Academic Boycott "Racist"

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Oxford dons have reacted furiously to a proposal to boycott all relations with Israeli academics. The motion, being put to the Association of University Teachers, urges teachers to “sever any academic links with official Israeli institutions” in protest at the country’s “repeated breaches of UN resolutions and Geneva Conventions”. Emanuele Ottolenghi, a lecturer from St Antony’s College, is horrified by the plans. “If what they want is compliance with UN resolutions, they should acknowledge that Israel is not the only villain – both sides break resolutions.” He claims that the supporters of the boycott are anti-Semitic, attacking Israel purely for what it is, not for what it does. “I don’t hear anyone calling for a boycott of Russian academics because of Chechnya, or Egyptian ones because of the domestic slavery there. No one tried to block Yugoslavian academics in the nineties. Why the double standards, singling out Israel now? They are acting with an exquisitely political intent.” Ottolenghi’s main complaint is that any academic boycott is wrong in principle. “Universities are engaged in scientific research, which produces knowledge,” he told Cherwell. “Knowledge is a shared patrimony of all humankind, and research has no passport. Boycotting places of knowledge and research attacks the essence of society. Universities are not part of the policies of the government of the country in which they reside.” Richard Gold, co-President of the University Jewish Society, expressed his “outrage that the highly influential AUT is calling for this boycott. Leaving aside the question of whether an academic boycott can ever be justified, it is incomprehensible why Israel alone should be attacked in this way.” Academic boycotts are not a new concept. In 1965 almost five hundred British lecturers pledged not to accept or apply for jobs at South African universities, and many claimed that this move made a real difference in bringing apartheid to an end. Sue Blackwell, the Birmingham University lecturer who proposed the motion, defended her stance. “I am not an anti-Semite,” she insisted. “On the contrary I am an active anti-racist as my colleagues, students and friends will attest. I am an anti-Zionist: Zionism is a political philosophy which some people choose for themselves to adopt, just like Thatcherism, liberalism or Marxism. I think it’s fair game to criticise people for their political beliefs: people criticize mine all the time!” In July last year the Palestinian group Hamas launched a terrorist attack on the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Nine Israelis and Americans were killed. Ottolenghi is worried that those proposing a boycott will be taking sides with the terrorists against the university, and making learning a target.
ARCHIVE: 2nd Week TT 2003

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