Israeli academic thanks NPC for its 'principled position' over boycott

August 19, 2005

The attempt by the Association of University Teachers to boycott Israeli scholars and institutions has triggered a new debate on the value of academic freedom, according to a senior academic at one of the targeted institutions.

Gerald Steinberg, professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University, praised the NPC for its "principled position" in opposing the AUT's boycott policy, subsequently overturned by a special AUT council.

Professor Steinberg said that the allegations of an absence of academic freedom in Israel had been repeated so often that they were taken as fact without examination of the evidence.

But the boycott had "galvanised" staff and students across the Bar-Ilan campus to reassess the importance of academic freedom.

"I will not stand here and claim that Israeli behaviour and policies are perfect. I have my criticisms like other Israeli citizens," he said. "But even our enemies admit and admire one aspect of Israeli society - its democracy, openness and unfettered free speech, and this certainly applies to the university campuses, classrooms and publications."

The AUT boycott was a far cry from the academic boycott of South Africa during apartheid, which had supported two academics jailed by a regime that denied academic freedom or dissent, he said.

Professor Steinberg directs Bar-Ilan's programme on conflict management and negotiation. He said much of its work was crucial to the efforts to understand how to create a basis for tolerance and understanding in the middle of protracted conflicts.

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