From the www.monabaker.com archive (legacy material)
Editorial | Haaretz | 27 April 2005
Last week the union of British university lecturers imposed an academic boycott on two Israeli universities, as a means of pressure and punishment for "Israel's war crimes." After a debate inside the British academy, which has gone on since the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield, a compromise was reached and the decision was made to make do with only two Israeli universities. The University of Haifa was chosen because of the baseless reason that it is harassing leftist Dr. Ilan Pappe (who continues working, teaching and conducting research at the university), and Bar-Ilan University was chosen because it provides academic support to the college in Ariel.
The British press is now debating whether the boycott is even legal, in light of the fact that the lecturers' trade union is forcing the universities to break contracts and cancel projects and conferences, and is preventing employment of people who have already been promised jobs. Moreover, boycotting individual students and lecturers because of their nationality is discrimination - forbidden by university charters.
But the problematic element is not the constitutionality of the boycott, but its incredible harm to academic freedom and freedom of information and expression, which should be free of political shackles and cross borders, regimes and any other limits. Two years ago, an Israeli was denied Ph.D. studies at Oxford because he had served in the Israeli army. Two Israeli academics were fired by a British journal of translation. One of them, Miriam Shlesinger, is a former head of Amnesty International in Israel, and her firing proves just how a sweeping boycott can harm the wrong people.
The boycott by the lecturers union, like any collective punishment, is unjust. First of all, it harms people who don't necessarily have any ability to influence or change the policies of their government. Indeed, some are opponents of the occupation, and many are human rights activists.
As opposed to the embargo that some European countries imposed on products manufactured in the settlements - which can be understood as direct pressure to end the occupation - the academic boycott is an intolerable attack on freedom of inquiry and thought, which testifies to flawed liberal values of the boycotters more than those who are boycotted, and shows that their hypocrisy is boundless. It is impossible not to note that the British lecturers' union has yet to boycott places like China, Sudan and North Africa, which daily harm the civil rights of their citizens.
However, Israeli academic freedom cannot exist in a bubble. Even those who regard a boycott as a foul measure cannot be surprised by such initiatives meant to apply pressure that would make clear to Israel that the continuation of the occupation is not going to be accepted by the world with understanding. When the State of Israel denies Arab students and their families freedom of movement to the universities where they are students, and the even more basic right to earn a dignified livelihood free of the occupation, when the separation fence in Jerusalem is going up on the campus of Al Quds University, it is difficult to argue that Israel adheres to the basic values that it rightfully demands the British university lecturers uphold.