Why has an Israeli diplomat smeared me?
Hilary Aked, Electronic Intifada, Oct 12 2016
I have been smeared by an Israeli diplomat. Recently, I obtained copies of messages that Matt Keston from Israel’s London embassy sent to students at the University of Bath, where I am a researcher. In his comments, made in a Facebook chat earlier this month, Keston describes me as “an absolute nutcase of an academic” and as a “very extreme anti-Israel person” who has written “crazy stuff.” Keston also alleged that I had “intimidated and threatened” the organizers of an event at which one of his colleagues had been invited to speak. Not only has Keston tried to tarnish my reputation, he has told a lie. Here are Keston’s messages:
Here is what actually happened. In March this year, I was asked to debate Yiftah Curiel, another Israeli diplomat who was planning to visit Bath. A Palestinian student and a teacher critical of Israel were similarly asked to take part in that event. All three of us declined to do so, citing our support for BDS. I wrote a letter to the event’s organizers. In it, I respectfully urged them to cancel the debate, while letting them know that if they went ahead, I would call for peaceful protests on campus. Far from being intimidating or threatening, my letter was polite and respectful. In the end, the debate was called off, and that appears to be the cause of Keston’s irritation. In his comments, Keston claims that he “did over 100 events” during the last academic year. and that Bath was the only one which was canceled. Keston works as an academic affairs officer in the embassy. As part of his work, he has been contacting campus groups to arrange events at which his colleagues may speak. His attack on my reputation followed a message he had sent to the debating society at the University of Bath in early September. In that message, he stated that he was planning visits to UK colleges for Israeli diplomats during the last few months of this year and the first half of 2017. Keston claimed:
Over the past academic year, I have placed speakers and diplomats into the departments and classes of 36 different universities, to do talks and be part of panel debates.
In his subsequent messages to students at Bath, he tried to reschedule the talk that was canceled in March. Keston’s outreach at British universities is taking place against the backdrop of Israeli efforts to counter the BDS movement. Gilad Erdan, Israel’s strategic affairs minister, is overseeing a major initiative against BDS. His ministry has been allocated $45m for that purpose this year. The BDS movement enjoys considerable support among students in the UK. That has not gone unnoticed by the Israeli government. When the NUS formally endorsed the BDS call in Jun 2015, Netanyahu tweeted his disapproval. Keston and his colleagues have been promoting anti-BDS activities at UK universities. For example, the formation of the Israel Engagement Society at the University of Edinburgh during 2015 has been applauded by the embassy. The society has opposed BDS calls by describing them as “irresponsible” and claiming it prefers “peace” to boycotts.
Keston has circulated fundraising appeals from the Israel Engagement Society on social media. He has also arranged for his colleagues to visit universities in Leeds, Aberdeen and to King’s College London, according to his posts on Facebook. While Keston has described me as “very extreme,” he has been happy to embrace commentators who defend violations of basic human rights. In November last year, Keston stated that he was “proud to have instigated” a visit to the UK by Alan Dershowitz, who has defended the use of torture. This indicates that the Israeli embassy has provided logistical assistance both to official representatives of Israel and to its unofficial surrogates. During his trip, Dershowitz took part in a debate on BDS at the Oxford Union. That debate was reported in the JPost as a victory for Israel’s supporters, a motion proposed by Dershowitz arguing that boycotting Israel is wrong won a majority when put to a vote after the debate. It is not surprising that Israel’s supporters were pleased to win a debate at the Oxford Union, an elite club frequented by aspiring prime ministers. Yet the motions that the club approves have no status in the real world; they do not alter the fact that the National Union of Students has formally endorsed BDS.
Although Keston may claim to have organized more than 100 events last year, the truth is that representatives of Israel know that they will receive a hostile reception on many campuses. That might explain why diplomats have bypassed some student bodies completely. In February last year, students and teachers at SOAS in London voted by a substantial majority to cut all ties with Israeli universities. Unfortunately, the SOAS hierarchy has refused to respect that vote. In April this year, Keston posted on Facebook that the “first job” he had undertaken for Mark Regev, Israel’s new ambassador in London, was to “take him straight to SOAS.” Regev’s visit, to meet Valerie Amos, the director at SOAS, was arranged in secret. It is not hard to guess why. Many students at SOAS were angry that Amos received Regev and protested outside the director’s office when they learned about the meeting. If the event had been publicly announced, Regev would almost certainly have faced even larger protests. Regev gained notoriety for defending Israel’s attacks on Gaza’s schools in his previous role as Netanyahu’s spox. Guidelines drawn up by PACBI that campus events and debates with Israeli boxtops can be boycotted. So long as Israel remains an apartheid state, its diplomats will be made to feel unwelcome by conscientious students and teachers. Rather than accepting that reality, it would appear that Israeli diplomats prefer to smear their critics.