Wider Focus on Boycott Debate

From the www.monabaker.com archive (legacy material)

The Guardian | May 26, 2005

In 1972, before the boycott, I was invited to speak on higher education in South Africa. I went, despite misgivings about going to a country where I could not even sit on a bus with my adopted son, because I was invited by academics who wanted to change the system. I felt the visit did help the liberal academics in a small way to continue to work towards changing their society, but it would not have done so if I had been talking about science unless I had also been able to talk about the inhumanity of apartheid.
South Africa did develop into a democratic state and there were hopeful signs at the time it would do so. But where are the signs that Israel will withdraw from the West Bank, give up the settlements and take down the wall (Comment, May 25)? Few now deny the boycott of South Africa helped to bring about a better society and I was happy to see healthy multicultural universities when I returned four years ago. But without these two conditions a realistic prospect for peaceful change and the ability to communi cate a more humane set of academic and ethical values the boycott should go ahead.
International cooperation with Israel, purely in the interests of scholarship, will have the byproduct of appearing to support the policies of the government and doing nothing to publicise the suffering of the Palestinian people. The AUT resolution, even if it were rejected, has at least prompted intelligent discussion in the Guardian and the wider community and has helped to inform us of the appalling killing and wounding of Palestinian children. This debate will continue if the international community is as passive as it has been for decades.
Dr Roy Cox
Institute of Education
The Association of University Teachers today reconsiders its decision to institute a blacklist of Israeli academics (not just a boycott of their universities). This decision has been condemned by several US academic associations, including the American Association of University Professors, the Middle East Studies Asso ciation, the American Political Science Association, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Sciences. Others are considering similar action. A petition calling on other academic bodies to do likewise (www.petitiononline.com) has received over 4,800 indications of support from around the world, including such prominent academics and intellectuals as Richard Rorty, Robert Bellah, Edward Skidelsky, Steven Lukes, Ian Buruma, Deborah Lipstadt, Tony Judt, Todd Gitlin, Harold Bloom and Robert Putnam.
These responses demonstrate a recognition that the issues at stake are not limited to Britain and Israel, but involve a threat to fundamental principles of academic and intellectual freedom everywhere.
Jeff Weintraub
Bryn Mawr, Penn, USA
Whatever happens at today’s emergency meeting, I’m glad the AUT has publicised the role of Israel’s academic institutions in perpetuating the occupation. The flow of ideas is precious, but so is ethical research, and the existence of the College of Judea and Samaria shows that some Israeli science and technology emanates from facilities built on stolen land in contravention of international law.
Whether or not there is a formal boycott, British academics should have an ethical imperative to consider the political contexts in which knowledge is produced, whether in Israel or other countries. They should not kid themselves that platitudes about “academic freedom” put them above these concerns; or even, in the case of Israel, that looking the other way will somehow help end the occupation.
Richard Bartholomew
Osaka, Japan
The claim that Israeli settlements are built on illegally seized land in the occupied West Bank in violation of international law ignores the fact that the West Bank and Gaza are in Israeli hands only because Israel’s Arab neighbors amassed troops on all its borders with intent to annihilate the Jewish state. In a defensive war Israel gained control of the territories. Under any form of international law, a victor in a defensive war is entitled to keep the land so gained. It follows that the Israeli population centres in these areas are not illegal.
How ironic that critics are not troubled by the demand that all Jews exit the West Bank and Gaza. Why should they not be permitted to live there, even if under the control of the Palestinian Authority? Because the Palestinian Authority wants its area to be exclusively Arab and free of Jews.
Aggie Hoffman
Los Angeles
What other country would have enjoyed a complete absence of sanctions while systematically and brutally oppressing another people over four decades? The proposed action is born out of frustration that no other sanctions are even remotely likely.
Les Farris
Hinton St George, Somerset
As a member of the AUT, I oppose the boycott, but cannot agree with Shimon Peres, Elie Wiesel et al (Letters, May 24) that “mixing science with politics, and limiting academic freedom by boycotts, is wrong”. Had a boycott of German universities been organised in the 1930s, following the wholesale dismissal of Jewish academics, I should like to think I would have been a party to it.
Richard Clogg
St Antony’s College, Oxford