UK academic boycott backlash grows

Dershowitz-led solidarity petition reaches 10,000 signatures in seven weeks.

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(photo credit: )
The international outcry against the call by the UK's University and College Union (UCU) to boycott Israeli academic institutions has strengthened with a petition by academics reaching 10,000 signatures. The petition, which calls on academics to show solidarity with their Israeli counterparts, raised over 10,000 signatures in seven weeks. In response to the May 30 boycott vote, a campaign was launched by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, an organization of scholars with more than 18,000 academics and professional members, demanding the boycott be overturned. The initiative was led by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz (read his JPost blog) and Prof. Steven Weinberg, a Nobel Prize laureate in physics from the University of Texas. The petition urged scholars to stand in solidarity with "our Israeli academic and professional colleagues" and that for the purpose of any academic boycott targeting Israel, the signatories agreed to regard themselves as "Israeli academics" and decline to participate "in any activity from which Israeli academics are excluded." "Today more than 10,000 of the world's leading scholars speak together with one voice to demand academic freedom for all scholars and to declare that we are all Israeli academics for purposes of any academic boycott," Weinberg said. Thirty-two Nobel Prize laureates and 53 university and colleges presidents worldwide and from across the political spectrum, along with an array of heads of academic departments and professional societies, have signed the petition. "For those of us who are actively engaged in peace-building programs in the Middle East, the UCU vote came as a stab in the back to the efforts in which we have invested so much energy and hope," Judea Pearl, professor of Computer Science at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, said. "I find it hard to understand how my academic colleagues in the UK could stand by and let a handful of anti-coexistence radicals hijack their union and stain their professional reputation by trampling on academic freedom, one of the most sacred tenets of free societies." "The decision by the UCU to promote a boycott is a disgraceful anti-intellectual act that replaces factual discourse with a one-sided political agenda, and turns morality and the notion of freedom on their head," said Dr. Edward Beck, president of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and professor of Psychology at Walden University in Minneapolis. "It says more about the boycott proponents than those to be boycotted. All of those who believe in academic freedom must speak forcefully to prevent a minority of extremists in the UCU to politicize, control and shut down the free exchange of ideas, where any group, whether based upon religion or national origin is singled out for exclusion. In moving this boycott proposal forward, members of the UCU are, in fact, separating themselves from the international academic community, and deeply undermining their credibility in the process," Beck said. "Never before in modern history have so many academics from such diverse backgrounds been so united in condemning an attack an academic freedom," Dershowitz said. "Beyond the sheer numbers of academics who have joined in solidarity with their Israeli colleagues, the signatories are a cross-section of many of the most respected scholars in the world. The message of the signatories is crystal clear - should the UCU go forward with a boycott of Israeli academics and institutions, the end result will be a self-inflicted wound on British academia." Scholars for Peace in the Middle East said it would deliver the petition to the University and College Union "as an expression of outrage against the boycott" and would continue to raise awareness and condemnation of the boycott vote until it was reversed and the "fundamental principles of freedom are restored to British academia." Scholars for Peace said it would monitor any instance where Israeli academics were excluded, should a boycott be put into effect, and would refuse to cooperate with organizations implementing such a boycott. The text of the Scholars for Peace petition reads: "We are academics, scholars, researchers and professionals of differing religious and political perspectives. We all agree that singling out Israelis for an academic boycott is wrong... We, the undersigned, hereby declare ourselves to be Israeli academics for purposes of any academic boycott. We will regard ourselves as Israeli academics and decline to participate in any activity from which Israeli academics are excluded." The full text of the petition can be seen at