Would the largest ever programme of co-operation and exchanges between British and Israeli academics have come into existence were it not for the UK government's opposition to the UCU's and its predecessor unions' last three years of tolerating and encouraging campaigns to condemn and boycott Israeli academics? Was it simply a by-product of Gordon Brown being in Israel today, marking the first official visit to the country by a serving UK Prime Minister?
Julia Smith, deputy director of the British Council, told The Jerusalem Post Sunday, "This program is not something related to the boycott. The British Council and British government are opposed to an academic boycott of Israel. Boycott calls have come from a small minority of the academic community in Britain.
"BIRAX will hopefully be a long-running program to strengthen the existing ties between Britain and Israel," she said.
You get a rather different view from Professor David Newman of Israel's Ben Gurion University, who has been on a sabbatical in England during the current year:
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Prof. David Newman, who has been active in fighting boycott efforts during his sabbatical in England this year, told the Post that the program "has a great deal to do with the boycott."
"Because of the ongoing discussion of boycotts, the British government decided that the most appropriate response was to strengthen research ties," he said. Newman added that he had been involved in planning the program since its beginning.
And here's a still more revealing comment in the same article from an anonymous source "close to the boycott issue":
A source close to the boycott issue told the Post that the choice of targeting junior academics was not coincidental.
"By choosing starting academics, when the unions start discussing a boycott there will be more people who have had some contact with Israel and will have some knowledge. We've discovered that 80 percent of those who attend the union meetings don't know anything about Israel or the issue. So it's sort of a value added element to the program," he said.
There is also the wider issue of why this happens to be the first time a UK Prime Minister has paid an official visit to Israel, despite over 20 years of British rule via the former League of Nations Mandate.
The last few months have seen the new key ruling pollticians of Germany, France and England rushing to be identified with policies more sympathetic to Israel than in recent years, in contrast to their predecessors' widespread criticism of what they condemned as "disproportionate action" by Israel during the 2006 war with Hezbollah.
What seems to be happening here is a jostling for primacy within an enlarged European Union, whose dynamic, with the accession of so many former Soviet satellites, whose governments continue to wish to shake off the reflex anti-imperialist/ anti-zionist rhetoric of their past, is showing signs of shifting away from its left-wing socialist focus of former near-partisan support of the Palestinians. Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and now Gordon Brown all seem to be keen to make more gestures of sympathy towards Israel, including high-profile official visits, than most EU leaders have done in recent years.
And, behind the scenes, the dynamic of the diplomatic struggle to head off Iran from developing nuclear weapons and so avoid Israel taking a pre-emptive strike may well be a further reason why all these visits have happened over so few months. The Telegraph reports that Brown will make a strongly anti-Iranian statement when he addresses the Israeli Knesset tomorrow, as does The Independent.
This is what Ha'aretz reports of Gordon Brown's account of that process, giving a view that he hasn't yet articulated in the UK Parliament, as far as I'm aware:
...the new European leadership - Germany's Angela Merkel, France's Nicolas Sarkozy, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and himself - is interested in bolstering the collaboration with the United States in affecting change in the global agenda, including that of the Middle East.
Whatever happens to Gordon Brown over the next few months, and even up to the likely coming to power of David Cameron under a new Tory administration, it looks unlikely that any change of Prime Minister or government will change this course.
Were Israel to launch a pre-emptive attack on Iran, where would the EU stand? No doubt the sudden rush of prime ministerial meetings has provided the opportunity to leave a few messages which would not be sayable in the public realm.
Meanwhile, back in Euston, UCU and its SWP-dominated executive will be continuing to devote hours of their energy and a great deal of their members' money to supporting and hosting the Stop the War Campaign, fighting for their pro-Cuba campaign and of course appearing on platforms and in demonstrations supporting the Palestine Solidarity Campaign with its central plank of boycotting all Israeli goods, facilities and services, including Israel's universities, theatres and films and the people who work in them.
Tonight's BBC Radio 4 radio news reports have centred solely on the new financial aid being set up for the Palestinian Authority, although this is little more than a further episode of a long established relationship. The BBC news website takes up Brown's pro-Israel comments, seen on the ITN news ciip above, from his visit to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Memorial Museum, but remains silent on the new academic co-operation initiative.
And The Guardian goes even further, focusing only on Brown's visit to Ramallah, and amplifying everything he said that was supportive to the Palestinian cause, whilst remaining silent on his condemnation of Palestinian terrorism and on the enthusiastically supportive pro-Israel statements reported in Ha'aretz and the rest of the Israeli press. There is not tonight one UK media mention of the academic agreement, which delivers a socking response to UCU and the pro-boycott campaigners, despite the high profile coverage these campaigns have previously received in the UK media.
UPDATE: The Independent now covers it here. The Guardian on Monday morning still doesn't refer to the exchange and includes an amazing subhead "Echoes of the Holocaust as Ahmadinejad singled out" which presents President Ahmadinejad as a victim. That's a particularly resonant use of "singling out," because it refers both to what happened to Jews in Nazi Europe and is the main focus of the criticism of the UCU and the anti-Israel boycotters, who campaign only for the boycott of Israel, whilst remaining silent on the actions of other states with arguably much more serious records of oppression, suppression of academic freedom and the like.
Question for the Guardian: "Singling out" usually implies a collective of offenders from which just one is selected. How many other heads of state are currently regularly making speeches asking for other countries to be wiped off the map?