Monday, May 02, 2005

The APSA should condemn the AUT blacklist

An open letter to Prof. Ira Katnelson, President-Elect of the American Political Science Association.  I sent a similar letter to Prof. Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, President-Elect of the American Sociological Association. —Jeff Weintraub

[Update:  The APSA did indeed condemn the AUT blacklist, along with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the American Psychological Association (APA), and a number of other academic associations, universities, and other groups and individuals on both sides of the Atlantic.  I am sorry to say that the American Sociological Association failed to do so, but in 2007 it tardily redeemed itself by condemning a renewed blacklist proposal that had been endorsed by the national council of the AUT's successor organization, the Universities and College Union (UCU).  Better late than never.]

To: Prof. Ira Katznelson
President-Elect, American Political Science Association
From: Jeff Weintraub, APSA member
Re: The blacklist of Israeli academics approved by the Association of University Teachers in Britain

Dear Prof. Katznelson,

I'm sure you're aware of the recent vote by the Association of University Teachers in Britain to institute a blacklist of Israeli academics (beginning with those from Haifa University and Bar-Ilan University, but with the agenda of working toward a comprehensive blacklist of Israeli academia).

This push to blacklist Israeli academics is a re-run of a previous blacklist initiative in 2002 that (rather disgracefully) had some practical impact but failed to get official AUT approval. This time around, the sponsors have made some tactical adjustments, though the ultimate goal remains the same. The same AUT meeting that voted, as a first step, to blacklist Israeli academics from certain specific universities also voted to "circulate to all local associations" a proposal for a total blacklist of Israeli academics. If this proposal is not met with outrage and overwhelming repudiation, then the notion of punishing academics for the policies of their governments may come to seem acceptable—which would be unfortunate for all of us.

I believe that scholarly and academic associations like the APSA should strongly and immediately condemn and repudiate this action--without getting into political debates for or against Israeli policies, anti-semitism & anti-Zionism, or other related issues, but strictly on the grounds that this action constitutes a blatant assault on basic foundations and principles of academic freedom.

=> Of course, there are many reasons why this blacklist is morally, politically, and intellectually indefensible. But one of its most striking features is that it is a stunning example of what Julien Benda once called "the treason of the intellectuals"—that is, assaults by intellectuals (or, in this case, academics) on their own fundamental interests and vocation. It should not be hard for academics to grasp that blacklisting other academics because of their nationality and/or their affiliations attacks a key foundation of academic freedom. And if academics make it clear that they don't take the principle of academic freedom seriously, then why should anyone else take it seriously?

In fact, with respect to the principle of academic freedom, the current proposal for a blacklist of Israeli academics is actually worse than the previous one. According to the earlier proposal, an Israeli biologist would be blacklisted simply for being Israeli. According to the current proposal, an Israeli biologist would be blacklisted unless he or she explicitly condemns Israeli policies (in an acceptably strong manner)—that is, it imposes an explicit political test.

The implications of this blacklist thus constitute an attack on core principles of academic freedom everywhere, not just in western Europe (and not just for Israelis). Therefore, people who have any concern with maintaining academic freedom (even if they do happen to be hostile to Israel) should strongly and immediately condemn this travesty.

=> A statement of this sort was just issued by the New York Academy of Sciences (below). I believe this is an example that should immediately be followed by other academic and scholarly organizations in Europe and North America, if only because (whatever one thinks about Israel or the Arab-Israeli conflict) fundamental questions of academic freedom are at stake.

In particular, I would urge the APSA to issue a strong an unequivocal statement condemning the AUT blacklist and the principles behind it. I hope this will be possible.


Jeff Weintraub
Visiting Lecturer
University of Pennsylvania

cc: Prof. Lisa Anderson, Council
Prof. Rogers Smith, Council
Prof. David Vogel, Council


Thu Apr 28 10:08:05 2005 Pacific Time

New York Academy of Sciences Issues Statement on Boycott of Israeli Universities by British Group

NEW YORK, April 28 (AScribe Newswire) -- The Committee on Human Rights of Scientists of the New York Academy of Sciences has released the text of a letter to the Association of University Teachers (AUT) of the United Kingdom calling upon the organization to "rescind and withdraw its call for a boycott of Israeli universities, passed by AUT delegates on April 20, 2005."
The letter, from Joseph Birman, the chair of the Academy's committee, notes that the call for boycott "contradicts the most basic tenets of academic life which have been repeatedly reaffirmed by international bodies, including those to which the United Kingdom adheres." The letter is addressed to Angela Roger, president of AUT, and Sally Hunt, the association's general secretary.
The full text of the Academy letter follows.
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April 26, 2005
Dear President Roger:
The Committee on Human Rights of Scientists of the New York Academy of Sciences urgently calls upon the Association of University Teachers (AUT) of the United Kingdom to rescind and withdraw its call for a boycott of Israeli universities, passed by the delegates on 20 April 2005. This call for boycott contradicts the most basic tenets of academic life which have been repeatedly reaffirmed by international bodies including those to which the United Kingdom adheres.

The International Council for Science (ICSU) of the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) has promulgated protocols on the Free Circulation of scientists and other academics, and cooperation amongst academics, which have been ratified by all UN members (including the UK), and go back to the 1930s and the League of Nations. The very integrity of academic life and the possibility of progress depend on free, open, and voluntary cooperation between academics in different nations.

We call attention to the "Commentary" in Nature (vol. 421, 23 January 2003) by four prominent UK academics: Colin Blakemore, Richard Dawkins, Denis Noble and Michael Yudkin entitled "Is a scientific boycott ever justified?" This commentary reaffirmed the importance of the UNESCO-ICSU protocols in the most emphatic manner. It points out, that short of preventing (sic) a nuclear war, even extreme circumstances do not support boycotts. Also relevant is a statement by ICSU Chairman James C. I. Dooge and Executive Director Peter Schindler writing in 2002 on "Israeli Scholars." They "urge all scholarly communities and not least those in science and technology" to heed the words of the London Evening Standard of 10 July 2002: "Intellectual communities world-wide are in the business of fostering international understanding and co-operation, not of penalizing each other for the shortcomings of their governments." And on August 27, 2002, in response to earlier boycott proposals, the Council of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), among other learned bodies, issued a "Statement on the Critical Importance of Continuing International Cooperation in Science," a title which speaks for itself.

Cooperation between nations in the Middle East already exists in the functioning SESAME project (opened in Amman Jordan in the last year) which brings scientists from the region together, including Jordanian, Palestinian, Israeli, Egyptian and others from Arab countries. Another example of international cooperation in the Middle East has been the conference on "Frontiers of Chemical Sciences: Research and Education in the Middle East" held in Malta in December 2003. It brought together scientists from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Arab countries representing all areas of the Middle East. Six Nobel Laureates served as leaders on a subject of common interest. Scholarships for any interested Arab students were offered by the President of Technion and a joint Israeli-Palestinian proposal on water purification was written and submitted to USAID-MERC. Other common projects on desalination, health care, and many other regional issues involving Israeli-Palestinian cooperation are ongoing at universities, hospitals and institutes in Israel and elsewhere.

The ill-advised AUT boycott resolution would damage or destroy all these activities. The AUT resolution, by selecting individuals and universities for boycott, is a very clear reminder of "McCarthy-like" tactics of accusation which were the shame of the United States some 40-50 years ago. We remind those members of the AUT who voted for boycott that this year--2005-- has been declared by the United Nations the year to celebrate the centennial of the extraordinary contributions that Albert Einstein made to physics, science and international cooperation. We call upon the AUT to take immediate steps to rescind their regressive vote and join forward-looking academics the world over in voting for cooperation and not boycott.

The New York Academy of Sciences is an organization of more than 23,000 members worldwide, building communities and advancing science since 1817.

Joseph L. Birman
Chairman, Committee on Human Rights of Scientists
New York Academy of Sciences
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Contact: Fred Moreno, NYAS Communications, 212.838.0230 x230,
The Academy's Committee on Human Rights was created in 1978 to support and promote the human rights of scientists, health professionals, engineers, and educators around the world.
The New York Academy of Sciences, founded in 1817, is a worldwide, nonprofit membership organization committed to building communities and advancing science.
Media Contact: Fred Moreno, 212.838.0230 x230,