Researchers from a controversial Israeli university withdrew from an academic conference in London after being told that they could not mention their institutional affiliation.
Organisers of the European Association of Israel Studies’ annual conference, held last week at Soas, University of London, received proposals for papers from two scholars based at Ariel University.
Located on an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, Ariel was granted full university status in 2012 - to great controversy within Israel and widespread criticism outside.
EAIS chairman Clive Jones, professor of regional security at Durham University, said that because of this the organisation had taken the position that “until the status of the Occupied Territories has been decided between the two parties, we cannot recognise Ariel as a university which is part of the broader Israeli higher educational body”.
“When we had proposals submitted by people working at Ariel, we decided that they were welcome to come and present their papers but would have to give them as individual scholars rather than as academics representing Ariel University.”
He added: “The policy is driven by the fact that we don’t want to be politicised. We have to sit on a very thin fence and it’s often uncomfortable.”
The researchers based at Ariel decided not to participate on that basis. Yet the EAIS position was strongly challenged during the conference itself in a paper by Ruth Amossy, professor emeritus in French at Tel Aviv University, her PhD student Nadia Ellis and Denis Charbit of the Open University of Israel.
Since “a scholar is necessarily part of an institution that funds his research and allows him to build a position in the academic world”, they argued, “his participation in an academic event without the possibility to mention his professional affiliation goes against the very logic of the field…To boycott an institution but not its scholars is, somehow, to boycott a building but not those who work in it…excluding the academic affiliation to Ariel cannot butbe a political choice.”
Professor Jones, speaking generally about the EAIS, said that it was “an independent scholarly institution which embraces a diversity of opinion and views…there is a very febrile atmosphere at present [in discussions about the Middle East] and I want to make it very clear that we are a non-advocacy group”.