Correspondence with Gideon Toury

From the archive (legacy material)

Mona Baker and Gideon Toury | Email Archives of Mona Baker | 8-11 June 2002

This is a record of the early correspondence between Mona Baker and Gideon Toury concerning the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

From: Mona Baker,
To: Gideon Toury,
Date: 08/06/2002 16:02 PM
RE: Translation Studies Abstracts

Dear Gideon,

I have been agonising for weeks over an important decision: to ask you and Miriam, respectively, to resign from the boards of The Translator and Translation Studies Abstracts. I have already asked Miriam and she refused. I have ‘unappointed’ her as she puts it, and if you decide to do the same I will have to officially unappoint you too.
I do not expect you to feel happy about this, and I very much regret hurting your feelings and Miriam’s. My decision is political, not personal. As far as I am concerned, I will always regard and treat you both as friends, on a personal level, but I do not wish to continue an official association with any Israeli under the present circumstances.

I include below a brief gist of my arguments, which I do not necessarily expect you to accept but hope you will understand them for what they are: they reflect what I truly believe in as a human being and have nothing to do with ‘hating’ Israelis, being anti-Semitic, or even condemning you personally. I hope you know me well enough to look beyond these easy and banal explanations.

Please accept my sincere apologies for any personal inconvenience or hurt this may cause you and be assured of my continued respect for you as a friend and a scholar, as always.

Warm regards,

Mona Baker
Professor of Translation Studies, UMIST
Editorial Director, St. Jerome Publishing

Why I am boycotting Israeli academics
My position is fairly straightforward, if perhaps difficult for people who have not lived with the increased pain and shocking brutality towards Palestinians as long as I have to understand. I believe, based on a long and close familiarity with the situation in Palestine, that what we have here is nothing short of a holocaust. And I am pretty sure that if I had been living and working as an academic during the time of the holocaust I would have been equally determined to boycott German academics as a group, as well as German goods, etc. Indeed, I boycotted South African academics (as many people did) during Apartheid, and although some people did not agree with this policy, they nevertheless understood the motivation for it and respected the decisions of those who decided to join the boycott. I expect the same from the academic community today.

What is even more shocking about the situation with Israel, and one of the reasons we as individuals have even more responsibility to act against this continued brutality, is that (unlike the German holocaust or South African Apartheid) it is actively supported by the most powerful nation in the world, and the international community continues to watch from a distance without actively doing anything to stop the continued torture, killings, demolitions, and demonizing of a whole nation. In other words, the whole international community is implicated in this gross violation of the rights of a whole people, indeed just as it was in the gross violations against the Jewish community in Germany and elsewhere a few decades ago. It seems we never learn from experience.

You know that I have always boycotted Israel as a country: for instance, I have always declined all invitations to speak in Israel or visit it in any capacity. But in the hope that we were ultimately moving towards some kind of peaceful existence in the area, and accepting that some Israeli academics at least have their heart in the right place, even if I disagree with them on the implications of the continued importation of Jews, etc., I actually took the unusual step (as an Arab) of appointing Israelis both to the Editorial Board of The Translator and to the advisory board of Translation Studies Abstracts. This did not make me popular with many Arab friends and colleagues, but I was prepared to take this pressure because I felt it was the right thing to do. Given the shocking and horrendous events in Palestine in recent months, it has become increasingly more painful for me to live with the idea of brandishing Israel on the covers of publications which I edit or are involved in editing. Just like my decision to appoint you and Miriam to the relevant boards in the first place, I know my decision to take you off the boards now is going to make me unpopular with some non-Arabs. But I find it very difficult indeed to live with the idea of appearing (in any way, shape, or form) to be condoning state terrorism and massacres when even non-Arab academics are increasingly making the decision to boycott Israeli academia, and when even the AUT (Association of University Teachers) and NAFTHE (National Association of Further and Higher Education) in Britain have issued statements in support of the boycott.

You could of course argue that I might boycott Israeli institutions but not individuals, or boycott Israeli academia generally but make exceptions where I know the people in question (like you and Miriam) are good people who have worked and continue to work for peace. And you could argue, as Miriam does, that science and politics should be kept separate (and perhaps sports and politics, art and politics, etc.) This sounds reasonable on the face of it, but let me quote you some of the arguments that I have considered in takingthe decision to join the boycott on all levels:

>> My friend Elia Zureik suggested that the boycott should be only institutional but not personal. Very kindly and generously, he has offered to cooperate with me, (presuming I’m on his personal list of “good guys”) but to boycott my institution, the Hebrew University. Self-evidently it is his right to boycott every institution or person he want to, but he must realize that if his call to freeze funds to my institution is effective, the resulting constraints on research and conferences will also hurt “good guys” like me. Moreover, the very idea of making selections among members of the academy is a horrifying idea and I hereby pledge not to cooperate with any institution or person who will make such selections, even if I myself am ruled acceptable by them.

>> Given that the US backs Sharon, no UN resolution has any force. This was made perfectly clear by the latest shocking example in which Israel managed to defy the resolution regarding a search committee for the events of Jenin. The only way left to exert pressure on Israel to stop is through the protest of people around the world, including use of the most painful means of boycott. As an Israeli, I believe that this external pressure may save not only the Palestinians, but also the Israeli society, which is, in fact, not being represented by the political system. In a recent poll, 59% of the Jewish Israelis support immediate evacuation of most settlements, followed by a unilateral withdrawal of the army from the occupied territories. But with no external pressure, no political party will carry out this will of the majority.

>>A basic principle that the counter-petition [against the petition to boycott Israel] is based on, is that science should always be separated from politics. It is this line which enabled the Israeli academia to live in peace with the occupation for thirty five years. Never in its history did the senate of any Israeli university pass a resolution protesting the frequent closure of Palestinian universities, let alone voice protest at the devastation sowed there during the last uprising. …. If in extreme situations of violations of human rights and moral principles, the academia refuses to criticize and take a side, it collaborates with the oppressing system. But as we saw, it is precisely this principle, and the collaboration that it entails, which the international community is now condemning.
Finally, what further strengthens my belief in the wisdom of boycotting even those Israelis who have worked for peace on an individual basis, is the following message I received from an Israeli academic who signed the boycott (someone I have a great deal of respect for, and whose integrity I derive much courage from in facing the potential backlash of my unpopular decision):

>Thanks for your support. It is SO meaningful because we are isolated and actually persecuted in our own place. I personally am prepared to be ‘boycotted’ as an Israeli (and I am not going to take it personally). I think this is just a small price to pay for a cause I truly believe in. The Palestinians alas are paying an intolerable price. If any boycott including the kind that would lead to the isolation of people like me may open the eyes of the Israelis, then, of course, we will all benefit from it eventually. So I would encourage you to even boycott people like me.


Tel Aviv University
Faculty of Humanities
Shirley and Lesley Porter School of Cultural Studies
Unit of Culture Research
Professor Gideon Toury

Dear Mona,

I am writing this letter at home, some 150 yards from the point where the daily human bomb has just exploded. It was in Herzliyya, not anywhere near the occupied territories, and in a diner, not even remotely resembling a military camp, a government office or any other building of a similar nature. This may well affect the tone I will be using, but not the content of my reaction.

I have been expecting this letter for some time. My reaction is very much like Miriam’s: since I was neither elected to the Editorial Board of *Translation Studies Abstracts* nor did I appoint myself, I can’t see why I should (or, for that matter, how I could) resign from that post. If you want to cancel my appointment, it is your prerogative as owner of the project. However, I would appreciate it if you will make it in an as public a way as possible, e.g. by announcing in the next issue of the *Abstracts* that you have decided to show me the door. I would appreciate it even more if the announcement made it clear that “he [that is, I] was appointed as a scholar and unappointed as an Israeli”.

I have always refrained from mixing science and politics myself and I am not going to change my ways at this point in time; not even for fear of being marked as a “collaborator” (which is nonsense anyway). That’s the reason why I am not reacting to any of your arguments or quotations: that would be politics, and this response of mine purports to be to the [scholarly] point.

Also, I have tried not to get my personal feelings mixed into the salad. Let me just make one biographical note: the only reason why I am alive in the first place is that my parents, each one of them separately, managed to leave Germany in the mid- and late-1930s, the only ones of their immediate families, and go to Palestine (“Eretz Yisrael”), which was the official names of the place in those days. As a result, I have got a Palestinian birth certificate, but I have never had Grandparents, Uncles or Aunts. Try to think about THAT once!

Best wishes,