British University Investigates Anti-Israel E-mail Message

From the archive (legacy material)

KATE GALBRAITH | The Chronicle of Higher Education | 18 October 2002

The University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, in England, is investigating a professor who sent a virulently anti-Israel e-mail message to an American academic that apparently portrayed Israel as the “mirror image of Nazism.” The professor has apologized for the message.
Michael L. Sinnott, a professor of paper science at Umist, wrote in an e-mail message to Stephen J. Greenblatt, a professor of English at Harvard University and president of the Modern Language Association, that “with the atrocities in Jenin, Israel is about where Germany was around the time of Kristallnacht.” He also lashed out at the “real Zionist conspiracy” that he says has “duped” Americans.
Excerpts of the e-mail message, which was sent in July, were published in The Sunday Telegraph, a British newspaper, last month.
Mr. Sinnott’s message apparently was sent in response to Mr. Greenblatt’s condemnation of the actions of another academic at the Manchester university, Mona Baker, who is director of the institute’s Center for Translation and Intercultural Studies. Ms. Baker dismissed two Israeli scholars in June from the boards of two translation journals that she owns and edits. The move was part of a highly controversial academic boycott of Israel declared in April by a group of European scholars.
In statements on its Web site, the Manchester university says that it opposes the boycott and “regrets” Ms. Baker’s dismissal of the Israelis from the journals, which are not university publications. The statements also said that the university is investigating Ms. Baker’s actions and will not comment further while the inquiry is under way.
Mr. Greenblatt’s criticism of Ms. Baker’s actions came in an open letter in which he told her that her actions had violated “the essential spirit of scholarly freedom and the pursuit of truth.”
Mr. Sinnott, in his e-mail message to Mr. Greenblatt, wrote that he felt “disgust and anger at your orchestration of a campaign of press vilification of one of my colleagues, and of this institution.”
Responding in the Telegraph, Mr. Greenblatt said that Mr. Sinnott’s message was “over the top and not the sort of letter I would expect from a university professor. Clearly, he has a problem with Jews.” He added, “I have tried hard not to make this an issue about Jews or Israel. The question I asked originally was whether an academic boycott made any sense. Academics should not be fighting because somebody is Israeli or Iraqi or any nationality or color or creed.”
Mr. Sinnott told the Telegraph that “the e-mail was a mistake.” The message, he said, “was written in the heat of the moment after reading what I considered to be an unfair article about the sackings in the Telegraph. I deeply regret sending it and regret any offense it has caused.”
Ian Haworth, the Manchester university’s director of communications, said that it had learned about the e-mail message after being notified by the Telegraph, and that it had immediately opened an inquiry. “We’re investigating to see if any rules or regulations have been violated,” he said.