Blogs > HNN > BLINKERED AND ILL-TIMED? THE TIMES OF LONDON ON THE BRITISH ACADEMIC BOYCUTT OF TWO ISRAELI UNIVERSITIES

Apr 26, 2005 10:22 am


BLINKERED AND ILL-TIMED? THE TIMES OF LONDON ON THE BRITISH ACADEMIC BOYCUTT OF TWO ISRAELI UNIVERSITIES



AUT boycott of Israeli universities is inimical to academic freedom
The Times (London), editorial, 25 April, 2005

The decision by the Association of University Teachers (AUT) to boycott two
universities in Israel is a mockery of academic freedom, a biased and
blinkered move that is as ill-timed as it is perverse.

The vote at the AUT annual conference to forbid its 40,000 members to visit
Haifa and Bar Ilan universities in protest at the alleged ill-treatment of
Palestinians in the occupied territories not only comes at the very moment
when official Israeli-Palestinian relations are improving, but it also
targets the very institutions in Israel that have been havens of political
and racial tolerance and beacons of academic freedom.

The sponsors of the boycott maintain that Haifa University is threatening
to sack a lecturer for supporting a student?s thesis on an alleged Israeli
massacre in 1948, and that Bar Ilan has links with a college based in a
settlement in the West Bank. They say the academic boycott is a protest
against discrimination, as valid as the widely supported ban by British
universities on links with South African institutions during the apartheid
years.

Such a claim is as laughable as it is inaccurate. Whereas many South
African academics supported outside pressure on their government and almost
all black students complained of discrimination, in Israel neither is true.
In both universities, Jews and Arabs study together, and in Haifa
especially there is a substantial number of Arab lecturers and students.
Moreover, if Palestinian students themselves are not calling for a boycott,
what is the point of such tokenism by the AUT?

In many British universities there are vocal critics of Israeli policies.
Academics have expressed revulsion at the continued building of Israeli
settlements and the occupation of Palestinian territories. They are fully
entitled to the vigorous expression of their views. They can speak out in
public, join protest marches and argue with pro-Israeli colleagues. What
they are not entitled to do is to impose a trade union boycott that is
inimical to academic freedom ? a principle fundamental not only to
civilised society but the very basis of their professional life. Their
actions are an echo of the Nazi ban on Jewish academics, and the general
discrimination so common three generations ago.

The second reason why this boycott ? swiftly and rightly condemned by
university vice-chancellors and principals ? is so dangerous is that it can
quickly become an excuse for anti-Semitism. Many people, including the
Jewish co-sponsor of the motion, are able to draw a proper distinction
between criticism of Israel and racism; an increasing number, however, are
not ? or, more despicably, choose not to see any difference. Many Jewish
students at British universities are already suffering growing hostility,
including intolerable abuse from extremists. The Union of Jewish Students
argued that any of its members supporting Israel would not be equal in the
classroom with an AUT member.

The issue of discrimination is more overtly political in the broader
context of the Middle East. How much academic freedom exists in Syria? Or
Saudi Arabia? Why does the AUT not call for a ban on contacts in dozens of
other countries inimical to human rights? If the reply is that building
bridges achieves far more, that is all the truer of Israel. AUT members
should defeat this pernicious ban by cultivating every contact available as
soon as possible with the two Israeli universities.



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