UK boycott supporters reach out to Israeli academics

Two major players calls for dialogue with those they propose to shun.

antiboycott ad 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
antiboycott ad 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Two major players in UK efforts to boycott Israeli academia are calling for dialogue with those they propose to shun. Earlier this month, the University and College Union (UCU) dropped a proposed boycott following a threat by members of the academic trade union to take legal action. The two boycott supporters - Israeli Haim Bresheeth, professor of film and media studies at the University of East London, and Jonathan Rosenhead, professor of operational research at the London School of Economics - sent a letter to Israeli academics who had signed a petition in March supporting Palestinians academic freedom. In the letter, they wrote they were "heartened" by the Israeli academics who were "willing to take a stand for their Palestinian colleagues and for their principles," and asked to work with Israeli academics. However, the Bresheeth and Rosenhead stressed that the issue of academic freedom was "only a small part of the problems resulting from the occupation and the associated policies of the Israeli government." "There are evidently far stronger criticisms that can be made after more than four decades of illegal and increasingly brutal occupation," the pro-boycotters said. The letter was described by one of the Israeli academics, who had signed the petition 10 months ago, as a "remarkable volte-face." "Only a few weeks ago these people were resolutely refusing to talk to me at all (not that I made any overtures), simply because I am an Israeli academic. Now I have made it onto their party list and they seem to feel that I show enough promise to warrant a friendly lecture about the ultimate inadequacies of my position. Plus - oh joy of joys - they would be 'happy to enter into a dialogue' with me. Clearly the spirit of goodwill to all men has been deeply imbibed," said Dr. Paul Frosh, a lecturer in the Journalism and Communications Department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Frosh asked why Rosenhead and Bresheeth had not stated in the letter who they were and what they stood for. "Why don't they favor me - and the other Israeli academics who were sent this e-mail - with an honest account of who they are and what they have been up to? Why don't they mention that they have been vociferous advocates of the academic boycott of Israel? Surely they are not ashamed of their record? Surely, in this sudden surge of cooperation and generosity, they would not wish their new approved Israeli comrades to harbor any misapprehensions about their real views?" Dr. David Hirsch, a lecturer in sociology at the University of London's Goldsmiths College, was integral to the fight against the call to boycott Israeli academia. He told The Jerusalem Post that Rosenhead and Bresheeth were trying to cultivate Israeli academics "as useful idiots," without making their own views clear. "They say they believe in academic freedom, but they spend their political energy working to exclude Israelis, and only Israelis, from the global academic community," he said. "They both make full public use of their Jewish identities to protect the boycott campaign from having seriously to reflect on its own anti-Semitism. They speak 'as a Jew' in the UCU and their reassurances are taken at face value by many people who don't know any better."