Do something positive 1

May 6, 2005

Those who proposed and voted for the Association of University Teachers' boycott of two Israeli universities would have done well to reflect first on the consequences of Mona Baker's ill-fated boycott in 2002. Rather than increasing the pressure on the Israeli Government to end the occupation, her boycott became the centre of critical attention.

That is the main problem with boycotts: instead of drawing links between Israeli occupation, the oppression of Palestinians and their academic freedom, they cast Israelis as the victims of persecution by the boycotters. They are thus counterproductive.

Academics are vital, significant voices in Israel's peace camp, and have been subject to increasing pressure and even open harassment by Israel's Education Ministry in recent years. The boycott would merely weaken their position. As the president of Palestinian Al-Quds University, Sari Nusseibeh, said in response to the AUT boycott: "We believe it is in our interest to build bridges, not walls: to reach out to the Israeli academic community, not to impose another restriction... on ourselves."

Instead of the gesture politics on display at the AUT conference, how about some positive measures to help end the occupation?

What about British academics volunteering to go out and teach short courses in Palestinian universities? How about the AUT financing trips for Palestinian academics to come and recharge their intellectual batteries here, combined with pressure on the Israeli authorities to allow them to travel? How about sponsoring joint projects for Israeli and Palestinian academics in partnership with British institutions?

Such steps would bear richer fruit than a counterproductive boycott.

Jon Simons
Nottingham University

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