As democrats, socialists, advocates of Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, and supporters of the right of the Palestinian people to an independent state of their own, alongside Israel, we call on British academics to reject the moves for a renewed academic boycott of Israel due to be debated at the council of the Association of University Teachers on 20 April.
We urge them to consider the arguments against the boycott from Israeli academics who criticise and oppose Israeli government policy.
Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University, for example, has pointed out the inconsistent standards in singling out Israeli universities for boycott.
“Some of the boycotters come from countries that are also responsible for much oppression and suffering... [and] Israel could not carry out its policies without the ongoing support of the United States...”
Should we boycott US universities too? Why is Israel singled out? The new moves for a boycott attempt to refine it, proposing boycott of only three of Israel’s eight universities. But boycotts do not make good precision tactics, and in this case can only feed into the long-standing and high-profile campaigns for a general boycott of all Israelis and all Israeli goods.
Neve Gordon also points out: “Israeli universities have been under an unprecedented assault by the Sharon government... An academic boycott will only strengthen [the Israeli right], and in this way assist the destruction of academic freedom in Israel”.
Gordon himself has been denounced by the Israeli right as “a fanatic anti-Semite from the monochromatic (Red) Department of Politics at Ben-Gurion University.”
To the argument that it is the “institution that will be punished for not taking an institutional stand on the illegality of the occupation”, Gordon replies: “It is precisely the institution that enables Israeli professors — regardless of their political affiliation — to voice their views, suggesting that an assault on the university is in fact an assault on its faculty...
“To fight the anti-intellectual atmosphere within Israel, local academics need as much support as they can get from their colleagues abroad. A boycott will only weaken the elements within Israeli society that are struggling against the assault on the universities...”
Far from helping the Palestinians, a boycott will hinder the democratic dialogue and accommodation on which prospects for a free and independent Palestinian state alongside Israel depend.
Camila Bassi, Sheffield Hallam University
Robert Fine, Warwick University
David Hirsh, Goldsmith’s College London
Alan Johnson, Edge Hill College of Higher Education
Jon Pike, Open University
Phil Semp, University of Teesside
(All in a personal capacity)