May 11, 2005 2:49 pm


This is a read on the AUT boycott.

Reply from Denis MacEoin Who Has a Petition Online to Reverse AUT Boycott

I am a former AUT member who previously taught Arabic and Islamic Studies at Newcastle, was for many years an honorary fellow in the Centre for Middle East and Islamic Studies at Durham, and who becomes the Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Newcastle this September. My principal academic work has been in aspects of Islamic Studies, with particular attention to Iran and Shi'ite Islam. I have lived in Iran and Morocco, led an official visit to Jordan, have visited Turkey and Israel on three occasions. I believe I can claim some knowledge of the Middle East and its problems.

With that background, I wish to protest in the strongest possible terms to the manipulated and biased vote at your recent conference, demanding that AUT members boycott two (and possibly three) Israeli universities. The arguments put forward in favour of this boycott are, quite frankly, egregious and thoroughly based on ignorance, naivety, and an incredible urge to turn facts on their heads. None of this should happen within a union made up of academics, least of all in a country which was once famed for its dedication to academic freedom, to careful sifting of the facts, and to the experience of international co-operation at all levels of academic work.

The real problem for me is that the arguments advanced by the pro-boycott lobby (which might otherwise be described as a pro-Palestinian lobby, and even, at heart, an anti-Semitic lobby) are so manifestly wrong. Israel is, by any definition, the greatest defender of academic freedom, freedom of speech and publication, and freedom to research in the Middle East, and is outstanding in this respect internationally. The Arab population of Israel is given free access to university education, with as many as 30% of the student population at the prestigious Hebrew University in Jerusalem made up of Arabs.

No Jews attend university anywhere in the Arab world. There is no religious discrimination in the state of Israel, and there are no restrictions on the expression of academic criticism of religion or atheist or agnostic thought. The opposite is the case in the Arab world and Iran, where academics have been put on trial and threatened with execution for the expression of quite trivial ideas about the Qur'an or Islam. As you may know, apostasy in Islam is, in theory, punishable by death. Young men and women who have sexual relations outside marriage (quite a common thing in British universities) suffer no sanctions in Israel.

In countries like Iran or the PA governed territories, extra-marital sex can lead to often dire consequences, including death. Gay students (perfectly normal in our universities) have absolute freedom in Israel. Palestinian gay men and women regularly flee to Israel in order to escape punishment, humiliation, and even death. Racism is banned in Israeli universities, as it is banned and punished in all walks of Israeli life and enshrined in the Basic Laws of the state. Arab countries without fail discriminate against non-Muslims.

Why is Israel called an 'apartheid state' while the Arab states are let off without even mild censure? There is no public racism in Israel, whereas every Arab state is openly anti-Semitic, with public statements that outdo the Third Reich in their virulence. Why didn't the AUT think to condemn this, or even boycott the governments responsible?

I am horrified by this hypocrisy that singles out one of the most open and just democracies in the world for vilification as racist and oppressive, while allowing dictatorships and theocracies to get off scot free. I thought the whole purpose of academic work was to set people free by exposing lies and making the truth clear. Now I see my fellow-academics bent on an exercise that runs wholly counter to that ideal, where university teachers lie to their colleagues and to the public, distorting reality so badly that future trust in our profession will be eroded to the point of no return.

I write to add my voice to the many protests you have already had. The AUT must reconsider this issue at the earliest opportunity. First, members must be given access to less biased accounts of Israel and its universities.

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