Britain's Lecturers' Union Votes for a Boycott of Chinese Universities and Academics,

because China denies its students academic freedom. Oh, no, that's not right — it voted for a boycott of Saudi universities and academics, because of Saudi Arabia's second-class treatment of women. Whoops, I got that wrong — it voted for a boycott of Iranian universities and academics, because of Iran's oppressive government.

D'oh! Wrong again. As best I can tell it hasn't voted for a boycott of any of them; it only voted for "a boycott of Israeli universities and academics yesterday, in protest over Israel's treatment of the Palestinians." Of course.

Thanks to Aeon Skoble for the pointer.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. British Lecturers' Union Boycott Discussions:
  2. Israel and the South African Analogy:
  3. Britain's Lecturers' Union Votes for a Boycott of Chinese Universities and Academics,
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
I’m not clear on what happens if a lecturer’s union supports a boycott of universities and academics from another country. I’m assuming that the actual universities they work for can do what they please and the vote is only binding on their organization. Does it actually obligate each individual member to support the boycott or is it just the organization as a whole?

Also what exactly will they do to boycott Israeli universities and academics? Not invite them to speak or teach at their universities (I thought that was something the administration decided) or just refuse to send their members to lecture at Israeli universities?

I’m not an academic so a little clarification on how this all works would be appreciated. ;)
6.1.2007 1:46pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
I suppose it's a backhanded compliment, on the assumption that the Israelis might actually give a damn. Still, pretty silly.
6.1.2007 1:53pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Here’s the text of the resolution:

Resolution 30 Boycott of Israeli academic institutions

Congress notes that Israel’s 40-year occupation has seriously damaged the fabric of Palestinian society through annexation, illegal settlement, collective punishment and restriction of movement.

Congress deplores the denial of educational rights for Palestinians by invasions, closures, checkpoints, curfews, and shootings and arrests of teachers, lecturers and students.

Congress condemns the complicity of Israeli academia in the occupation, which has provoked a call from Palestinian trade unions for a comprehensive and consistent international boycott of all Israeli academic institutions.

Congress believes that in these circumstances passivity or neutrality is unacceptable and criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic.

Congress instructs the NEC to

§ circulate the full text of the Palestinian boycott call to all branches/LAs for information and discussion;

§ encourage members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions;

§ organise a UK-wide campus tour for Palestinian academic/educational trade unionists;

§ issue guidance to members on appropriate forms of action; actively encourage and support branches to create direct educational§ links with Palestinian educational institutions and to help set up nationally sponsored programmes for teacher exchanges, sabbatical placements and research

There was also a second resolution which passed at the conference:

Resolution 31 European Union and Israel

Congress notes:

1. That since the Palestinian elections in January 2006 the Israeli government has suspended revenue payments to the Palestinian authority (PA), and the EU and US have suspended aid, leaving public-sector salaries unpaid and earning the condemnation of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions;

2. That Israel is seeking to upgrade its relations with the EU to the same level as Norway and Switzerland, permitting free passage of goods, people and capital, while denying these freedoms to Palestinians.

Congress resolves to campaign for:

1. The restoration of all international aid to the PA and all revenues rightfully belonging to it;

2. No upgrade of Israel’s status until it ends the occupation of Palestinian land and fully complies with EU Human Rights law;

3. A moratorium on research and cultural collaborations with Israel via EU and European Science Foundation funding until Israel abides by UN resolutions

Congress instructs the NEC to encourage Branches/Associations to

1. raise these campaigns in their Institutions and

2. investigate the possibilities of twinning their Institution with a Palestinian University or College

They both seem pretty toothless to me, a few steps below the sort of idiotic non-binding resolutions passed by the Berkley city council that make the news from time to time.
6.1.2007 2:02pm
Mr. X (www):
This is the worst sort of argument. Not, "the Israelis are behaving appropriately, so a boycott is mistaken," but, "look at all these other bad countries, boycott them instead."
6.1.2007 2:29pm
Eric Anondson (mail):
". . . boycott them instead"? No, how about boycot them at all or in proportion.
6.1.2007 2:44pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Any moron can do the right thing. To do something so acutely, seriously, obviously wrong takes a good deal of Deep Thought, which only the intellectual class can do.
Whatever most folks think, take the opposite view. Then you can be superior, too. don't have to do any research, either.
6.1.2007 2:58pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
Mr. X: I think Eugene's point is that there appears to be a double standard employed by the supporters of the boycott:

one standard for Israel and another for every other country in the world.

That seems to be a very fair point to make. If the boycott is truly about supporting academic freedom, why not target the countries with the least amount of academic freedom --China, Saudi Arabia, Iran---instead of simply picking on Israel. I suppose one response could be that the boycott may be effective against Israel, precisely because she is a democracy and her citizens care about, and thus are responsive to, such criticisms from Europe, whereas the other countries and their citizens are not. I suspect, though, that the boycott supporters are not so pragmatic in their reasons.
6.1.2007 3:06pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Imagine that. Jew-haters discovered at English universities.

Will wonders never cease?

Donald Rumsfeld was wrong about a lot of stuff, but when he spoke about 'old Europe,' he wasn't just a-woofin'.
6.1.2007 3:09pm
It seems like if they voted for a boycott of China instead of Israel and the rest, pro-China folks would be able to make the exact same argument.
6.1.2007 3:35pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Not mine, they couldn't. Nobody suspects the English of deep-seated hatred of the Chinese.
6.1.2007 4:18pm
BGates (www):
2. No upgrade of Israel’s status until it ends the occupation of Palestinian land and fully complies with EU Human Rights law;

I wasn't aware that Israel was a member of the EU. Was it grandfathered in on account of so many of its citizens being descended from people who were murdered by EU member nations?
6.1.2007 6:43pm
byomtov (mail):
I think Eugene's point is that there appears to be a double standard employed by the supporters of the boycott:

one standard for Israel and another for every other country in the world.

That seems to be a very fair point to make.

Yes. It is.

The resolution says, somewhat nervously,

criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic.

This would be true if the Union routinely called for boycotts of countries with human rights practices of which it disapproved.
6.1.2007 6:52pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic'

Wanna bet??
6.1.2007 8:25pm
The Real Bill (mail):
I think that anti-Semitism is a backhanded complement, in general. People hate Jews because, on average, they are smarter than all other ethnicities. (BTW, I am not a Jew.)
6.2.2007 4:54am
byomtov (mail):
It seems like if they voted for a boycott of China instead of Israel and the rest, pro-China folks would be able to make the exact same argument.


I disagree. The question is one of consistency. It is not the act of criticizing Israeli policy, it is the singling out of Israel.
6.2.2007 10:43am
Here are some effects of such a boycott:

1. Israeli academics removed from editorships of UK-based journal (scroll to "Mona Baker"). Prof. Baker cited the boycott as the reason.

2. Israeli studeents refused admission to UK universities because they served in the IDF. See the link above.

3. Israel is not a member of the EU, but it is has a level of scientific partnership that allows Israeli academics to apply for research grants, Israeli PhDs to apply for EU-funded post-doctoral positions etc. The union is calling for the EU not to upgrade Israel's status with respect to this program.

4. A few years ago a large EU-Israel cooperation grant could not be renewed until an anti-Israeli professor (French, I think) was replaced in the negotiating committee. This kind of behaviour could become more common, especially from UK-based faculty who will now justify their actions by saying "there's a boycott in place".

The point is that it's the faculty who run the academic operations in the universities and in the larger academic world. The university president doesn't sit on admissions committee. The EU council does not sit on grant committees. This allows individuals to impose non-scientific agenda on scientific discussions. A side problem is that UK academics who subscribe to this boycott can further this kind of discrimination silently. For example, if a UK institute refuses to run a conference that's run by an Israeli, or a UK professor votes to give a grant to a Turkish group instead of an Irsaeli one, it could be for valid scientific reasons.

Still, the affairs of Mona Baker (whose blog prominently features the recent boycott decision) and Andrew Wilkie demonstrat that avowed anti-Israeli animus is also at play.
6.2.2007 11:13am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Not 'anti-Israel animus.' It's anti-Jewish animus.

I can prove it, too.

Query: How many of these people are also on record as demanding a homeland/state for the Kurds.

Answer: 0
6.2.2007 2:48pm
EV rightly disapproves of these UK academics and their call for a boycott of Israeli universities and academics. Like the UN's infamous "Zionism is racism" resolution in '75, this reeks of political tendention and bias, while masquerading as a principled stance. But what would EV do about it other than cluck his tongue here through the VC?

Aren't the UK lecturers exercising their "academic freedom," and isn't "academic freedom" sacrosanct in EV's libertarian eyes? It doesn't matter, does it, that what the UK lecturers are doing can be seen as an attempt to infringe the "academic freedom" of others, including that of both those in the UK institution and those in Israel. Their own institutions cannot do anything to discourage them in their boycott efforts even if their administrations were so inclined, because were they to try that would be an infringement of the "academic freedom" of academics to wreak havoc or whatever they want on themselves and their own institutions?!

Is this circularity only a product of ad absurdum argument by me, or is the real consequence of unfettered "freedom" for political activists within the academic community? I think it is the latter, and I believe EV is in effect an enabler of that which he genuinely disapproves through his insistence on so expansive a regimen of "academic freedom." If I am wrong about EV's position on "academic freedom," in particular what schools can and should do about efforts within their walls to organize boycotts of other academics and academic institutions; to deny others financial support, various professional opportunities, promotions and career advancement on the basis of politics; to "shout down" and keep from speaking and publishing those they oppose for political reasons; etc.; then I would very much like to hear from him how I am wrong about his position on "academic freedom."

Back on 2/16/07, EV expounded on "academic freedom" in "Of Course It's Academic Freedom," which was apropos an op-ed piece in the Washington Times
by Asaf Romirowsky titled, "Scholar Activism." EV went after Romirowsky's first couple of paragraphs to make the absolutist case for "academic freedom," but he did not fully engage with Romirowsky and his case. Not quoted, and not responded to, was:

In the United States, whatever goes on in a classroom is deemed protected by "academic freedom," whether it is academic or not. Only sexual harassment appears exempt from this blanket protection. Gradually, the entire campus has become an "academic freedom" zone, where protests and other activities now qualify as academic "speech." The freedom to critique is, predictably, directed mostly at the twin Satans, Israel and America, although efforts to curtail speech that academics find unpleasant and unacceptable have been long standing in the form of "speech codes" and restrictions on "hate speech." Clearly academic freedom is a one-way street; only those having the correct opinions may claim it. (emphasis mine)

I have no problem condemning without reservation or qualification what the UK lecturers have done. But some others who would condemn them think there is either nothing academia can do or should do to stop or discourage them, other than perhaps cluck tongues at these "scholar activists" who would march carrying the banner of "academic freedom" while seeking to deny true "academic freedom" to others.

So how am I wrong here?
6.2.2007 7:10pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
I don't think you're wrong at all. But then I am a free speech absolutist.

There is no structural remedy for this sort of evil. The only corrective is for people with better senses of what's fit to lambaste, humiliate, ridicule and scorn these academics (or any other class of noisemakers).

If it's a marketplace of ideas, then the customer rules in the end.
6.2.2007 9:55pm
Aren't the UK lecturers exercising their "academic freedom," and isn't "academic freedom" sacrosanct in EV's libertarian eyes?
Do we have to dance this same dance every time?

Yes, these people have the right to act like dirt-bags. Just as we have the right, and responsibility, to point out that they are acting like dirtbags.
6.5.2007 10:54pm