Pro-Israel academic barred from union forum

May 29, 2008

A leading campaigner against an academic boycott of Israel has been barred from a University and College Union online forum, prompting claims that debate on the issue is being suppressed.

David Hirsh, who ran a campaign known as Engage that was instrumental in overturning the UCU resolution adopted in 2005 to boycott specific Israeli universities, was indefinitely banned from the union's activists' members-only discussion list after breaching its confidentiality rules.

Times Higher Education has seen a letter sent by Dr Hirsh, a sociology lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, to UCU general secretary Sally Hunt.

He explains that when citing comments made on the forum in a research paper he accidentally left in the name of a source.

"As soon as I was made aware of this error, I had the name removed from the online version of my paper and it did not appear in the printed version," he wrote.

"I have undertaken in writing, and I undertake here again, to respect the confidentiality of the list if and when I am allowed back on it."

Dr Hirsh's expulsion provoked concern from some members of the discussion list. Several members who disagree with his views on Israel called for him to be reinstated.

In postings to the discussion list, one pro-boycott UCU member wrote: "I would rather not read Hirsh's writings but regrettably I have this Voltaire-ish impulse to defend his right to be a member of this list. He is not, as far as I know, occupying anything other than his own office."

Another wrote: "His colleagues at Goldsmiths allow him access to the contents of the list and post on his behalf, so either we have a self-defeating and ever-widening ring of exclusions or he is readmitted."

But some members were less concerned about the controversy. One wondered "whether the contributors to the list have day jobs". Another bemoaned "yet another posting in which the level of indignation is in inverse proportion to the amount of substantiated accusation".

UCU campaigns head Matt Waddup explained the exclusion to forum members, by saying that Dr Hirsh had already received a warning about breached confidentiality.

"I received a complaint about the (most recent) transgression and decided - with regret - that this behaviour was incompatible with membership of the list," he said.

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