split on Israel sanctions
May 22, 2002
ACADEMICS are divided to a degree not seen since pro-Arab dons
angered the Hawke government by criticising the Gulf War a decade
ago, and again the issue is the Middle East.
More than 90 university teachers and researchers have joined a
small but growing campaign for Western sanctions to force Israel
to the peace table with the Palestinians.
They have signed a petition begun by two supporters of multiculturalism
one Jewish and one from a Lebanese family who want
to isolate Israel from scientific, cultural and academic contacts
until serious peace efforts begin.
The number of petitioners is so far relatively low more
than 40,000 academics work in Australia but they have already
met resistance. More than 50 academics, led by sociologist Sol Encel
of the University of NSW, have signed a counter-petition.
The minister-counsellor at the Israeli embassy in Canberra, Michael
Ronen, yesterday described the boycott campaign as "ridiculous"
and "anti-democratic", and said its supporters were "not
pro anything not pro-Palestinian, just anti-Israel".
The petition's initiators are John Docker, a Jewish-Australian
author and fellow of the Australian National University's humanities
research centre, and senior lecturer and author Ghassan Hage of
Sydney University's anthropology department, who is a Christian
The pair say they are far from being anti-Israel. Dr Hage said
the petition was "a sensitive issue". "We both have
lots of good friends and even relatives in Israel and many friendships
with Israeli academics," he said.
Dr Docker said they believed a move for Middle East peace could
grow in universities and influence governments, and compared the
campaign to the pressure for sanctions against South Africa over
The petition seeks a ban on joint research programs with Israeli
universities, attending conferences in Israel and disclosing information
to Israeli academics.
A letter from the pro-sanctions academics is published in today's
Higher Education supplement.
Geoffrey Levey, a signatory of the counter-petition and co-ordinator
of the UNSW program in Jewish studies, said a boycott would "violate
academic freedom and arrest scientific, intellectual and cultural
The following is the academic's letter to the editor. I scanned
it in so there is no link.
Boycott just the way to rap Israel
DESPITE widespread international condemnation for its policy of
violent repression against the Palestinian people in the Occupied
Territories, the Israeli Government appears impervious to moral
appeals from world leaders.
It is clear that while the Palestinians are rightly requested to
rein in their extremists, the Israelis have elected their extremists
The slow, dehumanising and relentless colonisation of the West
Bank and Gaza that has been continuing unabated in recent years
has taken a murderous turn of immense proportions. How long are
we, the citizens of a Western democracy, going to accept the silence
of our Government in the face of the rampages of the Israeli army
in the West Bank? How long are we going to look passively at the
Israeli crimes of war perpetrated daily and systematically, not
as something anomalous, but as a matter of national policy?
In the face of our Government's unwillingness or inability to act,
civil society must step in to exert pressure against the continuation
of this anachronistic act of colonisation. In a globalised world,
our passivity as citizens of the world in the face of such inhumanity
will stain all of us.
Academics and intellectuals, as always, can play a role in fostering
the growth of such a non-violent movement within civil society.
It is in this spirit that we call for a boycott of research and
cultural links with Israel.
We urge our colleagues not to attend conferences in Israel; to
pressure our universities to suspend any existing exchange or linkage
arrangements; and to refuse to distribute scholarship and academic
position information. We note that while some academics and intellectuals
in Israel oppose the Government and some also are involved in co-operative
Israeli-Palestinian research projects, the majority have either
supported the Israeli army onslaught on the Palestinians, or failed
to voice any significant protest against it.
The boycott we propose will inevitably also adversely affect those
who don't deserve it, and we regret that this has to happen. We
ask our Israeli colleagues and friends to bear with us in solidarity.
They know as well as we A do that what they will endure because
of these boycotts is minimal compared to what the Palestinian people
and their academics continue to endure. As with boycotts against
apartheid South Africa, urgent international action is now required
to stop the massacres perpetrated against the Palestinian people.