The AUT and the academic boycott

David Hirsh writes:
Dear All,

A new proposal for an academic boycott of Israel is going to be discussed at the AUT conference next week.

I propose to send this statement to the Guardian for publication on or slightly before 20 April, when the matter is being discussed at the conference.

I would ask people to email me, David Hirsh, if they would like their name to be added to the list of people who support this statement.

I would ask people who do support it to forward it on to departmental lists and any academic contacts that they have who might be interested.

I am hoping to add a long list of names to this statement. Time is short, however, if we are to have it published before the conference, so I will set a deadline of 17.00 Monday 18 April. Please email me before then to have your name added.

David Hirsh
Sociology Department
Goldsmiths College
The statement:
We oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and we support the right of the Palestinian people to an independent state alongside Israel. We think, however, that proposals by some members of the Association of University Teachers for a boycott of Israeli academia would be counter-productive.

The campaign for the academic boycott treats all academics as though they were responsible for government policy ? which they are not. The latest proposal contains a clause which is intended to get round this problem by excluding from the boycott "conscientious Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their state's colonial and racist policies". This would mean that Israeli academics would first have to affirm their ‘anti-Zionist’ credentials before being allowed to function as members of the global academic community.

But there is no agreed definition of the word ‘Zionism’. Some people define it as a form of racism. Others understand it as a Jewish national liberation movement. Others consider themselves Zionists if they support the right of Israel not to be conquered.

We oppose the proposal that academics should be subjected a political test. Does anybody suggest that American physicists should be excluded from the academic community if they do not repudiate Guantanamo Bay? Does anybody suggest that Chinese historians should be excluded if they oppose democracy? Does anybody suggest that Muslim mathematicians should be excluded unless they publicly repudiate the attacks of September 11? These kinds of demands would destroy the principles of openness, free speech and community that should define academia.

But the current proposal to make a distinction between good Israelis and bad Israelis is a tactical move: the boycott campaign really wants a total boycott of Israeli academia.

Last year there was a call by the religious right in Israel to boycott Israeli academics who had signed a statement in support of Israeli pilots who were refusing to bomb targets in the occupied territories. A government minister spoke in favour of a ban on the books of these academics. How would we support Israeli academics that come under such attacks if there is a boycott on links with Israeli academia?

Who should be teaching Israeli students? Do we demand that Israeli academics that are against the occupation should leave Israel and teach somewhere else? Do we demand that Arab students who are studying at Israeli universities should leave, rather than fight for equal rights?

We should be making more links, not fewer, with the Israeli academics who are doing good work and who are resisting the racist culture of the Israeli right. Formally, this question is dealt with by the good Israeli / bad Israeli formulation of the latest proposal, but this would create more problems than it addresses.

What effect would this boycott have on UK academics ? and particularly Jewish academics? It would put UK Jewish academics under pressure to declare themselves ‘anti-Zionist’. And what will happen to those who refuse?

Alan Johnson, Reader, Social Science, Edge Hill College of Higher Education

Anne Summers, Leverhulme Network Co-ordinator, The Women's Library, London Metropolitan University

Ben Gidley, Research Fellow, Centre for Urban and Community Research,
Goldsmiths College, University of London

Camila Bassi, Lecturer, Geography, Sheffield Hallam University

Caroline Knowles, Reader, Sociology, Goldsmiths College, University of London

Catherine Dodds , Research Fellow, Sigma Research, University of

Charles Asher Small, Research Affiliate, Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University

Chris Rumford, Senior Lecturer, Political Sociology, Royal Holloway, University of London

Daniel Chernilo, Lecturer, Social Science, University Alberto Hurtado, Chile

David Hirsh, Lecturer, Sociology, Goldsmiths College, University of London

David Lawrence, Hon Lecturer, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

David Seymour, Lecturer, Law, Lancaster University

Gideon Calder, Senior Lecturer in Ethics and Social Theory, University of Wales, Newport

Ian Gordon, Department of Geography and Environment, London School of Economics

Jane Liddell-King, Approved University Teacher, English, Cambridge University

John Solomos, Professor, Head of Department, Sociology, City University, London

Jon Pike, Senior Lecturer, Philosophy, Open University

Mario Di Paolantonio, Visiting Fellow, Sociology, Goldsmiths College, University of London

Michael Freeman, Professor, Faculty of Laws, University College London

Michael Storper, Professor of Economic Geography, London School of economics

Robert Fine, Professor, Head of Department, Sociology, Warwick University


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