European Academic Boycott Targets Israeli Professors

Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:11pm EDT
Font Size

Jerusalem ( - Jewish university students throughout Europe say they are intimidated by the fact that a growing number of European scholars are refusing to have anything to do with Israeli professors and researchers, said Wayne L. Firestone, director of the Anti-Defamation League's Israel office.

In an open letter published in Britain's Guardian newspaper on April 6, more than one hundred European academics called for "a moratorium on all future cultural and research links with Israel at the European or national level until such time as the Israeli government abides by UN resolutions and opens serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians along the lines of the recent Saudi peace plan."

Since then, hundreds of European professors and scholars have added their names to the original list, and several other similar petitions have been created in France, the U.S. and Australia.

Initially, the Jewish university students were advised not to "make a big deal" about the boycott, but now some students are trying to organize counter-actions, said Firestone, who met with leaders of the European Union of Jewish students last week in Brussels.

Although students said the boycott had not manifested itself in any way against them, still they found it "disturbing" to know that their professors of whatever subject had taken such a public stance.

Recently, two Israeli academics were fired from the boards of two British-based translation journals published and edited by Prof. Mona Baker of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.

Prof. Gideon Toury of Tel Aviv University, consulting editor of Translation Studies Abstracts and Dr. Miriam Schlesinger of Bar-Ilan University, member of the editorial board of The Translator magazine, had both worked for Baker for three years. They were asked to resign and were fired when they refused.

Egyptian-born Baker was quoted by the Sunday Telegraph as saying that she "deplore[s] the Israeli state." But she said that the two professors could keep their jobs if they forsook Israel for Britain and cut all ties with the Jewish state.

Baker said she took the action as a result of her commitment to uphold the boycott of Israel.

Firestone said that while the boycott has been going on for a few months, Baker's move was considered a turning point because it was the first time someone had taken such "drastic action."

"It has clearly taken this to another level. It is not only inappropriate that political purges are taking place [but it sets] a dangerous precedent," he said.

"This hijacking of academic freedom by intellectuals and academics is an illegitimate effort that smacks of hypocrisy, cynicism and injustice. The academic and intellectual boycott gaining strength in Europe and in the United States is a threat to global academic freedom," Firestone said in an earlier statement.

In reaction to the initial petition in April, Dr. Aaron Benavot of the Hebrew University's Sociology and Anthropology department along with several of his colleagues launched a counter-petition condemning the letter in the Guardian.

"Whereas we hold diverse political views with respect to the past and current policies of the Israeli government, and whereas we recognize the right of individuals and concerned citizens in Israel and abroad to openly express their opinions regarding the tragic and devastating events of recent months, we are united in our condemnation of this unprecedented call by European scholars to suspend European-Israeli academic and cultural ties," the petition said.

According to Benavot, his petition has gathered the signatures of more than 13,000 academics from more than 60 countries worldwide, including about 10 Nobel laureates compared to boycott petitions, which may have about 2,000 signatories altogether.

It was also responsible for eliciting the retraction of several signatories on the original petition who later reconsidered their stance.

Nevertheless, Benavot, who has been "actively involved in furthering relations between Israeli and European academics" for years, said there have been many cases where individuals have taken it upon themselves to informally carry out the boycott.
One Israeli researcher was refused plasma that she needed for gene therapy research from a colleague at the University of Oslo.

Two geographers from Ben Gurion University were told that a paper they had submitted to a British journal would not be considered for review because of the moratorium.

In other cases, Benavot said, a lot of Israeli scholars have been uninvited to academic forums. In one case, someone who was going to receive an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University turned it down because he said it would "send the wrong kind of political message," Benavot added.

In the case of Baker, she was apparently upholding the commitment she made when she signed the French petition, he said.

In it, the signatories pledged not to cooperate with official Israeli institutions, including universities, not to attend scientific conferences in Israel and not to participate "as a referee in hiring or promotion decisions by Israeli universities."

mrc merch