in war of words over calls to boycott Israel
May 27, 2002
US-based scientist hits out at moves to block
cash for universities
A campaign to suspend European Union funding of Israel's universities,
launched in a letter to the Guardian, has been countered by the
mobilisation of academics denouncing the appeasement of terrorism
and warning against the rise of anti-semitism.
Two of the chief participants are Steven Rose, director of the
Brain and Behaviour Research Group at the Open University, and Leonid
Ryzhik, a mathematics lecturer at Chicago University; both are Jewish.
Professor Rose believes the only way to bring peace to the Middle
East, and stability to a world increasingly polarised along the
lines of pro- and anti-Islam, is to force Israel to halt its "violent
repression" and accept the creation of a Palestinian state
in the West Bank and Gaza.
In targeting universities, Prof Rose, some of whose relatives died
in the Holocaust, explained that Israelis valued intellectual life,
so the threat of academic isolation was a stinging rebuke.
His letter to the Guardian last month, signed by 125 prominent
academics, observed that "the Israeli government appears impervious
to moral appeals from world leaders ... However, there are ways
of exerting pressure from within Europe.
"Many ... research institutions, including those funded from
the EU and the European Science Foundation, regard Israel as a European
state for the purposes of awarding grants. Would it not therefore
be timely if ... a moratorium was called upon any further such support
unless and until Israel abides by UN resolutions and opens serious
peace negotiations with the Palestinians?"
The Association of University teachers (AUT) has adopted a resolution
echoing Professor Rose's call. The higher eduction teachers' union,
NATFHE, has urged colleges to "review - with a view to severing
- any academic links they may have with Israel".
Academia is only the latest battleground. The Palestine Solidarity
Campaign, which models itself on anti-apartheid activities, called
for a boycott of Israeli produce last July. Before Christmas, it
convinced Harrods and Selfridges to withdraw from sale a range of
halva and wines. The stores subsequently reinstated them.
An arms embargo has been urged which would involve a ban on sales
and on purchases of weapons such as Israel's unmanned military drones.
Such demands have had little impact. The EU commissioner for research,
Philippe Busquin, dismissed a petition supporting Prof Rose's moratorium.
"The European Commission is not in favour of ... sanctions
against parties to the conflict but advocates continuous dialogue
... which is the best way to negotiations," he wrote.
Suspending ties would be counter-productive because of the "very
positive effects [of] scientific co-operation ... between European,
Israeli and Palestinian institutions. This co-operation, which addresses
critical regional issues such as water management, is a concrete
example of dialogue ... more effective than many well-intentioned
Dr Ryzhik, who was born in Moscow, has organised a website to marshal
opponents of Prof Rose's initiative. So far he has attracted the
signature of 2,200 academics, including two Nobel prize winners.
In a letter to the Guardian this month, Dr Ryzhik and colleagues
declared: "Some academics have called for a cultural and scientific
boycott of Israel. We believe this is immoral, dangerous and misguided,
and indirectly encourages the terrorist murderers in their deadly
Speaking from Chicago last week, he said: "We have had calls
for boycotts [of Israeli goods] in the States and pressure on colleges
to divest themselves of any financial holdings in Israel - the type
of protests used against South Africa in anti-apartheid campaigns.
"But science is not a political matter. Even during the cold
war and in the anti-apartheid era, lecturers from Russia and South
Africa would meet at international conferences. There was no boycott
of science. The University of Lille, in France, for example, has
now refused to cooperate with any Israeli institution."
The Board of Deputies of British Jews is even more alarmed. "Surely
the role of an academic is to find out the facts?" said Fiona
Macaulay, the organisation's public affairs director. "Students
should not be manipulated by pro-Palestinian propaganda."
The Union of Jewish Students warned that the debate was making
life difficult for Jewish students. "There have been more physical
and verbal attacks," said Clive Gabay, the campaigns director.