Dershowitz threat rings hollow 1

June 8, 2007

I am surprised that The Times Higher has trivialised the question of the University and College Union boycott of Israeli universities in its interview with Alan Dershowitz, otherwise an advocate of torture ("Legal star will 'ruin' supporters of boycott", June 2).

He may be a media star in the US, but Dershowitz's behaviour over Norman Finkelstein's book Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History was a good example of the kind of treatment we can well do without.

Given that Dershowitz subsequently attempted to deny Finkelstein tenure at DePaul University, he is probably not best placed to oppose a boycott.

The reason why a boycott of Israeli universities - not academics, as Dershowitz erroneously implies - is necessary is because Israeli universities are and have been complicit in the system of repression that has led to repeated closures of Palestinian universities, military harassment of their faculty and students, the denial of essential equipment and now the threat not to renew the visas of foreign passport-holders.

It is no coincidence that a letter to the Israeli Defence Minister from the presidents of four out of Israel's six universities calling for the removal of travel restrictions on Palestinian students was released on the day that the UCU conference debated the boycott motion.

South Africa demonstrated conclusively that the Reaganite policy of "constructive engagement" simply doesn't work because it encourages the oppressor to continue in his ways. Only the threat of boycott is capable of making Israeli academics think about what is happening to their counterparts in the West Bank and Gaza. Far from being an attack on academic freedom, a boycott is an integral part of the struggle for such freedoms.

The tactic of peaceful boycotts has a long and honourable history, from the boycott of slave-grown sugar in this country in the early 19th century to the Jewish boycott of Nazi Germany in 1933.

Tony Greenstein

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