Scholar says boycotting Israel will not help restore Palestinian rights

February 3, 2006

Academic boycotts of Israel would threaten the restoration of Palestinian rights, a Palestinian academic told an international conference at one of the two universities at the centre of last year's storm over attempts to secure sanctions by the UK's Association of University Teachers.

Munther Dejani, a professor of political science and diplomacy at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, the only Palestinian university to oppose the proposed academic boycott last April, said: "I stand committed to academic co-operation and against academic boycotts."

Professor Dejani was speaking on behalf of Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al-Quds, who was unable to attend the conference at Bar-Ilan University.

Professor Nusseibeh is well known for his support of co-operative academic projects between his university and Israeli institutions, and has said that they would be weakened by a boycott. He has argued that collaborative intervention is preferable.

Professor Dejani told the conference: "We have made peace with ourselves about Israel - about its right to exist, about the Jews' right to return, about creating our own state with 1967 borders.

"Now we have embarked on the long road of peace. It is much more difficult than the road of war. Communication and open dialogue are the only way towards co-operation, dialogue, reconciliation and co-existence," he said.

Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz argued against the rhetoric of the attempted boycott and other boycotts against Israel, according to which Israel is a perpetrator of evil on a scale that sets it apart from all other countries.

"No high court in the world today is trying to strike a balance between protection against terrorism and civil liberties like the Israeli high court," Professor Dershowitz said.

"The Israeli Supreme Court has been a model for those who believe in judicial activism. Of all countries to look at to impose a boycott, Israel would be low on the list."

Michael Daxner, the former rector of Oldenburg University and now a member of the Magna Charta Observatory in Bologna, said that the Magna Charta Observatory did not have an official position on the attempted boycott.

However, he said, the proposal to boycott Israeli universities was "not a matter of right or left - this is anti-Semitic".

Similarly, Robert Quinn, of the New York-based Scholars at Risk Network, said that while it did not have an official position on boycotting Israeli institutions, it favoured "engagement" - helping threatened and persecuted scholars and universities worldwide and, by doing so, promoting academic freedom and fundamental values.

But he added that Scholars at Risk had received calls from threatened Israeli and Palestinian academics over the past five years.

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