Divisions over Oxford academic

July 01, 2003

This is a follow-up to the dispatches:

* Israel breaks links with BBC in anger at "demonization" (June 28, 2003)
* Follow-up on the BBC and Oxford University (June 29, 2003)

 

CONTENTS

1. "A dangerous threat to academic and scientific freedom"
2. Column by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, leading commentator for The Independent (UK), June 30, 2003. "I support the academic boycotts..."
3. "Israel row professor apologises" (BBC News World Edition, June 30, 2003)
4. "Academic campaigner backs Oxford's Israeli rejection" (Guardian, June 30, 2003)


“A DANGEROUS THREAT TO ACADEMIC AND SCIENTIFIC FREEDOM”

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach three further articles (with summaries first) relating to the controversy at Oxford University.

1. Column by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, leading commentator for The Independent (UK), June 30, 2003. "I support the academic boycotts ... It seems to me there is so little any of us can really do against the might of the US protectorate that is Israel and that the same complaints were made during Apartheid by white academics. It is significant today that South African academics Professor Brian Figaji from the Peninsula Technikon University in South Africa most recently refuse to go to Israel because the situation brings back such dark memories.

"It seems to me rank hypocrisy that the protectors of all things Israeli said nothing when Israeli forces entered Birzeit University in the West Bank an act condemned by the philosopher Jacques Derrida ... And let us never forget that the actor John Malkovich said at Cambridge University that he wanted to shoot Robert Fisk dead for the way he writes about US policy and the Middle East."

[TG adds Fisk is the chief Middle East correspondent for Alibhai-Brown's newspaper The Independent. He is possibly the most anti-Israeli mainstream western journalist ever. His "news reports" are regularly and favorably reprinted on extreme Islamic websites.]

2. "Israel row professor apologises" (BBC News World Edition, June 30, 2003). This is a surprisingly (almost) balanced piece from the BBC. "An Oxford professor accused of rejecting a student because he was Israeli faces an "immediate and thorough investigation" by university authorities. The university has issued a tough statement that "under no circumstances" would it allow discrimination on grounds of nationality and the professor at the centre of the row has apologised for his "wholly inappropriate" comments. Pathology professor Andrew Wilkie has been accused of rejecting an application from an Israeli student on the grounds that the professor opposed the Israeli government's policy towards the Palestinians. In response, the university says that the vice-chancellor will receive the findings of an inquiry into the allegations this week with the possibility of action to be taken against Professor Wilkie. "

[TG adds: It seems surprising that the BBC says Wilkie has been "accused" of rejecting an application from an Israeli student on these grounds, since Wilkie himself has already admitted this.]

3. "Academic campaigner backs Oxford's Israeli rejection" (The Guardian/Education Section, June 30, 2003). A leading campaigner for academic freedom today offered his support to Wilkie. Michael Cohen, a founding member of the Campaign for Academic Freedom and Standards, speaking in a personal capacity, told EducationGuardian.co.uk that he would back someone who refused to work with a member of an Israeli university as a demonstration against the Israeli government. 'It's appalling that disciplinary procedures might follow. Wilkie has a perfectly legitimate point of view and I would support him if that's the argument he wants to make.'

But Professor Wikie's action has attracted widespread condemnation from around the world. Dr Andy Marks, founder and director of the International Academic Friends of Israel, a group founded to oppose the boycott of Israel, said: 'We are saddened and outraged that efforts to isolate Israeli academics continue to gain momentum. Professor Wilkie's blatant discrimination against a scientist based on his nationality is a dangerous threat to academic and scientific freedom. We cannot use political litmus tests to decide who can and cannot conduct scientific research.'"

-- Tom Gross


FULL ARTICLES

“I SUPPORT ANY CIVIL ACTION AGAINST ISRAEL”

By Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
The Independent
June 30, 2003

(Extracts only)

I am dismayed, quite stunned that Andrew Wilkie, an Oxford University professor of pathology, rejected an Israeli PhD student, Amit Duvshani, allegedly because of the situation in Palestine. How so, you might ask, since I support any civil action, personal and political, that is taken against the government of Israel?

I support the academic boycotts, even though like all sanctions, a high cost is paid for such actions. Baroness Susan Greenfield, the leading neurobiologist, has expressed concern that the boycott could adversely affect important medical research. It seems to me there is so little any of us can really do against the might of the US protectorate that is Israel and that the same complaints were made during Apartheid by white academics. It is significant today that South African academics Professor Brian Figaji from the Peninsula Technikon University in South Africa most recently refuse to go to Israel because the situation brings back such dark memories.

It seems to me rank hypocrisy that the protectors of all things Israeli said nothing when Israeli forces entered Birzeit University in the West Bank an act condemned by the philosopher Jacques Derrida. This violation had a devastating effect on students from Ramallah. I had to help raise money for three Palestinian medical students here because their assets had been frozen in Palestine. And let us never forget that the actor John Malkovich said at Cambridge University that he wanted to shoot Robert Fisk dead for the way he writes about US policy and the Middle East.

 

ISRAEL ROW PROFESSOR APOLOGISES

Israel row professor apologises
BBC News World Edition
June 30, 2003

news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/3031528.stm

An Oxford professor accused of rejecting a student because he was Israeli faces an "immediate and thorough investigation" by university authorities.

The university has issued a tough statement that "under no circumstances" would it allow discrimination on grounds of nationality and the professor at the centre of the row has apologised for his "wholly inappropriate" comments.

Pathology professor Andrew Wilkie has been accused of rejecting an application from an Israeli student on the grounds that the professor opposed the Israeli government's policy towards the Palestinians.

In response, the university says that the vice-chancellor will receive the findings of an inquiry into the allegations this week with the possibility of action to be taken against Professor Wilkie.

‘DISTRESS’

"Our staff may hold strongly-felt personal opinions. Freedom of expression is a fundamental tenet of University life, but under no circumstances are we prepared to accept or condone conduct that appears to, or does, discriminate against anyone on grounds of ethnicity or nationality, whether directly or indirectly," said a statement from the university.

"This candidate is entitled to submit an application and to have it dealt with fairly according to our normal criteria."

The investigation will examine the claims that Amit Duvshani, an applicant for a postgraduate course, was told that he would not be considered because of the Israeli government's actions against the Palestinians.

Mr Duvshani, a student at Tel Aviv University, was said to be appalled by this response, which was e-mailed to him last week.

APOLOGY FOR ‘DISTRESS’

And Professor Wilkie has written an apology for "any distress" caused by his e-mail, and "the wholly inappropriate expression of my personal opinions in that document".

"I was not speaking on behalf of Oxford University or any of its constituent parts. I entirely accept the University of Oxford's Equal Opportunities and Race Equality policies," the professor's apology stated.

Last year there was widespread criticism when two academics were removed from the editorial boards of two linguistics journals in a boycott on academic contacts with Israel.

The boycott, applied to the journals by Professor Mona Baker of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, was criticised by the UK education secretary and academics at Harvard University in the United States.

 

ACADEMIC CAMPAIGNER BACKS OXFORD’S ISRAELI REJECTION

Academic campaigner backs Oxford's Israeli rejection
By Polly Curtis
The Guardian/Education Section
June 30, 2003

A leading campaigner for academic freedom today offered his support to the Oxford don at the centre of a new row over a boycott of Israel.

Andrew Wilkie, Nuffield professor of pathology at Oxford University, is facing possible disciplinary action after refusing to consider an Israeli student for a PhD because of his nationality.

Professor Wilkie wrote in an email reply to Amit Duvshani, a 26-year-old Tel Aviv University student: "I am sure that you are perfectly nice at a personal level, but no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli army."

He has issued a full apology for his comments and the university is investigating the matter. It has refused to rule out disciplinary action against the professor.

Michael Cohen, a founding member of the Campaign for Academic Freedom and Standards, speaking in a personal capacity, told EducationGuardian.co.uk that he would back someone who refused to work with a member of an Israeli university as a demonstration against the Israeli government.

He said: "I'm perfectly happy to support someone who feels that they want to boycott Israeli members of academic institutions - it's a way of bringing home to the Israeli government how appalling their behaviour is.

"It's appalling that disciplinary procedures might follow. He has a perfectly legitimate point of view and I would support him if that's the argument he wants to make. It's a question of balance of the rights of the individuals involved. But that seems insignificant in contrast with the rights of the Palestinian people. If we're concerned about academic freedom, we should look at what's going on in Palestinian universities where lives are being made impossible."

In an email addressed to a colleague, Professor Wilkie made a full apology. He wrote: "I regret that it [the email] is not a hoax. My act was out of conscience about the war and I was completely open about my reasons. It was totally out of order I agree but it was done honestly.

"I am deeply sorry for this and realise that I took the wrong action. In addition an official apology has been issued by Oxford University and the student's case will be taken forward. I retract what I said, which was caused by too personal and emotional a response to the terrible situation in Israel. I hope you can forgive me." And he asked that the colleague circulate the message.

But Professor Wikie's action has attracted widespread condemnation from around the world.

Dr Andy Marks, founder and director of the International Academic Friends of Israel, a group founded to oppose the boycott of Israel, said: "We are saddened and outraged that efforts to isolate Israeli academics continue to gain momentum. Professor Wilkie's blatant discrimination against a scientist based on his nationality is a dangerous threat to academic and scientific freedom. We cannot use political litmus tests to decide who can and cannot conduct scientific research."


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.