LONDON – An Israeli student has successfully challenged a British university
that assigned an anti-Israel lecturer as her dissertation
Smadar Bakovic from Neveh Ilan was completing a master’s
degree in Warwick University’s Department of Politics and International Studies
in 2010 when Nicola Pratt, associate professor of international politics of the
Middle East, was assigned as her supervisor.
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Following an anti-Israel
event on campus that Pratt chaired, Bakovic did some research and discovered
that Pratt regularly used racist language to describe Israel and was a vocal
advocate of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.
Operation Cast Lead, Pratt was a signatory to a letter in the Guardian calling
for Israel to lose the battle with Hamas, stating that the “massacres in Gaza
are the latest phase of a war Israel has waged against the people of
In April 2010, Bakovic wrote to the university to ask if she
could be assigned another supervisor in light of Pratt’s anti-Israel
“I am not challenging Prof. Pratt’s intellectual
abilities,” she wrote. “I’m sure she is extremely competent... [but] I would be
much happier that a person who is not involved in anti-Israel campaigns be my
Her request was refused. In a response, Chris Browning, an
associate professor in the department who deals with the assignment of
dissertation supervisors, said Bakovic had been given an adviser with “a
particular expertise in Middle East politics.”
He added that “our policy
is not to allow changes of advisors once they have been assigned out of
considerations of equity between students.”
That November, Bakovic
received her grade – a pass – from Pratt.
However, she accused the
professor of being under the spell of her anti-Israel sentiments, and argued
that after receiving high grades during the year and being told she was on
course for a distinction, it was her belief that she deserved more than just a
Bakovic had written about the identity of Israeli Arabs after the
second intifada. In her feedback, Pratt said that Bakovic had a tendency to
“adopt Israeli/Zionist narratives as thought they were uncontested
As an example, Pratt cited the student’s point that minorities in
Arab countries did not have equal citizenship rights.
“That is not
strictly correct,” Pratt maintained.
“Minorities in Arab countries have
the same citizenship rights as the majority but there are usually restraints on
the freedom of religion (except Lebanon) and also limits on minority cultural
expression in Syria. More significantly, there are restraints on citizenship
rights in general for the whole population.”
Bakovic decided to appeal
the decision and request a regrading.
However, the university told her
that while she was welcome to do so, her case did not fit into any of the
school’s criteria for appeals.
“I feel that the marking I received for my
dissertation did not reflect the work I wrote, and I can only relate this mark
to a personal bias towards my personally as well as towards the country from
which I come,” she contended.
“My fears were in fact answered by Prof.
Pratt with her ridiculous comment that I have a ‘tendency to adopt
Israeli/Zionist narratives as though they were uncontested facts.’” She fought
the university using its own charter until it finally relented. This past June,
after seven months of trying, the Complaints Committee finally agreed that she
could have her dissertation re-marked.
Last week, she received her new
mark and was awarded a distinction.
In an official statement, the
university said it stood by the original mark but admitted it should have done
more to heed to Bakovic’s request to change her supervisor at the very
“A chance was given to rework the dissertation only because
the strength of the student’s feelings was not taken into consideration at the
start,” it stated.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, Bakovic
said the university and the Department of Politics and International Studies
should have avoided this outcome from the beginning.
“The problem is that
unlike [with] other ethnic minorities, the department didn’t acknowledge a
lecturer inciting against Israelis as being racist or amounting to
What happened to her would not have happened to any
other ethnic minority, she claimed “It happened to me because hatred against
Israelis and Jews is widespread among a section of UK academia,” she asserted.
“Inciting racial hatred, as Prof. Pratt does, is seemingly tolerated if it is
against Jews and Israelis.”
She said the issue was not the grade, but the
“It doesn’t matter how many people marked it, or the grade.... I
felt I could not write freely,” she said. “I wrote my dissertation under
intimidation. I could not express my ideas, which is against the university’s
charter and against academic principles.”