Thursday, May 11, 2006

Academic Freedom Alert - Oppose the Blacklisting of Israeli Academics

You may recall that about a year ago the Association of University Teachers (AUT) in Britain voted to institute a blacklist of academics from two Israeli universities, Haifa and Bar-Ilan, with an exemption for those who expressed approved political views. (This was misleadingly described as a "boycott," but the accurate term for or this practice is an academic blacklist.) These measures were intended as a first step toward a comprehensive blacklist of Israeli academics.

The AUT blacklist was publicly condemned by several major academic and scholarly associations as a violation of the basic principles of academic freedom and open intellectual exchange. These included the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the American Political Science Association (APSA), the New York Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. A petition I circulated to Oppose the Blacklist of Israeli Academics was signed by over 5,000 people from around the world, including a large number of prominent scholars. After several weeks of further debate, the blacklist was repealed by the AUT membership.

Now this stupid and pernicious idea is being resurrected by members of the other major British academic union, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE). A blacklist proposal has been introduced to be considered at NATFHE's national conference on May 27-29. In this case, the blacklist would apply to all Israeli academics, but would be applied in a more underhanded and unaccountable manner. The proposal itself is framed in coded and disingenuous language, but the intent is to endorse a blacklist without exposing NATFHE to possible legal action:
Conference notes continuing Israeli apartheid policies, including construction of the exclusion wall, and discriminatory educational practices. It recalls its motion of solidarity last year for the AUT resolution to exercise moral and professional responsibility.

Conference instructs the NEC to facilitate meetings in each university and college, and to circulate information to Branches, offering to fund the speakers' travel costs.

Conference invites members to consider their own responsibility for ensuring equity and non-discrimination in contacts with Israeli educational institutions or individuals and to consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies.
For further information, see Academic blacklist season again? and this piece by Jon Pike.

A PETITION to oppose this new blacklist proposal is being circulated by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME). It is described below. If you are an academic, a graduate student, or a scholar of any other kind, please sign it.

Yours for academic freedom,
Jeff Weintraub

From the weblog of Norman Geras (Normblog)
May 11, 2006

Oppose the blacklisting of Israeli academics

There's an appeal here from Scholars WorldWide to members of NATFHE:

We, the undersigned faculty members from around the world, urge the Members and Board of the British National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education to oppose any resolution coming to the floor for a vote and/or defeat all resolutions that should be voted upon that would boycott scholars and faculty from Israeli academic institutions at the annual meeting of NATHFE, May 27-29, 2006[.]

Academic boycott actions are antithetical not only to the principles of academic freedom, but also to the quest for peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Academics often have the knowledge and skills specifically needed for conflict resolution, and can work with colleagues and policy makers from opposing sides on developing equitable solutions to complex problems. Boycotting would deprive the world of the potential contributions of Israeli scholars in these and other humanitarian efforts and would confer no benefit to the Palestinian people.

Those who perpetuate and participate in such boycotts are separating themselves from the academic community as opposed to bringing it together to work for peace and support academic freedom.

We urge our colleagues in the United Kingdom to withdraw or defeat these resolutions and we pledge ourselves to encourage our colleagues from around the world to oppose this boycott action.

Please consider signing this petition if you're eligible to do so. A US colleague also writes to suggest that those who have affiliations with Israeli universities should, as a protest against all boycott efforts, make sure to include these affiliations in their email addresses. (Thanks: HG.)