Why The Boycott Is So Offensive

News Abroad

Ms. Klinghoffer is senior associate scholar at the Political Science department at Rutgers University, Camden, and the author of Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East. She is also an HNN blogger. Click here for her blog.

Direct Textbooks Textbook resource center

"In every generation someone rises up against us to destroy us . . . .” That is the truism we Jews remind ourselves of every Passover. This year as the world commemorates 60 years since the defeat of Nazism, the British Association of University Teachers (AUT) made sure we hear that message loud and clear by scheduling a meeting calling for a boycott of Israeli academicians on Passover eve. The timing was but one aspect of a carefully laid victory plan: Others included limiting the immediate boycott to two universities and insisting on a vote immediately following the presentation of the prosecution’s case. The motion passed by a narrow margin. But the boycotters could not celebrate long for the backlash was quick to come. The opponents began to fight back and aided by the innate sense of fairness of their sympathetic colleagues, most importantly, British academics. Those surprised by the ferocity of the opposition to the AUC boycott resolution may have forgotten or wished to forget the past.

Ironically, the UN declared 2005 as the international year of Physics timed to coincide with the centennial of Albert Einstein’s publication of three of his seminal articles including the one on special relativity. In a speech opening the Einstein year, German Prime Minister Gerhard Schroeder said that Einstein “revolutionized science and changed the world through his thinking. He has become a cult figure for the youth of the world through his moral incorruptibility. And to the end, Einstein who again and again set himself against the most evil anti-Semitic hatemongering fought against the strengthening of the Nazis and for the defense of democracy." He was referring to the fact that following years of increasing anti-Semitism and anti-democratic agitation on German campuses, the Nazis came to power. On the night of February 27, 1933, saboteurs set fire to the Reichstag. Hitler blamed the arson on a Jewish-Communist plot. On April 7th thousands of Jewish academics lost their positions in German universities. Einstein was among the evicted.

William Beveridge, director of the London School of Economics and "father" of the National Health Service (NHS), and Lionel Robbins (later Lord Robbins) immediately sprung into action. They convinced their staff to pledge a part of their salaries, rallied influential people, got the Times of London to publish a letter signed by 42 distinguished scholars in which they announced the establishment of an Academic Assistance Council with Lord Rutherford as chairman and the neurophysiologist A. V. Hill as secretary. They were joined by the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German/Foreign Scholars in New York, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Emergency Aid Group of German Scientists Abroad. Turkey actively recruited Jewish academicians to modernize its education system. All in all, personally painful as it was, the "biggest intellectual exodus" in modern history was remarkably successful. On October 3, 1933 Albert Einstein stood in front of a packed audience in the Albert Hall and thanked the Academic Assistance Council for its important work on behalf of “humanity and science.” Little did the Zionist physician know that there is going to be an “Einstein year” or that it would be during that year that academics working in two Israeli Universities would be boycotted by their British colleagues and a third, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem he helped found would be threatened with a similar boycott.

One thing is clear, the memory of the past only makes this generation of academics all the more determined to fight back before matters get even worse. After all, last year the British House of Commons considered allegations of growing anti-Semitism on campuses serious enough to establish a select committee to investigate it. Singling out Israeli Universities for boycott can only make matters worse. Be that as it may, within days, John Pike, an Open University professor and AUT member set out to overturn the decision. Within weeks he had the necessary 25 signatures needed according to AUT rules to reconsider the matter. The Union set the date for May 26. This time the debate will be thorough and both sides will have an opportunity to be heard. Already, representatives of the AUT branches at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Warwick announced that they will object to the boycott in the AUT's special council meeting. Online petitions asking to overturn the boycott are garnering thousands of signatures. Nor is there a dearth of opinion pieces or editorials analyzing the various aspects of the boycott.

In the United States, The American Association of University Professors joined in condemning these resolutions and in calling for their repeal in the name of academic freedom and the value of a free exchange of ideas. It also recommended to its members that they take action and notify the AUT of their opposition in writing. The Committee on Human Rights of Scientists of the New York Academy of Sciences points out that such a boycott is contrary to the letter and the spirit of international covenants: “The International Council for Science (ISCU) and the United Nations International and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) have promulgated protocols on the Free Circulation of scientists and other academics, and cooperation amongst academics, which have been ratified by all UN members (including the UK), and go back to the 1930s and the League of Nations.” Democratic Representative Henry Waxman has demanded that schools and professors who abide by the boycott be made ineligible for U.S. grants and exchanges. "This boycott is the worst form of censorship," Waxman wrote Thursday to Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice. "It is a blatant assault on academic freedom that goes against everything the United States stands for." The Simon Wiesenthal Foundation has already started a campaign to Boycott the Boycotters.

“Boycott Me too” is not a sentiment limited to Oxford University Middle East expert, Emanuele Ottolenghi alone. The professor who focuses on the Stalinist nature of the boycott wrote AUT secretary that “in solidarity with my colleagues and as a symbolic gesture to defend the spirit of a free academia, I wish to be added to the boycott blacklist. Please include me. I hope that other colleagues of all political persuasions will join me.” Bar Ilan University established an International Affiliates Board whose purpose is to express such solidarity with the University. As of Saturday night it had 251 members from around the world including yours truly.

Haifa University sent a letter informing the union that it is prepared to sue for defamation if the boycott is not overturned on May 26. "The resolution received the most perfunctory debate, it was held at a time that made it impossible for most Jews to attend, requests for the rescheduling of the debate were refused, and no delegates were allowed to speak against the resolution," the letter stated. Both Universities maintain special websites (here and here) where one can learn more about the boycott.

Even one Palestinian University, Al-Quds University, has come out against the boycott. "We are informed by the principal that we should seek to win Israelis over to our side, not to win against them," said the spokesman for the university, which is headed by Dr. Sari Nusseibeh. "Therefore... we believe it is in our interest to build bridges, not walls; to reach out to the Israeli academic institutions, not to impose another restriction or dialogue-block on ourselves," the spokesman concluded.

This does not mean that the battle is over. In fact, it has only just begun. The British University and College Lecturers' Union (NATFHE), at the meeting of its Coordinating Committee on 30th April, declared its support for the AUT in its recent decision on the academic boycott. NATFHE is a large trade union and professional association for lecturers, trainers, researchers and managers working in post-secondary and higher education throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland. If they decide to join the boycott it would widen it considerably to the detriment of all sides. Do many in Britain really wish to see an exodus of Jewish students and professors from the country?

Finally, on a personal note, I grew up in Haifa. I have friends and family living there. It is a city where Jews and Arabs have mixed freely for decades. My brother in law’s surgeon is a Palestinian as is my mother’s lawyer. They are not unique. Up to a quarter of the students at the University are Israeli Palestinians. When suicide bombers came to blow up Haifa residents, they murdered both Arabs and Jews. In the city’s emergency rooms their blood and tears mixed seamlessly. The city has a unique Jewish Arab cultural center called Beit Hagefen. Sarah El-Shazly, who is kind enough take over my blog when I travel, grew up in Haifa and used to participate in the Center’s theatrical programs. In an article entitled “What Really Happened in 1948,” she describes Jews in cars with megaphones urging their Arab neighbors to stay in their homes. In other words, if peace finally comes, the rest of the Middle East will have to become more like Haifa and its universities more like Haifa University. Bar Ilan University is also unique. It is a place where religion and the social and natural sciences mix freely. If the Middle East is to make peace with modernity, its Universities will have to become more like Bar Ilan. To boycott these two institutions is to place ideology above reason.

Related Links

  • Juan Cole: Against the Boycott
  • Statement from Bar-Illam University
  • Statement from the University of Haifa
  • Petition to Oppose the Blacklist of Israeli Academics

  • comments powered by Disqus

    More Comments:

    Amin Ali Golmohamad - 5/28/2005

    There is a marked difference between the application of Zionism and true nationalism.

    If you look at the nationalist movements of Germany and Italy in the 19th century, you will notice that the countries emerged from lands occupied by a similar people. There was no displacement. The people living on their land felt part of a country.

    Comparing this to Zionism, or Jewish Nationalism as you put it, their application was to being fellow Jews from various locations round the world and settle somewhere they had never been before; that was already populated another race and culture, and declare it as their nation.

    Judith Apter Klinghoffer - 5/23/2005

    You are right of course about Einstein's profession. Sorry about the typo. Einstein WAS a Zionist. Do see, Michael Walzer on Einstein and Zionism. I have just attended his talk on the subject at the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton. Indeed, Einstein was a very active Zionist. He not only signed petitions but raised money for UJF.

    Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/21/2005

    I agree completely with Mr. Freidman, those who hide under the banner of anti-Zionism tend to fall into one of two categories:

    - anti-Semites who make the same inflammatory charges as the Nazis and before, and simply substitute the conspiratorial, world-dominating, racist Jew, with the conspiratorial, world-dominating, racist Zionist, OR

    - Those people really aren’t anti-Zionist at all. They simply think that they are because they don’t understand what Zionism is and the history of the region.

    To those who fall into the second group, I can tell you what Zionism is NOT:
    Zionism is NOT this policy or that policy. It is not Arial Sharon, or Ehud Barak. Zionism is not the West Bank or Gaza and it is not the occupation. These things are political decisions made from a secular political government. They may be right or wrong, intelligent or foolish, etc.

    Zionism as I understand it is really quite simple: Jewish nationalism; the idea that the Jews are entitled to a national homeland of their own, just as surely as other peoples of the earth. Anyone is free to disagree with this simplistic definition, but almost everything beyond that is NOT Zionism, per se, but merely the political decisions of individual Zionists.

    Many in the first group (anti-Semites) tend to make the most outrageous and derogatory charges against Israel and even against Jews, and then falsely accuse others of labeling anything that is against Israel anti-Semitism. There is nothing either anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist about disagreeing with Israel policy. Anyone who knows about my positions on domestic issues knows that I am a frequent opponent of the decisions of this administration, and yet I consider myself patriotic and proud of my country and its contributions to the world.

    No, the real anti-Semites are exactly as Mr. Freidman described them: “those who hold Jews to standards which they hold no one else.”

    In theory, one can be an anti-Zionist and NOT be an anti-Semite (although I have never heard of such a person). Such an anti-Zionist would have to oppose the existence of nations, and strive for a unified world of no races, colors, or creeds. This anti-Zionist would be against ANY nationalist movement, including the desire for a Palestinian state, an Islamic state, or any other form of nationalism out there.

    N. Friedman - 5/20/2005


    People can do anything with words. Change the context a bit: those who commit awful crimes for their country hide behind morality and patriotism. Nearly all who claim to be anti-Zionist are antisemites and, often, those who protest the most in response, when questioned on their views regarding Jews, are often the most vehemently antisemitic.

    I note: those who hold Jews to standards which they hold no one else to are antisemites. Anti-Zionism, while not automatically antisemitism is, in practice, almost always so.

    Arnold Shcherban - 5/20/2005


    It depends, however, what is specifically meant by anti-Zionism. Your characterization of this phenomenon as racist already contains its definition, representing circular, quite useless logic.
    But I read some articles of definite anti-Zionist nature
    whose authors unambigiously condemn anti-semitism, as well, as any form of racism, while severely criticising many features of Israel's policies.
    What label do we have to put on those, in your knowledgable opinion?

    Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/18/2005

    Thank you for the post and the articles Ami. Very interesting.

    As a side (not that it really matters much) my understanding of Einstein leads me to be believe without certainty that he was, in fact, a Zionist.


    ami Isseroff - 5/18/2005

    Dear friends,
    The boycott IS obnoxious because it singles out Israel, compares Israel to South Africa and is aimed, as Sue Blackwell admits, at the destruction of a member state of the UN, and not just a particular policy of the state of Israel. Anti-Zionism is racist because anti-Zionism asserts that the Jewish people - as opposed to French or Germans or Palestinians or Greeks - are inferior and unworthy of the right of self determination.

    More information and updates about the boycott are at
    AUT Boycott updates at Israel and Zionism on the Web
    John Strawson, who is pro-Palestinian, wrote a superb defense of Zionism and explains exactly why the boycott is wrong. See http://www.zionismontheweb.org/strawsonaut.htm
    John Strawson: Why I am against the AUT Boycott of Israeli Universities
    Some errors - Albert Einstein was not a Physician. He was a physicist. It is not clear that he was a Zionist.

    Ami Isseroff

    N. Friedman - 5/17/2005


    Such a day will not occur in our life times. Jews are the deicide people. That, at the end of the day, is hardwired into large part of Christian and even post-Christian civilization.

    And, in Muslim lands, Jews - as well as Christians, of course - are infidel and, absent agreeing to subjectation under a dhimma (concessionary pact), to be fought by Jihad. Jewish rule, particularly if it involves rule of Muslims, is entirely unacceptable to Muslims.

    Read this article: http://pws.prserv.net/mpjr/mp/sp160202.htm

    Also, read this article:

    The reality is that we are in the midst of a major revival of eliminationist (i.e. Nazi style) antisemitism that is directed at all Jews including most especially Israel.

    Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/17/2005

    Your post is sad in that it is so true. Let us hope that one day Israel can be judged the same as other nations, rather than condemned for every move it makes automatically.

    Nathaniel Brian Bates - 5/17/2005

    The PLO has been intimately connected with the Nazis from the beginning. I believe that this Boycott can only be the latest orchestration of the "Underground Reich" that has infiltrated western and Soviet intelligence agencies since 1945.

    Edward Siegler - 5/17/2005

    Otherwise reasonable people have told me, with a straight face, that Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is just like the Nazi's treatment of the Jews. This belief is surprisingly widespread, while the belief in open communication as expressed by Dr. Nusseibeh is depressingly rare. If you believe that Israel is viciously oppressing the Palestinians out of a religously inspired hatred and that Palestinian terrorism is really self-defence perpetuated by freedom fighters, this Israel-Nazi analogy might seem accurate - at least to someone who is stunningly ignorant of the history of Nazi Germany - and a boycott like the one discussed above might make sense. Similarly, if you accept that Israel's treatment of Palestinians is tantamount to South Africa's apartheid policy you might agree with the boycott as well. The international isolation inflicted on South Africa helped bring about an end to this policy.

    It seems like wishful thinking, but some apparently believe that if Israel would stop fighting against terrorists (who are really freedom fighters anyway) and give the Palestinians what they want without making any demands on them (like requiring that they build a decent government that can reign in the terrorist groups), then the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be solved.

    All of these tortured schools of thought can accomplish little, but still they can count on the support of many adherents. In fact, this Israel-as-Nazi-Germany rhetoric seems like it's become mainstream thoughout much of the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere. This is unfortunate. However it looks as if, in the case of this boycott at least, the Israel-bashers are committing imperial overreach. Obviously they're going too far. Hopefully Dr. Nussebeh's view will prevail.