Tuesday, June 13, 2006

British University Boycott of Israel Ends

Less than two weeks after it began the boycott of Israeli professors and universities by the British National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) has been cancelled. A number of former American university Presidents had written in opposition to the boycott in this letter to the editor of the Financial Times on 30 May:
Proposed boycott of Israeli academics is appalling


We are appalled by the possibility that the British National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) may vote to boycott Israeli academics who do not publicly dissociate themselves from their country's alleged "apartheid policies."

The proposed boycott would violate fundamental academic norms, undermine efforts to promote scholarly co-operation between Arabs and Jews, and perpetuate flagrant distortions about the nature of Israeli government and society.

We find it odd that Israel, a democracy with a vigorous exchange of ideas on all topics including policies toward the Palestinians, has been singled out for a boycott, rather than the many authoritarian nations that ruthlessly suppress academic and political discourse. Open exchange, collaboration, co-operation and free debate are the hallmarks of academic life. To isolate and sever ties with a community of scholars based on their national or religious identity, ostensibly as a protest against their government's policies, is a serious breach of academic norms.

Although one might imagine circumstances that justify such action, the threshold needs to be kept high. Notwithstanding all of its geopolitical problems, Israel is a genuine democracy: the Knesset has long included members from various Arab parties, the vice-president of Haifa University is an Arab sociologist, there is a slim gap between the percentages of Jewish and Arab students who qualify for the rigorous high school exit certificate, affirmative action programs have been implemented in various sectors, and the list could go on.

The simple fact is that Israel does not come close to meeting the standard of "apartheid." In the name of academic integrity and common decency we call on our British colleagues to end their efforts to boycott Israeli scholars.

Richard C. Atkinson, President Emeritus, University of California

John Brademas, President Emeritus, New York University

Thomas Ehrlich, President Emeritus, Indiana University

Donald Kennedy, President Emeritus, Stanford University

David Ward, Chancellor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Sadly it wasn't this letter or other similar efforts by British and Israeli academicians that ended the boycott, nor was it any realization by NATFHE that their proposal amounted to no more than anti-Semitic McCarthyesque blacklisting designed to further a misguided political agenda at British universities. Condemnation of the boycott by the British government also had little effect. Rather it was a business necessity. NATFHE wanted to merge into the larger Association of University Teachers (AUT). AUT opposed the boycott. While some are touting the end of the boycott as a victory for academic freedom and fairness it was not a decision based on any sort of principles at all.

This incident serves, more than anything else, as a stark reminder of the blatant anti-Israel bias at major universities in the United States, Canada, and across Europe that I wrote about back in April. At the time I quoted Alan Dershowitz from his 2005 book The Case For Peace and his accusation bears repeating:
I will demonstrate that there is an explicit campaign of vilification against Israel ...the goal of this well-coordinated campaign is entirely negative: namely, to produce a generation of future leaders--political, economic, religious, academic--who are virtually programmed to be stridently anti-Israel.

The anti-Israel crowd may have suffered a minor setback with the end of the boycott but they continue to teach hatred of Israel to young, impressionable students and stifle any dissenting voices.

[NOTE: This post also appears on Blogs of Zion.]

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