A not so academic controversy

From the www.monabaker.com archive (legacy material)

Charles Hoover | Ha'aretz | 26 September 2003

International Academic Friends of Israel, fighting a boycott on local universities, names director for new Jerusalem office. "It's like cutting off your nose to spite your face," says David Leshnick to characterize attempts in the international scientific community to boycott Israel in the wake of the intifada. "An academic or scientific boycott is totally against the concept of academia." "If we come up with a cure for cancer, does this [boycott] mean that the world will not want to hear it because we're Israelis?" he asks. "It's defeatist and very destructive to the world of science and academia." Leshnick, who is originally from the U.S. and first immigrated to Israel in 1984, recently returned to the country after being named executive director for the International Academic Friends of Israel (IAFI), a nonprofit organization created in 2003 in response to such boycott attempts. In 1977, Leshnick was among the hostages taken by a Black Muslim group in the B'nai B'rith building in Washington, D.C. "The academic community has certainly been influenced by negative public relations about Israel and misinformation," Leshnick told AngloFile this week. "Unfortunately, the objectivity that scientists and academics are supposed to exercise in approaching their fields has [here] been lost, and in many cases Israeli scientists and academics who have absolutely nothing to do with politics are being targeted in this boycott." Two incidents highlight the boycott campaign. In April 2002, a couple of British Jewish professors from the Open University in the U.K. organized a letter to The Guardian newspaper signed by 120 academics, calling for a European moratorium to be placed on Israeli academics. Two months later, Oxford pathology professor Dr. Andrew Wilkie told an Israeli candidate for an internship that he refused to employ anyone who had served in the Israel Defense Forces. Leshnick says that while the initiators in these instances at least did nothing to conceal their objectives, IAFI is concerned that some in the scientific community may be using more subtle methods to boycott Israel. Speaking to AngloFile from New York, Dr. Andrew Marks, President and Founder of IAFI, said that "recently there haven't been as many public and outspoken statements for boycotting Israel, but what we've always been [more] concerned about is what goes on under the table, or in private that can influence the academic community in Israel tremendously." The biggest problem at the moment is "bringing people over here, because of the situation," Leshnick says, so one of his major tasks will be to organize conferences and meetings which bring academics from around the world to Israel. His nearly 20 years as an Israel Government Licensed Tour Guide should serve him well in this regard. Marks, chair of the department of physiology at Columbia University College in New York, says IAFI wants "to try and reinvigorate the life of Israel's academic community" in the wake of the absence of international academic meetings in the country during the intifada. Such efforts will include a cardiology conference in Eilat next month, and in November a surgical teleconference to be broadcast live from the Schnieder Children's Hospital in New York to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. One of IAFI's major problems is that the effects of the attempted boycott have to date not been accurately measured. Marks says that the organization hopes to generate interest among Israeli universities in performing a study to gauge the boycott's real impact. Such a study would aim to determine whether there has been any significant change in the number of Israeli scientists invited to present their papers in meetings abroad, or have their papers published in international publications. It would also examine whether Israeli students are being accepted for training positions at universities abroad at the same rate as they were before the intifada.