Bar-Ilan warns of 'silent' boycott by UK academics

Bar-Ilan University's International Advisory Board on Academic Freedom (IAB) warned over the weekend that "silent" boycott efforts are already being exercised against Israeli academics while NAFTHE, Britain's largest academic trade union, awaits a vote on a boycott-related motion at its annual conference next Sunday. Bar-Ilan made public a letter in which British Prof. Richard Seaford refused to write for an Israeli academic journal because of what he called the "brutal and illegal expansionism, and the slow-motion ethnic cleansing" of the Israeli government. Seaford had sent the letter to Dr. Daniela Dueck of Bar-Ilan's Department of Classical Studies. Dueck had asked Seaford to write a review for the Israeli journal Scripta Classica Israelica. In response, Seaford wrote that he was participating in the academic boycott of Israel, and was therefore unable to accept her request. Ronnie Fraser, chair of the Academic Friends of Israel in Britain, told The Jerusalem Post on Friday that he condemned the declaration made by Seaford, who teaches in the classics department at Exeter University. "I would hope that Exeter University will treat his comments as to why he refused an invitation to review a book with the utmost seriousness," Fraser said. "The language of his rejection was unacceptable from a highly respected academic. We will be contacting Exeter University in the near future to investigate this matter, and consider all our options in regards to his actions during the next few days." The NATFHE motion, which will be debated on May 29, calls to boycott Israeli scholars and academic institutions that do not publicly declare their opposition to Israel's policies in the territories. The IAB called upon NATFHE to immediately withdraw the motion, and to engage instead in open discussion with representatives of Israeli universities and academic institutions. "I find this boycott attempt of individuals even more disturbing than the attempt to boycott an entire university," Bar-Ilan University Rector Yosef Yeshurun told the Post last week. He added that Bar-Ilan's Advisory Board had already appealed to its hundreds of international members to call upon their British colleagues to oppose the motion. Bar-Ilan's Advisory International Board on Academic Freedom was established last year after the British Association of University Teachers (AUT) approved a motion calling for a boycott of the University of Haifa and Bar-Ilan University. The motion was eventually overturned. The AUT's 2006 annual conference, which took place last week, did not include a boycott resolution. According to the IAB, Seaford's letter is not the first case of a silent boycott. On March 10, The Jewish Chronicle reported that Dance Europe, a British magazine, had refused to publish an article on Israeli choreographer Sally Ann Freeland (formerly from South Africa) and her dance company, because she is an Israeli artist and the editor "opposes Israeli occupation." The editor said that she would publish the article only if Freeland condemned "the occupation." Freeland and the author of the article refused to comply. Similar boycotts of individuals have included the 2003 rejection of an admission application from an Israeli student by Andrew Wilkie, an Oxford University professor, and the 2002 dismissal of two Israeli academics from their roles on the boards of two translation journals by Mona Baker, a professor of linguistics at the University of Manchester. NATFHE and AUT are planning to merge in June, so any decisions made by the academic unions before then - including a possible NAFTHE vote to boycott Israeli academics - will be automatically overturned by the merger.