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Mick Temple’s Blog

LECTURING ISRAEL

13-06-2007

While gun battles rage between rival Palestinian factions in Gaza, boycotting Israel has become all the rage in Britain. Journalists in the NUJ have voted not to buy the country’s goods, and now academics want to freeze out their colleges.

The university lecturers’ union UCU has called for a boycott of Israeli academics and universities because of Israel’s treatment of those in its occupied lands and especially for it’s denial of ‘basic educational rights’ to Palestinians.

The end goal is a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living peacefully side-by-side. But what will a boycott achieve if carried through?

Sweet Fanny Adams.

For defenders of Israeli policy it’s yet more evidence of anti-Zionism in action; for these people, any criticism of Israel’s actions is evidence of racism. All a boycott would achieve is to stiffen the resolve of hardliners and prevent the most essential part of any conciliatory process. And that’s dialogue.

Israel’s actions against Palestinians have been a major contributor to instability in the region. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, I sensed a glimmer of hope when both Bush and Blair talked of the necessity of establishing a Palestinian homeland.

Since then, those tentative suggestions have been allowed to wither and Bush and Blair’s actions have contributed to a world that is more dangerous than at any time since the height of the Cold War.

I understand the frustrations of those who support the Palestinian case. But isolating Israel is not the answer and, as with most disputes, not all the ‘blame’ is on one side.

A brief glance at the globe demonstrates plenty of other states where whole sections of the population are treated similarly or far worse than in Israel and where academic freedom is a joke. Why not boycott China and Russia?

Not only that, given that the USA is the major supplier of arms and aid to Israel why is there no call to boycott American academics and universities?

Come to think of it, the British government took us to war on a lie, and more than half a million Iraqis have been killed. How would British academics respond to a call from Arab states to boycott British universities because of the activities of the Blair government?

UCU, a recent amalgamation of higher education unions, should concentrate on doing the job its members pay their subscriptions for, and one that its predecessors manifestly failed to do - protecting the interests and jobs of their members.

The ham-fisted attempts of some UCU representatives to give their union a higher profile will achieve no change in Israel. We must reach out across the divide and talk: only debate which recognises the rights and wrongs on all sides will produce results.

As ever, ‘jaw jaw’ is preferable to ‘war war’.

Will a boycott of Israeli goods and academic institution achieve anything? And is it justified? Leave a comment on our Message Board.
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