||Challenging myths and presenting facts about
|London - published on 14 January
Beyond Images Ref: 30
BACKGROUND - How the Academic Boycott
In 2002 a group of British academics launched a campaign for
a cultural and academic boycott of Israel, in protest at Israeli
policy towards the Palestinians.
The campaign has steadily gained support (mainly via the internet)
from academics at European universities and research institutions.
But it has also triggered opposition from academics who are
sympathetic to Israel’s position.
Here are key reasons why the academic boycott is wrong in principle
and counter-productive in practice:-
The boycott takes a one-sided view of a complex conflict
The supporters of a boycott take a one-sided
view of the conflict: Israel is in the wrong. The Palestinians
are the wronged party. Israel has to be forced to change by
- Even strong critics of Israel’s policies would have to
admit that Arab rejectionism and terrorism have fuelled the conflict,
and that change is required by the Palestinians. A boycott of
Israel is a partisan and unbalanced position to take on a complex
Israel’s academic community is independent of
the Israeli government, and very diverse. Don’t isolate
Israel’s universities and other centres
of higher learning are strongholds of free expression. They
are independent of the Israeli government, and their staff
hold all imaginable shades of political opinion (including
the extreme left). It is absurd to isolate Israeli academics
by a boycott.
|An analogy: the UK organiser of the boycott campaign is
Professor of biology Steven Rose, of the Open University.
How would he feel if his next journal paper on genetics,
or his next conference presentation, was “boycotted”
by European colleagues on account of the policy of the British
Government towards Iraq? He would quite rightly be outraged.
That is the equivalent of what he is campaigning for with
the Israel boycott.
The boycott abuses academic freedom
Academic collaboration and exchange
stand above and beyond politics. It is an abuse of academic
freedom to promote the boycott. Academic channels should
be used to strengthen dialogue and shared understanding,
and to confront stereotypes – not to reinforce them.
Israeli academics are at the forefront
of many humanitarian projects – these would be stifled by
Israeli researchers are at the forefront
of many pathbreaking projects in medicine, food production
technology, computing, environmentally-friendly agriculture,
public health and alternative energy. Such projects are delivering
tangible benefits to some of the world’s most vulnerable
people particularly in Africa and Asia, as well as in the
Middle East. These projects would be stifled by an academic
- How can those who advocate the boycott on humanitarian grounds
defend this consequence of their campaign?
The boycott idea pushes Israeli public opinion to the
To almost all Israelis, the boycott is regarded
as wrong and unjustified. Such measures help to convince the
Israeli public and its politicians that the international
community is totally biased against them. This feeling inevitably
pushes Israeli political opinion to the right, making it less
and less conciliatory towards the Palestinians. Is this the
outcome that boycott’s supporters want? The boycott
harms Palestinian interests, rather than advancing them.
The proper target for protest should be Arab universities,
not Israeli ones
Israeli university students and Jews on campus outside
Israel on have been physically attacked – what is the
response to this?
In July 2002, nine Israeli and American
students were killed in a terrorist bomb attack on the main
cafeteria of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
- Jewish students in Brussels have received death threats. Jewish
students in the UK, Canada, Australia and North America face serious
intimidation on various campuses.
- Academics should be campaigning against such intimidation,
not fuelling the extremism by promoting a one-sided view of the
BEYOND IMAGES CONCLUSION
The world of academia offers opportunities to break down barriers,
and to educate towards peace and coexistence. Academia should
not be used as a forum for demonising Israel, and for creating
obstacles to dialogue.
The position is best summed up by Menahem Magidor, president
of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (quoted in Jerusalem Report
magazine 3 June 2002):
“I was taken by complete surprise [by the boycott proposal].
Our scientific and academic research, the cooperation and free
exchange of ideas, is so crucial to all people of the region,
Jew and Arab. To punish us like this, to even suggest it –
it’s an outrage…”