AUT 3: 21 Nobel laureates urge British academics to end Israel boycott

May 24, 2005

This is an update to two previous dispatches on the AUT (British academic) boycott of Haifa and Bar Ilan Universities in Israel.



1. “Battle of the academics” (Letters to The Guardian, May 24, 2005)
2. “Israeli Druze Student: Haifa University a hotbed of peace and dialogue” (Amir Kniefiss, LSE)
3. “Palestinian union wants academic fired” (Al Jazeera, May 23, 2005)



[Note by Tom Gross]

As a further indication to subscribers on this list in the US and elsewhere of how fierce the debate over the academic boycott of Israel has grown, I attach letters from dozens of people printed in today’s Guardian newspaper.

The first letter, from 21 Nobel Laureates calling for an end to the boycott, includes the signatures of some of the most distinguished scientists alive today.


The second letter is signed by dozens of anti-Israel activists. About half of these are people of Jewish origin, and some of them have long been known for their hatred of and contempt for the existence of a Jewish state. In their letter they rely on the “revisionist” Israeli historian Tom Segev without explaining how selective and unbalanced Segev often is in his writings.

The third letter published by The Guardian today (by Andy North of the British National Union of teachers) implicitly compares Israel with Nazi Germany.

The fourth letter is signed by many South African-born anti-apartheid activists. They write that Israel bears no “comparison with the authoritarian and racist structures of apartheid South Africa.”

A number of signatories to these letters are subscribers to this email list.


I also attach a public letter from Amir Kneifiss, an Israeli-Druze presently studying at LSE (the London School of Economics, a leading British University). He is a former student at The University of Haifa, which is now undergoing the boycott.

Bar Ilan University has confirmed that 15% of their undergraduate students are Christian, Muslim, Bedouin or Druze. This contradicts the absolute lies being told by pro-boycott campaigners in Britain and elsewhere about Bar Ilan University.

The final article attached below (from Al Jazeera) details how the Palestinian Teachers Union have called for the dismissal of Dr. Sari Nusseibeh of Al-Quds University (a Palestinian university in east Jerusalem) for his criticism of the boycott of Israel.

-- Tom Gross



[This is an Update to the dispatches sent in April on the late Pope.]

Israel has issued a postage stamp honoring the late Pope John Paul II. The Jewish state will also dedicate a park in the Galilee (in northern Israel) to his memory, at the location where John Paul celebrated a mass during his visit to Israel in 2000.

-- Tom Gross



(The headlines added to the letters in block capitals below, are mine, not The Guardian’s -- TG)


Letters (first letter)
The Guardian
May 24, 2005,3604,1490692,00.html

There is nothing more intrinsic to the academic spirit than the free exchange of ideas. Academic freedom has never been the property of a few and must not be manipulated by them. Therefore, mixing science with politics, and limiting academic freedom by boycotts, is wrong.

We, scholars from various disciplines who have devoted our academic lives to the advancement of humankind, express our unequivocal support for the separation of science from politics. The Nobel prizes we were honoured to receive were granted without the slightest consideration of nationality, ethnicity, religion or gender. Any deviation from this principle should not be allowed.

Supporting a boycott will undermine these principles. It is our hope that academic reasoning will overcome political rhetoric.

Shimon Peres
Nobel peace prize, 1994
Prof Ellie Wiesel
Nobel peace prize, 1986
Betty Williams
Nobel peace prize, 1976
Professor Richard Axel
Nobel Prize in Physiology, 2004
Professor Gunter Blobel
Nobel Prize in Physiology, 1999
Professor Aaron Ciechanover
Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2004
Professor Johann Diesenhofer
Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1988
Professor David Gross
Nobel Prize in Physics, 2004
Dr. Tim Hunt
Nobel Prize in Medicine, 2001
Professor Dudley Herschbach
Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1986
Professor Avram Hershko
Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2004
Professor Gerarad’t Hooft
Nobel Prize in Physics, 1999
Professor Daniel Kahneman
Nobel Prize in Economics, 2002
Professor Ewric Kandel
Nobel Prize in Physiology, 2000
Professor Aaron Klug
Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1982
Professor Walter Kohn
Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1998
Professor Jean-Marie Lehn
Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1987
Professor Erwin Neher
Nobel Prize in Physiology, 1991
Professor Stanley Prusiner
Nobel Prize in Medicine, 1997
Professor Steven Weinberg
Nobel Prize in Physics, 1979
Professor Frank Wilczek
Nobel Prize in Physics, 2004



Letters (second letter)
The Guardian
May 24, 2005

One fact omitted from the anti-boycott advert in the Guardian (May 20) is that the boycott by the Association of University Teachers (AUT) of Bar-Ilan University is based on its support for Ariel College, an exclusively Jewish settlement constructed on illegally seized land in the occupied West Bank. Bar-Ilan supervises degree programmes at Ariel. The AUT resolution, which we hope is upheld this week, states that a boycott of Bar-Ilan should persist “until it severs all academic links” with Ariel. As the Israeli commentator Tom Segev pointed out in Ha’aretz, the boycott hurts only “those Israelis who support the perpetuation of the Israeli presence in the occupied territories”.

We call on the British government and the EU to fall in line with the principled stance of the AUT. States must ensure that no Israeli institution that contributes to the violations of international law inherent in the land seizures and construction of illegal settlements in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories should qualify for any government or EU-sponsored assistance.

Daniel Machover
Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights
Nomi Erteschik-Shir
Ben-Gurion University
Ian Macdonald QC
Penny Maddrell
Piers Mostyn (Tooks Chambers)
Hannah Rought-Brooks (Tooks Chambers)
Hugh Southey (Tooks Chambers)
Nitza Aminov
Talma Bar-din
Nomi Erteschik-Shir, Ben-GurionUniversity
Racheli Gai
Angela Godfrey-Goldstein
Oded Goldreich, Professor of Computer Science, Weizmann Institute of Science
Yehudith Harel, Israeli citizen
Annelien Kisch Kroon
Ramona Kuster Prof (emeritus) Moshé Machover
Oren Medicks
Gil Medovoy
Racheli Merhav
Dr Martha Mundy
Jonathan Rosenhead, Emeritus Professor of Operational Research, London School of Economics
Sergeiy Sandler
Roman Vater
Gaenor Bruce (Tooks Chambers)
Stephen Cragg, (Doughty StreetChambers)
Khaleel Desai, solicitor
Purvis Ghani, solicitor
Leon Hill, solicitor
Claire Holland, solicitor
Kate Maynard, solicitor
Pauline McMillan, solicitor
Sadat Sayeed, (Two Garden CourtChambers)
Nina Tavakoli, solicitor
Paul Troop, (Tooks Chambers)
Amir Amirani
Mike Cushman
Tansy Feltis
Tony Greenstein
Abe Hayeem
Liane Jones
Dr Nina Mayorek
Ron Mendel
Charlie Pottins
Lynne Reid Banks
Ben Rogaly
Prof Hilary Rose
Prof Steven Rose
Dr Esther Saraga



Letters (third letter)
The Guardian
May 24, 2005

It is not AUT members supporting the boycott that remind me of the foe that the “people of Britain” triumphed over 60 years ago (to quote the anti-boycott ad) but the Israeli state with its repeated armed incursions into occupied land, destruction of houses and construction of a wall to exclude those of the wrong race or religion. The AUT should stand firm.

Andy North
Birmingham NUT executive



Letters (fourth letter)
The Guardian
May 24, 2005

Sue Blackwell, of Birmingham University, asserts that: “Israel is an apartheid state. It has many parallels with South Africa and the (academic) boycott campaign models itself on the campaign against South Africa.”

As expat South Africans, some of us intimately involved in the anti-apartheid struggle, we reject this parallel. Israel may adopt policies with which we disagree, but the institutions of social democratic Israel do not bear comparison with the authoritarian and racist structures of apartheid South Africa. To equate this with Israel distorts the historical record.

We would wish to support those in Palestine and Israel who are seeking to forge dialogue, and we cannot see that an academic boycott would enhance that process.

Leonard and Frances Weinreich
William Frankel
Prof Lewis Wolpert
Prof Sir Bob Hepple
Lord Joffee
Rabbi Sholomo Levin
Prof Lewis Wolpert FRS
Brian Berelowitz
Selwyn Bloch
Prof Geoffrey Dusheiko
Prof Leon Fine
Prof Siamon Gordon
Prof David Katz
Dr Jeanne Samon Katz
Dr Colin Lawrence
Larry Levine
Brian Plen
Lawrence Stolzenberg
Prof Anthony W Segal FRS
Prof David Simon



An open letter from an Israeli Moslem Druze student in London (As not published by The Guardian)

Dear Friend,

My name is Amir Kneifiss and I am an Israeli Druze currently studying towards an MSc. in Governance at the LSE. I am writing as a former student at Haifa University, the institute you decided to boycott a few weeks ago and the place where I spent the best years of my life studying history and politics.

Haifa is a university in which one of every five students is Arab; in which loud but civilised political debates take place regularly; and one in which nobody was ever denied his/her freedom of expression. In my opinion, it is a hotbed of peace and dialogue that should be studied as a model for coexistence and not the opposite. Nevertheless, misled by a frustrated lecturer, you decided to boycott this amazing and diverse institute.

Israel is much more complicated than a newspaper headline. As with many ethnic or national minorities around the world, there are difficulties in integrating Israeli-Arabs and other minorities into the mainstream society. Much more needs to be done in these aspects. Yet, I am a firm believer that change can be made through engagement in the many facets of Israeli democracy and I reject the false allegations portraying Israel as an apartheid and racist state. Not only it is wrong and deceptive, but it will do little to help us in the Middle East confront the real problems and promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The misleading arguments about Haifa University are only one example. More disturbing is the one-sided depiction of Israel, portrayed by some extremists who have never really intended to understand the complexities. Nobody, for instance, mentioned that in Ariel College there are currently 300 Arab students and that only last week, three Israeli-Arab Mayors publicly supported the College for its contribution to reducing inequalities. Yes, the occupied territories should be used to establish a viable Palestinian State. Nevertheless, instead of boycotting Israeli institutions, it is much more helpful to explore the various mechanisms capable of satisfying the interests of both sides (e.g. land swap).

An end to the occupation will not come from a blunt boycott, but from pragmatic solutions accommodating both sides’ desires. Only political negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians - and not the imposition of sanctions from the outside - will help to create a better future for us all. Therefore, although I am only in my twenties, I believe spreading hatred is the most ineffective way of promoting these goals. We need to bridge the gap, not extend it.

If you oppose discrimination and believe in peace, open dialogue and constructive debate, you should see why this boycott must be overturned. It helps none of us and shows one-sided hostility to Israel more than a love of peace.

Please do write to me if you are interested in hearing more about my point of view, and please defend dialogue, for the benefit of all of us.

Yours sincerely,

Amir Kniefiss
Government Department
London School of Economics



Palestinian union wants academic fired
By Khalid Amayreh
Al Jazeera
May 23, 2005

A Palestinian teachers union has called for the dismissal of Al-Quds University President Sari Nusseibah for “normalising ties with Israel” and “serving Israeli propaganda interests”.

A statement by the Palestinian Union of University Teachers and Employees (PUUTE), published on the front page of the Ram Allah-based daily Al-Ayyam, on Monday accused Nusseibah of “normalising relations with the Sharon government” despite the Israeli prime minister’s policy of “bullying the Palestinians and stealing their land”.

“This constitutes a strong blow to the Palestinian national consensus against normalisation with Israel,” said the statement.

“We call on all concerned parties within the Palestinian Authority, including President Mahmoud Abbas and the Higher Education Council, to take the necessary measures to put an end to this behaviour, which doesn’t represent the position of the Palestinian university teachers and employees, and dismiss the president of the Al-Quds University.”

The statement also accused Nusseibah of acting against a recent decision by Britain’s Association of University Teachers to boycott Israel’s Haifa and Bar Ilan universities.

British union boycott

The British union last month voted by a large majority to boycott Haifa University, for violating academic freedom by harassing Professor Ilan Pappe for criticising the Israeli occupation, and Bar Ilan University, for embracing a Jewish settler college in the occupied West Bank.

Last week, Nusseibah, who signed a cooperation agreement with Hebrew University, reportedly criticised the British boycott, describing it as “wrong and unjustified”.

He was quoted as saying that “problems should be resolved through dialogue not through sanctions”.

His remarks have been used by the Israelis in an effort to get the British union to reverse its decision.

Nusseibah’s remarks angered the Palestinian academic community, which accused Nusseibah of “allowing himself to be used by the powerful Israeli lobby for the purpose of perpetuating Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank”.

Speaking to, a number of Palestinian academics denounced Nusseibah for what they said was “acting against Palestinian interests”.

Hebron University professor

Awni Khatib, professor of chemistry at Hebron University, said: “He (Nusseibah) criticised the British union boycott of two Israeli universities, but he didn’t utter a word against the routine Israeli policy of closing Palestinian colleges and universities and of erecting roadblocks that prevent professors, employees and students from reaching Palestinian campuses.”

Khatib said Palestinian academics were not against scientific cooperation with their Israeli colleagues.

“What we are against is the manipulation by Israel of this cooperation to perpetuate inherently racist and discriminatory policies against our people.”

Nusseibah was not available for comment.

However, Al-Quds University official Imad Abu Kishk defended Nusseibah’s “overtures toward the Israeli society”.

“We must open bridges between us and the Israeli society. Sharon is hermetically closing Jerusalem and cutting it off from the West Bank; he is stealing our land and building more colonies. Hence, we must communicate with the Israeli society and tell Israeli Jews that what Sharon is doing is wrong,” Abu Kishk told

He added that cooperation with Hebrew University was necessary for the survival of Al-Quds University.

Abu Kishk declined to elaborate on Nusseibah’s criticisms of the British union’s boycott decision.

Teachers union leader

“I have not read his statements in this regard, but I can tell you that we will never have any dealings with the settler college in Ariel,” Abu Kishk said.

However, Muhammed Abu Zeid, head of the Beir Zeit University Union of Teachers and Employees, dismissed Kishk’s arguments as “spurious and inconsistent”.

“The world must understand that there is no symmetry between the occupied and the occupier. When we achieve freedom and independence, we can then cooperate with the Israelis as free men and women, not as subjects and slaves with no civil, political or even human rights.

“And, yes, we are willing to cooperate with any Israeli academic and institution that denounces the occupation of our land and persecution of our people.”

Abu Zeid appealed to the British union not to change its decision.

Controversial figure

Nusseibah, son of the Jordanian minister of defence during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Anwar Nusseibah, has been a controversial figure.

Two years ago, he and a former head of the domestic Israeli intelligence service, the Shin Bet, signed in Switzerland the so-called Geneva initiative, which stipulated that Israel had the right to be an exclusive Jewish state.

Nusseibah was accused of giving attention to Israeli needs while ignoring Palestinian rights.

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