Israeli Boycott: A Mistake
The blacklist of Israeli academics declared by Britain's leading union of university faculty is a bad idea. The 50,000-member Association of University Teachers (AUT), seeking to support Palestinian rights, passed resolutions late in April targeting faculty members at two universities in Israel, Haifa and Bar-Ilan. Professors there are banned from "any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration, or joint projects" with British academics, including participation in scholarly conferences and lecturing at British universities. The boycott holds faculty members at Haifa and Bar-Ilan responsible for the policies of the Israeli government in the West Bank and Gaza. Actually, Israeli universities, especially Haifa, have been active centers of opposition to the occupation. The Sharon government would like to gain more political control over the universities to curtail their role as centers of opposition. The boycott thus threatens the forces inside Israel that oppose the occupation and have been working to change the government and diverts attention from the occupation. Here in the United States, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) rightly condemned the boycott for interfering with academic freedom, which requires "the freest possible international movement of scholars and ideas." The sixty Palestinian groups that called for the boycott argued that Israel systematically denies Palestinians many of these freedoms on a daily basis. That is true, but protest against those policies should be directed at the Israeli government, not at faculty members. The British union exempts from the blacklist "conscientious Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their state's colonial and racist policies." Thus an academic seeking to participate in a conference or give a guest lecture would be required to be cleared first by passing a political test. That requirement, as the AAUP stated, "deepens the injury to academic freedom." The Middle East Studies Association and the American Political Science Association have joined the AAUP in opposing the boycott, and several thousand academics have signed a petition supporting the AAUP statement. AUT will meet to reconsider the boycott on May 26. They should reverse their earlier decision and abandon it.