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Israeli Academic thanks NPC for its "principled position" over boycott

By Olga Wojtas, The Times Higher Education Supplement, August 19 2005, pg 4

The attempt by the Association of University Teachers to boycott Israeli scholars and institutions has triggered a new debate on the value of academic freedom, acording to a senior academic at one of the targeted institutions.

Gerald Steinberg professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University praised the NPC for its "principled position" in opposing the AUT's boycott policy, subsequently overturned by a special AUT council.

Prof Steinberg said that the allegations of an absense of academic freedom in Israel had been repeated so often that they were taken as fact without examining the evidence.

But the boycott had "galvanised" staff and students across the Bar-Ilan campus to reasses the importance of academic freedom.

"I will not stand here and claim that Israeli behavious and policies are perfect. I have my critisisms like other Israeli citizens," he said. "But even our enemies admit and admire one aspect of Israeli society - its democracy, openness and unfettered free speech, and this certainly applied to the university campuses, classrooms, and publications."

The AUT boycott was a far cry from the Academic boycott of South Africa during apartheid, which had supported two academics jailed by the regime that denied academic freedom or disent, he said.

Prof Steinberg directs Bar-Ilans programme on conflict management and negotiation. He said much of its work was crucial to the efforts to understand how to create a basis for tolerance and understanding in the middle of protracted conflicts.


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