Thursday, July 07, 2005

Zionism and universities

I received this letter as an opponent of the attempted UK academic boycott of Israeli universities, including Hebrew University (weblinks added by me):
I am writing to thank you on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for taking a stand on academic freedom.

The Hebrew University was one of the Israeli three Universities singled out by the AUT for boycott. As a result of our campaigning the motion did not get passed. Nonetheless we cannot afford to be complacent, and as this term draws to a close I wanted to round it off with an invitation to visit the University and see for yourself the diversity, the equality and the tolerance which the Hebrew University embodies.

During this year the Hebrew University is celebrating the “annus mirabilis” of one of our Founders, Albert Einstein. Twenty years before a State existed, before the language became a living one again, he, together with Sigmund Freud and Martin Buber and many British academics, had the foresight and vision to establish a centre of higher learning as a precursor to a civilised state. His legacy continues not just in the archive of all his papers that the University holds and the income that is derived from it, but more particularly it can be found in the many areas of distinction, including Peace Studies, Christian, Islamic Centre and the Interdisciplinary Center for Neural Computation, which has been designated a ‘centre of excellence’ by the European Union.

The University has always been open to all, non denominational and has practiced complete academic freedom with its Arab counterparts working side by side in full cooperation. A joint agreement for co-operative work was recently signed with El Quds University of the Palestinian Authority. With 3,500 projects, conducted at 90 centres, ranging from the health sciences and agriculture to education and law, the Hebrew University carries out the largest share (40%) of all basic research in Israel.

We hope that you might find the opportunity to visit, or at least to explore your specialist research area with like-minded colleagues through correspondence and joint research.

My role is to broaden awareness of the University in Britain and to facilitate any potential co-operation. If you have any questions, or would like to arrange a visit, we look forward to hearing from you.

In the meantime may we wish you a great summer break and many thanks again.

Wendy Pollecoff
Executive Director
Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Faculty For Israeli-Palestinian Peace (FFIPP-UK) has since responded (again, weblinks are mine):
Dear Wendy Pollecoff

We received your letter of thanks following FFIPP-UK’s questioning of the political expediency of boycotting targeted Israeli Universities with mixed feelings. We were very glad to learn of the co-operative work of Hebrew University with Al-Quds, and hope that the percentage of your funding that finds its way into that impoverished institution can begin to turn around its extreme underfunding in relation to your own prestigious foundation. We are also very aware of the authority of the early patrons of Hebrew University whom you wish to celebrate, Freud, Buber and Einstein, all of whom voiced their specific apprehensions about political Zionism and the dangers it posed for Palestinians in the region. We would welcome any invitation to join ‘like-minded colleagues’ in your university in honouring the life and work of Albert Einstein, beginning with our reflections on the relevance today of the letter he signed back in 1948, condemning Begin and his ‘terrorism’ against Palestinians as ‘one of the most disturbing political phenomena of our times'.

Tragically, it is this same feeling of outrage and despair at the continuing violation of Palestinian rights in Israel’s occupied territories that has fuelled those calling for boycott against Israeli institutions in Britain and beyond today. We share their indignation. Looking at Israel-Palestine as a whole, the violations of academic freedom that are most visible are the ones suffered daily by Palestinian institutions of higher education, struggling to survive under military occupation and a checkpoint regime which makes normal functioning impossible. FFIPP-UK questions those who call for an academic boycott because we wish to see Israelis and Palestinians working together to end the occupation and bring peace to the region, supporting those courageous activists in Israel who condemn the continuing brutalization and humiliation of Palestinians in the occupied territories. We would be interested in more information from you on what academic staff at the Hebrew University have done to make public their condemnation of the violations of Palestinian academic freedom under occupation.

Yours sincerely
Professor Lynne Segal, University of London
Professor Irene Bruegel, Southbank University.
Myself, I don't like the idea, once again, that Israeli academics should have to prove themselves by condemning their government, when we do not ask any other academics to prove themselves in such a way.

Other links: The University of Haifa Response to the AUT Decision, Middle East Peace Dialogue Network, ENGAGE,, Begin-Sadat Centre, Olive Tree Project
Previous: Aaronovitch versus Atzmon: ethnnic cleansing and bashing fascists, Hating Israel, Atzmon and the SWP continued, Howard Dean versus the anti-semitic liberals, Gilad Atzmon, Tony Greenstein, the SWP and the Holocaust, Chomsky and Israel, Defeating the boycott
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