A pro-Israel boycott

May 25, 2007

Letter to Michael Duff, Abdus Salam chair of theoretical physics at Imperial College London, copied to The Times Higher

I am writing to let you know that I will not be coming to the Abdus Salam commemoration or the Pascos conference [the 13th international symposium on particles, strings and cosmology at Imperial College] this July. For some time, I have had mixed feelings about visits to Britain, due to my perception of a widespread anti-Israel and anti-Semitic current of British opinion, especially in the intellectual establishment. When I heard of the boycott of Israeli academics by (the lecturers' union) Natfhe in 2006, I cancelled a visit I had planned to a conference at Durham University.

That boycott was lifted, or I would not have agreed to come to London this July. In fact, even so, I would not have agreed if you were not an old friend. But I have just heard of a new boycott of Israeli products, voted the National Union of Journalists, and this convinces me that I ought to stay away.

I know some will say that these boycotts are directed only against Israel, rather than generally against Jews. But given the history of attacks on Israel and the oppressiveness and aggressiveness of other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, boycotting Israel indicates a moral blindness for which it is hard to find any explanation other than anti-Semitism. (The only other explanation I can imagine is a desire to pander to the growing Muslim minority in Britain.) I see this bias reflected from time to time in the news reporting of The Guardian, The Independent and the BBC, so it is not really surprising that the NUJ would take this action.

I regret that I will not have a chance to speak in praise of Salam, whom I like to think would have been sorry for this action of British journalists.

Steven Weinberg
University of Texas at Austin

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