Laureates denounce action against Israel

May 26, 2006

A group of Nobel laureates has condemned the boycott of Israel expected to be debated by the lecturers' union Natfhe this weekend.

The union is set to discuss a motion calling on members to engage in private boycotts of Israeli institutions and members at its conference. But eight top scientists have already reiterated a protest they made during last year's Association of University Teachers boycott debacle.

Writing in The Times Higher , Steven Weinberg, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin, winner of the 1979 physics prize, said he hoped that any boycott would be extended to also apply to him.

Aaron Ciechanover (chemistry 2004), research professor at the Technion in Haifa, Israel, threatened to pull out of two prestigious UK lectures. "I will have to cancel as a pre-emptive measure, as those who invited me will find themselves in an embarrassing situation... in order to abide with the boycott guidelines," he said.

The scientists argued that the proposed action would poison the exchange of ideas at the heart of academic discourse. Frank Wilczek (physics, 2004), professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said:

"The primary value of the scientific community is pursuit of understanding through free and open discourse. The clarity of that beacon to humanity should not be compromised for transient political concerns."

Walter Kohn (chemistry, 1998), professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said: "I strongly oppose all academic boycotts based on religious, political or ideological reasons as intrinsically inimical to academic freedom. Scholars have the great privilege - and duty - to set a much-needed example of human solidarity and co-operation."

David Gross (physics, 2004), Jean-Marie Lehn (chemistry, 1987), Daniel Kahneman (economics, 2002) and Dudley Herschbach (chemistry, 1986) also voiced their opposition to a boycott.

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