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The British Medical Journal has launched an on-line poll of readers around the world - doctors, researchers, journalists - as well as nonreader members of the general public on whether they favor an academic boycott of Israel that has advocated by several UK unions.
Arguments against an academic boycott of Israel are voiced by Prof. Michael Baum, a professor emeritus of surgery at University College London, a self-declared secular Jewish Zionist and a renowned expert on breast cancer who frequently visits Israel.
Baum argues that "Israeli universities and research institutes are no more agents of Israel than Oxford or Cambridge are of the United Kingdom. And they are not responsible for repression of Palestinians in the occupied territories - a policy which is universally unpopular. Furthermore, it is nonsense to suggest that you can target the institution without damaging the individual."
US unions slam UK Israel boycott calls
He dismisses "the big lie that Israel is an apartheid state," describing the country as a multicultural mosaic with Jews, Muslims, Christians and other faiths, with a fifth of the citizenry Israeli Arabs who are free to vote and express their views and whose religious institutions are respected.
Baum notes that he worked as a young surgeon in the early '60s in a hospital in northern Israel "that served Arab villages, kibbutzim, new immigrant townships and ancient communities of Arabs and Jews in Nazareth, Afula and Tiberias. A fifth of the doctors and nurses were Arabs, trained at the expense of the Israeli government. Arab and Jewish patients were treated with the same respect in adjacent beds. This is still true in all Israeli hospitals... I would go even further and state that Israel provides more academic freedom for Arab scholars than anywhere else in the Middle East."
Baum concluded that he believes "passionately that we can all do our bit for peace by building bridges between British, Israeli and Palestinian academics and physicians. Through this collaboration and dialogue the health and welfare of all will improve, leading to increasing mutual respect and trust; sowing seeds for a peaceful solution ahead of any road map.
"However, if you still support the boycott, remember to stop using laptops with Pentium processors, and do not transfer files using USB hub drives, both of which are the fruits of Israeli academic inventions."
The pro-boycott view is voiced by Dr. Tom Hickey of the University of Brighton's arts and architecture faculty. He is chairman of the University and Colleges Union, which voted to favor a boycott. Hickey argues that a boycott might encourage the Israeli government to reach a settlement with the Palestinians. He cites the occupation of the territories, demolition of homes "as collective punishments," the separation of farmers from their land and discrimination against Palestinians in the supply of water, along with - he charges - "harassment, and humiliation at checkpoints, visa and travel restrictions and enormous problems of infrastructural decay and underfunding."
Hickey claims "there is strong evidence of the complicity of Israeli academic institutions. No Israeli college or university has publicly condemned what is being done in the occupied territories in the name of every Israeli citizen. Some Israeli educational institutions have established campuses for settlers on illegally confiscated land; others conduct archaeological digs on land from which Palestinian farmers have been expelled."
"We are accused of unfairly singling out Israel - the Jewish state - and hence of being anti-Semites. We are asked why we do not propose a boycott of other states whose policies are barbaric and inhuman, such as China, Saudi Arabia, Iran or Zimbabwe. But whether a boycott is appropriate in such places depends on the merits of each individual case. In the case of Israel, we are speaking about a society whose dominant self-image is one of a bastion of civilization in a sea of medieval reaction. And we are speaking of a culture, both in Israel and in the long history of the Jewish Diaspora, in which education and scholarship are held in high regard. That is why an academic boycott might have a desirable political effect in Israel, an effect that might not be expected elsewhere," Hickey continued.
The president of the Israel Heart Society, Prof. Basil Lewis, has written to the president of the British Medical Association (BMA, which publishes the British Medical Journal), Prof. Parveen Kumar, protesting against the poll on the proposed academic boycott of Israel. He says it was "disappointing to see the poll posted on the BMJ Web site, which essentially implies that it is something BMA seriously considers. We would further like to stress our outrage at the main reason stated on the poll for a possible 'no' vote, i.e. the fact that some Israeli academicians cooperate with Palestinians."
"Is this the reason for not supporting an academic boycott rather than the simple concept of universal academic freedom? [It is] a pity that the BMA and BMJ would risk credibility regarding scientific truth in favor of politics," Lewis writes..
Anyone can access the poll and anonymously participate.
Participants are also invited to type in the reasons for their choice.