Academic campaigner backs Oxford's Israeli rejection
From the www.monabaker.com archive (legacy material)
Polly Curtis | The Guardian | 30 June 2003
A leading campaigner for academic freedom today offered his support to the Oxford don at the centre of a new row over a boycott of Israel.
Andrew Wilkie, Nuffield professor of pathology at Oxford University, is facing possible disciplinary action after refusing to consider an Israeli student for a PhD because of his nationality.
Professor Wilkie wrote in an email reply to Amit Duvshani, a 26-year-old Tel Aviv University student: “I am sure that you are perfectly nice at a personal level, but no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli army.”
He has issued a full apology for his comments and the university is investigating the matter. It has refused to rule out disciplinary action against the professor.
Michael Cohen, a founding member of the Campaign for Academic Freedom and Standards, speaking in a personal capacity, told EducationGuardian.co.uk that he would back someone who refused to work with a member of an Israeli university as a demonstration against the Israeli government.
He said: “I’m perfectly happy to support someone who feels that they want to boycott Israeli members of academic institutions – it’s a way of bringing home to the Israeli government how appalling their behaviour is.
“It’s appalling that disciplinary procedures might follow. He has a perfectly legitimate point of view and I would support him if that’s the argument he wants to make. It’s a question of balance of the rights of the individuals involved. But that seems insignificant in contrast with the rights of the Palestinian people. If we’re concerned about academic freedom, we should look at what’s going on in Palestinian universities where lives are being made impossible.”
In an email addressed to a colleague, Professor Wilkie made a full apology. He wrote: “I regret that it [the email] is not a hoax. My act was out of conscience about the war and I was completely open about my reasons. It was totally out of order I agree but it was done honestly.
“I am deeply sorry for this and realise that I took the wrong action. In addition an official apology has been issued by Oxford University and the student’s case will be taken forward. I retract what I said, which was caused by too personal and emotional a response to the terrible situation in Israel. I hope you can forgive me.” And he asked that the colleague circulate the message.
But Professor Wikie’s action has attracted widespread condemnation from around the world.
Dr Andy Marks, founder and director of the International Academic Friends of Israel, a group founded to oppose the boycott of Israel, said: “We are saddened and outraged that efforts to isolate Israeli academics continue to gain momentum. Professor Wilkie’s blatant discrimination against a scientist based on his nationality is a dangerous threat to academic and scientific freedom. We cannot use political litmus tests to decide who can and cannot conduct scientific research.”