Academic boycotts conference put off
Professors' association forum blasted for anti-Semitic, anti-Israel sentiments.
american association of university professors Photo: www.aaup.org
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) announced Thursday it would postpone a conference on academic boycotts scheduled to begin next week in Bellagio, Italy.
The conference, which was originally sponsored by the Ford, Rockefeller and Nathan Cummings Foundations, came under attack due to the fact that more than 8 of the 21 academics invited to participate in the conference publicly support boycotts of Israeli universities. Another decisive revelation that led to the postponement of the conference was that material distributed prior to the conference included an anti-Semitic paper by a Holocaust denier.
Following the revelation concerning the anti-Semitic material, the AAUP issued a statement earlier this week in which it called the dissemination of the article "an egregious error," and said the article had never been intended for distribution.
Although initially, the AAUP had declared that the conference would still take place as planned, the Ford, Rockefeller, and Nathan Cummings Foundations all issued statements calling for the postponement of the conference, and said that the inclusion of the anti-Semitic paper in the conference package, even if done by error, undermined the credibility of the conference.
The Ford Foundation had already supplied $70,000 for the conference, while the Rockefeller Foundation intended to host it on property it owns on Lake Como.
In April 2005, Great Britain's faculty union, the Association of University Teachers, voted to boycott two Israeli universities, the University of Haifa and Bar-Ilan University. After the international outcry that ensued, the union voted to rescind its boycott.
The AAUP, the American university faculty union, was one of the first institutions to protest the boycott, and has since drafted a statement condemning academic boycotts categorically.
Nevertheless, the only British representative scheduled to participate at the Bellagio conference was Professor Hilary Rose, one of Britain's most vociferously anti-Israel academics and a leader of last year's AUT attempt to boycott Israeli universities.
The International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom (IAB) at Bar-Ilan University commended the AAUP for its decision to postpone the conference.
Bar-Ilan Professor Gerald Steinberg, who chaired the IAB's first annual conference last month, said that "by inviting some of the most virulent supporters of boycotts and sanctions, the AAUP conference would have turned into another ideological effort to place Israel on trial. The contrast between the proclaimed objectives designed to explore the issue of academic freedom, and the preponderance of obsessive anti-Israel activists was untenable."
"To their credit," Steinberg added, "the funding agencies, including the Ford Foundation, recognized this contradiction and the dangers that the AAUP conference would have reiterated the slogans and NGO agenda of the 2001 Durban conference".
Dr. David Hirsh, a Lecturer at Goldsmiths College in England and the head of Engage, a website dedicated to challenging left-wing anti-Semitism, also commended the postponement of the conference which, he said, would have lent legitimacy to what he called the "fringe and dangerous campaign" against Israeli academics, based on anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist sentiments.
In an official statement published on its website, however, the AAUP also announced on Thursday that it remained "firmly committed to an open and constructive dialogue" on the issue of academic boycotts, and that they intended to reschedule the conference in the future.