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Aug 2011 Journal

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Letter from Israel

London, Libya and economics

As an alumna of the London School of Economics, I received the following notification by email at the beginning of March:

‘It is with great regret that I am writing to inform you … that the LSE Council has accepted the offer of resignation of Sir Howard Davies as Director. This follows an extraordinary meeting of the LSE Council yesterday evening. Sir Howard has, at the behest of the Council, agreed to continue to serve as Director whilst arrangements for succession are resolved.

At the same meeting, Council also resolved to commission an independent external inquiry into the School’s relationship with Libya, to be chaired by Lord Woolf.

Yours sincerely
Fiona Kirk, Director of Development and Alumni Relations’

It transpires that not only has the LSE accepted donations from that arch-villain Muamar Gaddafi, but may also have granted a not entirely merited doctorate to his not much less villainous son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. Naturally, as long as the Gaddafis were not openly involved in savagely murdering the unfortunate subjects of Libya, this went unremarked. But someone spoke out and the matter emerged into the cold light of day.

The whole affair is, of course, very saddening. It is awful to find that the reputation of that august institution, which was founded in 1895 by leading intellectuals of the day (including some Jews) and even played an important role in rescuing academics whose lives were in danger from Nazi persecution in the 1930s, is now tarnished.

I enjoyed the three years I spent at the LSE in the early 1960s, when it was affectionately known as ‘The London Shool of Economics’ because of the large number of Jewish students there (not to mention members of its teaching staff). I joined the choir and the Jewish and Israel Societies and remember the jolly times we had. These included attending the annual debates held at SOAS, when Arab students would put forward a motion condemning Israel (long before 1967), which was invariably voted down amid much merriment on our part.

By coincidence, a few days ago I attended a reunion of LSE alumni in Israel. We were a motley crowd, some of us leading lawyers or professors, and others, like myself, having had a steady rise to obscurity, but all with fond recollections of the time we had spent at the LSE. Among those present were Professors Judith Buber-Agassi and Joseph Agassi, who completed their doctorates at the LSE in 1960, he in philosophy, she in sociology. Addressing the audience, the British ambassador assured us that no matter how vociferous the minority in the UK which speaks out against Israel, the British government is steadfast in its support, even though it is not always in agreement with its policies. Calls for boycotts of various kinds are generally countered by government-backed delegations fostering co-operation in trade, research and culture, while the trade links between the two countries have never been more extensive.

Nevertheless, the impression one gains from the British media is that anti-Israel sentiment (and thinly-veiled anti-Semitism) abound in England, especially on university campuses, while London (and much of England) seems to be in thrall to Arab money.

But wealthy people have always funded institutions of higher education, and it is undoubtedly unfair to criticise what universities do to supplement their budgets given the government’s funding cuts. When the only person other than Jesus to have colleges named for him at both Oxford and Cambridge is Lord Wolfson, we should be the last to point a finger. But somehow I doubt that Lord Wolfson demanded a doctorate for his son or that university policy should be dictated by him. At least, I sincerely hope he didn’t.

Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

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