Monday, May 28, 2007

On the academic boycott of Israel

By Virginia Tilley
(Virginia Tilley is a US citizen now working as a senior researcher at the Human Sciences Research Council in Pretoria. She is the author of 'The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock.')

"Academics don't like academic boycotts. In fact, we detest external limits of any kind. We treasure our own universities for offering precious sanctuary for critical debate (even though they rarely do) and we don't like to see any of them banned, even for ostensibly laudable reasons. Sure, universities in some countries are little more than fig leaves for their regimes. But that's not usually their fault. So we avoid the lectures of state hacks rather than denounce them and we protect the universities so that they can nurture that rare point of light.

Still, in very exceptional cases, an academic boycott comes onto our agenda. This happens when a country's universities are recognized as central players in legitimizing a regime that systematically inflicts massive human rights abuses on its own people and any pretence that the universities are independent fortresses of principled intellectual thought becomes too insulting to the human conscience. But since universities in many oppressive regimes fit those criteria, in practice a second condition is required: their faculties have the freedom to act differently......

Because they are in denial about the horrors of the occupation itself, Israeli academics protesting the boycott may not grasp its real purpose, which is to force them to confront those horrors. It is not acceptable for them to insist on ivory-tower privileges with so terrible a human rights catastrophe as the occupation stark on their doorstep, perpetrated by their own government and involving their own institutions in its cruelties and deceptions. When Dr. Schlesinger protests that being treated according to her nationality rather than her individual character 'was a blow,' she misses the entire point. To claim a right to principled treatment, one must extend it to others. Israeli academics must become serious about according their Palestinian colleagues the dignity and respect they expect themselves. When they do, given their formidable talents and resources, the occupation will face its toughest opponents."

No comments: