A New Unofficial Boycott Against Israeli Academics May Be Underway

Academic told participation in conference conditioned on her denouncing the occupation.

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Protesters hold a banner that reads 'Boycott Israel' during a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Paris on August 2, 2014.
Protesters hold a banner that reads 'Boycott Israel' during a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Paris on August 2, 2014.Credit: AFP
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Several recent cases of Israeli academics being singled out for discriminatory treatment by colleagues overseas have sparked concerns among university leaders in the country.

In one case, an attempt was made to ban a professor from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev from a conference held in South Africa unless she delivered a statement there denouncing the Israeli occupation.

The conference, organized by the International Society of Critical Health Psychology, was held in mid-July at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. The ultimatum, drafted by a senior academic at the hosting university, was ultimately rejected by the academic association. Nonetheless, the Israeli academic, who had been targeted and said she would have refused to comply had it been approved, did not end up attending the conference after being warned that her participation might touch off anti-Israel protests on campus. The Israeli academic requested that her name not be published.

The professor from Rhodes who initiated action against her withdrew from the conference as well, after his proposal was blocked.

Zvi Ziegler, a retired Technion mathematics professor who heads a new inter-university forum to combat the academic boycott, said he could not recall any other case of Israeli professors being threatened with such an ultimatum.

“It is very similar, though, to the recent incident we had with Matisyahu, who was initially told he could only participate in a music festival if he would denounce the occupation,” said Ziegler.

In another incident, a request by two Israeli scientists to obtain a sample of an antiserum referred to in an academic paper was rejected by its author, a professor of biology at the University of Bordeaux in France, because of their nationality. In his response to their request, he wrote: “As long as I see no serious effort made by your home country to achieve peace with those who lived in Palestine before the present population arrived I will not send you any antisera.”

In wake of the incident, the president of the Israeli university where the two researchers are employed sent a protest letter to his counterpart at the University of Bordeaux.

“We received a reply from him that a special disciplinary committee has been set up to investigate the matter,” reported Ziegler. “We have also approached the editors of the journal in which his article was published because his behavior appears to be a blatant violation of accepted academic norms.”

In a third case, an Israeli professor was recently informed that he had been disinvited from participating in an international research effort based at Florida International University because one of the team members was a Lebanese academic who could face penalties in her country if it were discovered that she was collaborating with an Israeli scholar.

“This case is reminiscent of the old-style Arab boycott of years ago,” Ziegler said. “We believe this could even be a violation of American law and have therefore involved the Anti-Defamation League in this particular case.”

These cases are the latest signs of what university leaders have described as the “latent” or unofficial boycott of Israeli academics by their peers abroad. Other signs, previously reported, include turning down invitations to attend conferences held in Israel, ignoring requests to write recommendation letters for Israeli scholars seeking promotions, and rejecting submissions from Israeli scholars in peer-reviewed journals. In such cases, however, typically no reason is provided for the action, and it is, therefore, difficult to prove that Israeli nationality or affiliation was the cause.

Despite these recent cases, Ziegler said it was still premature to talk of an escalation in the unofficial boycott.

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