By Shlomo Sand
The Israeli academic world has been seething over the past week, and the university email network nearly collapsed from the force of the anger. Furious professors stalked the corridors of the temples of higher knowledge. At intellectual cocktail parties and dinners there was ceaseless indignation: How had the respectable British Association of University Teachers dared to boycott two of Israel's universities? And we had thought, naively, that only the French were flagrant anti-Semites. Indeed the Dreyfus case is dwarfed by a cruel anti-Jewish act of this sort. What will become of the sabbaticals that have been planned? What will become of the invitations to Cambridge and Oxford and the generous hospitality that goes along with them?
I have always been opposed to boycotts in the world of culture and the intellect and not only because such an act could affect me as well. In principle, I think that such boycotts do not contribute to the moral-political struggle against the continuing Israeli occupation, and that they are dangerous because they can also harm the "innocent."
Moreover, if the British academic world in its entirety courageously opposed the war in Iraq, I have not yet heard about this; and perhaps I'm wrong, but I believe that there have been no domestic British efforts to boycott any faculties, departments or research institutes that are cooperating with the British Defense Ministry.
They have also not yet boycotted American universities that gave and are giving scientific and logistical aid to the occupying United States army. Therefore the British lecturers, who just as I do think that Israel should leave the territories just as the Syrian army has pulled out of Lebanon, should think twice before imposing a selective and unintelligent boycott.
However, parallel to this unambiguous criticism, it is necessary to stress that the government of Israel's upgrading of the College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel into a university might encourage a spread of the boycott to other European countries. Ariel's university must be considered an illegal outpost, because it is located in occupied territory that has not been annexed to Israel. The people who live in the area, who are not Jewish, have no civil rights and no elementary political rights, and they have not been asked whether they want a Jewish college in their environs.
The fact that an Israeli university like Bar-Ilan is giving sponsorship to this college is a mark of shame on the Israeli academic world. Any other cooperation, open or sub rosa, by Israel's universities with this college is illegitimate, and sabotages the status of Israeli academia in the world.
To silence the British, the lecturers' organizations in Israel as well as the heads of the universities must make every possible effort to prevent the Council for Higher Education from upgrading the status of the College of Judea and Samaria, until such time as it is relocated inside the territory of the State of Israel.
Furthermore, parallel to the disengagement by the state of Israel from the Gaza Strip, Israel's academics must begin to implement in practice not only the disengagement from the College of Judea and Samaria, but also from any cooperation, direct or indirect, with the continuation of Jewish settlement and occupation in the territories. In this way, Israeli academia can become the vanguard in the shaping of a new policy that will change the parade of evil in which we have been trudging for the past 38 years. This will also be an appropriate answer to the unjust boycott policy of the British AUT.
The writer is a lecturer in the history department at Tel Aviv University.
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