Archive for the ‘Academia’ Category.

Southampton conference roundup

The planned anti-Israel conference at the University of Southampton continues to generate controversy.

The conference, “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism“, is organised by Prof. Oren ben-Dor, an Israeli academic known as a campaigner for a One-State Solution and a supporter of  an academic boycott of Israel.

The three-day conference in April does not pretend to be neutral. The official event description says it

…concerns the legitimacy in International Law of the Jewish state of Israel. Rather than focusing on Israeli actions in the 1967 Occupied Territories, the conference will focus on exploring themes of Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism; all of which are posed by Israel’s very nature.

According to our own research, 45 of the 56 speakers – 80% – have a record of anti-Israel activism such as supporting boycotts, opposing Israel’s existence, justifying terror or writing for campaigning publications like Electronic Intifada. By comparison, only 3 speakers have any record of supporting and only 8 speakers no obvious campaigning background at all! This is not a conference of impartial experts or neutral academics discussing their research. It is a political conference of political campaigners involved in fringe anti-Israel causes.

Only one speaker is an academic from an Israeli university — Dr Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, an Israeli Arab academic at Hebrew University. Many of the other speakers, including conference organiser Prof. ben-Dor, support a full boycott of Israeli universities. Surely they wouldn’t apply that policy to only Jewish Israeli academics?


Many people have voiced their concerns about the bias of the conference:

The Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies have both raised objections with the University’s Vice Chancellor.

A petition organised by the Zionist Federation calling for the conference to be cancelled now has 5000 signatures, leading to coverage in the Sunday Times

Lawyer Mark Lewis’s comments about the credibility of Southampton’s Law department  were covered in the Telegraph. He said

“This is a one-sided conference, not a debate and I would want to raise serious questions about what students at this university are being taught and what the university believes.

“If Southampton allows teaching which does not present both sides of a case it would raise doubts in my mind about the suitability of a candidate from its School of Law. I would not look so favourably on those CVs.”

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government told the Jewish News last week that

“There is a careful line between legitimate academic debate on international law and the actions of governments, and the far-left’s bashing of Israel which often descends into naked anti-Semitism.

“Given the taxpayer-funded University has a legal duty to uphold freedom of speech, I would hope that they are taking steps to give a platform to all sides of the debate, rather than allowing a one-sided diatribe”

The bias of the conference has also been condemned by local MPs.

We will update if there are any further developments.

Hypocrisy and double standard: An open letter to Stephen Hawking

This is a cross post from Haaretz by Carlo Strenger

By deciding not to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference, one of the world’s leading scientists is singling out Israel and denying it has been under existential threat for most of its existence.


Dear Professor Hawking,

There are many reasons why you are considered one of the world’s leading scientists. As you know very well, one reason for your achievement is the ability to keep a mind of your own and to refuse caving in to pressure by the mainstream. Innovation is only possible if you are immune to such pressure.

Given my respect for your achievement I am surprised and saddened by your decision, reported today by The Guardian that you have cancelled your participation at this year’s President’s Conference in Jerusalem, and that you have joined those who call for an academic boycott of Israel. I would have expected a man of your standing and achievement not to be influenced by the pressure that was reportedly exerted on you to cancel your visit in Israel.

Let it first be said that I have been opposed to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories for many years, and that I have voiced this opposition with all means at my disposal. I think that Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank is indefensible morally, stupid politically and unwise strategically, and I will continue opposing it as long as I can.

This being said, I have always found it morally reprehensible and intellectually indefensible that many British academics have been calling for an academic boycott of Israel. This call is based on a moral double standard that I would not expect from a community whose mission it is to maintain intellectual integrity.

Yes, I think that Israel is guilty of human right violations in the West Bank. But these violations are negligible compared to those perpetrated by any number of states ranging from Iran through Russia to China, to mention only a small number of examples. Iran hangs hundreds of homosexuals every year; China has been occupying Tibet for decades, and you know of the terrible destruction Russia has inflicted in Chechnya. I have not heard from you or your colleagues who support an academic boycott against Israel that they boycott any of these countries.

But let me go one step further: Israel is accused of detaining Palestinians without trial for years. So is the USA, which, as you very well know, to this day has not closed Guantanamo Bay. Israel is accused of targeted killings of Palestinians suspected or known to be involved in terrorist acts. As is reported worldwide, the United States has been practicing targeted assassinations of terror suspects in many countries for years.

The question whether these detentions and targeted assassinations can be justified is weighty, and there are no simple answers. Personally I think that even in a war against terror democracies must make every conceivable effort to maintain the rule of law and avoid human rights violations.

Yet let us not forget that both Israel and the United States are in difficult situations. Israel was on the verge of a peace agreement with the Palestinian people when the second Intifada broke out. Daily Israelis were shredded into pieces by suicide bombings, and it is very difficult for Israeli politicians to convince Israelis to take risks for peace. The U.S. is still reeling from the trauma of 9/11. It has occupied two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq for a decade since. I happen to think that it was wrong to attack Iraq, in the same way that I think that Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank is wrong.

Professor Hawking: how can you and your colleagues who argue for an academic boycott of Israel justify your double standard by singling out Israel? You are simply denying that Israel has been under existential threat for most of its existence. To this day Hamas, one of the two major parties in Palestine, calls for Israel’s destruction, and its charter employs the vilest anti-Semitic language. To this day hardly a week goes by in which Iran and its proxy Hezbollah do not threaten to obliterate Israel, even though they have no direct conflict with Israel about anything.

Singling Israel out for academic boycott is, I believe, a case of profound hypocrisy. It is a way to ventilate outrage about the world’s injustices where the cost is low. I’m still waiting for the British academic who says he won’t cooperate with American institutions as long as Guantanamo is open, or as long as the U.S. continues targeted assassinations.

In addition to the hypocrisy, singling out Israel’s academia is pragmatically unwise, to put it mildly. Israel’s academia is largely liberal in its outlook, and many academics here have opposed Israel’s settlement policies for decades. But once again, British academics choose the easiest target to vent their rage in a way that does not contribute anything constructive to the Palestinian cause they support.

Israel, like any other country, can be criticized. But such criticism should not be based on shrill moralism and simplistic binary thinking – something I do not expect from academics. The real world is, unfortunately a messy, difficult place. Novelist Ian McEwan is quoted in the Guardian as saying that “If I only went to countries that I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed … It’s not great if everyone stops talking” when he was criticized for coming to Israel to receive the Jerusalem Prize for Literature in 2011.

He certainly has a point. Living up to the standards of human rights and the ideals of democracy in an imperfect world is difficult. Major thinkers like Philip Bobbitt and Michael Ignatieff have invested deep and comprehensive thought into the difficult topic of how to maintain the human rights standard in a world threatened by terrorism.

Professor Hawking, I would expect from a man of your intellectual stature to get involved in the difficult task of grappling with these questions. Taking the simple way out of singling out Israel by boycotting it academically does not behoove you intellectually or morally.

If your cancelation was indeed a function of pressures and not from health reasons, as stated by your university following The Guardian’s report, I would respect it if you were to reconsider your decision and come to the President’s Conference.


Carlo Strenger

National Union of Teachers Motion

Following an alert from Fair Play and mobilisation of NUT members through the Jewish Teachers’ Association, it emerged today that a PSC  inspired motion designed to demonise Israel has been dropped from the agenda for debate at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) Conference in a priority ballot.

The dropping of the motion is the latest of a number of reverses suffered by the PSC. In particular, it shows there is very little support within the NUT for the PSC’s efforts to promote itself as a reliable resource and driving force for the Union and promoting direct PSC affiliation of local and regional branches.

A Fair Play spokesman said:

“NUT members have decided that this year they have more important things to talk about than bashing Israel again. We hope that this positive step will mark the beginning of a more constructive approach towards Israel in the NUT.”

Ken Livingstone against the Academic boycott

London Mayor candidate Ken Livingstone is certainly not a friend of Israel and wouldn’t describe himself as such either. But even he opposed the Academic boycott of Israel, as he reminds everyone in this week’s Jewish Chronicle. Defending himself against claims that he’s a bad candidate for Jews, he says:

We can view my record through press cuttings or we can judge it through what I did as mayor: developing a housing policy to address the issues of the Charedi community; publication of the Jewish London Guide; the Chanucah menorah lighting on Trafalgar Square; marking Holocaust Memorial Day; delivering Simcha in the Square, since abolished by Boris Johnson; working to make the North London Eruv possible; changing the day of London’s “Rise” anti-racist festival so that Jewish people could play their part; opposing the academic boycott of Israel; regular Jewish community events and meetings.

Whether or not you choose to accept his broader point is obviously a personal choice, but we’re more interested to note that even some of Israel’s loudest and most hostile and consistent opponents – like Ken Livingstone – aren’t prepared to accept the a discriminatory and immoral act that is the academic boycott of Israel.


Norman Finkelstein slams the “BDS cult”

This video clip of Norman Finkelstein laying into the BDS Movement has made waves since appearing (and mysteriously disappearing and then reappearing) on Tuesday.

In the clip Finkelstein is being interviewed by prominent BDS activist Frank Barat at Imperial College. Finkelstein’s conclusion is that the BDS movement is a ‘cult’ (a word he repeats a number of times) which must be honest about its objectives – the abolishment of the State of Israel.

After the clip gained plaudits from the anti BDS movement, it was made private and was then taken down. A coincidence I’m sure!  For all those wishing to hear Finkelstein’s whiny voice and to see Barat’s nervous body language, it has since reappeared. It was quite difficult not to take pleasure at the sight of Barat visibly squirming in his seat. He was shifty and uptight as he desperately (and rather feebly) tried to respond to Finkelstein’s attacks on the BDS Movement.

Finkelstein’s main points were:

-          If you are going to use the law (i.e. that the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem are Palestinian territory), then you can’t be selective about it; Israel (1967 border) is a state and that is the law

-          If you want to promote one state, that’s fine but don’t pretend you are trying to enforce the law when really you want to selectively enforce the law

-          The so-called ‘solidarity movement’ never pushes the ‘two-state-solution’ and is thus not part of the answer

-          The solidarity movement is not reaching the mainstream public

-          I support BDS but it will never reach a broad public until and unless it is explicit on its goals and that has to include recognition of Israel

-          The BDS Movement has had very little victory despite claiming otherwise

-          If the BDS Movement really represents Palestinian civil society, why can it never get a rally with more than 500 people?

Finkelstein is a notorious Israel basher and has a nasty reputation surrounding Jewish issues. He has endorsed Hezbollah and claims that the Holocaust has been manipulated. A point which may have been missed behind his slurs over the Movement’s tactics, he actually supports BDS!

So why the plaudits? Have we set the bar so low that we applaud recognition of Israel’s right to exist? Or an acknowledgement that destroying Israel is unpopular? Really? That low?

What should be highlighted from this video is nothing that hasn’t been said before – the BDS and ‘Palestine Solidarity’ movements’ goal is to destroy Israel. Finkelstein highlights the failure of the BDS movement, despite its claims of victory. He shows that they are not nearly as influential as they pretend to be; and he effectively tells them that they have done nothing to accomplish their stated goals of providing any justice or peace for Palestinian Arabs.

He exposes the deceptiveness of the ‘leftist posturing’ of the BDS Movement. It takes one to know one!