of a boycott
By Joseph Algazy
July 30, 2002
For more than a month, universities, lecturers and students worldwide
have been enjoying their summer break, but the dismissals of Prof.
Gideon Toury and Dr. Miriam Shlesinger from the editorial staffs
of the journals The Translator and Translation Studies Abstracts,
respectively, continue to send waves throughout the European and
American academic world.
The two were fired by the publisher of the two journals, Mona Baker,
as part of her personal contribution to the academic boycott previously
declared by European and American members of academe following recent
IDF operations in Palestinian Authority areas. The boycott, and
particularly the dismissals of the two Israeli researchers in the
field of the science of translation, has kicked up a storm that
shows no signs of abating.
Toury is a lecturer at Tel Aviv University's Unit for Culture Research
and vice president of the European Society for Translation Studies.
His research - including "In Search of a Theory of Translation"
(1980) and "Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond"
(1995) - has made him one of the leading scholars in his field.
Shlesinger is also a lecturer at Tel Aviv University's Unit for
Culture Research and is active in peace and human rights organizations
in Israel. In 1993-1994, she chaired Amnesty International's Israel
branch, and then, from 1994 to 1997, she headed the Institut Adam
pour la Paix et la Democratie and participated in numerous protest
actions against Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Baker was aware of the activities of Shlesinger and Toury, and
was proud that both played roles in the two journals that she publishes.
So what led to her change in attitude?
In early April 2002, The Guardian of London and Liberation of Paris
published a petition calling for an academic boycott against Israel.
The petition was defined as a "restricted call for a moratorium
on European research and academic collaboration with Israeli institutions
until the Israeli government opened serious peace negotiations,"
in the words of its two initiators, Prof. Steven Rose of The Open
University and his wife Prof. Hillary Rose of City University. The
petition was signed by a few hundred lecturers and researchers worldwide,
including about 10 Israelis.
The various publications emphasized the fact that Steven Rose is
"a Jew who lost relatives in the Holocaust."
Rose was quoted as writing: "I can no longer... 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."
Despite his undertaking to continue to cooperate with Israeli academics
on a personal basis, Rose did not express reservations about the
dismissals of Toury and Shlesinger.
On April 8, Baker sent an e-mail to Shlesinger, asking her to sign
the petition and pass it on to as many academics as she knew. In
response, she rejected Baker's request, noting that the petition
"gives yet more ammunition to the tremendously strong powers
here in Israel who repeat: `The world is all against us. We have
to look after our own. You left-wing, dovish, pro-Palestinian academics
(and others) are weakening us and should be denounced.' I do not
claim that all Israeli academics and scientists think as I do, but
I believe that the critical mass does. All in all, Israeli academics
and the universities are a stronghold of ideological opposition."
On May 23, Baker wrote a letter to Shlesinger in which she again
mentioned the academic boycott, which, she said, enjoyed "the
support of many Jews and not an insignificant number of Israeli
academics and non-academics for a total international boycott of
Baker continued: "However much I respect you and Gideon Toury
personally, and regard you, especially, as a personal friend, I
can no longer live off cooperating with Israelis as such, unless
it is explicitly in the context of campaigning for human rights
in Palestine. I am, therefore, hoping that you will not misunderstand
my request for you to resign from the editorial board of The Translator
(and I will also be asking Gideon to resign from the advisory board
of Translation Studies Abstracts)."
Baker repeated her advice to Shlesinger: "I hope that you
will eventually come to the conclusion that you too ought to be
considering signing the academic boycott against Israel."
In response, Shlesinger informed Baker that she had no intention
of resigning for two reasons: "(1) I see no reason whatsoever
to do so, since I do not think that I have done anything that would
warrant such a move; (2) I consider this mixture of politics and
academia morally insupportable in every way."
On June 8, Baker asked Toury to resign, noting that she would be
forced to dismiss him if he chose not to. In response, Toury told
her that he saw no reason for him to resign, adding that if she
intended to fire him, then "I would appreciate it if you will
make it in an as public a way as possible; e.g., by announcing in
the next issue of the Abstracts that you have decided to show me
the door. I would appreciate it even more if the announcement made
it clear that `he,' that is, I was appointed as a scholar and unappointed
as an Israeli."
The declaration of the academic boycott against Israel was greeted
with much opposition in Israel, although it created a far greater
wave of protest abroad.
Only a handful of Israeli academics supported the boycott. One
of them, Dr. Ilan Pappe of Haifa University, said that the academic
boycott would not affect him as he was "not a Zionist,"
while Prof. Tanya Reinhart of Tel Aviv University published an article
on the Internet in which she adopted the reasoning of the boycott's
Prof. Baruch Kimmerling from the Department of Sociology at Hebrew
University, Jerusalem, a fierce opponent of the Israeli government's
occupation policy, expressed vehement opposition to the boycott,
which, in his opinion, contradicts the idea of the freedom of science,
the fundamental principles of scientific ethics and the open spirit
of cooperation between scientists.
He rejected the argument that justified the academic boycott on
Israel with the claim that a similar boycott on South Africa helped
overthrow the apartheid regime there.
"The most crucial difference is that the South African academic
institutions actively supported the apartheid regime and persecuted
their dissident faculty members - a phenomenon unexisting in the
Israeli academic institutions."
Academics in Israel, many of whom are known for their opposition
to the government's policy on the Palestinian issue, determined
that the boycott was too sweeping, since it was not directed at
research programs that serve government policy and would primarily
affect the weaker elements in the academic establishment, such as
doctoral students who need references and opinions from abroad,
or students requiring scholarships and grants.
Reports on the dismissals of Toury and Shlesinger prompted a wave
of public letters of protest from numerous researchers in the translation
field. Some members of The Translator's editorial staff, including
Franz Pochhacker, assistant professor, Department of Translation
and Interpreting, University of Vienna, Prof. Candace Seguinot of
the University of Toronto, Prof. Doug Robinson of the University
of Mississippi, Judy Wakabayashi of the University of Queensland,
Australia, and Anthony Pym from Universitat Rovira I Virgili of
Tarragona, Spain, even resigned from their positions at the journal.
Prominent among the many initial protests against the dismissals
was that of Yves Gambier, president of the European Society for
Translation Studies: "We cannot remain indifferent to the treatment
of two of our own members, both of whom are responsible and important
representatives of the international community of translation studies...
Gideon Toury and Miriam Shlesinger in no way represent the government
of Israel; in their intellectual work, they are not representatives
of their country, but individuals who are known for their research,
their desire to develop translation studies and to promote translation
as an intercultural dialogue. It would be profoundly unjust and
contrary to our ethics to cut off individuals who have chosen to
work precisely to overcome attitudes of parochialism, self-isolation,
Another scholar, Prof. Robin Setton, from Geneva University, wrote:
"There are many other examples of violent oppression with racial
and cultural contempt. If we were consistent, we would spend all
our time boycotting colleagues from many different countries: North
and South Americans, Australians and others for their continuing
treatment of the original inhabitants of those countries, Gulf nations
and other Arab societies for domestic slavery, Russians for the
Chechens, Indonesians for Timor, Eastern Europe for the gypsies,
Turkey, Iran and Iraq for the Kurds, Britain for Ireland, and so
An article that appeared in both the Hebrew and English editions
of Ha'aretz on June 16 and dealt with the dismissals of Toury and
Shlesinger, the resignations of a number of their colleagues on
the editorial boards of the two journals, and the protests of other
renowned scientists prompted a new wave of expression against the
dismissals and the boycott.
Few people defended the dismissals and the boycott, and space constraints
did not allow us to bring the numerous reactions that continue to
arrive. We will present a few examples, some of which have been
printed in leading European and American newspapers.
The president of FIT, Federation Internationale des Traducteurs,
Adolfo Gentile, wrote the following to Toury: "I am ashamed
of being a member of an academic fraternity which has chosen this
Prof. Daniel Gile from the University of Lyon, France, initiated
a petition that included the following statements: "Consider
that taking such discriminatory measures based on nationality is
a dangerous precedent, which might become a precursor to further
discriminatory measures against individuals on the basis of their
ethnic, religious or political identity, on the sole grounds that
leaders of their ethnic group, religious group or political party
have engaged in dishonorable conduct."
Following an article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education
on the subject of the dismissals of the two Israeli scholars, four
leading figures from the University of Toronto sent a harsh letter
of protest to Baker. The four, Michael R. Marrus, Janice Stein,
Bernard Katz and Ronald J. Daniels, wrote: "This brutal act
of exclusion is utterly contemptible... It will have a destructive
effect not only on your journals, which have now lost all credibility
for objectivity, but also on the field in which your periodicals
had standing, and on scholarly activity with which your are associated.
And finally, in disseminating prejudice and division, you shame
the scholarly enterprise."
The director of Postgraduate Studies, School of Languages, University
of Salford, England, Dr. Myriam Salama-Carr, who came to Baker's
defense, wrote in one of her letters that the boycott was directed
against Israeli academic institutions and their representatives,
but not against Israelis per se, and that an Israeli scholar who
was linked to a non-Israeli academic institution would not be affected.
She added, however, that a non-Israeli scholar who represented an
Israeli academic institution would be affected.
During the course of this exchange of views, primarily via e-mail
correspondence, most opponents of the academic boycott against Israel
and the dismissals of Toury and Shlesinger rejected suggestions
to declare a counter-boycott - in other words, to cancel their subscriptions
to the journals published by Baker. Most of the publisher's critics
are also opposed to her being dismissed from her position as professor
of translation sciences at the University of Manchester's Institute
of Sciences and Technology (UMIST), as some have demanded.
UMIST's management has appointed an internal committee to probe
the dismissals. After the panel submits its findings, management
will decide on Baker's future.