Boycott of Israeli scholars squelched

by Beacon Staff • November 7, 2007

Their efforts were rewarded when Britain's University and College Union, which had proposed the boycott, abandoned the proposal after receiving overwhelming criticism, said the union's press officer, Dan Ashley, via e-mail.,Emerson President Jacqueline Liebergott was among more than 400 college and university presidents throughout the United States to sign a petition in opposition of a planned boycott of Israeli academics this summer.

Their efforts were rewarded when Britain's University and College Union, which had proposed the boycott, abandoned the proposal after receiving overwhelming criticism, said the union's press officer, Dan Ashley, via e-mail.

The union, known as UCU in Britain, retracted its plan to hold nationwide debates on the possibility of boycotting Israeli academic institutions on Sept. 28, after their lawyers advised them that barring Israeli academics from England's universities would violate British discrimination law.

"While UCU is at liberty to debate the pros and cons of Israeli policies, it cannot spend members' resources on seeking to test opinion on something which is in itself unlawful and cannot be implemented," the UCU said in a statement.

David Rosen, Emerson's vice president of public affairs , said President Liebergott was pleased with the impact of the petition she signed.

"She believes that the collective action of many college and university presidents in this country and elsewhere helped bring about a good result in this case," Rosen said.

The proposal to begin debates on the boycott was enacted during the union's May 30 meeting, according to The Times of London. Scholars throughout England and the world spoke out against the boycott almost immediately after it was first proposed.

The motion to boycott, according to a June editorial in London's The Guardian, was an invitation to Britain's 120,000 UCU members to "blacklist Israeli 'institutions and individuals' that do not 'publicly dissociate themselves' from 'Israeli apartheid policies,'" referring to Israel's alleged educational discrimination against and treatment of Palestinians.

More than 450 protesting signatures, including 33 Nobel Prize winners and 58 university and college presidents, had been gathered through the international organization Scholars for Peace in the Middle East by the time the boycott was dropped, according to an October issue of The Jerusalem Post.

President Liebergott added her signature to hundreds of others on a letter written by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger. In a statement regarding the boycott, Bollinger said that he and others who opposed the idea "gladly [stood] together . against such intellectually shoddy and politically biased attempts to hijack the central mission of higher education."

Some opponents went beyond signing petitions. American Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg rejected lecturing at Imperial College in London, and Alan Dershowitz threatened to sue British universities and academics if they initiated the boycott, according The Jerusalem Post. The Goldhirsh Foundation, an American research sponsor, threatened to pull funding from British research institutions.

Emerson freshman Nicole Milch said the UCU's tactics seemed unreasonable.

"I don't agree with the discrimination between Israelis and Palestinians," the media studies major said. "But I think that penalizing individuals for a choice that was not made by them is very petty and childish."