Oxford rapped over Wilkie

October 31, 2003

One of the leaders of last year's academic boycott of Israel attacked Oxford University this week for meting out a "wholly disproportionate punishment" to a professor who rejected a student who had served in the Israeli army, writes Phil Baty.

Oxford confirmed this week that it had suspended pathology professor Andrew Wilkie for two months without pay - the harshest punishment available short of dismissal - after he told an Israeli PhD applicant in an email last summer that he would not supervise him.

Professor Wilkie will return to university duties in two months. But after the verdict he agreed to resign as a governor and fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford.

This week, Stephen Rose, the Jewish academic who founded the movement boycotting collaboration with Israeli institutions in protest at the Sharon government's policy on Palestine, said Oxford had overreacted.

Professor Rose, based at the Open University, said: "Andrew Wilkie clearly spoke from a passionate conviction and while I can't condone what he did I can understand it in the context of the horrific abrogation of academic freedom of Palestinians by Israel.

"He immediately apologised for his remarks, so this step by Oxford is a wholly disproportionate punishment in the context."

Professor Rose said Professor Wilkie's action went beyond his initial call for a moratorium of research links with any Israeli institution.

Professor Wilkie's leaked email to Amit Duvshani of Tel Aviv University said: "I am sure that you are perfectly nice on a personal level but no way would I take somebody who has served in the Israeli army."

When the email reached the media, Professor Wilkie immediately apologised and explained his action was "caused by a too personal and emotional response to the situation in Israel".

A statement agreed between Oxford and Professor Wilkie said: "This ruling reflects that there can be no place for any form of discrimination within the university other than on the grounds of merit. Professor Wilkie accepts the gravity of the situation and is determined to make full use of training to ensure that his actions and those of his staff reflect best practice in future."

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