Pressure Building Against British Academic Boycott

From the archive (legacy material)

Stewart Ain and Michele Chabin | The Jewish Week | 29 April 2005

Counter actions possible in wake of targeting of two Israeli universities.
In an escalation of tensions between academics in England and Israel over Israeli treatment of Palestinians, the Anti-Defamation League is considering a call for a “counter boycott” of British universities after British university teachers announced a boycott of two Israeli universities, Bar-Ilan and Haifa.
Also, an adviser to the rector of Bar-Ilan University said he is recommending that the Israeli government and academicians ask American universities to suspend all relations with British universities.
“This is not just a matter between Israel and Great Britain,” said the adviser, Eytan Gilboa. “It is a violation of one of the basic rules of world academic conduct.”
In considering the appropriate response to the British boycott, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said: “I’m usually against boycotts, but I’m not sure that the way to beat this isn’t to call on other institutions to treat them the same way — cut off relations with institutions whose scholars are boycotting Israel.
“We may have to look at a counter boycott as a vehicle because no amount of reasoning, argument and rational discussion has prevailed. This would be a response to crude political pressure by Palestinians and pro-Palestinian elements who are anti-Israel.”
In a statement, the American Jewish Congress said: “Not since the Nazi university boycotts of Jews has there been so far-reaching an encroachment on academic freedom.”
Gilboa said also that he is recommending that Bar-Ilan University write to England’s Association of University Teachers (AUT) — whose executive committee voted 28-26 last Friday in favor of the boycott — objecting to the action, its refusal to allow Bar-Ilan to respond to the complaint and threatening legal action unless the decision is rescinded.
He added that he would like to see AUT members suspend their membership, and called on the British government to halt the public funding of Birmingham University and the Open University of Britain, where the boycott was initiated. Gilboa called also for contributors to those two schools to suspend their donations.
Gilboa said that although AUT has criticized the United States and Russia for their actions in other countries, Israel was the only country singled out for a boycott, which he said smacks of anti-Semitism.
“The boycott was proposed by a group of radical extremists who are not concerned about negotiations or peacemaking,” he said. “This extreme group denies Israel’s right to exist and attempted several times to boycott all Israeli universities but repeatedly failed. So this time they targeted three universities.”
Although the Hebrew University was included initially in the boycott proposal for allegedly bulldozing Palestinian homes to build dormitories, the AUT backed down “pending further investigation” after someone pointed out that Mount Scopus, home to both Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital, was Jewish-held land even when Jordan ruled Jerusalem.
The British boycott is the latest example of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic behavior in Britain. Among recent incidents, London Mayor Ken Livingston refused to apologize to a Jewish reporter for calling him a “Nazi concentration camp guard,” but according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, “rolled out the red carpet for Sheik Qaradawi, the Qatar-based imam whose fatwas sanction female Palestinian suicide terrorist attacks.”
Also, the center noted that just days before Holocaust Memorial Day in Britain, Jewish gravestones were desecrated with swastikas, there were a series of violent attacks against Jewish men in north London, and the Muslim Council of Britain boycotted the commemoration because it failed to include any mention of what it called the “continuing human rights abuses and genocide in the occupied territories of Palestine.”
Dr. Andrew Marks, a Columbia University professor who founded an organization of academics and scientists called International Academic Friends of Israel, said he planned to spearhead a call for AUT members to “reverse” the executive committee’s decision.
Marks, a cardiologist who arrived in London Tuesday for a previously scheduled speaking engagement at a conference on heart failure, said he planned to denounce the AUT action during the last 15 minutes of his one-hour lecture.
“I plan to make a statement condemning this boycott of Israeli academics and pointing out that we can’t use a political litmus test to decide who can be invited to meetings like the one we are having here and now,” he said. “My initial reaction was to cancel my participation in protest, but then I realized that would not be as effective if I showed up and made a strong statement.”
“I will be asking my colleagues from the United Kingdom to take some action to reverse this,” Marks continued. “There are 48,000 members [of the AUT], and some of them likely will be there or will know some of its members.”
Marks said the group of academics he was slated to address would be small, “but everybody has colleagues and it’s a place to start.”
Foxman noted in an interview that the British government of Tony Blair issued a statement opposed to the boycott. But he questioned how effective it would be.
“How do you defeat this outrageous behavior?” he asked. “Maybe by similar outrageous behavior in that American universities and schools who care will not deal with them, engage them or exchange with them. Maybe then they will come to a realization of what this is all about. I’m not calling for that, but we need to discuss it because reasonable, rational discussion has not worked.”
But Foxman said a first step would be to try to get the membership of the AUT to reverse the actions of their leaders “and put into place the will of the majority.”
Bar-Ilan and Haifa universities were targeted for boycott because they are complicit in a system of “apartheid” toward Palestinians, according to the AUT.
Bar-Ilan was singled out because of its academic ties with its satellite school, the Judea and Samaria College in the West Bank settlement in Ariel. But Gilboa said the college became independent five years ago and that as of September, Bar-Ilan would be severing all remaining ties.
The University of Haifa was accused of threatening an Israeli political science lecturer for supporting a student’s research into allegations that Israeli troops massacred 200 Palestinians during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.
But university officials said the union misunderstood what had occurred. They said the issue stems from an incident five years ago when a student confessed that he had falsified much of the evidence in his master’s thesis after a university investigation of his charges resulted in the paper’s rejection. The student also issued an apology to an Israeli court after Israeli soldiers sued him over his allegations.
Ilan Pappe, the professor who supported the student, accused the University of Haifa of suppressing academic freedom and called for a boycott of the university by colleagues in Britain and the United States. Although other faculty members have filed complaints against Pappe, the university has taken no action against him.
The university, which noted that 20 percent of its students are Israeli Arabs, said in a statement that it would continue its efforts to “further Jewish-Arab reconciliation, despite politically motivated initiatives to muzzle free speech and the academic discourse.”
In 2002, hundreds of European academics called for a boycott of Israeli universities to protest the treatment of Palestinians. That resulted in the firing of two Israelis from British publications.
Marks noted that two years ago, AUT members voted against a boycott resolution aimed at Israel by a 2-to-1 margin.
Following the boycott announcement, more than 200 academics sent a signed letter to the Guardian newspaper calling for “continued collaborations” with Israeli academics.
Such interactions, they said, “have already contributed to the reduction of tensions and advancement of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians by developing joint grassroots projects and academic ventures.” n
Stewart Ain is a staff writer. Michele Chabin is an Israel correspondent.