Boycott of world-class Israeli scientists “could cost lives” elsewhere

December 17, 2002


1. "I do not know of any British academic who has been to a conference in Israel in the last six months"
2. Academics denounce "totalitarian nature of the boycott"
3. "British academic boycott of Israel gathers pace" (Guardian, Dec. 12, 2002)
4. "No rush to sign up for the boycott" (Guardian, Dec. 13, 2002)
5. "Academic liberty and boycotts" (Guardian, Dec. 16, 2002)
6. "Boycott of work by Israeli scientists 'could cost lives'" (Sunday Telegraph, Dec. 15, 2002)
7. "Blair vows to end dons' boycott of Israeli scholars" (Daily Telegraph, Nov. 17, 2002)
8. "Israel on campus" (Wall Street Journal, Dec. 13, 2002)


[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach a series of letters and articles relating to academic boycotts of Israel and Israelis, with a short summary first for those who don't have time to read them in full.

1. "British academic boycott of Israel gathers pace" (The Guardian, December 12, 2002). "Dr Oren Yiftachel, a left-wing Israeli academic at Ben Gurion University, complained that an article he had co-authored with a Palestinian was rejected by the respected British journal Political Geography." This is one of a number of similar incidents. Colin Blakemore, an Oxford University professor of physiology, who supports a boycott, said: "I do not know of any British academic who has been to a conference in Israel in the last six months."

2. Letters from The Guardian (London), December 13, 2002, collectively under the heading "No rush to sign up for the boycott". These letters are anti-boycott, arguing that "the left not only attacks the Sharon government, but actually aids it in victimising Israeli peace campaigners many of whom are academics."

Another professor writes: "[Now that a boycott of Israeli academics and students is encouraged] Will we, for example, refuse contacts with students and academics from all the countries in the Middle and Far East with doubtful records on human rights and free speech? And will we UK academics refrain from submitting our research papers to US academic journals and conferences because of Bush's dangerous policies on Iraq?"

Another professor urges "all who care about freedom of expression and the integrity of science" to nip "this political censorship in the bud by sending all manuscripts via Israeli universities."


3. Letters from The Guardian (London), December 16, 2002, collectively under the heading "Academic liberty and boycotts." Almost eighty academics denounce "the totalitarian nature of those proposing the boycott" against Israel. Note that among the signatories is Walter Bodmer, Principal of Hertford College, Oxford, at which poet Tom Paulin is employed.

4. "Boycott of work by Israeli scientists 'could cost lives'" (Sunday Telegraph, London, December 15, 2002). The development of life-saving new medical treatments could be under threat because of the British boycott of Israeli academics, leading scientists and research organizations are warning.

5. "Blair vows to end dons' boycott of Israeli scholars." (Daily Telegraph, London, November 17). The British prime minister speaks out vigorously against the boycott.

6. "Israel on campus" (The Wall Street Journal, December 13, 2002). Prof. Ruth Wisse says "anti-Semitism thrives because slandering Israel is the only aggression against a minority that is encouraged by the rules of political correctness."

-- Tom Gross



British academic boycott of Israel gathers pace
By Andy Beckett and Ewen MacAskill
The Guardian
December 12, 2002

Evidence is growing that a British boycott of Israeli academics is gathering pace.

British academics have delivered a series of snubs to their Israeli counterparts since the idea of a boycott first gained ground in the spring.

In interviews with the Guardian, British and Israeli academics listed various incidents in which visits, research projects and publication of articles have been blocked.

Colin Blakemore, an Oxford University professor of physiology, who supports a boycott, said: "I do not know of any British academic who has been to a conference in Israel in the last six months."

Dr Oren Yiftachel, a left-wing Israeli academic at Ben Gurion University, complained that an article he had co-authored with a Palestinian was initially rejected by the respected British journal Political Geography. He said it was returned to him unopened with a note stating that Political Geography could not accept a submission from Israel.

Mr Yiftachel said that, after months of negotiation, the article is to be published but only after he agreed to make substantial revisions, including making a comparison between his homeland and apartheid South Africa.

The issue of a boycott was highlighted in the spring when two British academics, Steven and Hilary Rose, had a letter published in the Guardian supporting the idea. It was signed by 123 other academics.

Professor Paul Zinger, outgoing head of the Israeli Science Foundation, said: "Every year we send most of our research papers abroad for reference. We send out about 7,000 papers a year. This year, for the first time, we had people writing back, about 25 of them, saying 'We refuse to look at these'."



No rush to sign up for the boycott
The Guardian
December 13, 2002

The case of Israeli academic Oren Yiftachel (It's water on stone in the end the stone wears out, G2, December 12) is a good example of how the British left not only attacks the Sharon government, but actually aids it in victimising Israeli peace campaigners many of whom are academics. The leadership of the Peace Now movement comes from Israeli academia, as did the initiators of the Oslo Accords in 1993. If it hadn't been for Israeli academics, Arafat and Rabin would not have shaken hands and the peace process would never have got off the ground.

The confused tactics of the boycott advocates are symptomatic of a wider malaise within the British left of refusing support for the Israeli peace movement, which wishes to end the occupation and secure a two-state solution. It is far easier to see the situation in black and white and give a blank ideological cheque to the Palestinian cause.

Arafat's Fatah is currently trying to convince Hamas and the Islamists in Cairo that suicide bombing is counter-productive and that any atrocities during the Israeli election period will undermine Amram Mitzna, the dovish Labour candidate. The bombers serve as the Israeli right's willing allies in increasing the number of seats for Sharon and re-electing him. If the Palestinians understand that the only group in Israel which can help to deliver a Palestinian state is the peace camp, why hasn't this self-evident truth peculated into the blind righteousness of the boycott organisers?

Dr Colin Shindler
SOAS, University of London

Now that an academic boycott is an acceptable way for UK academics to support struggles against oppression, will the principle be extended beyond contacts with Israeli academics? Will we, for example, refuse contacts with students and academics from all the countries in the Middle and Far East with doubtful records on human rights and free speech? And will we UK academics refrain from submitting our research papers to US academic journals and conferences because of Bush's dangerous policies on Iraq? No, of course not! Our careers in UK universities are built on publishing in US journals and developing the lucrative overseas student market.

Prof. Margaret Harris
Aston University, Birmingham

If it is true that some academic journals are refusing to print first-class research from Israel, how then do they fill their pages? With less good work that would not otherwise have been published. For all who care about freedom of expression and the integrity of science, this political censorship can be nipped in the bud by sending all manuscripts via Israeli universities.

Prof. Joan Freeman
Middlesex University

The Israeli government's actions towards the Palestinians should be condemned. However an academic boycott of Israel is both short-sighted and wrong on principle. Academic and intellectual life should not be used as a political weapon. It is particularly disturbing if editors of academic journals are making judgments based on nationality or politics, rather than scholarly content. It is essential that we safeguard the internationalism and openness of intellectual community.

Dr Charles Thorpe

Contrary to the impression created by your article the AUT has a very clear policy on the Middle East, which was agreed at our annual council in May. In summary, we called for a moratorium on EU and European Science Foundation (ESF) funding of Israeli cultural and research institutions, until Israel abides by UN resolutions and opens serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Consequently, we wrote to the ESF calling on all such funding to be suspended forthwith. However, it should be pointed out that the AUT has never supported an academic boycott of Israeli universities and recognises that the conflict is damaging to everyone in the Middle East.

Sally Hunt
General secretary, Association of University Teachers

Palestinian voices are strangely absent in your article. It is as if once again the Palestinians do not exist, the argument is exclusively between Israelis and westerners.

The repeated demands from Palestinians for boycotts and sanctions are nowhere mentioned. Supporters of the Palestinians in the west should, like opponents of South African apartheid in the past, take their lead from the Palestinians themselves. As long as the Palestinians call for boycotts and sanctions we should support them.

Dr Nur Masalha
Dr Stephanie Cronin

I will refuse to referee any research paper or book from Steven Rose or Colin Blackmore, or anyone else who boycotts academics, or their work, on the basis of any of the following: race, religion, political beliefs or country of origin. Hopefully other academics will help defend academic freedom by doing likewise.

Dr Milton Wainwright
Department of molecular biology and biotechnology, University of Sheffield



Academic liberty and boycotts
The Guardian
December 16, 2002

We write as linguists in support of our colleague, Professor Mona Baker, who is under investigation by Umist for removing two Israeli members of the editorial board of a journal she privately owns and publishes (It's water on stone, G2, December 12).

Although we write as individuals, we may speak for a large body of opinion in our field because we are the past presidents of the Linguistics Association since 1980.

We believe Umist's treatment of Prof. Baker and the publicity this case is attracting are disproportionate to her actions. Though we have been assured by Umist there is no question of dismissal, Prof. Baker has already been publicly reprimanded on the Umist website and a committee has been set up to scrutinise her activities and consider the issues that are taken to arise from them.

Like the rest of the academic community, we are divided over whether or not the academic boycott of Israeli institutions is justified, and even more so over whether Prof. Baker was right to extend it to individual Israeli scholars. However, we all agree that the discrimination by Israel against the Palestinians raises issues which are far more serious, by any standards, than the academic boycott and we regret the way in which this issue is serving to divert attention from the scene in the Middle East.

We are also very concerned at the potential infringement of Prof. Baker's liberty by Umist and at the precedent this would set. Whether or not an individual academic wishes to engage outside the university in a political action is an issue for their own individual judgment and should not be taken up by the employing organisation.

Prof. Keith Brown
Cambridge University
Prof. Richard Hudson
University College London
and three other past presidents of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain

Andy Beckett's article on the campaign to boycott Israeli academics illustrates the totalitarian nature of those proposing the boycott: academics are fired purely because of their country of origin and scholarly journals insist on political statements being added to articles before acceptance. No wonder over 14,000 scientists and scholars from more than 60 countries have now signed a counter-petition condemning this malign initiative.

Walter Bodmer
Principal of Hertford College, Oxford
Ruth Deech
Principal of St Anne's College, Oxford
Prof. Leslie Wagner
Vice-chancellor, Leeds Metropolitan University
Prof. Jeremy Myerson
Royal College of Art
and 73 other UK academics

Andy Beckett mentions the "leftwing, anti-Zionist Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe" and the claims his "career has been regularly threatened by rightwingers who disapprove of his pro-Palestinian views".

In fact, Dr Pappe is and continues to be employed at the University of Haifa, which has promoted him and given him tenure, in the face of what many consider the repugnance of his views and the slandering of his native country. It is true he was taken to task recently and briefly after being accused of waging a smear campaign against colleagues with whom he disagrees politically, but the university took no punitive action against him.

The university prides itself on scrupulously preserving an atmosphere of pluralism and freedom on campus, even under the severe and emotionally charged conditions that surround us here.

Nechama Wintman
Spokesperson, Haifa University

If academics want to make a difference to what happens in Israel what they should be doing is lending strong vocal and other support to those in Israel who, on a daily basis, often with their Palestinian friends, labour against the appalling effects of the occupation. Their activities range from organising replantings of uprooted olive trees and of food convoys to villages under siege, to large-scale resistances to army activities (see and

I can't see how it can ever be right to boycott academics. But, right apart, it is surely exactly the kind of distraction the rightwing Jewish lobby relishes and needs; and yet again, the Palestinians and those who are really suffering get forgotten.

Naomi Eilan
University of Warwick

As organisers of the speaking tour of two Israeli military refuseniks, we would like to respond to the concerns at the apparent rise in anti-Israeli meetings on UK campuses. Our meetings were well supported not only by the left, but also by many student and some Jewish groups. In Leicester and Nottingham, where we tried to work with local Union of Jewish Students groups, we were cold-shouldered on the grounds that such meetings would send out the wrong kind of message. In London and Leeds, UJS members suggested the tour was promoting anti-semitism and should be stopped some chutzpah, complaining about a virtually non-existent boycott, while seeking to silence any critics of Israeli policies through cries of anti-semitism. Individual UJS members did contribute to several of the 30 meetings. We look forward to a time when the UJS feels able to participate more openly in such debates.

Irene Bruegel
Jews for Justice for Palestinians
Tirza Waisel
Just Peace UK



Boycott of work by Israeli scientists 'could cost lives'
By Daniel Foggo and Josie Clarke
Sunday Telegraph (London)
December 15, 2002

The development of life-saving new medical treatments could be under threat because of the British boycott of Israeli academics, leading scientists and research organisations are warning.

Baroness Greenfield, the eminent neurobiologist and the director of the Royal Institution, the oldest independent research body in the country, said that she was becoming increasingly "distressed" by the boycott.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organisation, also said that it would become concerned if the shunning of work by Israeli academics, which began in April, continued.

The protests followed evidence that the boycott is gathering pace, with an increasing amount of Israeli research being ignored.

The coterie of Left-wing British intellectuals organising the boycott, which aims to deny Israeli academics an international platform until their country engages in peace talks with the Palestinians, insist that the action is morally justified.

Lady Greenfield, who is also a professor of pharmacology at Oxford University and a council member of the foundation which regulates the Weizmann Institute, a prestigious cancer research centre, issued a warning last night, however, that it could put the well-being of the British public at risk.

She said: "The obvious implication of the boycott is that if this is stopping medical research from being propagated, then the development of treatments and people's lives could be affected.

"If it continues it will harm people in every sphere but in medical research lives are potentially at risk. What are they trying to achieve by doing this? It is a situation where everyone loses.

The Israelis will suffer, the academics who do it are disapproved of by their colleagues, and it sends a very sad signal out to the general public because it is so illogical.

"If Britain goes to war with Iraq, does that mean that British academics should be boycotted by everyone else?"

The IARC, which co-ordinates and conducts research on cancer, also criticised the boycott. A spokesman confirmed that the agency collaborated with Israeli researchers, even though Israel had not been a member since 1967, and gave a warning that vital research could be held up "if this boycott were to expand in reach".

The boycott was begun by two British academics, Steven Rose, a professor of biology at the Open University, and his wife Hilary, a professor of social policy at Bradford University.

Last April they sent a letter with the signatures of 123 other experts in their fields to a newspaper stating their intention to impose a moratorium on support for Israeli academics.

In July, The Telegraph reported how two Israeli professors were removed from their positions on two journals produced by Mona Baker, a professor of translation studies at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. The university is still considering what action, if any, should be taken over the matter.

Last week it emerged that other Israelis are having their work ignored by British academics. Prof. Paul Singer, of the Israel Science Foundation, said: "We send out about 7,000 papers a year. This year, for the first time, we had about 25 people writing back saying: 'We refuse to look at these'."

Colin Blakemore, a professor of physiology at Oxford University, who supports the boycott, said: "I do not know of any British academic who has been to a conference in Israel in the last six months."

Tony Blair has reportedly told the Chief Rabbi in Britain that he was "appalled" by the boycott and that he "would do anything to stop it", but no action has been taken. Downing Street declined to comment last night.



Blair vows to end dons' boycott of Israeli scholars
By Francis Elliott and Catherine Milner
Daily Telegraph
November 17, 2002

Tony Blair has told Britain's Chief Rabbi that he will "do anything necessary" to stop the academic boycott of Israeli scholars at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (Umist).

The Prime Minister told Jonathan Sacks during a private meeting in Downing Street that he was "appalled" by evidence of discrimination on British university campuses, according to his aides.

His comments his first on the issue follow worldwide protests sparked by a British academic's sacking of two Israeli scholars from her highly respected international journals.

The dismissal by Mona Baker, a professor at Umist, of Dr Miriam Shlesinger and Prof. Gideon Toury because of their nationality initially raised no public opposition from within British universities.

But when The Telegraph revealed her actions it led to a fierce debate in this country and abroad about attitudes to Israel in British academia.

An inquiry by Umist into her actions has been in progress since then. When Rabbi Sacks raised the case, Mr Blair said its findings had to "send a clear signal" that so-called academic boycotts will not be tolerated.

Umist launched its inquiry into Prof. Baker's actions in July. A spokesman for the university this week insisted that the investigation was nearing completion. Mr Blair's intervention will increase pressure on the university to remove the academic from her post.

"The Prime Minister is appalled by discrimination against academics on the grounds of their race or nationality. He believes that universities must send a clear signal that this will not be tolerated," said a Downing Street aide.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister confirmed that he had met Rabbi Sacks in Number 10 on October 28 and that the issue had been raised.

Mr Blair is said to have told the Chief Rabbi that he took the matter "very seriously indeed". A senior Labour Party figure said that the Prime Minister had also offered to "do anything necessary" to stop academic boycotts.

Officials declined to spell out exactly what the Government might do to put pressure on Umist. However, the university, which received 36.9 million in public funds last year, will be acutely aware of the approaching review of higher education funding, due to be published in January.

It will also need official approval for plans to merge with the University of Manchester to create Britain's first super-university.

The timing of Mr Blair's intervention is therefore clearly designed to exert maximum leverage over the institution which initially refused to take action over the affair.

Umist at first claimed that because the journals from which Prof. Baker had dismissed the scholars The Translator and Translation Studies Abstracts did not belong to the university it could not act.

Prof. Baker justified her action by saying: "I deplore the Israeli state. Miriam knew that was how I felt and that they would have to go because of the current situation."

Umist was forced to back down, however, after protests by academics from around the world and Estelle Morris, the then education secretary, who said that such discrimination was "completely unacceptable".

A spokesman for the university said last week: "There have been reports that the case has been dropped but that is not true. The committee will return its verdict about whether Mona Baker will be able to remain in her post or not before Christmas."

Mr Blair's intervention will also be taken as an implicit criticism of Oxford University. The university last week refused to make public the results of its internal investigation into allegations that Tom Paulin, a poet and academic, told an Egyptian newspaper that American-born Israeli settlers should be shot dead.

Mr Paulin, who lectures in English at Hertford College, remains in his post. Harvard University this week cancelled a lecture by him because the invitation had caused "divisiveness and consternation" in the prestigious American institution.

Lord Janner, of the Holocaust Educational Trust, welcomed Mr Blair's intervention and said that it would be "very well received". He added: "Academics should ask themselves who is next to be boycotted."

About 700 academics worldwide have signalled their support for an academic boycott of Israel. In Britain, the calls for action have been led by Steven Rose, an Open University professor.

Calls for such a boycott have been supported by NATFHE, the lecturers' union, while demands for a moratorium on the European funding of Israeli institutions have been backed by the Association of University Teachers.



Israel on campus
By Ruth R. Wisse
The Wall Street Journal
December 13, 2002

Anti-Semitism thrives because slandering Israel is the only aggression against a minority that is encouraged by the rules of political correctness.

The claim of universities to be fostering diversity and preventing discrimination against vulnerable minorities is oddly compromised by a surge of anti-Semitism. With the recent addition of Columbia and Yale, over 50 campuses are currently circulating faculty petitions to divest from Israel and from American firms selling arms to Israel. Faculty at Georgetown, Michigan and Harvard have gone out of their way to invite speakers best known for their defamation of Israel and the Jews.

To be sure, hundreds of university presidents have either spoken out publicly or signed a statement deploring the presence of anti-Semitism on campus. But none has tried to explain the phenomenon, much less undertaken to do anything about it. So questions abound. How does one know, for example, that the divestment petition is anti-Semitic? Why should Jews have become a target in a campus atmosphere of such advertised sensitivity? And what can universities do to remedy the situation without stifling healthy debate?


Like many such initiatives since the 1960s, the petition campaign against Israel is promoted by relatively small numbers of faculty with interlocking interests. Its driving force are Arabs, Arabists, and their sympathizers who help prosecute the war against Israel as a way of diverting attention away from Arab regimes. They are joined by Leftists including Jews who see in Jewish particularism the chief hindrance to their internationalist faith; by radicals who consider Israel and America to be colonial powers and who promote their reactionary or revolutionary alternatives; and by antiwar enthusiasts who blame Israel for inviting Arab aggression against it.

The call for divestment sets up an implicit comparison between Israel and South Africa, whose apartheid policy once inspired a campaign of divestment aimed at forcing democratic change. In South Africa, a minority of whites had established a government based on racial criteria. But not only is Israel a vigorous democracy, it is, with Turkey, the only democracy in the Middle East. Arab autocrats and despots attack the Jewish state precisely because it embodies the democracy they are determined to resist. Arab rulers see in Israel's free and open society a threat to Muslim hegemony and to autocratic rule.

Most university professors and students who support divestment do so in the misguided belief that it will force Israel to improve its human-rights record in the West Bank and Gaza. What they fail to recognize is that, far from championing human rights, the divestment petition is a springboard for the spread of anti-Semitic hostility to American campuses. The economic boycott has been part of the Arab arsenal in the war against Israel for the past 50 years. Last month, the Arab League formally reactivated its boycott at a meeting in Damascus. Saudi Arabia recently blacklisted about 200 European, American, and other companies for importing Israeli products or product parts under other labels; and its Chamber of Commerce and Industry called on citizens to report the presence of any Israeli product exported through a third country. The divestment petitioners are asking their universities to join the Arab boycott that has the destruction of Israel as its larger goal.

The divestment campaign did not just happen, and speakers assaulting Israel do not appear of themselves. This antipathy to Israel grows from a campus culture that is selectively repressive. All the while that students, in the spirit of diversity, are actively discouraged from making pejorative comments about other vulnerable minorities, some Arab and Muslim students have been actively fomenting hatred of Israel as an expression of their "identity." On campuses with a large Arab presence, such as Wayne State in Detroit, this has resulted in a palpable threat to Jewish students, and outbreaks of physical violence have actually occurred at San Francisco State and Concordia University in Montreal. Since Arab and Muslim students are currently the only ones who exuberantly defame another group, and who blame that group rather than Arab and Muslim governments for the failings of their own anti-democratic societies, it is hardly surprising that they should be joined by others looking for a villain or scapegoat. Anti-Semitism thrives because slandering Israel is the only aggression against a minority that is encouraged by the rules of political correctness.

Along similar lines, universities have allowed Middle East departments to disseminate anti-Israel propaganda to an extent unimaginable a generation ago, representing violations of intellectual honesty and academic impartiality that may be unique in our academic life. Martin Kramer's book on Middle East Studies in America, "Ivory Towers on Sand," points out the conditions that encourage this abuse. Instead of scrutinizing the obsession with Israel that has retarded the development of Arab societies, many professors of Arab and Muslim civilization have themselves become obsessed with the obsession. Here the damage to America is at least as great as to Israel, for had these scholars been submitting Arab regimes to honest scrutiny, they would have long since have been investigating the connections between anti-Semitism, opposition to democracy, and hostility to the U.S. Why has it been left to private think tanks to inform us about the rise and nature of terrorism in the Middle East?


The last thing university authorities ought to do in addressing this latest outbreak of what has been called "the longest hatred" is to enforce the kind of speech codes that have been invoked to protect other sensitive minorities. What is wanted is more honest debate, not less, but honest debate on both sides of the issue. Anti-Semitism works by making Jews the defendants of a political charge. Its hostile agenda invites counter-scrutiny. The more the Arab world and its defenders try to blame Israel, the more critically we should be studying the Arab world to see how it uses anti-Semitism to divert attention from its problems, and where the responsibility for those problems really lies.

Anti-Semitism perverts the ideal of a mutually tolerant campus. The Faculty and administration, and students who wish to uphold that ideal, will have to exercise their free speech to address the function and the roots of this virulent phenomenon.

(Ms. Wisse, a professor of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard, is the author of "If I Am Not for Myself: The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews" (Free Press, 2001).)

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