HARRISBURG, PA –(04/27/2005; 1030)(EIS) –Professors from around the world are being asked to condemn the scandalous and egregious recent action of the British Association of University Teachers [AUT] governing council to boycott Israeli scholars from Haifa and Bar-Ilan Universities. Scholars belonging to academic societies and unions are being asked to have them formulate statements of condemnation to convey to the AUT.
“They have separated themselves from the academic community,” commented novelist and university lecturer Nidra Poller from Paris, France, reflecting the feedback of many professors and intellectuals around the world.
Dr. Edward S. Beck of Alvernia College and President of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East notes that scholars of good will should be objecting to this boycott action for the following reasons:
1) The boycott of the Israeli universities is not an academic act, but a political one, which was conceived and brokered not by academic discourse and debate but by political forces seeking to destroy democratic academic institutions in Israel, as well as Israel herself.
2) The process of the union appears to have been motivated in anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism rather than a commitment to academic dialogue and civil discourse in the complex discussions of the Middle East.
3) The boycott ignores the fact that these two distinguished universities, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (also being “studied” for boycott action), have a rich and strong tradition of academic freedom and multicultural sensitivities to all of the indigenous people of the region, Arabs (Muslim and Christian), as well as Israelis and welcome international scholars and students.
4) Academic boycotts not only serve no useful purpose, they undermine time-honored academic processes which frequently lead to conflict resolution, new paradigms and peaceful resolution of complex problems.
5) Academic boycotts have no integrity in that they have precisely the opposite effect of those advocating for academic integrity and academic freedom. Academic boycotts limit free speech and the free exchange of opinions and ideas
6) At a time when there is optimism and hope for resolution of many aspects of the complex issues that vex the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, this action is wrong-headed and undermines confidence in British scholarship and academic integrity, as well as undermining efforts of Palestinian and Israeli academics to maintain and continue dialogues.
“I find it totally inconceivable that the AUT would choose to boycott the only country in the Middle East where academics enjoy complete and unrestricted freedom of research and speech.” stated Professor Efraim Karsh, Head of Mediterranean Studies Program at Kings College, University of London. “In practice, Israel, a vibrant democracy with a distinguished record on human rights and extraordinary scientific and academic achievements, has done far more to promote education in the Palestinian territories than has any other country. The West Bank and Gaza universities were established by Israel in the first place –neither the Jordanians nor the Egyptians had allowed universities prior to 1967.
Karsh continued, “If the AUT is truly concerned about declining standards and restricted academic freedoms in the Palestinian universities of the West Bank and Gaza, it should address its grievances to the real culprit: the corrupt and oppressive Palestinian Authority which has controlled these institutions since early 1996, when Israel withdrew its forces from the West Bank’s populated areas (withdrawal from Gazan towns and camps had been completed by May 1994)and dissolved its civil administration and military government in accordance with the Oslo Accords.”
Gerald Steinberg, who directs Bar Ilan University’s graduate program on Conflict Management noted that “The deeply bias displayed in this action has transformed the AUT into a participant in this violent conflict, at a time when people of good will are working to create understanding and empathy. By joining the campaign to falsely portray Israel and Zionism as a form of ‘apartheid’, the authors of the AUT’s boycott are exploiting the educational process in order to help those who seek to deny the Jewish people the right to self-determination, while demeaning the real victims of apartheid in South Africa. Members of this union should publicly suspend their involvement until this boycott decision has been rescinded.”
” The success or failure of this boycott will now be determined by the actions of individual professors, their academic societies and their unions around the world. Pressure must be brought about from academic peers to our British colleagues to let them know that if they participate in this boycott they have threatened their own academic credibility and integrity with such actions….The body of work by professors engaging in the boycott becomes suspect when such hostile attitudes are displayed” commented Beck.
Andrew Marks, MD of Columbia University and President and Founder of International Academic Friends of Israel issued a statement saying: “The academic boycott against Israel can serve no useful purpose –it can only destroy academic freedom and the open exchange of ideas with Israeli colleagues. Boycotting Israeli academics, many of whom have trained Palestinian students and collaborated with Palestinian academics in a wide array of intellectual endeavors, will not help the Palestinian people achieve their goals. The AUT has set a dangerous precedent –if we academics are to start using a political litmus test with regard to colleagues in the Middle East to decide who can and cannot participate in the international academic community who knows where that will lead? When the dust settles after such a purging of all who disagree with the self-anointed few –who will be left standing? Who is to decide? Let us stop this madness right here and right now –the AUT must reverse itself immediately and declare the academic boycott of Israel null and void!”
“Israeli universities have been on the forefront of reaching out to the Arab community and in fact have had cooperative and collaborative programs with Palestinian academics and Universities.” points our Peter J. Haas, Abba Hillel Silver Professor of Jewish Studies and Chair of the Religious Studies Department at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Academic Friends of Israel President, Ronnie Fraser in England says “Israelis and Palestinians will continue to cooperate even without the AUT, as they, who live the reality of the Middle East, know no other alternative is available for them. If the sponsors of this boycotting campaign succeeded in something, it is only to undermine further progress, collaboration and peace in the Middle East and to marginalize the standing of the AUT and its members in the academic community.”