Boycotting Israel would constrain forces for peace

August 16, 2002

The academic boycott of Israel was a one-week wonder for most of the national media. Once it had become clear that other journals and institutions were not going to follow Mona Baker's lead in sacking individuals from their posts, the headlines receded. Dr Baker had gone well beyond the terms of the original proposal for a boycott in removing Gideon Toury and Miriam Schlesinger from the editorial boards of her two journals, and the level of public criticism she endured discouraged any others who might have followed suit.

A flurry of activity this week in the Common Room section of The THES website demonstrates that the boycott is far from dead, however, and that feelings are still running high on both sides. Some have argued in the debate that the angry response to Dr Baker's sackings was orchestrated, representing a greater threat to free speech than the action itself, while others see the bombing of the Hebrew University as final proof that an academic boycott is neither justified nor proportionate.

Dr Baker's particular interpretation of the boycott is a matter for Umist's internal inquiry. But the original call to cut off contact with Israeli institutions remains a live issue, which is certain to reverberate around campuses as the conflict continues. Supporters of the boycott stress that the action is not aimed at individuals but at institutions of the state of Israel. Yet, as another contributor to our debate has argued, an effective institutional boycott will inevitably impact on the individuals who work there - many of whom are active forces for peace. Academic critics of Israeli actions in the West Bank are naturally frustrated and tempted by the symbolic act of a boycott. Raja Shehadeh, who is in the thick of the action, makes a powerful case for academic sanctions. But a boycott is indiscriminate and flies in the face of the freedoms it seeks to champion. The 13,000 academics who have signed an anti-boycott protest show that it is not just the "rightwing press" who have qualms about it.

Join the THES Common room debate on an academic boycott of Israel here .

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