Tuesday, May 09, 2006

# Posted 4:54 PM by Patrick Porter  

ACADEMICS AND ISRAEL: As someone who will begin their academic career shortly, this caught my eye:
The largest university and college lecturers union in Britain is likely to decide shortly to recommend that its 67,000 members boycott Israeli lecturers and academic institutions that do not publicly declare their opposition to Israeli policy in the territories.
Last year the same trade union debated whether to boycott specific Israeli universities that have allegedly occupied land that is rightfully Palestinian. Strong arguments were made on either side. I thought it was a bit selective, singling out Israeli institutions compared to the worse excesses of other nations, but I was prepared to consider the arguments.

But in this case, it requires individual professors to dissociate themselves publicly with Israeli policy. Isn't there something very sinister about requiring people positively to divulge their personal opinions on a matter before being admitted to speak or visit?

'I'm sorry, Mr Professor and expert on ancient history, we have decided to recommend to our members that they don't attend your keynote lecture, as your refusal to dissociate yourself from Israel's policies in the terrorites renders you ideologically unsound.'

Apart from the affront to privacy and intellectual freedom, what if someone objected to aspects of Israeli policy but had the 'correct' opinion on other bits? What if they weren't sure or had doubts?

As a separate issue, academia should not be a space in which people are required to declare their political opinions. It would be impoverished if all of the academics with views that trade unionists found objectionable were to be boycotted.

Take the 'exclusion' wall, for instance. Some think it is an annexationist infringement, others note that since its construction, terrorist attacks in Israel have dropped significantly. Are doubters to be blacklisted too?

I can't speak for Israelis. But I can only imagine that forming opinions on the subject of national security and human rights must be quite difficult. They live in a nation that has since its foundation fought off three wars of aggression and annihilation; that is located amidst other regimes profoundly hostile to its existence; must co-exist with Hamas, an organisation that distributes the anti-Semitic classic Protocols of the Elders of Zion; that has heard the Iranian regime reiterate its desire that it be wiped from the map; and their leadership has recently tried incrementally to work towards some diplomatic settlement.

None of which cancels legitimate criticisms of Israeli policies, but in these distressing circumstances, are we to exclude academics who believe that strict measures like walls are necessary?

The great irony is that universities and their trade unions frequently espouse diversity and its associated declensions: pluralism, multiculturalism, tolerance and co-existence. This liberality perhaps should be extended to academics from Israeli institutions who might support aspects of Israeli policies.

Who knows, they may even have something interesting and challenging to say on the subject.

I don't know whether similar initiatives have been taken in relation to American universities and relationships with Israeli academics. I'd be interested to see from readers what the state of play is on campuses this side of the pond.
(2) opinions -- Add your opinion

Um, you may not have noticed, but over the past several years, anti-semitism is the very definition of politically correct.

And anti-zionism is virtue.

Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Zionist Party
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