Trying to Close Out Israeli Academics

When faculty at British universities proposed a boycott this spring against Israeli academics, threatening to deny them access to conferences and other eventsFrances RadayPresident of the Israel Association of Feminist and Gender Studies and Professor of Law at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, published an open letter from Israeli feminist academics to their colleagues in England. Here, some excerpts:

We recently learned that (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 stigmatizes 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….

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, three 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 ostracizes 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….

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.

The vole to boycott was, after considerable outcry, reminded.