Israelis unite to fight boycott

December 5, 2003

Israeli academics are to set up a forum to fight the international academic boycott of Israeli institutions, the heads of the country's universities decided this week at a meeting with Natan Scharansky, minister for diaspora affairs.

Hebrew University president Menachem Magidor suggested establishing an organisation to which academics could report boycott attempts and coordinate responses. He also suggested a non-governmental body so that academics could present Israel's case through lectures overseas.

Professor Magidor and Yehuda Hayuth, president of Haifa University, said that donors had put them under pressure to take steps against boycott supporters, and some had withdrawn donations.

The boycott was prompted last year by a letter to the Manchester Guardian urging European cultural and research institutions to call a moratorium on support for Israeli institutions until Israel abided by United Nations resolutions and opened serious peace negotiations with Palestine.

David Leshnick, a founder of the International Academic Friends of Israel, set up to fight the boycott, said that "about a tenth of a per cent (of academics) in Israel are in agreement with the boycott.

"The IAFI stands for academic freedom, whether they are Jewish or Palestinian academics. If we can help Palestinian professors who feel they are being boycotted, we will stand up (for them)."

Referring to the difficulties created for Palestinian academics by Israeli checkpoints, he added: "We are in favour of helping them get to conferences."

He said he hoped that the IAFI would help prevent the isolation of Israeli scientists. He cited the organisation's role in drawing attention to the rejection of a Tel Aviv student by Andrew Wilkie of Oxford University.

A small number of Israeli academics have signed the petition calling for an academic boycott.

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