Saturday, June 09, 2007

Boycotting Israeli universities... Is it just?

I have been meaning to write a post on the move by certain in the British academia to go ahead with an "intellectual boycott of Israel". Supporters of the move say that "Israeli academic freedom comes at the cost of the denial of the most basic of academic freedoms of Palestinian students." Even if there are many Palestinians who benefit from Israel's education system, I am sure there are even more who daily have to face denial of education "by invasions, closures, checkpoints, curfews, and shootings and arrests of teachers, lecturers and students".

The University of Haifa has been earlier urged to "uphold academic freedom, and in particular cease its victimisation of academic staff and students who seek to research and discuss the history of the founding of the state of Israel". On the other hand, Bar-Ilan has been criticised for supporting a college in "an illegal settlement" in the West Bank.

But is this a right way to react, especially universities? If you want to condemn them, for sure do. Do it in the strongest of terms. Make your disgust and anguish known. But please do not get entangled in a ceaseless cycle of rabid retorts - much like the politics in Middle East. This boycott move, unfortunately, does more harm than good to the cause of ending the problem the British professors are seeking to redress. Mr Alan Dershowitz, a prominent lawyer and Harvard law professor, has already threatened to "devastate and bankrupt" those he believes are acting against Israeli universities. The ptich keeps getting more and more shrill. As Erica Elini at Foreign Policy puts it, "Liberal or conservative, mainstream or extremist, universities should never be the target of a boycott. They're supposed to be the greenhouse of new and revolutionary ideas, not political footballs."


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