What Academic Values Does the British Boycott Protect?
In what has nearly become a perverse, recurring rite of spring, and yet more evidence that universities have become, as Abigail Thernstrom has described them, “islands of repression in a sea of freedom,” Britain’s University and College Union, which represents some 120,000 members, voted in May to call for a boycott against Israeli academics. Why Israeli academic institutions? Because, the boycotters say, “Israel’s 40-year occupation has seriously damaged the fabric of Palestinian society through annexation, illegal settlement, collective punishment and restriction of movement,” that there exists a “complicity of Israeli academia in the occupation,” and therefore academics in a State which behaves this way will henceforth be shunned from joint intellectual pursuits, research, and teaching.
Critics of the called-for boycott, and there were many who voiced immediate and thunderous opposition, wondered aloud why, of all countries on earth—countries where actual and chronic repression, genocide, occupation, militarism, and subjugation do exist—why was Israel being singled out for the academics’ disdain. Many, of course, ascribe the obsession with Israeli faults as being symptomatic of a more serious concern, Europe’s long sickness of anti-Semitism, a Jew hatred that has been finessed in current times by its promoters being able to publicly announce, as the boycotters have, that, ‘no, it is not anti-Semitism at all. It is not Jews we abhor, only Zionism and Israel for what they do to the perennially-victimized Palestinians.’
Assuming that the British union is actually innocent of this pernicious hatred, and that their sanctimonious effort to right the perceived wrongs done to the Palestinians is, though misconceived, sincere, what is the just cause or set of values they purport to defend with their boycott? If they take the outrageous first step of denying Israeli academics any discourse at all in what is usually called “the academic marketplace of ideas,” of banishing them from the world of dialogue, research, and learning, have not they already struck a fatal blow to the core guiding principle of the academy? Since when has it been the responsibility of the university to control the actions of the state, or for its members to share culpability for the political decisions of a nation?
And if the Union members in fact feel that academics shape and influence national policy and political behavior, their choice of the Palestinians, now being led by homicidal Islamists, Hamas, seems a bit troublesome. What should not be lost on observers is that in the Union’s decision to condemn and boycott Israeli academics, they therefore affirm the perceived ideological superiority of the Palestinian side of the moral equation. They have embraced ‘Palestinianism’ completely as their choice of a cause to defend—with the genocidal terrorism, rabid anti-Semitism, political truculence, internecine violence, and general despair that has defined the Palestinian cause since it was minted in 1967 as a political tool against Israel.
Nor, since they target Israeli academics for not speaking out against the State of Israel’s political actions, should the boycotters overlook the political actions of the Palestinian “state” they so obsessively defend with their fulminations against Israel: because here, in what has been deemed by observers to be essentially child abuse, young Palestinians are inculcated, nearly from birth, with seething, blind, unrelenting, and obsessive hatred of Jews and the “Zionist regime”; kindergartners graduate with blood-soaked hands while toting plastic AK 47s and dedicating their lives to jihad; and older children are recruited to hide explosives on their bodies to transform themselves into “shahids”—a new generation of kindling for radical Islam’s cult of death.
The higher educational system which the British boycotts chooses as the morally- superior and deserving choice to Israel’s has not been free of the perverse indoctrination and teaching of terror, either. When Hamas formed its cabinet after being voted into office, for example, 13 of its ministers had been teachers at either at the Islamic University in Gaza or at the Al-Najah National University in Nablus.
In fact, says Matthew Levitt, director of The Washington Institute's Stein Program on Terrorism, Intelligence, and Policy, with some 11,000 students, Al-Najah is the largest university in the territories and “the terrorist recruitment, indoctrination and radicalization of students for which al-Najah is known typically take place via various student groups,” among them the Hamas-affiliated Islamic Bloc. “Of the thirteen members of Al-Najah's 2004 student council, eight,” he says—“including the chairperson—belong to Hamas's Islamic Bloc.”
Sometimes students take their ideological lead from college administrators who are not hesitant to make their political feelings know. In fact, Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al-Quds University, took the opportunity during a 2002 appearance on Al-Jazeera to congratulate the mother of a suicide bomber with whom he appeared by rhapsodizing, "When I hear the words of Umm Nidal, I recall the verse [from the Koran] stating that 'Paradise lies under the feet of mothers.' All respect is due to this mother; it is due to every Palestinian mother and every female Palestinian who is a Jihad fighter on this land."
The British boycotters may be frustrated that Israeli academics have not been influenced by their own government’s oppressive actions, but the same cannot be said of students at al-Najah University, for example, who fondly remembered the outbreak of the Intifada by constructing a macabre attraction called "The Sbarro Cafe Exhibition," named for the location of a 2001 suicide bombing of a Jerusalem pizza parlor where 15 Jews were murdered and dozens more wounded. Created not as a memorial but as an inspiration for further terror-laden savagery, the diorama included scattered pizza slices amid Israeli body parts, splattered blood, calls to martyrdom with Koran and Kalashnikovs close by, and, beaming out of a loudspeaker behind a mannequin version of an Orthodox Jew, the inspiring take on an oft-repeated Islamic exhortation: "O believer, there is a Jewish man behind me. Come and kill him."
Nor are Palestinian students unimaginative in demonstrating their newly-found hatreds when they actively participate in student government activities. “During student elections at Bir Zeit University in 2003,” Leavitt recounts, “Hamas candidates reenacted suicide bombings by blowing up models of Israeli buses. In one Bir Zeit campus debate, a Hamas candidate taunted his Fatah challenger by boasting, ‘Hamas activists in this University killed 135 Zionists. How many did Fatah activists from Bir Zeit kill?’”
But even the tranquility of the university setting, where this ideological stew can normally boil unmolested, was shattered with June’s internecine violence in Gaza between factions of Hamas and Fatah. Though the British lecturers excoriated Israel because, as one of their complaints went, Palestinian students were inconvenienced by security checkpoints as they carried their books to school each morning, the “sanctity” of the college setting was forgotten when Palestinian Authority forces, believing it was being used as a staging area for Hamas rocket launches, stormed the 17,000-student Islamic University in Gaza, setting the entire campus ablaze, destroying books in its library , and gutting offices, classrooms, and the student center. Apparently the concept of academic freedom had to be revoked here, since virtually every leading figure of Hamas has taught or studied at Islamic University.
Not to be outdone, Hamas masked thugs soon took their turn at educational reform by showering the Fatah-linked Al Quds Open University with rocket-propelled grenades, and shortly thereafter storming the facility, looting it of its computers, and torching the classrooms.
Commentator Melanie Phillips, in speaking about the Union’s boycott, lamented how British academics, with a long tradition of learning, had incredulously shamed that legacy and that their action, as she puts it, “represents a profound betrayal of the cardinal principle of intellectual endeavour, which is freedom of speech and debate.” The act of condemning Israel’s universities, of excluding them from the fellowship of the international academic community, was, Phillips thinks, a disgraceful calumny that contradicts all those values that the university should, and usually does, hold dear. Instead, the boycotters have begun to behave in a repressive, unethical, and morally- questionable way.
“Censorship, suppression of ideas and intellectual intimidation are associated with totalitarian regimes,” Phillips says, “which attempt to coerce people into the approved way of thinking.” As Hamas shuts downs internet cafes, stifles dissent, murders its political foes, and begins introducing Islamic law in Gaza, one wonders if the British Union, in their misguided quest to make academic inquiry and unfettered learning flourish in the Levant, perhaps has chosen the wrong horse to ride.
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Lori Joachim Fredrics - 8/17/2007
It is sad but true that here in the Uk it is, indeed normal to place Israel under a microscope while ignoring the serious problems caused by the actions of the British goverment. While British troop and American troops are occupying Iraq some British academic focus on Israel and see it from their own twisted perspective. While it is widely accepted that the goverment here in the UK can and should go to ANY lengths to protect themselves from terror attacks, they begrudge Israeli's for protecting their country and their people.
The promoters of the boycott against Israeli academic are a small few the rest are complicit and the jewish community in Britain has a long tradition of not making waves.
Meanwhile acts against Jewish academics here in the UK are becoming more and more overt.
Just as worrying and puzzling (or perhaps not) I seem to see a correlation between those British Academics who have negative feeling against Jewish academics and negative feeling and treatment of black and Muslim students.
I guess those who see Israelis as less than human can and do extend that feeling to anyone who is not white and British ans/or doesn't "play the game" or complicity.
The international Jewish community should be aware of this and take steps to make sure that this poison does not spread.
Elliott Aron Green - 8/9/2007
I do appreciate Philip Brown's tongue in cheek comment which points to the absurdity of the situation.
Elliott Aron Green - 8/9/2007
Tim M unquestioningly accepts the claim that Israel is "occupying" territory. In fact, Judea-Samaria & Gaza were all parts of the Jewish National Home juridically erected under international law by the 1920 San Remo Conference. This status was endorsed by the League of Nations in 1922 and confirmed in the United Nations charter in Article 80 [1945-46]. Whether the UN could have subsequently divested the Jewish people of their right to the Land of Israel [called "Palestine" by San Remo and the League of Nations] is dubious, for various reasons, including Article 80 of the UN Charter. Anyhow, the 29 November 1947 UN General Assembly partition resolution was only a recommendation, as are all General Assembly resolutions on political matters. Therefore, the 11-29-47 resolution did not and does not have the force of law. The armistice agreements subsequent to the Israel-Arab War/Israeli War of Independence of 1947-1949 specifically denied that any permanent borders were being recognized or that any political issues were being settled. The 1949 armistice lines were NOT borders. Thus, Judea-Samaria & Gaza were NOT and are not territories "occupied" by Israel which has a legal right to them as above.
Furthermore, during WW2 and the Holocaust, the British govt violated the terms of the mandate by severely restricting Jewish immigration into the territory. This act of British complicity with the Holocaust was based on the 1939 "Palestine White Paper" of the UK which was found in violation by the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations. On this Tim M can peruse many books, such as Exile and Return by Martin Gilbert, Rape of Palestine by William Ziff, various writings of Pierre van Paassen, etc. On account of British policy, when Jews most needed a home, during the Holocaust, the Jewish National Home was almost closed to Jewish immigration. For this and other reasons, the British govt could be called a silent partner in the Holocaust.
As to the slaughter of Jewish civilians by Arab terrorists, it is rooted in a long history of oppression and exploitation of Jews in Arab/Muslim lands as dhimmis.
Lastly, can Tim M explain why the British academic boycotters are not boycotting the universities of Sudan which has been massacring southern Sudanese Blacks since independence in 1956?? This situation has rightfully been called genocide. Why didn't they boycott the Iraqi univs after the use of poison gas by Saddam Hussein's forces against the Kurds was proven in 1988?
Ira Salomon - 8/2/2007
Interesting that GMU the sponsor of the site has agreed to host a conference of ISM. The International Solidarity Movement is a front group of anti-Israel people trying to spread boycotts in the US. They use the college campus as their main source of recruits
Philip Brown - 7/31/2007
If occupying a mid-east country is enough to warrant a boycott, shouldn't the Brittish be boycotting themselves? Let alone the Americans.
MARK Wall - 7/30/2007
It may seem that way to you but this parable of bias and one sided thinking is right on the mark. Where ois the corresponding outcry against the theological ravings within the Palestinian and other mideast communities for genocide against Jews and any who allow them to live?
The English University community will be greatly diminished by denying themselves access to a truly independent and free academic community within Israel while sucking up to the politicized and biased quasi universities within the Palastinian community. Good luck to them!
Louis Nelson Proyect - 7/30/2007
"The author's essay seems to me one long succession of red herrings, non-sequitors, and effort to prove guilt by association."
What else would you expect from a university that hired John Silber to run it?
Tim Matthewson - 7/30/2007
The author's essay seems to me one long succession of red herrings, non-sequitors, and effort to prove guilt by association. To prove the case, the author would have had to take about Isreal's occupation of the occupied territories, not about Palestinian homicide bombers.
Joseph Mutik - 7/30/2007
The UK boycott is a part of the normal European anti-Jewish hatred which in our days is championed by the extreme left.
The UN is also in the front lines of the anti-Jewish hatred:
Islamic states urge UN boss be quiet on rights body
- Raleigh Trevelyan, Chronicler of a Notable Family, Dies at 91
- Former spokesman of B.C. anti-immigration group wants UBC history prof fired
- Harvard's Steven Shapin Wins History of Science Award
- Middle East Studies Association Fights a Rising Tide of Critics