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If any empirical proof were needed for the cyclical predictability of superfluous animosity, then Britain's National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) seems to provide it with annual regularity and apparently unmatched zeal.
In April 2005, British university teachers voted to boycott two Israeli universities - Haifa (for refusing to accept a fraudulent masters thesis about a 1948 massacre that never was) and Bar-Ilan (for ties to colleges in the territories). By the end of May 2005 a sufficient number of Britain's professors were embarrassed enough to repeal the patently unjust boycott.
But the story unfortunately didn't end there. Pro-Arab lecturers, determined to impose their bias and stifle other opinions, are at it again with undiminished persistence. One year after the retraction of their earlier folly, NATFHE members are once more scheduled (May 27-29) to consider a boycott of Israeli institutions of higher-learning, only this time far broader in scope.
Targeted by the currently projected boycott will be Israel's entire academic gamut, and not only due to "occupation"-related "transgressions." In the forefront of charges lobbed at Israeli universities now are false accusations that they discriminate against Israeli Arabs.
Universities are supposedly the ultimate repositories of tolerance and freethinking. But because of the imperiousness of some of those charged with imparting knowledge and higher ideals, they risk being turned into instruments for the suppression of broadmindedness, forbearance and enlightenment. NATFHE betrays its professed progressive goals.
In effect a creeping silent boycott of Israeli schools and individual scholars is already gaining momentum, a situation that ought to deprive intellectuals the world over of peace of mind.
The Israeli Society for the Promotion of Classical Studies, for instance, was recently rebuffed by Exeter University's Prof. Richard Seaford, who had been asked to contribute a book review to its Scripta Classica Israelica publication. His explanation: "The brutal and illegal expansionism and slow-motion ethnic cleansing being practiced by your government." A UK publication, Dance Europe, said it was rejecting an article by Israeli choreographer Sally Ann Friedland unless she "publicly condemns Israeli occupation." Other such instances proliferate, the most notorious being the 2003 elimination by an Oxford University pathology professor of an Israeli's PhD candidacy merely because of his nationality.
Such UK academics cut off their noses to spite their faces, since they deprive themselves of the wealth of creative, technological and other innovations and expertise that emanates from Israel.
But that's the least troubling aspect of NATFHE's hostility. Its anti-Israel activists are intellectually dishonest, skewing history and willfully misrepresenting the Israeli-Palestinian reality. Facing so skewed a mindset, nothing Israel does can mitigate the animus toward it.
Israel has already agreed to relinquish most of the territories it won in a war of self-defense in 1967. The extent of the painful sacrifices contemplated was made apparent at Camp David six years ago. Israel then uprooted thousands of its own citizens last year in a traumatic move unprecedented anywhere (and has now elected a government that intends to uproot many tens of thousands more).
Yet Israel's territorial generosity and outstretched hand were spurned violently in a savage bloodbath over recent years that included dispatching waves of suicide bombers to malls, eateries and buses. The rise of Hamas to power in the Palestinian Authority represents a still wider expression of contempt for Israel's conciliatory gestures.
None of this seems to impress the voluble NATFHE agitators. They give ivory-tower insularity a dangerous, extreme and unprecedented dimension.
If they were freethinkers indeed, Britain's scholarly instant applauders of any Palestinian whim might at the very least ponder why they are repeatedly requested by hate-mongers to ostracize Israeli academics. Why is it that Palestinians agitate for boycotts? Are these Palestinians themselves paradigms of liberal dialogue and openmindedness? Is this the show of goodwill that will encourage Israelis to countenance additional existential risks?
But most of all they should remember that blacklists are to intellectual freedom what Nazi book-burning was to a free exchange of ideas.
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