Letters for the Editor of the London Guardian: the Pros and Cons of the Academic Boycotting of Israel / Alexander Treutler

I am deeply opposed to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. I am appalled by the human rights violations by Israeli security forces and strongly against the settlements and the wall. But the best hope for changing all this is through Israeli and Palestinian civil society – of which universities are a key component (Israeli college boycott debated, April 19).

Academic boycotts are never a good way to change society. I supported the sanctions against South Africa in the apartheid years, but I broke them to help a lecturer at theUniversity of Witwatersrand introduce a course on militarism and anti-militarism, and I hope the course helped to change opinion. In the former Yugoslavia, I was planning a similar project when sanctions were introduced.

An academic boycott will affect those people most likely to press for peace. The Israeli right has used the threat of an academic boycott to try to discredit and marginalise those courageous Israeli academics who already work with their Palestinian colleagues. I urge my AUT colleagues to oppose tomorrow's resolution calling for a boycott.

Prof Mary Kaldor 

As a protest against the treatment of Soviet Jews in the mid-1970s, the Cavendish Laboratory refused three Russian postdoctoral students nominated under the terms of the Anglo-Soviet cultural and scientific agreement. That was the reason given when the rejected applications were returned to me. No objection to this was raised. It was regarded as a matter of academic freedom. Interesting, then, that two Cambridge academics are signatories to a letter (April 19) attacking the proposed boycott of Israel because "academic collaboration should stand above politics".

C Woods 

The claim by Omar Barghouti and Lisa Taraki (Letters, April 20) of a "clear analogy" between Israel and South Africa is refuted by the participation of Arabs throughout all institutions, at all levels, in all aspects of Israeli life, including Mr Barghouti's own position as a PhD student at an Israeli university.

Dr Robin Stamler 
Wembley Park, Middx

I am astounded at the naivety of those calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Since the time of its inception in 1948, Israel has been subjected to constant attempts to destroy its land and dissipate its inhabitants. Despite these attempts from all of its neighbours, it has developed an academic reputation that is world-class. Its academic institutions welcome students and teachers from around the world, irrespective of religion or ethnicity.

Jewish academics have been driven out of institutions and the rights of non-Muslims and women are extremely limited in much of the Arab world. The call for an academic boycott of Israel is no more than anti-Semitism dressed up as a campaign for rights for the suppressed.

Dr Simon Nadel
St Mary's hospital, London

In Israel's universities, less than 1% of tenured full-time staff are Palestinian citizens of Israel, none of them women. About 3% are female Mizrahi (Jews who immigrated toIsrael from Africa and Asia), and 5.5% Mizrahi males. For every four Ashkenazi (Israeli Jews of European descent) who are college graduates, there is only one Mizrahi and near zero Palestinians.

Israel's academics perpetrate and benefit from the systematic discrimination against Israel's 70% non-European majority (48% Mizrahim and 22% Palestinian). Israel's Ashkenazi "post-Zionist" professors, brandishing their progressive politics as they use Mizrahim and Palestinians for grantsmanship and as career advancement tools, are just the cynical tip of this apartheid iceberg.

Dr Smadar Lavie
Tel Aviv

I am astounded an army of academics has written to oppose the proposed boycott. The Israeli state practises apartheid policies that are codified in law, including legalised torture, and continues to systematically colonise Palestinian territory occupied by conquest. There is a deliberate programme of impoverishment and state terrorism against the Palestinians. Only days ago three teenagers were killed by Israeli soldiers after they went to retrieve their football in a "no-go area" in Gaza. Where were the protests then?

Surfraz Yousaf 
Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign


As an Israeli academic, I have no sympathy for Israel's occupation policies. But my AUT colleagues work in a country whose troops continue to be part of an illegal occupation of Iraq. Their government is a leading member of a coalition which has inflicted tens of thousands of civilian casualties and has destroyed a whole city (Falluja) out of frustration and spite. It is a bit rich for them seek to punish academics in other countries. Both Iraqi and Israeli occupations would be untenable without US initiative or support. Where is the resolution to boycott American academics?

Prof Avner Offer 
All Souls College, Oxford

You say (Leaders, April 20) "it is wrong to assume that all or most Israeli academics support the policies of Ariel Sharon's government". The same could be said about Iraqunder Saddam Hussein, yet it was happily boycotted.

Alexander Treutler
Sleepy Hollow, New York

First published on "The Guardian", 21.4.2005