July 31, 2002
This spring a petition, begun by British Professor Steve Rose of The Open University, called for a European boycott against Israeli cultural, research, and academic institutions to protest the Israeli government’s policies toward the Palestinians. Last month, as one expression of the boycott, Professor Mona Baker, of The University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), and the editor and owner of two academic journals, The Translaterand Translation Studies Abstracts, fired Israeli professors, Miriam Shlesinger and Gideon Toury, from the editorial boards of her journals. These actions are only the most publicized of the anti-Israel boycott. For example, Honest Reporting(July 21, 2002) announced that “French social scientists have refused to conduct a peer review of Israeli counterparts, and Norwegian veterinarians have rejected a request to supply a DNA clone sample to a Jerusalem research institute.”
SAFS condemns these actions as contemptible, political attacks that violate academic freedom, diminish the dignity of the individual, and debase the scholarly process. Academic freedom means the right to engage in free inquiry – to research, teach, and otherwise communicate without regard to prevailing doctrine. To deny academics participation in the normal activities of scholarship, simply because they work in Israel, is to deprive them of their academic freedom.
The boycotters fail to distinguish between the individual and the nation. They refuse to acknowledge the importance of the individual Israeli’s thoughts, feelings, or accomplishments; in short, they declare that the individual is of no account except as a pawn of international conflict.
Excluding Israeli academics and scientists from the scholarly community weakens science and the search for truth. The boycott impedes the progress of scholarship, denies full opportunity to Israeli and Arab students at Israel’s universities, and hinders, and perhaps destroys, dozens of international projects that Israelis are involved in with nationals of many countries, including Palestinian scholars.
The hallmark of science and scholarship is reasoned debate, based on logic and evidence. Political boycotts of scholars are antithetical to truth seeking. It is problematic whether boycotts are effective in achieving even their short-term political goals, but they are certainly destructive to the growth and application of knowledge.
Enough harm has been done. We call on the signers of the anti-Israel boycott to withdraw their support of it, as did Professor Richard Dawkins, and for the reinstatement of Professors Shlesinger and Toury to their editorial boards. It is time to end this disgraceful episode of academic cannibalism.