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AUT Israel Boycott Resources
The Argument Against the AUT Israel Boycott

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The Argument Against the Boycott

 1.   In spring 2003, The AUT National Council rejected by a two-third majority a resolution to boycott Israeli universities.

There is no reason to withdraw that decision. If anything, the chances of a dialogue towards peace in the Middle East are improving (Israel is withdrawing from Gaza, the Palestinians have had free elections, significant areas of the West Bank are being returned to Palestinian control, the Palestinian leadership has formally ended the uprising of September 2000 and even distanced itself from the uprising and deemed it an error. Palestinian suicide attacks against civilians and Israeli responses to them have decreased dramatically).

2.   In an attempt to by-pass the decision from 2003, the initiators of the latest boycott motion (from Birmingham and Open University) have tried to make a case to boycott specific Israeli universities, for alleged specific involvement in the occupation. They have no case:

2.1  The case against the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (for allegedly confiscating Palestinian land to build dormitories) was referred already by the AUT executive for lack of evidence.

2.2  The case against Bar Ilan University was that it authorises course units at the college at Ariel, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Paradoxically, the case has become irrelevant: Since the AUT decision, the Israeli government has granted Ariel college full university status, and the links with Bar Ilan are being discontinued. There is thus no case left against Bar Ilan.

2.3  The case against Haifa is the most absurd of the three. It is argued in the motion adopted on 22 April that 1) Haifa university failed an MA student because of the content of his thesis, and that 2) Haifa university threatened a staff member, Dr Ilan Pappe, with dismissal because of his defence of that thesis. Both are wrong, misleading interpretations of the facts:

     1) In his thesis, Teddy Katz had claimed that witness statements confirmed that a massacre had taken place at Tantura in 1948. Haifa University initially approved the thesis, and awarded it a grade of 97%. There was no political censorship whatsoever.

Some of the witnesses whom Katz had interviewed challenged his quoting of statements in the thesis, in a civil law suit against him in December 2000. The court examined the tapes of the original interviews and found that Katz had misquoted the witnesses. Katz issued a statement admitting this and apologising to his interviewees. He later, however, appealed to a higher court, retracting this earlier statement, but the court, in November 2001, rejected his appeal.

Haifa University set up a committee to re-examine the thesis. Katz was asked to submit corrections. The corrected version, submitted in 2001, failed to satisfy the examiners (even Dr Ilan Pappe says in an interview to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, published on 5 May 2005: “Teddy showed me the second thesis and I told him that I would have him re-write it”).

2)  The letter sent to Dr Pappe in 2002 was not sent by the university, and it did not threaten Pappe with dismissal. Rather, it was a grievance complaint lodged by Pappe’s colleague and then Dean, Prof. Yossi Ben-Artzi. He accused Pappe of bringing the university into disrepute by alleging that it applied political censorship in Katz’s case. He also accused Pappe of damaging the professional reputation of colleagues.

The university, however, refused to take any disciplinary action against Pappe. There is thus, and was, no threat of dismissal, and there is no evidence of any ‘recriminations’, as alluded to in the AUT Eastbourne resolution. Haifa University has since issued a statement clarifying that no disciplinary action has been taken against Pappe, and that none is pending.

3.   The discussion of the motion at the Eastbourne Council meeting was flawed, uninformed, and arguably undemocratic.

The case for the boycott motion relied entirely on hearsay and oral reports by the initiators of the motion. The delegates were not presented with any documentation on the cases. The alleged letter from Haifa university was not presented to them, nor were details of the Katz affair. Not even press reports about the Katz thesis of Dr Pappe’s controversy with his colleagues, easily accessible via the internet, were quoted. Neither Haifa nor Bar Ilan universities had been asked for a statement.

Arguments opposing the motion were not heard.

Jewish colleagues, many of whom have links to Israeli universities and access to the facts, were prevented from attending the meeting, held one day before the eve of Passover.

4.   The boycott resolution damages the reputation of British academia.

The AUT executive even warned colleagues not to take any immediate action to implement the boycott. It is clear that action in line with the boycott contradicts the policy of HE institutions in the UK, and possibly also the law. If implemented, it would put our universities at a level with countries like Pakistan, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia, who refuse Israelis entry.

 While some Palestinian academics called for a boycott, the Palestinian Al-Quds university in East Jerusalem in fact distanced itself from the AUT’s boycott resolution and called instead for a dialogue with Israeli academics.

 5.   An academic boycott contradicts our professional ethics

 As recognised by the AUT Council two years ago, boycotts undermine the peaceful flow and transfer of ideas among members of different nations; they are a hindrance to peace, not an instrument for achieving peace. Bans and isolation can only serve to radicalise those who are being excluded.

 A decision to sever links with Israeli academics limits the academic freedom of those who engage in professional dialogue with colleagues from Israel.

 6.   The call for a boycott is inconsistent, selective, and politically motivated

The example of South Africa has been cited in connection with the present debate. Unlike South African universities, Israeli universities are not apartheid institutions. Indeed, universities are one of the few institutional environments in Israel where young Jews and Palestinians meet and engage in an intellectual dialogue as equals.

Israel is being singled out for a boycott in a way that is entirely disproportionate to its significance in terms of the intensity of conflict, the numbers of persons affected, or the nature of restrictions imposed on individuals. Countries that allow minimal freedom of expression, such as China and Syria, are favourite partners for academic collaboration and bilateral agreements for student recruitment. There is no boycott against countries that are responsible for the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of hundreds of thousands, as in Chechnya or Turkish Kurdistan. Countries that ban women from studying, such as Saudi Arabia, are welcomed as contributors of funds to British institutions. In this context, the selective boycott of Israeli institutions is nothing but politically-motivated hypocrisy.

7.   The AUT is being manipulated

The AUT National Council represents British academics toward their employing institutions. It is not the UN Security Council, and it does not have either the mandate or the expertise to engage in world affairs. A small group of members are trying to use the AUT as an instrument to advance their political causes. They are taking advantage of the present climate in the country – frustration over war in Iraq and the British involvement in it – in order to score political points on their own agenda. The AUT’s remit is to negotiate members’ salaries and conditions of employment, and to represent their views on professional matters affecting higher education. It is not part of its remit to support particular sides in political conflicts overseas. The clumsiness with which the Eastbourne decision was adopted – on the basis of unfounded, ill-informed, hearsay – illustrates that the AUT is way out of its depth when dealing with such issues.

Off site - More arguments against the boycott at Engage

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