Jewish and Zionist groups responded furiously to a full page advertisement in the Tuesday edition of the UK Guardian that supported an academic boycott of Israel, signed by 343 academic staff.
“Today’s Guardian (UK) newspaper ad of 343 academicians calling for a boycott of Israeli Universities and other educational institutions is yet another test of earlier failures,” said Simon Wiesenthal Center Director for International Relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels.
Samuels noted that the British Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) was already legally counseled eight years ago that any formal boycott of Israel is unlawful.
The Wiesenthal center pointed out that “UCU General-Secretary, Sally Hunt, accepted the recommendation, shifting the aim to ‘where possible, play a positive role, supporting Palestinian and Israeli educators and promotion of a just peace in the Middle East’.”
Samuels also warned signatories, who represented 72 distinct British learning institutions including Oxford and Cambridge, that they exposed their unions to legal battles and potential fines and could cost their departments financial support.
Britain’s Jewish Leadership Council sent out a rebuttal to the Guardian ad accusing signatories of a double standard and seeking publicity rather than productive dialogue.
“It is ironic that the signatories in tomorrow’s Guardian have ignored Universities UK who earlier this year invested time and effort to oppose academic boycotts,” the group said. “They have also ignored their colleagues from over 30 universities who have actively engaged, through BIRAX, in scientific cooperation with researchers in Israeli institutions, as well as the calls of the 150 writers, artists and musicians who last week promoted the benefits of continuing dialogue with Israel.”
“It seems that once again those who wish to improve the situation in the middle-east [sic] have looked for publicity rather than creating inclusive academic debate which will benefit society as a whole,” said JLC.
Academic Friends of Israel, another UK group, responded more coolly to the ad, noting the ongoing research in several fields, as well as the minuscule share of British academic professionals represented by the 343 signatories.
In this letter, less than a quarter of one percent of the 194,245 academics working in the UK have expressed a wish to boycott Israeli universities. There will always be statistically insignificant minority groups with views that in no way represent the vast majority of British academia. These same people have tried and failed for over ten years to impose their desire on the rest of us, yet quite rightly there continues to be no academic boycott in place. (In fact, British academia is heavily involved in working with Israeli universities through European funding research such as CERN, and the Royal Society, Universities UK and the Russell Group of Universities are all opposed to an academic boycott of Israel).
Why are these academics so obsessed with our highly beneficial links to world-leading, independent academic institutions in Israel, when they have little or nothing to say about UK university connections to the Chinese government though 10 Confucius Institutes, or about the tens of millions of pounds of actual funding donated by non democratic, human-rights abusing Middle Eastern regimes or individuals associated with them, such as Saudi Arabia?
Of course thousands of British academics are pleased to benefit from extensive and warm collaboration with their Israeli colleagues, many of whom are world-leaders in the fields of green-tech, medical research, bio-tech, and computer science.
Those who prioritise dialogue, cooperation and bridge-building are the most committed to peace. Most Israeli academics fall squarely into this category and we must be proud to continue our work with them.
Britain’s National Student Union joined the BDS Movement’s boycott of Israel earlier this year. In the US, the American Studies Association also adopted BDS measures, though their implementation apparently fell into some disarray.
Many are concerned about the spread of BDS activism across campuses in the US, spawning the launch of initiatives like the Canary Mission, a group dedicating to exposing antisemitism and those who preach it across US campuses, and efforts to get University of California campuses to adopt a wider definition of antisemitism that addresses certain criticism of Israel.