Financial woes silence anti-boycott body

Bar-Ilan's IAB has been at the forefront of Israeli response to UK academic boycott attempts.

oxford u 224 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
oxford u 224 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As the spring conference season for British trade unions draws near, and with it the calls to boycott Israeli academia, funds for a non-government body that fights those calls have dried up. The International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom, an organization associated with Bar-Ilan University, has until now been at the forefront of the Israeli response to the call from British trade unions, who represent a large number of college professors and universities and annually bring up the issue of boycotting Israeli academia based on what they call, "apparent complicity of the Israeli academy in government policies towards the Palestinians." But in December 2007, IAB was forced to suspend its activities, which included leading delegations of Israeli academics to England and attending boycott discussions there, due to a lack of funding. "It got to the point where we were paying for these things out of our own pockets," said Ofir Frenkel, IAB's executive director. "We ran into so much debt that we just had to close it." IAB's efforts, the only Israeli initiative to confront the calls for a boycott, were based solely on academic principles. "IAB is not a government organization and accepts no funding from the government," Frenkel told The Jerusalem Post. "We have no political agenda and also stand up for Palestinian academic freedom." Until December, IAB's funding had come from VERA, Israel's committee of university presidents. But when the allotted time period for funding ran out, VERA didn't renew its pledge, and IAB is still waiting to find out if it will be able to begin working again. Under the arranged deal, Bar-Ilan's Planning and Budgeting committee has agreed to fund half of IAB's budget if VERA will agree to continue with the other half. IAB is still waiting for an answer. "We keep getting promises," said Frenkel. "This week, next week, the strike, the break, it's just not important to them." However, according to Frenkel, the importance of dealing with the boycott is immense, given the fact that it threatens the very academia VERA represents. "It's the precedent," she said. "If there were a boycott, academics would no longer be judged on their merit, but on their political views. Someone working in biology or physics will be judged not by the essence of his work, but on the view he holds of the West Bank. This is very dangerous for the academic world." "This is the way it works in the academic world," a VERA spokeswoman told the Post. "Things take time. We are a voluntary organization that deals with relevant issues to academia as a whole. We can't be aware of everything going on in the academic world." She said she would look into the matter, but did not respond by press time. In the meantime, Frenkel and the remnants of IAB are hoping the funding will come through and are planning a slew of possible projects to parallel the British boycott calls. "We basically want to do the opposite of a boycott," Frenkel said. "We want to bring more academics from Israel to Britain and vice versa. Most of the union members supporting the boycott have never been to Israel. When we showed up last year with Arab students, the union members were shocked. We want to bring them here, show them that there is dialogue, there are Arab professors. I'm not telling them what to think politically, I want to give a two-sided basis for them to decide for themselves."