Friday, May 19, 2006

More on the Proposed British University Boycott of Israel

David Hirsh has written a rather long piece responding to one of the advocates of boycotting Israeli universities and academicians. It's well written and worth reading. A couple of excerpts:
Steven Rose recycles a number of libels and half-truths from last year's failed and rejected boycott campaign in the AUT but he is smart enough to leave out the specifics this year. Last year when his campaign accused Haifa University of being a racist institution, this sorry package of libels nearly bankrupted our union; when the boycott campaign falsely accused the Hebrew University of building its new dorm block on occupied land it exposed AUT to an equally serious libel threat. Israeli higher education is not segregated. Both Haifa University and Hebrew University have about 20 per cent Arab students and have significant numbers of Arab faculty members. This is a rate of inclusion of minorities that would shame many elite British institutions.


The truth is that the universities are spaces in Israel where conflict is persued through words and ideas rather than guns and bombs. They are amongst the most anti-racist spaces in Israel, spaces where ideas for peace are forged, taught and practised. Some academics will indeed be right wing, some may be profoundly reactionary. That is the nature of an open, democratic and free education system.
There are some things Hirsh writes which I strongly disagree with and which do not help his cause. He claims the occupation is sustained by systematic Israeli violence. He neglects to point out that the current Israeli government of Ehud Olmert is committed to withdrawing from 93% of the West Bank with or without any concessions or agreement from the Palestinians. He also fails to mention that whatever violent acts Israel may carry out against Palestinian targets is a response to ongoing and daily attempts to commit terrorist attacks on the civilian population of Israel.

Hirsh goes on to blame the failure of Oslo on "Israeli and Palestinian extremists". Former President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, and even Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of Yasser Arafat. Israel didn't decide to abandon the peace process and start a war. The Palestinians did. It was also the Palestinians who elected Hamas, who oppose any agreement with Israel.

It seems to me Mr. Hirsh could have done a much better job and has bought into some of the self same misinformation and propaganda his opponents push. Nonetheless, Mr. Hirsh is definitely on the right side of this issue and his efforts within Engage to stop this boycott need to be supported. A vote on the proposed boycott will come next week.

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