Eleven Oxford academics have joined a pledge signed by 500 professors and lecturers to academically boycott Israel.

The pledge, published in the Guardian earlier this week, was titled “A commitment by UK scholars to the rights of Palestinians” and has been condemned by both the British and Israeli governments. Initially featuring 343 signatories, around 160 more academics added their names within 24 hours of publication, taking the total number past 500.

The advert states the signatories are “deeply disturbed by Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land, the intolerable human rights violations that it infl icts on all sections of the Palestinian people, and its apparent determination to resist any feasible settlement”. It also says that those who have signed will still work with Israeli academics on an individual basis but will not accept invitations to visit their academic institutions, nor attend events organised by them.

Of the signatories, eleven are Oxford academics. These are Prof. Karma Nabulsi, Dr. Walter Armbrust, Prof. Clive Holes FBA, Prof. Tariq Ramadan, Dr. Peter King, Prof. Klim McPherson, Dr. Stephanie Cronin, Bernard Sufrin, Dr. Rosalind Temple, Dr. James McDougall and Prof. Laurence Dreyfus.

Clive Holes, Professor Emeritus for the Study of the Contemporary Arab World, told Cherwell “Whilst the Israeli state presents itself on the international stage as an enlightened funder and supporter of academia, it has for many years, in its own back yard, systematically denied Palestinian academics and students many basic freedoms, such as the freedom of movement necessary to attend international academic conferences, or simply to get to lectures on time.

“This boycott is not aimed at individual Israeli academics, with whom, like many other signatories to the Commitment published in the Guardian, I have close working relationships which will continue. It is aimed at the institutions of the Israeli state, including its universities, some of which are actively engaged in developing the government’s machinery of Palestinian oppression… We have had decades upon decades of wellmeaning calls for ‘dialogue’ and ‘building bridges’, to repeat JK Rowling’s tired and ultimately empty phrases, and it has led precisely nowhere. The Israeli government isn’t listening. Time for action.”

Dr James McDougall, Professor of Modern History at Trinity College, said, “I was for a long time sceptical as to the value of a boycott campaign, given that it risks playing into the hands of those very infl uential constituencies in Israel whose position has always been that Israel cannot count on the outside world and can only be secure by constantly escalating its military dominance in the region and over its Palestinian neighbours. But the unprecedented ferocity of last year’s assault on Gaza, and the continued extreme-rightward shift of Israeli politics, making a viable peace settlement ever less likely, convinced me that there is nothing left to lose in that respect.

“This is the only means of responsible, nonviolent protest which we as academics engaged in the region can use to bring pressure to bear on Israel’s political establishment, and the fact that the Israeli right has identified BDS as such a threat suggests that it might even achieve something.

“People calling themselves friends of Israel will doubtless oppose this – but they should realise that this is a stand against the ever-increasing militarisation of Israeli society, against the continuing refusal by Israel’s government to pursue a just and lasting settlement by which Israel can live in peace and security, against the increasingly unsustainable, blind and destructive policy of the Israeli right that is leading its country down the road of ever-deepening confl ict. I have friends, colleagues and former students in Israel, whom I shall continue to support and with whom I shall continue to work, in their individual capacities; the commitment to Palestinian rights is also about their future.”

Klim McPherson, visiting professor of public health epidemiology at Oxford University and Fellow of New College, told Cherwell, “Israel is, in my opinion, the closest country politically to South Africa before Mandela was President. I visited there in the 1960s. The hostility towards the Palestinians from Israel since 1948 is palpable and the occupation of their territory mostly illegal. I think that one’s relationship with Israeli academics is a matter for personal choice. But when I went to Ramallah to visit some Jewish colleagues working there I tried to see and visit some Israeli colleagues on the way – who I had worked with in Oxford. I was ignored and failed to arrange any successful meeting.

“I felt boycotted myself then by my colleagues in Israel. I think the way forward is to try to build any academic links possible between the West Bank and Israel and to stop the ludicrous occupation by Israel of Palestine. Once that can happen then a solution becomes possible.”

Universities UK, the representative organisation for the UK’s universities, maintains their opposition towards academic boycotts which they announced in June. They stated, “The board of Universities UK is committed to the free exchange of ideas between universities and between academics, regardless of nationality or location. The board therefore fi rmly opposes academic boycotts on the basis that they are inimical to academic freedom, including the freedom of academics to collaborate with other academics.

“Given the reported perception in Israel that UK universities support an academic boycott, the board of Universities UK wishes to confi rm its previously stated position that it is fi rmly opposed to any academic boycott of Israeli universities. The board also confi rms its view that all universities must uphold, in the interests of free expression of ideas, the fundamental right of academics to question national and international policies.”

Cherwell understands that the position of the signatories to the pledge has no impact on students and there is no reason for students to not continue to be able to work or study in Israel. Israeli academics and students will also continue to be welcome at Oxford University.


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