We recently learned that the (British) Association of University Teachers, at its forthcoming council, is to debate a decision to boycott three Israeli universities for their alleged complicity with the Israeli government’s policies on the Palestinian territories. Such a decision would reflect an assumption, widely shared by academics on the left (particularly in Europe), that Israel is a colonialist if not an apartheid state, which systematically and gratuitously violates the human rights of Palestinians both in the territories and in Israel. It is an attitude that stigmatises us Israelis as lepers, beyond the pale, not fit for human interaction. Israelis have become the one currently legitimate case for social exclusion in the eyes of those very people who are fighting social exclusion in all its forms.
Those of you who support the resolution will no doubt say to yourselves: ‘but they (the Israelis) deserve it’. And the point of this letter is to ask you to question that rationalisation. The resolution is misguided on two grounds. First, it targets Israel in a disproportionate way. On a graded scale of evil intent, can it really be said that Israel is the worst offender in the world, deserving of the one and only boycott by left wing intellectuals? In condemning Israel, how many of England’s academics have employed Karl Popper’s empathy test? Would they like to change places with the Israeli population and have to deal with our problems: 60 years of mass immigration of refugee populations, a territory the size of Wales, 3 wars in which the State’s survival was threatened, deaths from terrorism and suicide bombings relatively equivalent to recurrent 11th of September tragedies? Second, the resolution ostracises and silences the academic community – one of the most important sources of criticism and debate of the Israeli government’s policies.
As feminist academics, many of us, too, are highly critical of our government’s policy on occupation and settlement. In order to disseminate our work and our criticism, we need open channels of communication in the international academic community. Boycotts such as the one proposed, by undercutting the international and consequently the national status of the academic institutions within which we work, only weaken the ability of those institutions to serve as forums for the voicing of critical and alternative views – a role in which Israel’s universities serve honorably.
Many of you surely have opposed the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq. We wonder whether you are considering resigning from your University positions, refusing to lecture to English students and refusing to pay taxes to a government which uses them to kill Iraqis. To the best of our knowledge, the coalition forces have killed in the space of a year at least 5 times as many Iraqi civilians (16,000 as of October 2004, most of them women and children – BBC 29.10.04) as the Israelis have killed in the past 5 years of Intifada (3,574 according to the Palestinian Red Crescent – most of them Palestinian fighters, not civilians). And this – along with the preceding starvation of the Iraqi civilian population as a result of Western sanctions – was not preceded by any Iraqi attack on Britain’s population, such as Israel’s civilians have repeatedly suffered at the hands of organized Palestinian irregular fighters and suicide bombers; even the evidence of a potential threat of attack, on which Britain went to war, was flimsy and proved false. Is this perhaps a case of seeing “the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but not the beam that is in your own eye?”
The academic community in Israel enjoys full academic freedom, as is clear from the wide divergence of views that emanate from it. The proposed boycott by British academics thus must be seen as an attempt to curtail academic freedom. We are convinced that our time as academics would be better spent not in ostracising and silencing other academics for the moral messiness in the world around us, but in encouraging research and exchange of information and ideas as to the most effective ways of rectifying it.
Professor of Law
Director, Concord Research Center for Integration of International Law in Israel
Elias Lieberman Chair for Labour Law, Hebrew University
Chair, Israeli Association for Feminist & Gender Studies
Tel. 972-54-7544242 Fax. 972-2-5702260 [email protected]