B-G prof: Israel ignoring UK academic boycott

London-based David Newman blames Israeli academic community for not joining in fight.

antiboycott ad 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
antiboycott ad 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
An Israeli professor working in the UK has condemned the latest proposal to boycott Israeli academia but also lashed out at his Israeli colleagues for their lack of action on the issue. Prof. David Newman, from Ben-Gurion University's Department of Politics and Government, has spent the past two years in his native London promoting Israeli-British academic cooperation and leading a campaign against the boycott calls. "I am frustrated by the lack of adequate response by my academic peers and colleagues at something that clearly threatens their own status in Europe," he told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "The anti-boycott campaign is a political campaign organized by various Jewish organizations; this is what they do and they're doing a good job, but unfortunately it's the voice of the Israeli academic community that is not being heard. This is what the academic community in the UK wants and needs to hear, yet they don't have a response from the universities," Newman said. "They need to hear more about what a boycott will do and be shown exactly what is going on [that's positive], like the collaborative research between Israelis and Palestinians and [between] Israelis and the Beduin community," he told the Post. Newman was set to become the official representative of the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom, an umbrella organization for Israeli academia, but its money ran out five months ago. Its funding proposal is still being debated by the Israeli Committee of University Presidents, the board's executive director Ofir Frenkel told the Post on Thursday.. The advisory board emerged out of grassroots efforts to combat the boycotts and had received a promise of partial funding from the Council on Higher Education's Planning and Funding Committee in Israel. However, that money was conditioned on the university presidents funding the other half of the board's budget. Writing in the next edition of the Israeli Journal for Foreign Affairs, Newman charges: "For their part, Israeli universities failed to respond adequately to the potential threat of a boycott, arguing that other critical issues - such as the Israeli lecturers' strike of 2007 or the general cut in public funding to Israel's universities - were of much greater importance." Frenkel agreed that the boycott issue was not high on the Committee of University Presidents' agenda. "We need a representative of all the universities. We need to work all the time for long-term change," Frenkel said. Newman also criticized the government's lack of action: "Israeli governmental responses, especially those of the Foreign Ministry, were more vocal but were not reinforced by practical actions. This, despite the government's stated commitment to assist in academic exchange programs." "The arrival of a new, proactive Israeli ambassador to London in the autumn of 2007, Ron Prosor, resulted in greater Israeli public visibility in response to anti-Israel activities on UK campuses. The most effective actions were those carried out by the local Jewish community lobbies within the UK, but they focused on the increase in anti-Semitism, while largely avoiding the critical issues of academic freedom and the essential nature of scientific collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian scholars," he continued. On Wednesday, the University and College Union, the largest trade union for academics and academic-related staff in higher education in the UK, approved a motion that would allow for the reintroduction of a boycott. Newman said the union was making British universities increasingly unpleasant places for Jewish faculty and students. He also said these actions were bringing "these great institutes of learning into international disrepute amongst their colleagues throughout the world." "This is despite the fact that a number of British and Israeli universities are increasing their scientific collaboration in response to this attempt to deny basic principles of academic freedom," he said. The decision to boycott Israeli academia came as a two-day conference organized by London's International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies on dialogue between Israel and Europe was ending. During a keynote speech titled "Israeli-European relations over the next decade" on Wednesday, Prosor talked about the decision to even debate a boycott motion and expressed surprise at the delegitimization of Israel that had gone beyond legitimate criticism. Ehud Zion Waldoks contributed to this report.