle East, and the Friends of Israel Educational Foundation. [7]
  • Andrew R. Marks, M.D. - Columbia University, USA. A research scientist at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (New York), Marks is Chair of the Department of Cellular Physiology and Biophysics and Director of the Clyde and Helen Wu Center for Molecular Cardiology. [8] Marks founded the International Academic Friends of Israel in 2001, an organization that supports scientific conferences and sessions in the country, mostly by organizing events and subsidizing travel fees for foreign speakers.
  • Dr Robin Stamler. Stamler contributed to the 2009 BBC Watch report 'Jeremy Bowen and the Gaza Conflict'. BBC Watch is latterly a sister project to CiF Watch (established in 2009 to monitor the Guardian newspaper’s ‘Comment is Free’ website). In the report, Stamler is described in the report as ‘a research scientist and doctor’. [9]
  • Professor Leslie Wagner CBE. Wagner is vice-chairman of the JCPA’s Institute for Global Jewish Affairs in Jerusalem. Among the posts he has held are chancellor of the University of Derby in the UK, and prior to that vice-chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University and the University of North London. [10] In 2010 he published an article for the Jewish Political Studies Review on ‘pro-Israeli academic watchers’ in which the activities of the AFI were analysed. [11]
  • Rt Hon Lord Young of Graffham[12]

Despite the existence of an Advisory Board, AFI seemingly operates essentially as a one-man operation. The website does not disclose the number of members. In its ruling, an employment tribunal stated that:

The Claimant does much of his campaigning through the ‘Academic Friends of Israel’ (‘AFI’), an impressively-presented organisation with a PO Box address, a mission statement and a letterhead showing its patron as the Chief Rabbi and its advisory board as comprising a list of dignitaries including the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Despite appearances, as the Claimant engagingly told us, AFI consists of him, his wife and a computer. Like any experienced political activist, he is alive to the PR benefits of disseminating his own views in such a way as to seem to be speaking for a significant number of others. [13]

Activities

Trade Unions

When the AFI was formed in 2002, in the UK there were two academic trade unions, the Association of University Teachers (AUT) and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE). The two unions joined forces on 1 June 2006 and form the University and College Union (UCU). The AUT discussed motions calling for an academic boycott of Israel in 2003 and 2005. The 2005 motion was effectively in force for one month before it was overturned by a specially convened AUT Council meeting. Fraser wrote in detail about the boycott attempts of the AUT in an article titled ‘The Academic Boycott of Israel: Why Britain?’ which was published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a think tank formed by Dore Gold, an adviser of former Israeli prime minister and accused war criminal Ariel Sharon. [14]

On the last day of its conference in 2006, NATFHE passed the symbolic motion 198C which invited their members to consider boycotting Israeli academic under certain circumstances. [15] The AFI was a signatory to an open letter to members of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) explaining why the academic boycott was wrong. [16] This motion was in force for only two days before NAFTHE and the AUT merged into the UCU. On 30 May 2007, UCU voted in favour of Motion 30, which called for UCU to circulate a boycott request by Palestinian trade unions to all branches for information and discussion and ‘encourage members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions’. [17] AFI campaigned extensively against this motion. It supported the ‘Stop the Boycott’ campaign launched by the Broad of Deputies of British Jews. AFI also promoted the Scholars for Peace in The Middle East (SPME) call to academics to ‘declare themselves to be Israeli academics for purposes of any academic boycott and to decline to participate in any activity from which Israeli academics are excluded.’ [18] On 28 September 2007, Britain’s University and College Union (UCU) announced that, based on legal advice, an academic boycott of Israel could not be implemented. The advice stated that ‘It would be beyond the union's powers and unlawful for the union, directly or indirectly, to call for, or to implement, a boycott by the union and its members of any kind of Israeli universities and other academic institutions; and that the use of union funds directly or indirectly to further such a boycott would also be unlawful.' [19]

The Wilkie's Affair

In 2003, Andrew Wilkie, professor of pathology at Oxford University, rejected an application for a research position in his laboratory by Amit Duvshani. Wilkie explained that he rejected the student because he had served in the Israeli army and because Wilkie 'had a huge problem with the way that the Israelis take the moral high ground from their appalling treatment in the Holocaust, and then inflict gross human rights abuses on the Palestinians because they [the Palestinians] wish to live in their own country.' [20]

On Friday 27th June 2003, Ronnie Fraser contacted the Sunday Telegraph about the story and in the evening of the same day the University issued a press statement condemning Wilkie's actions and announced an investigation into the matter. [21] On the 27th October the University decided to suspend Wilkie for two months without pay and required him to undertake equal opportunities training. [22] Ronnie Fraser described the penalty imposed by the University as 'an event unparalleled in Israel activism'.[23]

Submission to the All-Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism

In December 2005 AFI sent a submission to the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism, an inquiry commissioned by the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Anti-Semitism chaired by John Mann, a Labour MP. John Mann also gave evidence in the 2013 case that Fraser bought against the UCU. [24] One of the conclusions of the submission was that 'attempts to silence debate by portraying supporters of Israel’s right to exist as racist, fascist or evil is intimidating and frightening.' [25]

2006 Anti-Semitism Conference

On March 12th 2006 AFI held a half-day conference at SOAS titled ‘Know it when you see it: Today’s Anti-Semitism.' [26] The speakers included:

The Norwegian Boycott Affair

In November 2009 a group of employees at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and Sør-Trøndelag University College (HIST) in an open letter requested their respective Boards to perform a cultural and academic boycott against Israel. AFI urged its members to sign a petition opposing the boycott proposal initiated by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME). [27] Following a worldwide campaign the Board of NTNU decided on 12 November to reject the proposal for a boycott of Israel. [28]

Fraser vs. UCU

In 2012 Fraser sued the UCU in an employment tribunal on the basis that it was ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’ and that it had harassed him based on his protected characteristics of race (Jewish) and religion or belief (Jewish). [29] Most of allegations present in the claim were set out in a letter from Fraser’s lawyer, Anthony Julius, to the union’s secretary-general in 2011, and made available on Fraser’s website. [30] The case received widespread attention.

The tribunal concluded that all Fraser’s claims of harassment have been ‘dismissed in their totality’ adding that the ‘sorry saga’ had also acquired a ‘gargantuan scale’ that required a 20-day hearing and a 23 volumes of evidence which was ‘manifestly excessive and disproportionate’. [31] The claim bought forward by Fraser is branded by the panel members’ as ‘an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means.’ [32] The tribunal also conclude that ‘a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel cannot amount to a protected characteristic. It is not intrinsically a part of Jewishness.’ [33] Leading Fraser’s legal team was Anthony Julius who is best known as Diana’s, Princess of Wales’, divorce lawyer. In a phone call to the Electronic Intifada website, he claimed to have taken on Fraser’s case pro bono. [34] In a meeting of anti-boycott activists he seemingly equated criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. He claimed: ‘anyone who is irrationally hostile to Jews or a Jewish project … which is Israel — is an anti-Semite. End of story.’[35]

Julius’ firm Mishcon de Reya has a section on its websites dedicated to Israel-related cases and where it states that it acted on behalf of The University of Haifa and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on ‘an anti-Israeli boycott’ in the UCU’s predecessor unions in 2005 and 2006. [36] In 2003 the firm acted on behalf for the Israeli embassy and Ariel Sharon complaining to the Press Complaints Commission that a cartoon published in The Independent on Monday 27 January 2003 was prejudicial and pejorative in breach of Clause 13 (Discrimination) of the Code of Practice. [37] The complaint was rejected and the cartoon won a Political Cartoon of the Year award. In 2011, Julius and Mishcon de Reya also approached Ahava, an Israeli cosmetics store, about getting an injunction against boycott protesters. [38]

During the 20-day hearing in December, Mr Fraser called several witnesses to give evidence. Among these were former MP Denis MacShane and part of Labour Friends of Israel, John Mann MP, Howard Jacobson, the Booker Prize winning novelist, David Hirsh, founder of the anti-boycott group Engage and Jeremy Newmark of the Jewish Leadership Council. [39] The evidence given by Mr Newmark concerning the harassment of Jewish speakers at the 2008 ULU Congress was rejected as untrue. [40] There is some confusion and lack of transparency regarding the funding for Fraser's lawsuit against UCU. Antony Julius has denied that the case has received support from the Israeli government. According to Haaretz, the lawsuit was backed financially by organisations linked to the cen­tral British Jewry lead­er­ship fo­rums, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jew­ish Lead­er­ship Coun­cil. [41] The Jewish Chronicles online reported on 12 Septembers 2013 that the UCU took Fraser back to the Central London Employment Tribunal seeking to recover its legal costs from Fraser, and from Mishcon de Reya, writing that UCU’s claim was for £500,000 ($800,050), [42]

Communication

AFI’s main form of communication consists in a regular digests, whose frequency varies. These digests will sometimes contain updates on a single issue or a wide variety of articles and documents related to boycott activities. Digests before the year 2006 are not available online and the last digest to be issued was in February 2012. Following his lost lawsuit, Fraser published a personal statement on the website’s homepage in which he wrote that he intends ‘to campaign for us as a community to accept a definition of Jewishness which includes a connection with Israel and the adoption of a definition of anti-Semitism.’ [43] Since this message, there has not been any activity on the website.

Funding

According to documents filed with Companies House, the latest publicly available net worth of AFI was listed on 30 November 2012 at £1,731 ($2,814). [44]

</th>
2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Cash £709 £1,186 £1,731 £1,837 £2,004
Net Worth £709 £1,186 £1,731 £1,731 £1,731
Total Assets £709 £1,186 £1,731 £1,837 £2,004


In his evidence to the court, Fraser admitted that 'the Friends of the various Israeli University groups' had donated £70,000 to the Fair Play Campaign Group, set up by the Board of Deputies (BoD) of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council to coordinate activity against boycotts of Israel. Fraser also alleged that the Fair Play Campaign Group in turn had given £50,000 to Engage, an organisation campaigning against the academic boycott. [45] The founder of Engage, David Hirsch, also appeared as a witness during the case proceedings. It is not clear if part of this funding also went to AFI.

Affiliations

Notes

  1. Academic Friends of Israel, http://www.academics-for-israel.org/index.php?page=about%20us, accessed 15 February 2014
  2. Claimant and Respondents Mr R Fraser University & College Union JUDGMENT OF THE EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAl, judiciary.gov.uk, 22 March 2013, p.2
  3. http://jcpa.org/book/europes-crubling-myths/ accessed 21 February 2014
  4. Manfred Gerstenfeld, Demonizing Israel and the Jews , http://israelseen.com/2013/10/30/demonizing-israel-and the-jews-by-dr-manfred-gerstenfeld/, October 30 2013 accessed 21 February 2014
  5. Ibid.
  6. https://www.wjr.org.uk/news/496-wjr-announces-first-president accessed 21 February 2014
  7. Friends of Israel Educational Foundation, http://www.foi-asg.org/reference/profile-john-levy.pdf accessed 22 February 2014
  8. PNAS, http://www.pnas.org/content/103/24/8915.full accessed 21 February 2014
  9. BBC Watch, ‘Jeremy Bowen and the Gaza Conflict’, http://bbcwatch.org/jeremy-bowen-and-the-gaza-conflict/. accessed 22 February 2014
  10. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, http://jcpa.org/researcher/prof-leslie-wagner/#sthash.MIekk4vS.dpuf http://jcpa.org/researcher/prof-leslie-wagner/, accessed 23 February 2014
  11. Leslie Wagner, ‘Watching the Pro-Israeli Academic Watchers’, Jewish Political Studies Review Vol.23 No.12
  12. PDF of <http://www.academics-for-israel.org/index.php?page=about us> created 19 March 2010
  13. Claimant and Respondents Mr R Fraser University & College Union JUDGMENT OF THE EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAl, judiciary.gov.uk, 22 March 2013, p.20
  14. Ronnie Fraser, ‘The Academic Boycott of Israel: A Review of the Five-Year UK Campaign to Defeat’, ://jcpa.org/article/the-academic-boycott-of-israel-a-review-of-the-five-year-uk-campaign-to-defeat-it/#sthash.MAtCtB2E.dpuf, March 2 2008, accessed 14 February 2014
  15. AUT, ‘UCU - University and College Union - NATFHE motion on proposed boycott of Israeli academics – an AUT statement’, 2006, accessed 15 February 2014
  16. Academic Friends of Israel, http://www.academics-for-israel.org/index.php?page=v5n10, accessed 15 February 2014
  17. UCU, CIRCULAR UCU/34, http://www.ucu.org.uk/circ/html/ucu34.html, 7 August 2007, accessed 15 Febary 2014
  18. Academic Friends of Israel, http://www.academics-for-israel.org/index.php?page=v6n1110 June 2007, accessed 15 February 2014
  19. UCU, ‘Israel boycott illegal and cannot be implemented, UCU tells members’, http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=2829 , 28 September 2007, accessed 15 February 2014
  20. Luke Layfield, ‘Oxford 'appalled' as professor inflames boycott row’, http://www.theguardian.com/education/2003/jul/04/highereducation.internationaleducationnews, 4 July 2003, accessed 15 February 2014
  21. Academic Friends of Israel, http://www.academics-for-israel.org/index.php?page=dw4, accessed 15 February 2014
  22. Academic Friends of Israel, http://www.academics-for-israel.org/index.php?page=dw6, accessed 15 February 2014
  23. Academic Friends of Israel, http://www.academics-for-israel.org/index.php?page=Documents, accessed 16 February 2014
  24. The Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/03/28/ronnie-fraser-ucuc-antisemitic-israel-palestine-tribunal_n_2971925.html, 28 March 2013, accessed 16 February 2014
  25. Academic Friends of Israel, ‘Submission to Parliamentary anti-Semitism inquiry’, 2006
  26. Academic Friends of Israel, ‘Submission to Parliamentary anti-Semitism inquiry’, 2006
  27. Academic Friends of Israel, ‘Norwegian University to vote on Israel boycott , http://www.academics-for-israel.org/index.php?page=v8n10,5 November 2009, accessed 16 February 2014
  28. Academic Friends of Israel, ‘Norwegian University rejects proposal for an academic boycott of Israel’, http://www.academics-for-israel.org/index.php?page=v8n12, 17 November 2009, accessed 16 February 2014
  29. Miriam Shaviv, ‘UK academic union to face claims of institutional anti-semitism’, http://www.timesofisrael.com/uk-academic-union-to-face-claims-of-institutional-anti-semitism/, The Times of Israel, October 30 2012, accessed 16 February 2014.
  30. Academic Friends of Israel http://www.academics-for-israel.org/Mishcon_letter_to_UCU_010711.pdf, accessed 16 February 2014
  31. Claimant and Respondents Mr R Fraser University & College Union JUDGMENT OF THE EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAl, judiciary.gov.uk, 22 March 2013, p.45.
  32. Claimant and Respondents Mr R Fraser University & College Union JUDGMENT OF THE EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAl, judiciary.gov.uk, 22 March 2013, p.44
  33. Claimant and Respondents Mr R Fraser University & College Union JUDGMENT OF THE EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAl, judiciary.gov.uk, 22 March 2013, p.45.
  34. Asa Winstanley, ‘How Israel’s supporters are attempting to shut down boycott debate in UK unions’, http://electronicintifada.net/content/how-israels-supporters-are-attempting-shut-down-boycott-debate-uk-unions/12036, Electronic Intifada, 27 December 2012, accessed 16 February 2014
  35. Engage’ says no to boycotting Israel (Anthony Julius),” YouTube , (time code 02:32), Accessed 16 February 2014
  36. Mishcon de Reya, http://www.mishcon.com/services/corporate/israel, accessed 16 February 2014
  37. Mishcon de Reya,’ solicitors on behalf of the Embassy of Israel and Ariel Sharon’,Press Complaints Commission, report 62 [undated]).
  38. ‘Ahava finally closes its doors in London’, The Jewish Chronicle, 27 September 2011.
  39. Jack Grove, ‘Tribunal slams academic for bringing anti-Semitism case’, http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/tribunal-slams-academic-for-bringing-anti-semitism-case/2002841.article, Times Higher Education, 27 March 2013, accessed 15 February 2014
  40. Claimant and Respondents Mr R Fraser University & College Union JUDGMENT OF THE EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAl, judiciary.gov.uk, 22 March 2013, p.37
  41. Anshel Pfeffer, ‘British Jewry in turmoil after tribunal blasts pro-Israel activist for bringing harassment case’, http://www.haaretz.com/misc/iphone-article/british-jewry-in-turmoil-after-tribunal-blasts-pro-israel-activist-for-bringing-harassment-case.premium-1.514173, Haaretz, 4 April 2013, accessed 21 February 2014
  42. Marcus Dysch, ‘Union seeks to reclaim costs after tribunal win’, http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/111336/union seeks-reclaim-costs-after-tribunal-win, JC, 12 September 2013, accessed 22 February 2014
  43. http://www.academics-for-israel.org/
  44. http://companycheck.co.uk/company/05297417/THE-ACADEMIC-FRIENDS-OF-ISRAEL-LTD/financial-accounts accessed 3 March 2014
  45. BRICUP UNION DEFEATS LEGAL CHALLENGE ALLEGING ANTISEMITISM:RIGHT TO ADVOCATE BOYCOTT OF ISRAEL UPHELD PRESS RELEASE 26th March 2013 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, accessed 21 February 2014