As most of our readers would have noticed that yet another union of academics (precisely why do they need unions as if they were factory workers?) has voted to think about boycotting Israeli academic institutions because of the “occupation”, the wall and the way Palestinians are supposedly prevented from studying.
It would be interesting to see how many other Middle Eastern countries’ universities will be boycotted because of the way they prevent women from taking a full part in academic activity. It will also be interesting to see how many of these academics will chastise the Palestinian leadership from not achieving law and order under which Palestinians in, say, Gaza could actually study or call for a boycott of Arab countries for keeping generations of Palestinians in refugee camps.
I suspect I know the answer to all those, as well as I know the answer to whether there will ever by a boycott of Chinese universities because of the treatment of Tibet and Tibetans or an outcry because the Iranians have sent armed troops to Sudan to aid the Sudanese government in its eccentric ideas of what constitutes good governance.
Even during the supposed boycott of South Africa – there never was much academic outrage about the Communist countries and their suppression of free speech and firing of academics who stepped out of line – individual academics and students were, rightly, welcomed in all universities and polytechnics.
Furthermore, as an article in the left-wing Ha’aretz points out, if you really do care about the rights of Palestinians, trying to chastise “the one group within Israeli society which has consistently, vigorously and courageously campaigned against the occupation since its inception” is hardly a sensible way of helping the victims. But then, let’s face it helping Palestinians is not very high on these people’s agenda. If it were they would pay a little more attention to what is happening in Gaza or would ask themselves about the lack of any kind of freedom under the Palestinian Authority or would wonder out loud about the treatment of Palestinians by their brother Arabs (as well as the treatment of those brother Arabs by the Palestinians).
Bradley Burston calls the boycotting of Israel “moral masturbation” and, frankly, we couldn’t put it better ourselves on this blog. It is part self-indulgence, part the knowledge that there is no chance of Israelis planting bombs in Britain, part ignorance and part the oldest hatred of all – anti-Semitism.
You really must envy the U.K. far-left for its blindness. Its consummate inability to see more than one side, which is to say, its demonstrated refusal to see Jews as fellow human beings, is only exceeded by its exquisite sense of timing.Not that academic institutions have ever been devoted to freedom of speech and thought all that much. Support for Communism prevailed in western academia to the point when it was embarrassing to take round East Europeans to lectures or seminars.
No matter that in the whole of the 1991 Gulf war, Saddam Hussein managed to hit all of Israel with a total of 39 missiles, and that two weeks ago, Hamas sent 40 rockets into the Sderot area in the space of a single day.
No matter that Sapir College, Israel's largest public college, has for years been a primary target of Qassam crews.
No matter that in boycotting all Israeli academics on the basis of their being Israelis, the measure is patently racist, a grotesque reprise of the history of curbing academic freedom.No matter that Israeli Arab academics who are staunchly opposed to the occupation are vehement opponents of the boycott as well.
No matter, even, that opposition to the boycott runs strong within the British University and College Union itself. In fact, all the more reason to press on.
Support for the European project and a refusal to teach alternative ideas about European history, all of it heavily influenced by large amounts of money pouring in through Monnet professorships and lectureships is rampant.
Anti-Americanism is the default position for most academics in Britain (and in the United States). Anyone who announces in academic seminars or during dinners that the United States is a democracy, where, however, imperfectly, there is a great deal of freedom; that it is our greates ally; and that is protects us from our enemies, the real baddies, produces a Bateman-like tableau of horror.
Don’t even get me on to the subject of treatment of academics and students who diverge from the accepted formula on a number of issues such as man-made global warming.
These problems have existed as long as universities have done but matters have deteriorated in the last decade or two for a very simple reason. We, in Britain, have too many universities, with too many academics, many of whom should not be in that position; we have too many ridiculous courses, tailored to fit students who would not have been able to pass the old O-levels, let alone the old A-levels, and, of course, too many students who find it very frustrating to be in a place where they are, at least theoretically, supposed to conduct intellectual research and discourse, which they are largely not capable of.
At the end of it they come out with meaningless degrees in meaningless subjects that do not guarantee them good jobs (employers are not that stupid) and extensive debts. A con trick all round on the youngsters.
I must admit that UCU – Universities and Colleges Union – is a new one on me. Apparently, it represents 120,000 university teachers, which makes me suspect that it is a union of several other unions. The mind does boggle at the idea of 120,000 university teachers, let alone the fact that they consider it necessary to join a union. Presumably, there must be some more university lecturers (as they were called in my day) who have not joined.
The vote, which has been disowned by the British ambassador to Israel and by the Education Minister, Bill Rammell, seems to have been of considerably smaller magnitude.
Motion 30, which “condemns Israel for its "denial of educational rights" to the Palestinian people and calls for UCU branches to discuss an academic boycott of Israel over the next year” was passed by 158 votes to 99 with 17 abstentions. This will now be discussed in the various branches of UCU and the motion for an put to the vote of the whole membership (or as many of it as can be bothered to attend) at next year’s conference. Well, anything is better than teaching, I suppose.
The Israeli response has been quite instructive. Many of the academics have found it insulting and bewildering.
Boycott proponents had tried for three years to pass such a motion, Prof. David Newman of Ben-Gurion University told The Jerusalem Post from the conference. He said it was incumbent upon Israeli academics to defy the union.As we all asked when the NUJ tried this nonsense, will these people really do without the medical developments and electronic inventions that have taken place in Israel? Will they in the words of Nobel prize winning Professor Aaron Ciechanover in today’s Daily Telegraph “prefer that British sufferers were refused leading treatments which can improve their quality of life on the basis that Israeli expertise developed them”?
"Israel academics should do more research, share more resources, participate in more scientific studies, do more sabbaticals, do more visits to workshop and seminars with [their] British counterparts," Newman said.
He said it was now up the institutions to decide whether to "defend the right of true academic freedom... and not allow a union to impose its will on an institution."
Perhaps they will. Perhaps they are so blinded by their hatred of Israel and its Jewish people (few know that Israeli Arabs can and do study in many of these academic institutions that they wish to boycott) that they do not care about the outcome as long as the evil ones will suffer.
How else can one explain the examples Leo McKinstry brings up in his article?
“What is particularly disturbing is the way opposition to the Jewishstate descends into vicious antagonism against Jews themselves, as shownby this sickening recent outburst from writer Pamela Hardyment, a memberof the National Union of Journalists, which in April voted to boycottIsraeli goods.Further Israeli reactions point to anger as well as bemusement. This is not what they expect from Britain, though I do really think that it is time the Israelis learnt the truth about academic institutions and, for that matter, trade unions here.
Explaining her support for the NUJ's stance, Ms Hardyment described Israel as "a wonderful Nazi-like killing machine backed by the world'srichest Jews".
Then, like some lunatic from the far-Right, she referred to the"so-called Holocaust" before concluding: "Shame on all Jews, may your lives be cursed."
Such words could have come straight from Hitler or the most fervent supporter of Osama Bin Laden.
But Ms Hardyment is hardly unique.
This sort of seething resentment can be found throughout the Left, whether in demands that Israel be treated as a pariah state or in connivance at anti-Semitic propaganda. Typical of this approach was the opinion of Ulster poet and darling of the BBC Tom Paulin, who once argued that "Jewish settlers in Israel should be shot dead. They are Nazis, racists. I feel nothing but hatred for them."
Yet Paulin would no doubt be outraged if some English extremist utteredthe same sentiments about radical Muslims settling in Britain.
Still, they are going into a counter-attack and that is all to the good.
Uriel Reichman, president of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, said in a speech to IDC graduates during Thursday evening's commencement ceremony that "Academia is based on discourse, argument and the transparent search for truth. A boycott which is identified with opinions whose roots may be religious or a totalitarian world view is therefore inherently incompatible with academia."Other examples have been cited by the Jerusalem Post, both of British and Israeli reaction and a determination to prevent a direct call for boycott being passed. Even Denis McShane, who was a co-panelist of mine this morning in a discussion about the future of Europe, has made a firm pronouncement:
"The British decision is hypocritical," Reichman said. "It disregards the terror acts against our citizens, the ideology that calls for the destruction of Israel and our relative restraint in exercising our own self defense. It speaks solely against Israel and ignores truly appalling human rights abuses in Darfur, Chechnya or the civil war in Iraq. The true purpose and result of the boycott is to upset basic principles of justice and to deprive Israel of its right to argue its position."
The decision by the UCU is completely deplorable and counterproductive. The motion will do nothing to help Palestinian students, who are keen to study in the relative oasis of Israeli universities, and will exacerbate the position of Jewish students in the UK, who already feel harassed, intimidated and uncomfortable on campus.The critics focus on several important issues: academic freedom, the hypocrisy of those who attack Israel, the one democratic country in the Middle East and ignore blatant human rights abuses in other countries, the likely counter-productive effect a boycott of this kind will have on any notions of peace and on the chances of Palestinian students who are actually studying in Israel and, above all, on the picture British academia presents of itself to the rest of the world.
In a way, this is the most shameful part of the whole continuous campaign. It is unlikely that they will succeed in calling for a boycott and even less likely that they will be able to impose it. But, let us all remember, these are the representatives of British academia. They are university lecturers. Think of it the next time you hear the words “our universities are world-class”. One’s rather inelegant response to that is “yeah, right”.