This week I attended a talk given by Cambridge Universtiy Palestinian Society, featuring Omar Barghouti, founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. Last week an article in this newspaper painted Mr. Barghouti as a saint and laughed off any criticism of him.

The BDS movement is far too simplistic to try to solve such a complex issue as the Israel/Palestinian conflict. It does not directly address the issue which is the cultural, social and political situation in Israel at the moment. Instead it focuses on punishing innocent companies and academics for tenuous links with the State of Israel. This is a negative and destructive method, causing damage to the economy not just of Israel, but also to Gaza and the West Bank.

But what’s so scary about Mr Barghouti? His casual use of buzzwords such as apartheid and ethnic cleansing are unfounded, and yet no-one in attendance questions him on this. To compare the situation in Israel to South African apartheid is unacceptable. This belittles the horrors of apartheid in South Africa in many ways, in Israel there is no apartheid. Everyone in the state has the vote, including the non Jewish 20% of the population, and there are currently 14 Arab Members of the Knesset (Israeli Government). However, this short article will not try to address the nitty gritty of Israeli Policy.

Ok, so maybe he’s ignorant in his analogy of Israel to apartheid South Africa. But that’s not so scary... Barghouti accuses Palestinians who have engaged with Israelis in intellectual debates and artistic partnerships of being "guilty of moral blindness and political shortsightedness" and "clinically delusional or dangerously deceptive." OK, so maybe he’s an extreme one-stater. Still not so scary. But the repercussions of his talk are.

This blinded ignorance is infectious, as comments left on the article “Who’s afraid of Omar Barghouti?”, on the Varsity website suggest.  In response to one student’s defence of Israeli democracy, another, instead of engaging in sensible debate, replied “its so sweet seeing these jews to the rescue - they never fail to amuse! I can only try and understand their fascism and blinded fundamentalism”.

Also thrown into the comment for good measure was the analogy of a Jew supporting Israel being like an Arsenal fan “...those wearing blue and white must chant and sing as the Yid-Army faces its next round of what it thinks is the Champions League.” Surely Cambridge students can express their opinions in a more respectful way, without generalising the opinions of religious groups, without valuing condescending insults above serious discussion.

Politically extreme speakers like Barghouti are not unique. Over the last year the Cambridge University Palestinian Society has hosted other such speakers such as Salman Abu Sitta, Ben White, Robert Boyce, Daud Abdullah and Azzam Tamimi. Tamimi, for example, banned from UCL, has advocated suicide bombings and spoken in praise of ‘the Jihad of Hamas and Hizbollah’. He spoke in Cambridge twice last year and has been invited back next month. Daud Abdullah has signed the Istanbul Declaration which condones attacks on British troops. We should not silence these views. Instead I call on the brilliant minds of Cambridge to question these speakers, and highlight the flaws in their fundamentalist ideology. However, I do ask, is it appropriate for the Palestinian Society to present only this extremist narrative?

In the specific case of Omar Barghouti, instead of hosting a negative and destructive proposal for BDS, why not instead focus our attention on positive, progressive and constructive solutions to the problems faced in Israel? Instead of divesting, we should invest in programs bringing Israelis and Palestinians closer together.

So many initiatives are doing incredible work to build bridges and we should be supporting, not undermining them. There's the Parents Circle which unites hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones in the conflict, and encourages them to support each other, working together towards reconciliation rather than turning to revenge. The Israeli-Palestinian Business Forum assists small and medium-sized enterprises to engage in cross-boundary commerce and joint ventures, as well as advocating policies that will encourage a more positive business environment for cooperation. The Abraham Fund's Israel branch is an educational organisation dedicated to enhancing coexistence between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens. The list goes on and I think it's time for the Cambridge University Palestinian Society to catch on.