boycott Israel 88.
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The vote by University and College Union, the largest union of British academics, to consider an academic boycott of Israel is a stain on British academia and, by extension, on British society. Like a similar recent vote by the British National Union of Journalists, it is so blatantly unprofessional, misinformed and misguided that is more of a mark of shame on the institutions that promulgated it than on the Jewish state, its intended target.
This is largely understood even within the offending institutions. The embarrassed general secretary of the UCU, Sally Hunt, was quick to respond to the vote, "I do not believe a boycott is supported by the majority of UCU members, nor do I believe that members see it is a priority for the union." She also clarified that a boycott has not been imposed, and strongly implied that it should and will not be when considered by the wider membership.
Similarly, there is a backlash within the NUJ against the boycott moves there. A petition to reverse the NUJ's decision to boycott Israeli goods has been signed by BBC members, according to the blog "Stop the NUJ Boycott." The 2005 boycott motion by the AUT, a union subsumed by the UCU merger, was reversed after a storm of protest.
Even more importantly, a counter-boycott has begun. Last week, Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg declined an invitation to speak at a physics conference at the Imperial College in London because of "a widespread anti-Israel and anti-Semitic current in British opinion." In a letter of explanation he wrote: "I know that some will say that these boycotts are directed only against Israel, rather than generally against Jews. But given the history of the attacks on Israel and the oppressiveness and aggressiveness of other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, boycotting Israel indicated a moral blindness for which it is hard to find any explanation other than anti-Semitism."
Singling Israel out, among all the nations of the world, for a boycott is obviously anti-Semitic in effect, if not necessarily in motivation. Unfortunately for those involved, the alternative explanations are no better: complete ignorance and willingness to let small radical minorities hijack the principles and standards of presumably serious institutions.
What does it say, for example, about the state of the British academy when, far from showing solidarity with a fellow democracy under terrorist attack, it seems to unquestioningly support the side engaging in suicide bombings, the deliberate rocketing of civilian cities, and openly calling for Israel's destruction? How does it reflect on professors and journalists when they so blithely violate every standard and principle of their own professions in order to excoriate Israel?
Our largest institution of higher education, Bar-Ilan University, has launched an International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom to combat such boycotts ( www.biu.ac.il/academic-freedom). We hope that voices of courage and reason who care about both Israelis and Palestinians will join this effort and let their voices be heard.
Sowing hatred with boycott campaigns will not bring peace. It is Palestinian terrorism and the genocidal fantasy of a Greater Palestine in Israel's stead, not Israeli intransigence, that is the greatest obstacle to a two-state solution - a solution that the people and government of Israel support and the current Palestinian leadership opposes.
As Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al-Quds University, has said, "An international academic boycott of Israel, on pro-Palestinian grounds, is self-defeating: It would only succeed in weakening that strategically important bridge through which the state of war between Israelis and Palestinians could be ended and Palestinian rights could therefore be restored. Instead of burning that bridge, the international academy should do everything within its power to strengthen it."