LONDON – A Jewish community leader and prominent physician has written to the
rector and president of Tel Aviv University, calling for the school to take a
stand after two of its lecturers called for support of a boycott of Israel in a
British newspaper last week.
Prof. Stuart Stanton, president of the
British Society of Urogynecology and chairman of Hadassah UK, wrote to TAU
rector Prof. Aron Shai and president Prof. Yossi Klafter after
Prof. Rachel Giora and Dr. Anat Matar, along with 10 other Israeli activists,
wrote a letter that was published in the Guardian, calling for British author
Ian McEwan to turn down the Jerusalem Prize.
McEwan is set to receive the
prize, Israel’s highest literary honor for foreign writers, at a ceremony at the
Jerusalem International Book Fair on February 20.
The letter also
reiterated support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS)
“As Israeli citizens who support the boycott, divestment and
sanctions call on Israel, we believe that if Ian McEwan accepts the Jerusalem
Prize in Jerusalem, it will make him a collaborator with Israel’s worst human
rights offenders and its ‘business as usual’ policy,” the letter
Maintaining that the prize was awarded by the Israeli
establishment, “which is keen on branding Israel in general, and Jerusalem in
particular, as beacons of enlightenment and democracy,” the activists said
McEwan would be playing into the hands of “cynical politicians who are trying to
whitewash their systematic human rights violations.”
Stanton – a visiting
professor in Hadassah’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Department who goes to
Jerusalem to teach, consult and operate on a voluntary basis – said in his
letter that with academic freedom comes responsibility, and that if the two
lecturers had been working for a public or private company, they would have been
“Academic freedom is not just a privilege and a right, but it
also entails a responsibility, and you must be painfully aware that many Jews,
myself included, find this public call by other Israelis, particularly lecturers
from your university, for boycott divestment and sanctions, utterly unacceptable
and degrading,” he said.
Calling for the university “to take a stand,” he
stated, “It is hard for me to understand how you will continue to employ them
[the lecturers], and compromise and prejudice the name of your university. Their
actions are totally counterproductive to fundraising for your university abroad,
particularly in the UK.
“I hope you will give consideration to taking
disciplinary action against them and look forward to hearing from you,” he
"We are firmly against BDS in all its forms, but there is something particularly insidious in calling on writers and thinkers, and academics for that matter, to participate in boycotts,” said Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. “Closed minds are not the solution to the problems in the region."
Last year, Matar, from TAU’s philosophy department, was the guest
speaker at an event advocating a boycott of Israel at London University’s School
for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), a campus renowned for anti-Israel
activity. Her talk was entitled “Supporting the Boycott of Israel: Campaigning
Both Giora, of the university’s linguistics department, and
Matar are active in the BDS campaign and are members of a group called “Boycott!
Supporting the Palestinian BDS call from within.” In 2009, they both stood in
solidarity with Ben-Gurion University academic Neve Gordon, who was criticized
for an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times calling for a boycott of
“As citizens and residents of the State of Israel, we stand with
Dr. Gordon in echoing the Palestinian call for boycott, divestments, and
sanctions, and in saying NO to the persecution of those who strive for freedom,”
Practical measures included adopting “wide, context-sensitive
and sustainable boycotts of Israeli products, companies, academic and cultural
institutions, and sports groups, similar to the actions taken against apartheid
South Africa.” They also called for the “canceling and blocking” of free trade
and other preferential agreements with Israel.
The same year, they sent a
letter signed by other activists to Madonna and Leonard Cohen, telling them to
not play in Israel.
“A performance here would simply support for the
illegal and inhumane policies [of Israel], described by many as war crimes and
crimes against humanity,” Giora said as the group’s spokeswoman.
recipients of such requests included singer Macy Gray, who, like McEwan, refused
to heed to the call. Gray is set to play in Tel Aviv this weekend.