boycott divides academics
Suzanne Goldenberg in Jerusalem
and Will Woodward
July 8, 2002
Sackings on two obscure journals fuel debate
on cooperation with universities.
A pair of obscure journals run by a Manchester professor have become
the focal point for an angry debate across the international academic
community over a boycott of Israeli universities.
A decision by Mona Baker, a professor of translation studies at
the University of Manchester institute of science and technology
(Umist) to sack two liberal Israeli academics from minor roles on
her journals have provoked a stinging response from academics led
by Stephen Greenblatt, the Harvard professor, Shakespeare scholar
and president of the Modern Language Association of America.
In an open letter, Prof Greenblatt said he deplored Prof Baker's
"attack on cultural cooperation", which "violates
the essential spirit of scholarly freedom and the pursuit of truth".
Prof Baker is one of the signatories of a British-led petition
of more than 700 academics from several countries launched by Steven
Rose, an Open University professor. Signatories including Oxford
professors Colin Blakemore and Richard Dawkins say they "can
no longer in good conscience continue to cooperate with official
Israeli institutions, including universities".
Ten Israeli academics have signed the petition. Similar calls have
been made by the Association of University Teachers and the lecturers'
union, Natfhe and in April, a campaign to suspend European Union
funding of Israel's universities was launched in a letter to the
In return, almost 1,000 academics with a similar international
profile, led by Leonid Ryzhik, a maths lecturer at Chicago University,
have signed a rival web-based petition condemning the original's
"unjustly righteous tone" and warning that the boycott
carries "broader risk of very disruptive repercussions for
a wide range of international scientific and cultural contacts".
Prof Baker decided that, having signed the Rose petition, she could
no longer work with Gideon Toury, a professor at Tel Aviv university
who is on the advisory board of the Translator, and Miriam Shlesinger,
a lecturer in translation studies at Bar-Ilan university who was
on the editorial board of another journal, Translation Studies Abstracts.
Both are published by Prof Baker's Manchester-based firm, St Jerome.
The Translator is the largest of the two journals owned and edited
by Prof Baker but neither runs to more than 1,000 copies at a time.
In an email to Prof Toury on June 8, Prof Baker said: "Dear
Gideon, I have been agonising for weeks over an important decision:
to ask you and Miriam, respectively, to resign from the boards of
the Translator and Translation Studies Abstracts. I have already
asked Miriam and she refused. I have 'unappointed' her as she puts
it, and if you decide to do the same I will have to officially unappoint
"I do not expect you to feel happy about this, and I very
much regret hurting your feelings and Miriam's," she said.
"My decision is political, not personal.
"As far as I am concerned, I will always regard and treat
you both as friends, on a personal level, but I do not wish to continue
an official association with any Israeli under the present circumstances."
Prof Toury replied: "I would appreciate it if the announcement
made it clear that 'he' (that is, I) was appointed as a scholar
and unappointed as an Israeli."
A decade ago, Dr Shlesinger was chairperson of Amnesty International
in Israel, and has been active in the last 21 months of the intifada
in an ethnically mixed group that defies Israeli army blockades
to deliver supplies to Palestinian towns in the West Bank. "I
don't think [Israeli prime minister] Ariel Sharon is going to withdraw
from the West Bank because Israeli academics are being boycotted,"
she said yesterday. "The idea is to boycott me as an Israeli,
but I don't think it achieves anything."
The prospect of an academic boycott has been hotly debated in Israeli
academic forums and chat rooms for weeks. Although about 10 Israelis
signed the original manifesto from Steven and Hilary Rose, most
academics inside the country are opposed to the boycott.
International academic conferences have been cancelled up to 2004,
and professors from abroad are refusing to travel to Israel for
joint research projects, in part because of fears for security but
also because such collaborations are increasingly seen as political
"I am certainly worried," said Dr Toury. "Not because
of the boycott itself but because it may get bigger and bigger so
that people will not be invited to conferences or lectures, or periodicals
will be judged not on merit, but the identity of the place where
the author lives."
Prof Baker said the interpretation of the boycott was her own and
she did not necessarily expect other signatories in a similar position
to follow her lead.
"I'm damned if I'm going to be intimidated. This is my interpretation
of the boycott statement that I've signed and I've tried to make
that clear but it doesn't seem to be getting through. I am not actually
boycotting Israelis, I am boycotting Israeli institutions.
"I am convinced that long after this is all over, as it was
with the Jews in the Holocaust, people will start admitting that
they should have done something, that it was deplorable and that
academia was cowardly if it hadn't moved on this."
Prof Baker, an Egyptian, said she was bemused by the row over two
"tiny" journals. She has been at Umist since 1995 and
a professor since 1997. A spokeswoman for the university said yesterday:
"This is nothing to do with Umist. The boycott documentation
clearly states Mona Baker signs it as an individual."
Liberal Israeli academics argue that the boycott will damage one
of the last remaining preserves of dissent in a country which has
become increasingly intolerant of those who question the hardline
policies of Mr Sharon.
Call for a boycott
of Israeli scientific institutions
"I can no longer in good conscience continue to cooperate
with official Israeli institutions, including universities. I will
attend no scientific conferences in Israel, and I will not participate
as referee in hiring or promotion decisions by Israeli universities,
or in the decisions of Israeli funding agencies. I will continue
to collaborate with, and host, Israeli scientific colleagues on
an individual basis."
calls for cooling of Israeli scientific and cultural contacts
"The chilling of contacts targets those in Israel who are
reaching out to interact with the world community. If anything,
academic contacts deserve to be cultivated as they are a proven
path both to better science and to better understanding between
nations. Boycotts have the opposite effect, and carry a broader
risk of very disruptive repercussions for a wide range of international
scientific and cultural contacts." 980 signatures, www.aaisc.net