Monday, April 25, 2005

The AUT Boycott

On Friday, the Association of University Teachers, which represents English university professors, voted to boycott Haifa and Bar Ilan Universities in Israel. For background on what led to the boycott, see Stephen Howe's article at Opendemocracy. I won't make all of the anti-boycott arguments here; they've been made in many other places.

The AUT made no statement about incidents of antisemitism Jewish students have faced on British college campuses. The leader of the boycott is one Sue Blackwell, a Christian fundamentalist turned socialist revolutionary. (To me, this suggests that she is at best unbalanced, but then again, one could say that she went from one kind of irrational hatred to another.) Few seem to have picked up that Ms. Blackwell has called Israel an "illegitimate state", which makes clear that her aim has nothing to do with the occupation, and everything to do with using the academy to further an political interest which favors the negation of Jewish self-determination.

It is bad news when any body votes for anything like this. The good news is that in reality, it will mean nothing because it is most likely against British law. The other good news is that most of the opinionmakers in Britain appear to oppose a boycott, including The Times and even The Guardian. There are also the beginnings of a huge backlash within the AUT itself; several lecturers have resigned in protest. The motion did not pass with an overwhelming majority; the vote was barely over half in favor, and the decision-making process, which allowed for no debate on the issue has been noted by many.

What should the strategy be from here on out?

1. This motion did not pass by much. It failed by almost two-to-one in 2003 when it last brought up. The reason given at that time by the Union's Assistant Secretary General was: “We do not support and will actively oppose any attempt to deny students the right [of equal access to higher education] purely on the basis of their opinions or beliefs.” Therefore, the first matter of business should be to explore reversing the motion. The AUT, resignations or no resignations, is not going to go away.

2. The Jewish defense organizations and any others opposed to the boycott should ensure that any academic who tries to implement this boycott faces academic sanctions, and if necessary, criminal and/or civil penalty. When Oxford professor Andrew Wilkie refused to work with an Israeli graduate student, the university suspended him for two months without pay. These punishments may very well be meted out to academics who do similar things; the organization representing British university administrators has come out against the AUT resolution and such boycotts are almost certainly against the rules of most British universities. It is likely for this reason that the AUT has instructed its members not to act on this resolution until given further instruction. Therefore, our defense organizations in Britain should write to the AUT and inform them of their intention to pursue whatever sanctions are available against any professor who refuses to work with an Israeli colleague on the basis of that colleague's nationality.

What other strategies should be explored?


At 9:30 AM, Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Bribes, kickbacks, and the nuclear option.

At 9:38 AM, Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

The serious answer:

I really do hope that the boycott will get overturned. That kind of stuff is so outdated, as are the reality-detached academics who back it. Having said that, I think you should expect some trouble before a satisfactory conclusion is reached. Those idiots aren't going down easily.

At 11:44 AM, Blogger Woland said...

As I believe, the new Anti Israely thing is a cover for being an antisemite. New name, but same old song.


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