Letter Urges Israeli Academics to Oppose Government's Palestinian Policies

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

HAIM WATZMAN | Chronicle of Higher Education | 30 March 2004

Israel's academic leaders should take a public stand against their government's violations of academic freedom at Palestinian universities in the occupied territories, say more than 300 signatories to an open letter that has been published online. But the man to whom the letter is addressed, Menachem Magidor, president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says the letter displays the double standard of those who are boycotting Israeli academic institutions. The letter was conceived by Lawrence Davidson, a professor of history at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. He and several other American and British faculty members who were also involved drafting and posting the letter have for the last two years led a campaign to boycott Israeli universities to protest Israel's military actions against the Palestinians (The Chronicle, April 26, 2002). "We learned of plans to counter the academic boycott from news reports," Mr. Davidson said Sunday in an e-mail message. "We believed that this warranted a reply and could be used to point up the hypocrisy of Israeli concern for its own academic freedom while destroying that of the Palestinians." According to the letter, "the Israeli government has set up a system of roadblocks and checkpoints that makes it difficult or impossible for Palestinian teachers and students to reach their universities, colleges, and schools." "Its policy of harassment, arrests, random shootings, and assaults," the letter continues, "is carried out almost weekly by Israeli troops on Palestinian campuses." Mr. Davidson said that the letter had been addressed to Mr. Magidor "because he was the person described in news reports as a major actor in the countereffort to the boycott." In response, Mr. Magidor noted that many individual Israeli academics have decried the effect of their government's policies on Palestinian universities. He rejected, however, the implication that a faculty member's views on the issue, or an institution's position, should be a litmus test to determine whether a scholar or university was worthy of being accepted by the world's academic community. "I have not heard these people demanding that Chinese scientists condemn their government or that American scholars condemn the war in Iraq," he said. Mr. Magidor said he would not answer the signers' call for a public debate with them about academic freedom "because they are setting the terms of reference." The boycott has been vocally opposed by most academics in Israel and by many scholars elsewhere, especially in the handful of cases in which scholars in other countries have explicitly refused to cooperate with Israeli colleagues. While such cases have been relatively rare, many Israeli scholars say that they feel the effects of a tacit boycott whose extent is difficult to measure. Its manifestations, they say, include a lack of invitations to present papers at conferences, a refusal to sit on academic evaluation and promotion committees set up by Israeli institutions, and a reluctance to accept Israeli graduate and postdoctoral students.