as academics are sacked for being Israeli
By Charlotte Edwardes
(Additional reporting by Tony Freinberg and James Pope)
Daily Telegraph (UK)
7 July 2002
A British academic has sparked worldwide protests after sacking
two scholars from her highly respected international journals because
they are Israeli.
Mona Baker, a professor at the University of Manchester Institute
of Science and Technology (UMIST), admitted yesterday that she had
dismissed Dr Miriam Shlesinger and Prof Gideon Toury because of
Despite a storm of complaints raised by her action, Prof Baker
stood by her decision, telling The Telegraph: "I deplore the
Israeli state. Miriam knew that was how I felt and that they would
have to go because of the current situation."
Prof Baker asked Dr Shlesinger and Prof Toury to resign from the
boards of two academic journals she owns, after signing a website
petition last month calling for academics to boycott Israel. When
they refused to resign she sacked them.
The dismissals raised no public opposition from within British
universities. International academics, however, led by Prof Stephen
Greenblatt, a world-renowned Shakespeare scholar at Harvard University,
have now condemned the decision and called on British academics
to stand up for intellectual freedom.
Prof Greenblatt, who flew to England last night to collect an honorary
degree from London University, said that Prof Baker's actions were
"repellent", "dangerous" and "intellectually
and morally bankrupt".
He described any policy of singling out a group for collective
punishment as "grotesque". He added: "Excluding scholars
because of the passports that they carry or because of their skin
colour, religion or political party, corrupts the integrity of intellectual
Both of the sacked scholars had worked for the periodicals for
three years. Dr Shlesinger, who enjoyed a friendship with Prof Baker
and was even a guest at her house in Manchester, worked for the
editorial board of The Translator. Prof Toury, who teaches at Tel
Aviv University, held an honorary advisory role at Translation Studies
Dr Shlesinger, a respected American-born academic at the Bar-Ilan
University near Tel Aviv, is also a former chairman of Amnesty International
in Israel and has criticised her country's policies in the West
Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Prof Baker, who is the director of the centre for translation and
intercultural studies at UMIST, was unrepentant, however. Although
the boards of the journals remained split over the dismissals, Prof
Baker said: "I am not against Israeli nationals per se; it
is Israeli institutions as part of the Israeli state which I absolutely
She said that her actions were "my interpretation of what
a boycott of Israel means". Prof Baker added: "Many people
in Europe have signed a boycott against Israel. Israel has gone
beyond just war crimes.
It is horrific what is going on there. Many of us would like to
talk about it as some kind of Holocaust which the world will eventually
wake up to, much too late, of course, as they did with the last
She conceded, however, that the pair would not have been sacked
had they lived in Britain and severed their ties with Israeli institutions.
The petition that Prof Baker signed claims that Israel should be
boycotted because it is "racist." Prof Baker, who refused
to disclose where she was born, claimed that her actions were supported
by a growing number of academics across Britain and in Germany.
She alleged that since the sackings she had been the victim of a
"My husband and I receive hate mail every day, up to 50 [letters]
a day, some of it extremely obscene," she said. "I can't
read it out it is so obscene and very threatening. It is also sent
to my university, to my vice-chancellor and to some of my colleagues,
and they threaten people who want to stay on the board. The Americans
are the worst offenders.
"There is a large intimidation machine out there which is
waiting to intimidate anyone that it doesn't approve of."
In an open letter to Prof Baker, however, Prof Greenblatt, the
president of the Modern Language Association of America, described
the "chilling shadow" cast by her actions. "An attack
on cultural co-operation, with a particular group singled out for
collective punishment violates the essential spirit of scholarly
freedom and the pursuit of truth," he wrote.
"The pursuit of knowledge does not suddenly come to a halt
at national borders. This does not mean that serious scholars must
be indifferent to the world's murderous struggles, but it does mean
that they are committed to an ongoing, frank conversation . . .
[that] often includes passionate disagreement."
The letter is understood to have the backing of other senior academics
at Harvard. Following calls from The Telegraph, a number of leading
academics in Britain lent their voice to Prof Greenblatt's condemnation.
Francis Robinson, a professor of history at London University,
said: "Whatever anyone feels about Israel, this is absolutely
appalling. Certainly there are strong feelings, not often spoken
but nevertheless strongly felt, shared by the majority of British
liberal intellectuals about the problems with Israel. Nonetheless,
this sounds dreadful. It runs counter to the very principles of
Prof Greenblatt's intervention was welcomed by Lord Janner, the
chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust. He said that the sackings
set a worrying precedent: "This is disgraceful and dangerous.
You should no more sack an Israeli academic for his nationality
than you should a Palestinian in the same situation.
"I do not buy this argument that, just because there are more
fee-paying Arab students at UMIST and elsewhere, their views should
prevail. In every university in the UK today there are problems
between the two groups. They must try to insulate themselves from
what is happening in the Middle East or else you are going to get
the most terrible conflicts seeping into our university campuses."
Prof John Garside, the vice-chancellor of UMIST, distanced himself
from the debate. Even though Prof Baker uses UMIST's logo in her
promotional material for the journals, he said: "The position
of UMIST is that the two journals Prof Baker is involved with have
nothing to do with UMIST.
"These are activities that she is involved with in her own
time. What happens on those journals and the editorial policy on
those journals are entirely a matter for those journals. It's an
issue that we are dealing with internally and not something I want
to make any public statement about at this stage."
A spokesman for the Israeli embassy said: "We think the Palestinian
cause is not helped in any way by people trying to shut down those
who communicate across boundaries through dialogue and the exchange
of ideas. It's the rejection of the legitimacy of the state of Israel
itself which lies at the core of the Israeli-Arab conflict."