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Prof Wilkie refused to supervise Israeli student

Outrage as Oxford bans student for being Israeli

By Julie Henry, Education Correspondent
Last Updated: 10:15pm BST 28/06/2003
Source: The Telegraph

An Oxford University professor has provoked outrage by rejecting an application from an Israeli PhD student purely because of his nationality.

Andrew Wilkie, the Nuffield professor of pathology and a fellow of Pembroke College, is under investigation after telling Amit Duvshani, a student at Tel Aviv university, that he and many other British academics were not prepared to take on Israelis because of the "gross human rights abuses" he claims that they inflict on Palestinians.

Prof Wilkie made the comments after Mr Duvshani, 26, wrote to him requesting the opportunity to work in Prof Wilkie's laboratory towards a PhD thesis. Mr Duvshani, who is in the last months of a master's degree in molecular biology, included a CV detailing his academic and outside experience, including his mandatory three-year national service in the Israeli army.

In a reply sent by email on June 23, Prof Wilkie wrote: "Thank you for contacting me, but I don't think this would work. I have a huge problem with the way that the Israelis take the moral high ground from their appalling treatment in the Holocaust, and then inflict gross human rights abuses on the Palestinians because they [the Palestinians] wish to live in their own country.

"I am sure that you are perfectly nice at a personal level, but no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli army. As you may be aware, I am not the only UK scientist with these views but I'm sure you will find another lab if you look around."

Mr Duvshani told The Telegraph that he was shocked by the email. Speaking from his home in Tel Aviv, he said: "I was appalled that such a distinguished man could think something like that. I did not expect it from a British professor. I sent similar applications all round Europe and did not have another response like that. Science and politics should be separate. This is discrimination."

Mr Duvshani said he would not be put off coming to Britain, because "I think there are better people than him there". He said, however, that he was unlikely to accept any position offered by Oxford University.

Mr Duvshani had no further contact from Prof Wilkie or from the university after receiving the email. When this newspaper contacted the university on Friday, however, a spokesman said that she was aware of the email following a complaint from academics who had seen it.

That evening, the university issued a statement from Prof Wilkie apologising to Mr Duvshani and making clear that he was not speaking on behalf of Oxford. The spokesman said that the university was investigating Prof Wilkie and added: "Freedom of expression is a fundamental tenet of university life but under no circumstances are we prepared to accept or condone conduct that appears to, or does, discriminate against anyone on grounds of ethnicity or nationality, either directly or indirectly."

A report into the matter will be presented to Sir Colin Lucas, the Vice-Chancellor, later this week and Prof Wilkie could face disciplinary action or even dismissal.

Speaking from his home in Oxfordshire last night, Prof Wilkie apologised "unreservedly" for his actions. "I made a mistake," he said. "The email was inappropriate. I expressed personally-held opinions that have nothing to do with Oxford University and they should not have been expressed in that manner. I have learned a lesson.

"I have a view on the situation in the Middle East but I am not a racist or anti-Semitic. I just want to draw a line under the whole thing."

The professor, who was elected Nuffield professor of pathology last month, said that he could understand the distress and anger felt by Mr Duvshani. When asked if he would look again at the student's application for a PhD, he replied "absolutely" and added that he "entirely accepted" the university's equal opportunities and race equality policies.

A series of attempts have been made to isolate Israeli scholars in protest at their country's operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In Britain, calls for an academic boycott have been led by Steven Rose, an Open University professor.

Last year the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology was forced to hold an inquiry after The Sunday Telegraph revealed that Mona Baker, a professor, had sacked two Israeli academics from the editorial boards of two journals because of their nationality.

A Umist inquiry found that Prof Baker had not acted improperly under its rules because the journals she owns were not connected to the university.

Giles Henderson, the master of Pembroke College, said of Prof Wilkie's case: "The college will await the outcome of the university's investigation."

Additional reporting by Charlotte Edwardes

Oxford Suspends Professor

Published: October 29, 2003
Source: New York Times

An Oxford University professor who rejected a student for graduate work last summer because he was an Israeli has been suspended without pay for two months and ordered to attend anti-discrimination training. The professor, Andrew Wilkie, a geneticist, also resigned as a fellow of Pembroke College. Dr. Wilkie, citing his opposition to Israeli policies, had refused to accept Amit Duvshani, the student, for work in his laboratory. The student union called the punishment too mild. An Oxford spokesman said suspension was the most serious penalty the university could impose, short of dismissal. Diana Jean Schemo (NYT)

Oxford University final press release

Source: Oxford University Press Release, 27 October 2003

A University spokesperson said: "The Vice-Chancellor has accepted the recommendation of the Visitatorial Board that Professor Wilkie should be suspended from his academic duties within the University, without pay, for two months. Suspension is the most serious penalty that the University can impose, short of dismissal or removal from office. The decision follows an investigation by the Board of matters surrounding an email which Professor Wilkie sent in response to an enquiry from an Israeli student regarding the possibility of graduate study in his research group. The Board has made other recommendations, including that Professor Wilkie is required to undergo further equal opportunities training.

"This ruling reflects that there can be no place for any form of discrimination within the University of Oxford other than on the grounds of merit. Professor Wilkie fully accepts the gravity of the situation and is determined to make full use of training to ensure that his actions and those of his staff reflect best practice in future. He particularly wishes to make it clear that he greatly values the diverse backgrounds of the staff and students with whom he works and looks forward to applications from able candidates, whatever their background.

"The University runs a comprehensive staff training programme which includes a number of programmes covering equality and diversity issues. It is also the University's practice to include a statement on equal opportunities with all contracts of employment and to circulate the University's policies and guidance. We will now be looking at the recommendations of the Visitatorial Board to see whether processes and training in this area can be further improved."

Notes to editors:

Resignation of Professor Wilkie

Source: Oxford University, Statement issued on behalf of Pembroke College, 27 October 2003

Pembroke College announces that, in the light of the ruling by the University of Oxford announced today, Professor Wilkie offered his resignation as a Fellow of the College and as a member of its Governing Body. This has been accepted by the Governing Body of the College. Professor Wilkie's resignation takes immediate effect.

The anti-Israeli boycott threatens the very basis of academic debate

By Ghil`ad Zuckermann
Source: The Times Higher Education Supplement, 15 August 2003, p. 14
Electronic source: Dr Zuckermann's website

Hideous Spectre of Censorship

There is a story about a Jew who applied for a job as an auctioneer, but failed the interview. When his wife asked him what had gone wrong, he replied ‘An-an-ti-ti-ti-Se-Se-mi-ti-ti-s-s-m!’

I do not believe that Andrew Wilkie of Oxford University, who rejected an Israeli doctoral applicant, is an anti-Semite. But this does not mean that the university’s disciplinary panel should not remove him from his prestigious professorship.

Yet one ought not to focus exclusively on a single case. The most disturbing sentence in Wilkie’s pathological email rejecting the student is not ‘no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli army’, but rather, ‘as you may be aware, I am not the only UK scientist with these views’. For those who would dismiss Wilkie’s case as exceptional, this sentence demonstrates that his action was, in fact, encouraged by the general atmosphere in the British media.

Certainly the boycott of Israeli academics, which began in Britain, played a role. This action has led to the dismissal of academics, rejection of articles, cancellation of conferences, and other moves designed to isolate the Israeli academic community. So it should come as no surprise that Wilkie’s judgement was clouded and that he did not attempt to camouflage his prejudice. But he is the tip of an iceberg – others, shrewder and less honest, might simply invent spurious reasons for rejecting an Israeli applicant.

The initiators and supporters of the boycott have sought to justify it by drawing parallels with the boycott of South African academic and cultural institutions in the 1980s and early 1990s. Neither they nor their opponents have detected the crucial difference between the two situations. The apartheid boycott was believed to be a supportive gesture rather than a hostile measure directed against the nation as a whole. Those who initiated it were actively involved in South African affairs and sought the advice and involvement of the country’s academic community.

In contrast, the boycott of Israel is an internal European initiative directed against all academics affiliated to Israeli institutions. Mona Baker, editor of translation studies journals, took the liberty of firing Miriam Shlesinger, a former president of Amnesty International Israel, from their editorial boards. When the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology investigated Baker’s action, she argued that as a private citizen she had the right to boycott anyone she chose.

But, as Gideon Toury, another of her victims, observed, the boycotting by a British ‘private citizen’ of an Israeli ‘public representative’ is gross double standards. How is Baker more ‘private’ than Shlesinger or Toury? Does Baker really believe the boycott can do any good? Similarly, would Wilkie outlaw doctoral applicants from China, Russia, Libya, Syria or Iran? Has he ever rejected an American applicant, or does he agree with US policies?

Any such excommunication is eviscerated of intellectual integrity. Academic boycotts oppose the very idea of UNIVERSity, supplanting it with the notion of VILLAGity. They infect academia with discrimination, weakening its ability to serve as a global model for independent thought.

We should not allow the boycotters to ban us from inviting an Iranian colleague for a High Table dinner or stop us quoting a Damascus-based scholar. We should continue to write academic articles with Shanghai professors and participate in conferences in Moscow, Alaska or a law school near Al-aqsa. We must not allow censorship and racism to destroy our already fragile academia.

Ghil`ad Zuckermann is Gulbenkian Research Fellow at Churchill College, University of Cambridge. He is currently in residence at the Rockefeller Foundation's Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, Italy.


A copy of various communications can be seen at The Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Network

These articles have been reproduced for educational purposes only, please cite the original sources as provided.

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