100 Mideast scholars call for academic embargo of Israeli institutions

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October 3, 2014 00:36

In excess of 100 Middle East studies scholars and librarians signed a petition boycotting Israeli academic institutions and submitted it for publication to the Jadaliyya website.

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Parisians burn an Israeli flag

Parisians burn an Israeli flag. (photo credit: REUTERS)

In excess of 100 Middle East studies scholars and librarians signed a petition boycotting Israeli academic institutions and submitted it for publication to the Jadaliyya website.

“We, the undersigned scholars and librarians working on the Middle East, hold that silence about the latest humanitarian catastrophe caused by Israel’s new military assault on the Gaza Strip – the third and most devastating in six years – constitutes complicity,” read the letter.

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“World governments and mainstream media do not hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law. We, however, as a community of scholars engaged with the Middle East, have a moral responsibility to do so,” it said.

“The ongoing Israeli massacres in Gaza have been ghastly reminders of the complicity of Israeli academic institutions in the occupation and oppression of Palestinians. Tel Aviv University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Bar- Ilan University, Haifa University, Technion, and Ben-Gurion University have publicly declared their unconditional support for the Israeli military.”

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is posted as a logo along with the letter, which is signed by scholars from some of America’s most prestigious academies.

The scholars come from some of the following world universities: Princeton University, Yale, Harvard, University of Michigan, Duke University, Dartmouth College, University of Cambridge, Georgetown University, Columbia University, American University in Cairo, University of California- Berkeley, University of Tokyo, University of Oxford and the University of Toronto.

Prof. Martin Kramer, the president of Shalem College in Jerusalem and the former director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Jerusalem Post that “the letter demands that Israeli institutions call on the State of Israel to dismantle settlements and promote the Palestinian ‘right of return.’” “I can think of no more dire threat to the academic freedom of Israeli scholars, than for their institutions to adopt any form of political orthodoxy,” said Kramer.

“Many of the boycotters hail from the Arab Middle East. They wish to impose the same intolerant conformism that rules Arab universities on Israeli academia,” he said, adding, “The effort will fail.”

“I know that some of the signatories of the pledge have recommended candidates for appointment or promotion at Israeli universities in the past,” he said. And now, they have “demonstrated total ignorance of the character of Israeli universities and colleges. Their recommendations should no longer be admissible.”

“A boycott means passing up something significant to make a point, whether it’s a Sodastream appliance or the directorship of a Middle East center,” explained Kramer, going on to argue that “wherever a university has a declared policy against the boycott, signatories of the boycott pledge should resign their directorships, as a matter of principle – and good riddance.”

Jadaliyya is an online magazine produced by the Arab Studies Institute, describing itself as “a unique source of insight and critical analysis that combines local knowledge, scholarship and advocacy with an eye to audiences in the United States, the Middle East and beyond.”

Kramer wrote a book dealing with the issue in 2001, Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, foreseeing how the situation might be dealt with.

“The next breakthroughs will not come from within these institutions. The professional associations and the big foundations, where rewards derive solely from adherence to consensus, are notoriously slow at responding to changing reality,” wrote Kramer. “The breakthroughs will come from individual scholars, often laboring on the margins.... There will be more confessions by senior scholars, and more defections by their young protégés. The question is whether anything can or should be done from outside academe to accelerate the process.”


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