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Physicist who refused to lecture in U.K.: I'm not calling for boycott

By Charlotte Halle, Haaretz, 25/05/2007
Source: Haaretz

An American physicist and Nobel Prize laureate who withdrew from a speaking engagement at a London university, citing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment in the U.K., says he is not calling for a boycott of Britain.

"I'm not calling on anyone else not to go to Britain," Prof. Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 1979, told Haaretz on Thursday night. "I don't want to say I'm cutting ties with the U.K. - I love England. I just feel personally uncomfortable going with the atmosphere there at the moment. It's increasingly hostile to Israel, especially in the intellectual world."

Weinberg told the Imperial College in London, where he had been invited to speak in July in honor of Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam, that his decision was motivated by a move by Britain's National Union of Journalists to boycott Israeli products.

"I just felt this was too disgusting and I didn't want to go there this summer," Weinberg said. "I see in the British press and the BBC signs of a very strong anti-Israel bias - a kind of blind hostility that whatever Israel does, it is always in the wrong - so this is not an isolated action of a small group of anti-Semitic conspirators. This represents a widespread feeling among British journalists."

Weinberg said he sent the letter before learning that 120,000 members of the University and College Union were asked to vote on a proposed boycott of Israeli universities at its annual congress in Bournemouth on Tuesday and before he knew about the call in March by 130 British doctors to boycott the Israeli Medical Association.

Weinberg said he is against boycotts, and specifically boycotts of Israel: "To boycott Israel today would be like boycotting Czechoslovakia in 1938 when Hilter was complaining the Czechs were being unpleasant to the Germans in the Sudetenland."

Weinberg also pulled out of a 2006 conference at Durham University due to a boycott of Israeli academics imposed by the British National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education.

The International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom at Bar-Ilan University, which coordinates Israeli efforts against boycotts, said it respects but does not endorse Weinberg's position.

"Although we respect Prof. Weinberg's decision and sympathize with his feelings, we do not believe counter-boycotts are an effective way of dealing with the situation," the board said in a statement.

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