Beyond Images Challenging myths and presenting facts about Israel 
Boycotting Israeli Academics…..
London - published on 14 January 2003
Beyond Images Ref: 30

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BACKGROUND - How the Academic Boycott Came About

In 2002 a group of British academics launched a campaign for a cultural and academic boycott of Israel, in protest at Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.

The campaign has steadily gained support (mainly via the internet) from academics at European universities and research institutions. But it has also triggered opposition from academics who are sympathetic to Israel’s position.

Here are key reasons why the academic boycott is wrong in principle and counter-productive in practice:-

The boycott takes a one-sided view of a complex conflict

  • The supporters of a boycott take a one-sided view of the conflict: Israel is in the wrong. The Palestinians are the wronged party. Israel has to be forced to change by outside pressure.

  • Even strong critics of Israel’s policies would have to admit that Arab rejectionism and terrorism have fuelled the conflict, and that change is required by the Palestinians. A boycott of Israel is a partisan and unbalanced position to take on a complex conflict.

Israel’s academic community is independent of the Israeli government, and very diverse. Don’t isolate them

  • Israel’s universities and other centres of higher learning are strongholds of free expression. They are independent of the Israeli government, and their staff hold all imaginable shades of political opinion (including the extreme left). It is absurd to isolate Israeli academics by a boycott.
An analogy: the UK organiser of the boycott campaign is Professor of biology Steven Rose, of the Open University. How would he feel if his next journal paper on genetics, or his next conference presentation, was “boycotted” by European colleagues on account of the policy of the British Government towards Iraq? He would quite rightly be outraged. That is the equivalent of what he is campaigning for with the Israel boycott.

The boycott abuses academic freedom

  • Academic collaboration and exchange stand above and beyond politics. It is an abuse of academic freedom to promote the boycott. Academic channels should be used to strengthen dialogue and shared understanding, and to confront stereotypes – not to reinforce them.
Israeli academics are at the forefront of many humanitarian projects – these would be stifled by the boycott

  • Israeli researchers are at the forefront of many pathbreaking projects in medicine, food production technology, computing, environmentally-friendly agriculture, public health and alternative energy. Such projects are delivering tangible benefits to some of the world’s most vulnerable people particularly in Africa and Asia, as well as in the Middle East. These projects would be stifled by an academic boycott.

  • How can those who advocate the boycott on humanitarian grounds defend this consequence of their campaign?

The boycott idea pushes Israeli public opinion to the right

  • To almost all Israelis, the boycott is regarded as wrong and unjustified. Such measures help to convince the Israeli public and its politicians that the international community is totally biased against them. This feeling inevitably pushes Israeli political opinion to the right, making it less and less conciliatory towards the Palestinians. Is this the outcome that boycott’s supporters want? The boycott harms Palestinian interests, rather than advancing them.

The proper target for protest should be Arab universities, not Israeli ones

  • Thousands of Israeli Arabs, and students from all over the world, study at Israeli universities, without intimidation or fear. Many Israeli Arabs teach at these institutions.

  • By contrast, no Israelis or Jews study in Arab universities. Many of these universities are hotbeds of hatred and demonisation of Israel, and intolerance towards Jews.

  • If Western academics wish to protest at obstacles to peace, they could start by condemning the racism and fanaticisim found on many Arab university campuses - not by cutting off their Israeli counterparts

Israeli university students and Jews on campus outside Israel on have been physically attacked – what is the response to this?

  • In July 2002, nine Israeli and American students were killed in a terrorist bomb attack on the main cafeteria of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

  • Jewish students in Brussels have received death threats. Jewish students in the UK, Canada, Australia and North America face serious intimidation on various campuses.

  • Academics should be campaigning against such intimidation, not fuelling the extremism by promoting a one-sided view of the underlying conflict.


The world of academia offers opportunities to break down barriers, and to educate towards peace and coexistence. Academia should not be used as a forum for demonising Israel, and for creating obstacles to dialogue.

The position is best summed up by Menahem Magidor, president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (quoted in Jerusalem Report magazine 3 June 2002):

“I was taken by complete surprise [by the boycott proposal]. Our scientific and academic research, the cooperation and free exchange of ideas, is so crucial to all people of the region, Jew and Arab. To punish us like this, to even suggest it – it’s an outrage…”