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A student of mine in a class on multiculturalism was writing a paper on Hispanic culture in the US. The definitive article on the subject was published by Prof. David Branwell of the National University of Ireland, so my student e-mailed Branwell asking whether his position on bilingual education in America remained unaltered, to which the professor replied: "I am sorry, we imposed an academic boycott of Israel at the time of the Israeli invasion of Gaza."
I, too, have e-mailed Branwell asking about the body imposing the boycott and whether there are any conditions under which it would end. I am still waiting for a reply - unless the boycott applies also to relevant information about it.
There are of course all the other unanswered questions: where were the Irish professors when Israel's civilians were constantly bombarded for eight painful years from within Gaza? And where are they now with regard to Gilad Schalit - against whom a variety of war crimes are being perpetrated?
But to me the fact that a distinguished professor refuses to answer a student's query is the best evidence of the noxious nature of these boycotts: not only are they one-sided and bigoted, but the very concept of an academic boycott is an oxymoron. The whole idea of academic freedom is of a free exchange of knowledge and information; refusing to answer a student's query testifies to the depth of hatred which motivates the Irish boycott.
This fact of life is not made any easier by the knowledge that Jews and Israelis are part of this hate campaign. Indeed, one cannot think of any other country - including brutal dictatorships - against which such an unmitigated campaign of venom is being conducted.
SHOULD ISRAEL respond to such boycotts? Or should it relegate them to the dustbin of the history of prejudice? Reacting to the boycott may draw attention to its perpetrators but doing nothing may encourage the spread of this phenomenon. Perhaps the best, and natural, response is to cut off academic ties with any institution of higher learning which adopts a boycott policy against Israeli academics: "If you don't want to speak to me, I will not speak to you."
This response should not be initiated by the government as this truly is an academic matter. Instead, it should be undertaken by the universities themselves or through the council of higher education.
Names of institutions and academics who participate in this boycott should be published, so that they not be invited to conferences in Israel or enjoy other benefits of academic co-operation with Israeli scholars and institutions of higher learning. Indeed, my personal response to the boycotters is: Don't call me, and I won't call you.
The writer is a Professor of Law at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (Israel), a former Minister of Education and Knesset Member, as well as the recipient of the 2006 Israel Prize in Law [www.amnonrubinstein.org].
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