Lecturers may boycott Israeli academics

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

Polly Curtis | The Guardian | 5 April 2005

State’s policy in occupied territories fuels union debate.
Israeli academics who refuse to condemn their government’s actions in the occupied territories risk a boycott by the UK’s leading lecturers’ union.
The Association of University Teachers’ annual council, which begins on April 20 in Eastbourne, will also debate whether to boycott three of Israel’s eight universities – Haifa University, Bar Ilan University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem – over their alleged complicity with the government’s policies on the Palestinian territories.
The union voted against an academic boycott policy two years ago, but campaigners believe the motions are more likely to be passed this year.
The new boycott motion contains a clause to exclude “conscientious Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their state’s colonial and racist policies”.
Palestinian academics have also issued a call for an international boycott of Israel.
Sue Blackwell, a lecturer at Birmingham University and one of the authors of the motion, said: “We are now better organised. One of the reasons we didn’t win last time was that there was no clear public call from Palestinians for the boycott. Now we have that, in writing.”
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel called for a boycott last year. It was signed by 60 academic trade unions, non-governmental organisations and associations in the West Bank and Gaza. A separate poll of staff at al-Quds University, seen by Education Guardian, reveals that 75% support the boycott.
Gargi Bhattacharyya, executive member and president-elect of the AUT, said: “I will be supporting the call for the boycott. Things aren’t getting better there for our [Palestinian] academic colleagues, they are saying the internationally emotional pressure is an important and a peaceful way for us to support them.
“I think within the sector there is a lot of concern about what’s happening in Palestine and a huge concern that the Palestinian education structure has been destroyed. Potentially there’s a lot of support.”
The union’s executive has yet to decide how to respond to the motions. But it has tabled its own motion which “recognises that the peaceful resolution of the problems facing the Middle East will not be brought about by the erection of barriers, but by open dialogue”.
Today, Education Guardian also reveals new evidence that British academics are turning down offers to work with big research organisations in Israel, citing their objection to the Israeli government’s policies.
In the past year, the Israeli Science Foundation (ISF), Israel’s biggest science research funding body, has received a dozen refusals from British academics to review grant applications.
One, received last month from an unnamed British academic, said: “I support the academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions, as a means of registering my protest against Israelis’ lack of respect for human rights and continuing illegal occupation of Palestinian land.”
Tamar Jaffe-Mittwoch, the director of the ISF, said the refusals had come as a shock. “The shock is that the academic world is being contaminated with politics. We feel academia is something that should be pure.”
The Hebrew University denied claims in the AUT motion that it had confiscated land from Palestinian families.
Professor Nachman Ben-Yehuda, its dean of social sciences, said the boycott would be “damaging” for the university.
“There would be severance of all relationships, and there is lots of crossover from the UK to here. It would be enormous,” he said.
“I think it’s right to criticise a country or university if it does something wrong, I think we should be criticised for things we shouldn’t be doing. But to say we won’t talk any more goes against something very, very basic.
“We solve problems through dialogue.”
Haifa University also denied the allegation that it was restricting the academic freedom of researchers whose theses were critical of Israel. The university told Education Guardian it was “unequivocally supportive of the rights of academic freedom”.
British universities will have to decide on their legal position should the boycott become widespread. No academic or institution has been charged with breaking anti-discriminatory laws for refusing to work with an Israeli.
In autumn 2003, Oxford University suspended Andrew Wilkie, a professor of pathology, for two months after he refused to accept an application from an Israeli student for a PhD because he had a “huge problem” with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Mona Baker caused an international row in 2002 when she sacked two Israeli academics from the board of a translation journal she edited, citing the boycott.
She was cleared of breaking any rules in an internal inquiry by her employer, the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.