THE BRITISH BOYCOTT OF HAIFA UNIVERSITY IS BASED ON A LIBEL
Bellow is the WSJ article about the British boycutt. It's too important to cut.
Israelis Need Not Apply
The British boycott of Haifa University is based on a libel.
BY FANIA OZ-SALZBERGER
Sunday, May 8, 2005 12:01 a.m.
On the eve of Passover, the British Association of University Teachers took a decision to boycott two of Israel's eight universities--Haifa and Bar Ilan--for their alleged collusion with the Israeli government in its mistreatment of the Palestinians. Haifa was also accused of curbing academic freedom. This decision is breathtaking, and it will surely feature in the annals of the European radical left and its perverse contribution to peace in the Middle East.
The AUT's secretary-general stated that the ban "should take the form described in the Palestinian call for academic boycott of Israeli institutions." The guidelines, available on the Web site of the Palestinian Bir Zeit University, demand that--"in the spirit of international solidarity"--scholars world-wide abandon any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions, suspend all forms of subsidy to them, and withdraw investments already made.
Although the guidelines mercifully "exclude from the above actions . . . any conscientious Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their state's colonial and racist policies," at least one renowned Israeli civil-rights activist was sacked from the editorial board of an international journal of linguistics during a previous round of boycotts. Her only crime was to have been a faculty member at Bar Ilan University, which, by virtue of its formal academic involvement with a Jewish college in the West Bank, is deemed worthy of a wholesale international ban.
The University of Haifa--my university--is a different story. This model Jewish-Arab institution, a most unlikely candidate for boycott, was declared to be untouchable by the AUT "until it commits itself to upholding academic freedom, and in particular ceases its victimization of academic staff and students who seek to research and discuss the history of the founding of the state of Israel."
The story embedded here is well worth telling, but not in the way the AUT tells it. "On May 15, 2002," the AUT boycott document declares, "Dr. Ilan Pappe, senior lecturer in Political Science at Haifa University, was sent a letter notifying him that he faced trial and possible dismissal from his position. . . . These accusations related to Dr. Pappe's efforts to defend a 55-year-old graduate student, Teddy Katz, whose Master's thesis was under attack by an Israeli veteran's organization because it documented a massacre of 200 unarmed civilians by the Haganah (the pre-state army of Israel) at a village called Tantura, near Haifa."
This, to put it plainly, is false. Mr. Katz's thesis was based almost solely on transcriptions of oral interviews he conducted with elderly Palestinian former residents of Tantura, who allegedly witnessed a massacre of their kin by Jewish soldiers. When veterans of the Israeli army force that attacked Tantura sued Mr. Katz for libel, a district court ruled that the empirical evidence was grossly manipulated in the course of transliterating the tapes. Mr. Katz had put words in the mouths of his interviewees that were never uttered. He agreed to apologize to the veterans, telling the media that radical activists--including Dr. Pappe--had led him astray.
On the basis of this ruling, the University of Haifa decided to reverse the impressive "97" grade already awarded to the thesis, and, in a mood of appeasement, asked Mr. Katz to rectify and resubmit his work. It was then sent out to five external examiners, a majority of whom failed it. It is fair to note that all examiners wished to remain anonymous.
Dr. Pappe, Mr. Katz's unofficial mentor, is an anti-Zionist scholar of great political energies who has been calling for a boycott of Haifa, his own university, for several years. He was, indeed, challenged by a colleague to an internal university disciplinary hearing, not for his connection to the Katz affair but for his enduring efforts to sabotage the institution for which he worked. Dr. Pappe's academic freedom was never on the agenda, and the university authorities did not dismiss him. Last Wednesday, the university's rector finally urged him to quit his job voluntarily. Assuming that several British and Palestinian institutions would happily offer him an academic post, his insistence on remaining a fully paid member of racist and colonialist Haifa University is something of a mystery.
Many of Dr. Pappe's colleagues, including this writer, are baffled and angered by his stance. But that is as far as it goes: Israeli public and campus discourse is rife--and comfortable--with clashes of opinion. Personally, I'd invite him to coffee, a guest appearance at my seminar, and a tough conversation--anytime.
All this seems to have escaped the fact-finding capabilities of our British colleagues. The AUT disregarded not only the methodological nature of the decision to fail Mr. Katz's thesis, but also the meticulous judicial investigation. (In fact, the AUT ought to have called for an international ban on contact with the Israeli judiciary, for having ruled that Mr. Katz had libeled Israeli veterans.) What is worse, the AUT never sent anyone to check out the facts at Haifa, and, I am told, never asked the university for its response. Minimal standards of due process were not met.
No one in the AUT has acknowledged the plain fact that Haifa University's classrooms, dozens of its approved and published theses, and long shelves in its library, display a broad array of historical and sociological research of modern Israel--work that is often as critical as Mr. Katz's, yet far better substantiated.
As a scholar of British history, teaching at Haifa with a doctorate from Oxford, I am, presumably, a target for this boycott. My colleagues and I will henceforth depend on the goodwill of non-AUT British academics--or on Britons of a nonboycotting temperament--in order to get invited to conferences, sit on advisory boards, and have our work published, reviewed and funded. In practice, I do not expect victimization. By and large, our colleagues in Britain will probably keep us within the free market of ideas. After all, as I tell my students (Jews and Arabs, incidentally), British thinkers pioneered the idea of free speech--indeed, at about the time when British ships roamed the high seas looking for places to colonize. So this story is not about endangered careers, nor even about the free flow of learning. It is about moral outrage. Perhaps, also, it is about anti-Semitism.
The AUT got it wrong in just about every possible way. First, by opting for an academic boycott. They say it worked in South Africa, which is, in the very least, doubtful. But South African universities practiced apartheid. At Haifa, a fifth of the student body consists of Arab Israeli citizens. A growing number of faculty, including former and present heads of departments and the new dean of research, are Arabs. Are they facing boycott, too, or does the AUT wish to see certified proof of non-Jewish denomination with every article submitted for publication in a British academic journal?
On a purely pragmatic level, this boycott will not work with Israelis. Despite its socialist pedigree, it smacks of the finger-rapping British governess. It oozes moral superiority. England expects every Israeli academic to do his duty? Thank you, but we're not impressed. We are too deeply entangled with British history ourselves.
Secondly, there is the issue of singling out Israel. Oh yes, Israel is occupying the West Bank and--until August--also the Gaza Strip. The occupation has lasted 38 years, and it has caused Palestinians much suffering. Their human and civil rights are being breached. About 60% of Israelis who answered the most recent polls are willing to end occupation in return for a secure peace. True, a large minority of Israelis still wish to keep some of the West Bank under Israeli rule, and the University of Bar Ilan sends lecturers to settlements there. That is apparently a sin.
It is obviously a far greater sin than wholesale brutality, or else the AUT would have boycotted Chinese universities before and after Tiananmen Square, or Russian universities as the occupation of Chechnya grew bloody. Israel is singled out because it's easy game--and because the AUT is not really in the business of promoting peace or reconciliation. It is in the business of delegitimizing Israel.
Thirdly, there is the timing. The boycott vote was held on the eve of Passover. This, in British terms, is a crime far worse than discrimination or hypocrisy: it is bad taste. (Still, let's try not to be so cynical as to assume that this was a premeditated way to prevent many Jewish members from attending the meeting.)
Fourthly, timing again. Israelis are now bracing themselves to disengage from Gaza. The majority of moderate supporters of disengagement is well represented in academia, among students and teachers alike. To help us muster political and moral strength for the most crucial inner conflict in the history of Israeli society, our colleagues in the U.K. are giving us a little kick in the ankle. How apt.
I, therefore, have two humble requests from the British Association of University Teachers.
First, do check your facts again--assuming that all this sound and fury is about facts at all. Second, just in case my résumé happens to please your political palate, don't extend any kindness to me by saying that peaceniks like me are off the hook. I am proud of being boycotted along with the University of Haifa as long as your deplorable decision stands. Don't chaperone me back into international scholarship under the patronage of the politically correct. This, I gather, is not what John Stuart Mill had in mind.
Ms. Oz-Salzberger is senior lecturer in the School of History and the Faculty of Law at the University of Haifa.
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