This weekend, as expected, and despite an international petition drive launched by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Britain’s National Association of Teachers in Higher and Further Education (NATHFE) voted to boycott Israeli academics. Theirs is a kinder, gentler boycott, because it exempts those Israeli academics who, McCarthy style, are willing to publicly disavow their government’s (nonexistent) “apartheid” policies. This is the third time since 2002 that British academics have gone on record to censure and isolate Israeli academics.
The British have a marred history in their relations with the Jews. They murdered and expelled them from their island in the 13th century, and they refused to allow ships filled with Jews in flight from Hitler to land in British “Palestine” in the 20th century.
Although Britain once colonized the entire Arab world, British poets and adventurers romanticized Arab men as nobly and sexily savage. British diplomats and businessmen overlooked Arab barbarism for the sake of oil. Politically correct British intellectuals romanticized Arabs in another way, as the “victims” of European colonialism–for which they blamed, you guessed it, the Jews and the Jewish state. Sometimes, such Stalinized and Palestinianized British thinkers managed to note that Arabs were ruled by cruel despots who impoverished and terrorized their own people–but they blamed it on the American CIA.
In 2000, the Arab League, Iran, and the Palestinians unleashed a savage and lethal intifada against Israeli civilians, 80 percent of whom are Jews whose parents and grand-parents survived pogroms, the Holocaust, mass expulsion from Arab lands and at least five or six wars of self-defense in Israel. From the fall of 2000 until the late spring of 2003, Israelis experienced something akin to 9/11 almost every month, sometimes every other week. This is why they built the security fence, called by some the “apartheid wall.” Allegedly civilized “chatterers” characterized Israelis under siege as “worse than Nazis” whose “genocidal policies” justified the rash of Palestinian serial suicide killings. Such academics did not condemn the exterminationist Islamist propaganda which turned countless adolescents into brainwashed, brutal killers.
British academics responded to the military, terrorist, and propaganda war against the Jews by launching divestment and boycott campaigns against Israel in general and against Israeli academics in particular. Thus, in 2002, 123 British academics published an Open Letter in the London Guardian calling for a “moratorium” on all cultural and research links with Israel. In 2004-2005, the British Association of University Teachers (AUT)–which has never moved to boycott academics from countries such as China, Iran, or Sudan–voted to boycott two Israeli universities for their alleged complicity in their government’s military policies. After a tremendous struggle, that vote was overturned.
Similar divestment and boycott campaigns against Israel–and only against Israel–were launched elsewhere. Ford Foundation-funded organizations took part in conferences that demonized Israel and America from the Palestinian point of view. In 2005, the Association of American University Professors (AAUP) found that “the Zionist lobby” exerted a “pernicious” influence against Arabs and Muslims on American campuses. Early in 2006, two professors, Harvard’s Stephen Walt and the University of Chicago’s Charles Mearsheimer heartily agreed. Their shoddy position paper was comprehensively and effectively critiqued, which, in the view of their supporters, proved that the “Zionist lobby” really does rule the world.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science, a group founded in 1848 which publishes Science magazine, condemned the NATHFE boycott as did British and Scottish church groups. A group of British scholars, through an organization called Engage, gathered 600 British academic signatures against the boycott. Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, together with the Israeli-based International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom, gathered more than 5,000 signatures from academics on every continent who teach at more than 250 universities. Some knights of the British realm, and many who teach at Cambridge, Oxford, and at 28 other British universities, also signed. Interestingly, many signers are professors of physics, medicine, math, and computer science, who, unlike professors of social science and the humanities, are not politicized. They take their disciplines seriously and obviously respect the work of Israeli scientists who often lead the field.
A “silent” boycott has already begun in which some British academics have refused to write for Israeli journals and refused to publish or review the work of Israeli academics and creative artists in British journals. In my view, those who do so have effectively cut themselves off from the international community of scholars. According to the president of SPME, Ed Beck, “this boycott offends tolerant and fair-minded people from across the political spectrum.”
The NATHFE boycott motion passed by a vote of 106 to 71 with 21 abstentions. This is a very small number, and it may be that they speak for a minority of obsessively like-minded academics. In addition, next week, NATHFE will dissolve and merge with another British union (AUT). At that point, this boycott may no longer legally “count.”
It counts as a propaganda victory for intolerance nonetheless. And it appeases Islamism and bring Europe one step closer to becoming Eurabia–which endangers both America and Israel.
—Phyllis Chesler is an emerita professor of psychology and women’s studies and the author of 13 books including The Death of Feminism , Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman and The New Anti-Semitism. Her forthcoming book is titled The Islamization of America. She is on the board of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. She may be reached through her website www.phyllis-chesler.com.