Professors in Britain Vote to Boycott 2 Israeli Schools

May 8, 2005

LONDON, May 7 - Acting in response to an appeal by 60 Palestinian
organizations, Britain's leading higher education union has voted to boycott
two Israeli universities.

The boycott, which has prompted outrage in Israel, the United States and
Britain, would bar Israeli faculty members at Haifa University and Bar-Ilan
University from taking part in academic conferences or joint research with
their British colleagues.

The resolution on the boycott, passed by the Association of University
Teachers in late April, would allow an exception only for those academics at
the two schools who declare opposition to Israeli policies toward the

The move has so angered Jewish groups in the United States that one
organization, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, is considering
calling on American universities to carry out a counterboycott against
British universities.

"This is unreal," said Abraham H. Foxman, its national director. "These are
not ignorant peasants or extremist ideologues. They are intellectuals
teaching future generations to respect, to dialogue and to cooperate, and
they are saying boycott the Jews again."

"What about those who are suffering in Cuba and China and Rwanda?" he asked.
"Where is the support to deal with Sudan?"

Critics of the boycott have denounced it in newspapers, on the Internet and
in government declarations as antithetical to academic freedom, ill-timed,
misguided and, at worst, anti-Semitic. Both sides see it as part of a larger
trend of increasing pressure on Israel to withdraw from occupied lands.

Last year, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) opted to begin divesting from
companies that it believes benefit from the Israeli occupation. A similar
call is being considered by the United Church of Christ.

But Britain and the rest of Europe tend to be considerably more outspoken in
their support of Palestinians and in opposition to the Israeli occupation. A
sponsor of the boycott proposal, Sue Blackwell, an English professor at the
University of Birmingham, said the move was taken because the Palestinian
organizations asked for it. Had a similar call been issued by groups in
Cuba, China or Sudan, she said, it might also have been heeded.

"Delegates were moved by the pictures we showed of Palestinian families
being evicted," she said. "They were moved by stories of attacks on a Jewish
Israeli academic. They were moved by an account of the settlements and what
they are doing in making a Palestinian state impossible. It was a response
to the overall plight of the Palestinian people."

At the conference, delegates were told of the difficulty Palestinians face
traveling from the occupied territories to Israeli universities; learned
about a college in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, which bars
Palestinians; and heard about the treatment of a professor, Dr. Ilan Pappe,
an Israeli Jew who is an outspoken anti-Zionist. Parallels were drawn
between Israel and South Africa, where education was racially segregated
under apartheid.

Using language lifted from a Palestinian call to action, the British motions
framed the boycott as a "contribution to the struggle to end Israel's
occupation, colonization and system of apartheid."

Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the
Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, which pushed for the union vote in
Britain, said comparing Israeli occupation to South African apartheid was a
fair parallel. While Palestinians are not officially barred from Israeli
universities, they are effectively kept out, he said.

"Palestinian academics have been denied the right to move, to travel and
often to teach due to occupation policies," Mr. Barghouti said.

"They have been effectively subject to a de facto boycott for decades," he
said. "Aren't they part of the academic community that deserves academic

But some academics in Britain said severing ties to Israeli universities was
counterproductive because they provided opportunities to air differences and
hold debate.

"We think to target Israeli universities is to target some of the places
that have some of the most open spaces in Israel, spaces that are against
the occupation and against anti-Arab racism, spaces where Jews and
Palestinians learn together," said David Hirsh, a professor of sociology at
Goldsmiths College, University of London, who opposes the Israeli occupation
but is working to overturn the boycott.

"A lot of people who support this are motivated by an understandable want or
wish to help Palestinians," he said. "What we have also said is that the
union has adopted a position that is effectively anti-Semitic because it has
chosen to hold the Israeli Jewish academics responsible for the actions of
their state and university administrators, when the union doesn't hold any
other academic in the world responsible in that way."

Neil Goldstein, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said the
boycott evoked "the sorts of techniques that were used to try to deny Jews
the right to participate in academic life in prewar Germany."

British professors have declined to work with individual Israeli academics
in the past, and a number of student unions have taken up the boycott cause.
In 2002, a professor at a university in Manchester fired two Israeli
academics from journals that she owned, saying that although they were
friends, they represented the state of Israel. In 2003, an Oxford professor
denied a student at Tel Aviv University permission to work in his laboratory
because the student had served in the Israeli Army.

In Britain, where some leading academics, including some Nobel Prize
winners, have been highly critical of the boycott, 25 union members are
trying to overturn it. They petitioned last week for an emergency council
meeting, which now has been called for May 26 in order to hold another
debate and a new vote.

The approval of the boycott appeared to surprise even its framers; it had
failed in 2003 and was opposed by the academic union's executive board. This
time, the authors of the motions narrowed the boycott to select universities
and underscored its endorsements by Palestinian organizations, including the
Palestinian higher education trade union.

Haifa University was singled out because Dr. Pappe, who teaches there,
maintains that he has faced harsh treatment for his views, particularly for
supporting a student's 1999 master's thesis charging that Israeli soldiers
massacred Palestinians in the village of Tantura during the 1948 war. The
explosive paper was examined both by a university panel and by Israeli
courts; all concluded the charges were not substantiated in the thesis. The
court also found that some quotations in the thesis had been altered.

Critics of the boycott say punishing Haifa University is a particularly
inappropriate way to pressure Israel, because it is one of the country's
most integrated institutions, with Israeli Arabs making up about 20 percent
of its student body.

Bar-Ilan University became a target of the boycott because it recognizes
credits from the College of Judea and Samaria in the West Bank settlement of
Ariel. Palestinians are barred from the settlement, and thus, the college.
The British academic union judged that Bar-Ilan had made itself "directly
involved with the occupation of Palestinian territories."

Just last week, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon elevated its status to
university, a move that riled many Israeli academics and was widely viewed
as a gambit to strengthen settlements in occupied territory.

© The New York Times