This is a fowarded email from David Hirsh (Goldsmiths College) in relation
to the proposed AUT boycott of Israeli academic institutions:
A new proposal for an academic boycott of Israel is going to be discussed
at the AUT council next week.
I propose to send this statement to the Guardian for publication on or
slightly before 20 April, when the matter is being discussed at the
I would ask people to email me [log in to unmask] , David Hirsh, if they
would like their name to be added to the list of people who support this
I would ask people who do support it to forward it on to departmental
lists and any academic contacts that they have who might be interested.
I am hoping to add a long list of names to this statement. Time is short,
however, if we are to have it published before the conference, so I will
set a deadline of 17.00 Monday 18 April. Please email me before then to
have your name added.
London SE14 6NW
[log in to unmask]
+4420 7919 7730
We oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and we support the
right of the Palestinian people to an independent state alongside Israel.
We think, however, that proposals by some members of the Association of
University Teachers for a boycott of Israeli academia would be counter-
The campaign for the academic boycott treats all academics as though they
were responsible for government policy – which they are not. The latest
proposal contains a clause which is intended to get round this problem by
excluding from the boycott "conscientious Israeli academics and
intellectuals opposed to their state's colonial and racist policies".
This would mean that Israeli academics would first have to affirm
their ‘anti-Zionist’ credentials before being allowed to function as
members of the global academic community.
But there is no agreed definition of the word ‘Zionism’. Some people
define it as a form of racism. Others understand it as a Jewish national
liberation movement. Others consider themselves Zionists if they support
the right of Israel not to be conquered.
We oppose the proposal that academics should be subjected a political
test. Does anybody suggest that American physicists should be excluded
from the academic community if they do not repudiate Guantanamo Bay? Does
anybody suggest that Chinese historians should be excluded if they oppose
democracy? Does anybody suggest that Muslim mathematicians should be
excluded unless they publicly repudiate the attacks of September 11?
These kinds of demands would destroy the principles of openness, free
speech and community that should define academia.
But the current proposal to make a distinction between good Israelis and
bad Israelis is a tactical move: the boycott campaign really wants a total
boycott of Israeli academia.
Last year there was a call by the religious right in Israel to boycott
Israeli academics who had signed a statement in support of Israeli pilots
who were refusing to bomb targets in the occupied territories. A
government minister spoke in favour of a ban on the books of these
academics. How would we support Israeli academics that come under such
attacks if there is a boycott on links with Israeli academia?
Who should be teaching Israeli students? Do we demand that Israeli
academics that are against the occupation should leave Israel and teach
somewhere else? Do we demand that Arab students who are studying at
Israeli universities should leave, rather than fight for equal rights?
We should be making more links, not fewer, with the Israeli academics who
are doing good work and who are resisting the racist culture of the
Israeli right. Formally, this question is dealt with by the good
Israeli / bad Israeli formulation of the latest proposal, but this would
create more problems than it addresses.
What effect would this boycott have on UK academics – and particularly
Jewish academics? It would put UK Jewish academics under pressure to
declare themselves ‘anti-Zionist’. And what will happen to those who
Alan Johnson (Edge Hill College of Higher Education)
Camila Bassi (Sheffield Hallam University)
David Hirsh (Goldsmiths College)
David Seymour (Lancaster University)
Robert Fine (Warwick University)