Israeli sackings prompt inquiry

July 12, 2002

The University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology has begun an internal inquiry into the actions of one of its academics after she dismissed two Israeli academics from the board of two journals she edits.

When the row first broke out in June, Umist said: "Any comments regarding this decision should be taken up by the journal itself." But this week it denied distancing itself from Mona Baker's decision, saying: "We have to look at this situation seriously. If we have got to take action following the results of the inquiry, then we will."

A spokesman said if the journals had been owned by Umist, the sackings would not have been allowed. "Umist is a multicultural and multinational community that believes that discrimination based on nationality, race, religion or other grounds is wrong," he said.

Education secretary Estelle Morris said: "I understand that Umist has clearly disassociated itself from this action. (Higher education minister) Margaret Hodge and I have made it clear that any discrimination on grounds of nationality, race or religion is unacceptable."

Egyptian-born Mona Baker, professor of translation studies at Umist, sparked an international row last month after severing ties with Gideon Toury of Tel Aviv University and Miriam Shlesinger of Bar Ilan University. Professor Baker owns St Jerome Publishing, which publishes the two journals. She also decided that the journals would no longer accept papers from Israeli academics. Several board members quit after the dismissal, saying they had not been consulted.

The Open University's Steven Rose is one of the 700 European scholars calling for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions. He said it was up to individuals how they chose to interpret the boycott. He said he had written to an Israeli institution to say he could no longer act as a grant referee and had told a friend he could not write an endorsement for the jacket of a new book.

The editorial board of Interventions : International Journal of Postcolonial Studies , which opposes past and present military occupation of territories against the wishes of local inhabitants, said that it had considered a boycott in line with recent decisions by lecturers' union Natfhe and the Association of University Teachers. But editor Robert Young of Oxford University said: "The editorial board has decided that it would not support boycotting of individuals on any grounds."

Gillian Evans of Cambridge University and public-policy secretary of the Campaign for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards, said that Cafas members were split on the issue. Dr Evans said that, while personal protest should be defended, political action should not interfere with academic freedom.

Professor Baker said: "I am boycotting Israeli institutions through their representatives, rather than Israel as a nation."

Dr Shlesinger said: "I see this initiative as counterproductive. It is Israeli academics, among others, who can ultimately influence the Israeli public to see the light."

Harvard University English scholar Howard Greenblatt wrote an open letter to Professor Baker deploring the "attack on cultural cooperation" and describing it as a violation of academic freedom.

A group of mathematicians at the University of Chicago has launched a counter petition, calling the boycott "immoral, dangerous and misguided".

David-Hillel Ruben, professor of philosophy at the School of Oriental and African Studies, condemned Professor Baker's decision, saying she had acted without consulting the journals' advisory board.

• The US has questioned Israel's closure of offices at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem The Israeli government said the university's offices were used illegally as a representative office of the Palestinian Authority.

Is an academic boycott of Israel justified?
David-Hillel Ruben, professor of philosophy at SOAS, argues that it is not.
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