Divide and rule?
By Colin Shindler, Tuesday June 5, 2007
The move to boycott Israel will damage research and, ultimately, efforts to foster peace in the region. Colin Shindler reports
Source: The Education Guardian
As reader in Israeli studies at Soas, University of London, I teach the Israel-Palestine conflict to large classes that include Palestinians, Israelis, Jews and Muslims. I do this without any difficulties in the multicultural environment at Soas, and I work hard for all my students. I am also a loyal trade unionist. While my union, the University and College Union (UCU), does not directly call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions - presumably for fear of legal action - the spirit of last week's motion is just that.
The UCU initiative effectively hinders me in doing my job, since it frowns upon contacts with Israeli universities and, implicitly, with its academics. It would impede archival research. Should I now tell my students who spend time researching in Israel not to do so? If they disregard this advice, how should I approach the eventual marking of their theses?
Ironically, I have been a supporter of the Israeli peace movement for decades, publicly opposed the Jewish settlements on the West Bank from the outset and been an advocate of a Palestinian state since the six day war in 1967. Yet, paradoxically, my academic expertise is the Israeli right. Do I now have to cut off contact with its members, even though my own views are diametrically opposed to theirs? How do I continue to do research in this area?
Since the resolution argues that "passivity or neutrality is unacceptable", do I now have to self-censor my lectures in order to adapt to the union's view of the Israel-Palestine conflict?
I will shortly be presenting a paper at the annual conference of the Association of Israeli Studies. Should I fraternise with my American colleagues, although some of them may support Bush's war in Iraq, and cold-shoulder my Israeli ones, even though they overwhelmingly identify with the Israeli peace camp? Perhaps I should argue that Israeli studies is not really an authentic discipline and that the association should dissolve itself.
UCU has agreed to finance a travelling roadshow to UK campuses of that section of Palestinian academia committed to the boycott. Is this in reality the first step towards banning visiting Israelis? I recently facilitated a "day of negotiations" at Soas between Israeli and Palestinian academics, including the Palestinian ambassador and a retired Israeli brigadier general. Would the union condemn the very idea of such a discourse, since Israelis are present?
Several of my students identify with Israel, but not with its government's policies. The resolution speaks only of "criticism of Israel". Is the underlying meaning that Israel is an illegitimate entity? Should I heed "the moral implications" of the resolution and thereby advise my undergraduates not to spend a year at Jerusalem's Hebrew University?
To whom can I turn for advice in this Kafkaesque situation? My union? My local branch at Soas? Will UCU vote for the Canadian resolution at the forthcoming Educational International Congress that "excellence in higher education rests upon ironclad guarantees of academic freedom, which includes the right of higher education teaching personnel to engage in teaching, research and scholarship without interference"? If it does, then why is my case deemed to be outside the box?
Boycotts spawn boycotts
The union leadership does not seem to have even heard of the forthcoming Unesco proposals for Israeli-Palestinian academic cooperation - a code of ethics for all academics in the region. Boycotts spawn boycotts. One US foundation has already decided to refuse applications from British researchers into brain cancer.
The resolution suggests that criticism of Israel can never be construed as anti-semitic. Quite a few Jewish students would argue differently, and suggest that some who genuinely oppose Israeli government policy nevertheless employ time-honoured anti-Jewish stereotypes. There is a fear that what begins with the delegitimisation of the state will end with the delegitimisation of the people.
The resolution's proponents are, of course, not anti-semites, but they are incredibly ignorant about Jewish history. Despite being on the political left, they would, for example, be horrified to learn about Trotsky's profound interest in the Jewish experiment in building socialism in Palestine in the 1930s.
Since UCU will probably consult its members in local meetings, will they make space for informed views? Will individuals like myself be excluded from UCU platforms, since my intellectual face doesn't fit?
My hope has always been that the knowledge gained by my students will somehow prepare the ground for a better future, for peace between the two peoples and an alleviation of Palestinian suffering. The UCU initiative will undermine this and blindly encourage the rejectionists on both sides of this bitter conflict to further their agenda.
Colin Shindler's History of Israel will be published by Cambridge University Press early next year.
Reproduced at Zionism On The Web for educational purposes only, please site the initial source as listed above
AFI Digest of March 28th
National Postgraduate Committee (NPC)
National Union of Students (NUS)
Jewish Agency (JAFI)
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Statement from The Russell Group on UCU motion on Israeli boycott
Statement from the LSE on UCU's motion in support of an Israel boycott
Columbia University response to boycotts of Israeli universites
Board of Deputies Response to UCU academic Boycotts
American Jewish Congress response to UCU boycott
American Physiological Society Response to the British academic boycott of Israel (includes feedback on this)
National Postgraduate Committee and the Academic Boycotts (14/8/07)
University and College Union (UCU) Press Release, Boycott illegal, 28th Sept 2007
Academic Friends of Israel Press Release, 29 September 2007
Union committee to reconsider Israeli academics boycott, The Education Guardian, March 27, 2008 UK group proposes boycott of Israeli academia, Jerusalem Post, March 30, 2008
A slippery slope to totalitarianism, Education Guardian, May 24, 2007
Physicist who refused to lecture in U.K.: I'm not calling for boycott, Haaretz, May 25, 2007
Livni [Israeli FM] meets with British ambassador over U.K. boycotts, Haaretz, May 29, 2007
Memo From London: Should British Academics, or Rock Bands, Boycott Israel? New York Times, May 30, 2007
Lecturers back boycott of Israel, Education Guardian, May 30, 2007
Academics express outrage at Israeli boycott, Education Guardian, May 31, 2007
Divide and Rule, Education Guardian, June 5, 2007
Boycott should outrage academics, Inside Higher Ed, June 5 2007
Ignored by the Brits, Ynet, June 6, 2006
Boycott will destroy British academia, The Guardian, Saturday June 9, 2007
We Will Isolate Them, The Guardian, June 9, 2007 + ZOTW Commentry June 10, 2007
Government to form joint task force to counter U.K. boycotts, Haaretz, June 8, 2007
UK proposes joint academic seminar, Ynet News, June 10, 2007
US Unions condemn boycotts, The Jewish Chronicle, August 17 2007
Boycott a blessing in disguise, YNet News, Opinion, June 1 2007
FM praises British academics for nixing planned boycott of Israel, Haaretz, 30/09/2007
British academics forgo boycott call, Haaretz, 29/09/2007
Lecturers drop Israeli universities boycott call after legal advice, The Guardian, 29/09/2007
Responces, Blogs, Newsletters2008
UCU Reconsidering Boycott, Little Bulldogs, March 27 2008
UJS Chair's letter to UCU General Secretary
Lancaster University Students' Union Policy in repsonse
Academic Friends of Israel Digest vol 6 no 10 One week on
Academic Friends of Israel Digest vol 6 no 12
Goldhirsh Foundation Response
Responding to the Boycott by Shalom Lappin, at normblog, June 3 2007
Dark Days for the British Academy a letter by Prof Daniel Statman
A letter to UCU from Guy Handelman
SPME Petition against the boycott
Response from prominent British figures and law-makers, in Guardian Letters page, June 12, 2007
Other relevent documents and sources
The 2007 UCU motions
The 2007 document to be sent to branches
An explanation about the Durban Stratagy
Key quotes and summary of responses to the UCU policy
Why a cultural boycott of Israel would be banal, gestural and morally compromised
Relevent section of the Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism
More background on anti-Israel boycotts in general