Academic Boycotts Hurt Scholars but Do Little to Change Policies, Say Speakers at Israeli Conference

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Although the academic boycott a British faculty union imposed on two Israeli universities last spring has been overturned, anti-Israel bias continues to harm scholars and distort research, said participants in a conference here this week at Bar-Ilan University.

Scholars and public figures from the United States, Britain, and Israel said that virulent anti-Israel sentiment, much of it emanating from the academic left, has created an atmosphere in which students and faculty members in some fields are intimidated if they do not accept the proposition that Israel's existence is illegitimate.

The conference, entitled "Academic Freedom and the Politics of Boycotts," was sponsored by Bar-Ilan's International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom and the American Jewish Congress.

Last April, the Association of University Teachers in Britain called on its members to refrain from collaborating in academic or cultural projects with colleagues at Bar-Ilan and the University of Haifa, on the grounds that the two Israeli institutions were believed to have violated the rights of Palestinians and of faculty members who supported the Palestinian cause. The boycott was the latest in a series of actions taken by anti-Israel faculty members seeking to ostracize colleagues of Israeli nationality. The decision caused an outcry within the academic community in Britain, as well as in the United States, Israel, and elsewhere, and a month later it was rescinded....

David Newman, chairman of the political-science department at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, in southern Israel, criticized the conference organizers for not inviting or soliciting papers from any proponents of the boycott, and even from left-wing Israeli social scientists.

However, Gerald Steinberg, a Bar-Ilan political scientist who is chairman of the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom's conference committee, defended that decision.

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