[Boycott - Academic]
Israeli ministers discuss British boycott threats amid plans for retaliatory action
Conal Urquhart, The Guardian
4 June 2007
Israeli groups are planning to launch a counter-boycott of Britain in response to a series of boycotts proposed by British unions and associations.
British boycott could have long-term consequences for the Israeli economy and embolden other European unions to implement their own boycotts.
"friend of Israel" email
The counter-measures include an email campaign to convince North Americans to boycott British goods and services and a threat by union workers to refuse to unload British exports to Israel.
Israelis have reacted angrily to proposals by the University and College Union and Unison, the largest public sector workers' union, to boycott Israel in protest at its treatment of Palestinians. The proposals follow a similar resolution passed by the National Union of Journalists earlier this year.
Before yesterday's weekly meeting of the Israeli cabinet in Jerusalem, ministers said they were concerned at the prospect of a boycott. Israel's trade minister, Eli Yishai, said he would hold talks on how Israeli industry would respond. The minister for social affairs, Isaac Herzog, said the boycott proposals were part of "a long trail of anti-semitism in Europe, which includes one-sided articles and anti-semitic harassment, topped by torching of the synagogue in Switzerland. This is a great challenge for the Israeli government to deal with."
Criticism of Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza is seen as identical to anti-semitism, and even mainstream figures equate the proposed boycotts of Israel with the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany
Britain exported £1.35bn of goods and services to Israel in 2005, with Israel exporting about half the amount to the UK. Other groups said they would launch anti-British initiatives. Dudu Himmelfarb, union leader at the Maman Israeli cargo company, told the Israeli news website Ynet: "If the British decide to go ahead with the boycotts, we will stop unloading cargo from British Airways aircraft and imports from Britain."
In a widely circulated email, a "friend of Israel" urged Israel's supporters in the United States and Canada to boycott British products. The email notes that a British boycott could have long-term consequences for the Israeli economy and embolden other European unions to implement their own boycotts.
The email goes on to say that although the British government has opposed the boycott, its other actions suggest it is not "a friendly state".
Reaction to the boycott proposals reflects a deep vein of anti-British sentiment among the Israeli and Jewish right wing. The most common target for their anger is the BBC and newspapers such as the Guardian and the Independent which are seen as anti-Israel.
The perception of some of the Israeli right wing is that Britain is pro-Arab, a hostage to Muslim opinion, and also partly responsible for the Holocaust.
These views are becoming mainstream. Criticism of Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza is seen as identical to anti-semitism, and even mainstream figures equate the proposed boycotts of Israel with the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany.
Israeli Government to form joint task force to counter U.K. boycotts
Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent
The foreign and education ministers are setting up a public relations task force to prepare a public relations campaign against the boycotts of Israel being forged in the United Kingdom.
Whoever promotes such a boycott must understand that it has a price.
Israeli Foreign Minister
The joint task force will consist of representatives of the two ministries, the Histadrut and heads of universities and colleges.
Anti-Israel boycotts are spreading in the U.K. from university teachers' unions to other professional associations.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said in a debate on the task force yesterday that "we're dealing with hypocrisy and hatred, which must not be allowed to emerge, even if they are marginal bodies. Whoever promotes such a boycott must understand that it has a price."
Foreign Ministry deputy director general for Europe Rafi Barak will head the task force, which has been instructed to recommend ways of dealing with the situation in Britain both politically and through public relations.
Emphasis will be placed on working through the Internet and cooperating with voluntary bodies such as the friendship associations, the Jewish community, churches, trade unions, etc.
The Histadrut will interact with the trade unions, the universities will interact with their equivalents and so on.
The team was also instructed to propose how to use the boycott threats to expand academic cooperation with Britain.
"We cannot afford not to do nothing. We have an obligation to prevent the process' expansion," Livnin said during the debate.
Education Minister Yuli Tamir said, "We must initiate a move that will render the boycott illegitimate in the eyes of the world. It is important that Israel make this unequivocally clear. The goal is to make the the British public reject the intention to boycott Israel."
Participants in the meeting included the chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, Ofer Eini, the heads of Israel's major universities and colleges, academic organizations, and student union leaders.
Retaliation! If we can only find a way
Shmuel Rosner, Chief U.S. Correspondent, Haaretz
How to react to the so-called British boycott against Israel? This is a question asked by many players in the Jewish world after the University and College Union, Britain's largest teachers union, voted to consider an academic boycott of Israeli universities. How can one take revenge against a body on which one has no influence? And, even if it was possible, would revenge make British academia more reluctant to boycott Israel, or rather more prone to spite criticism and stay the course?
One of JFN's members, the Connecticut-based Goldhirsh Foundation, chose a more confrontational measure: it will not give any grants to British researchers.
Various groups and activists were struggling this week to find a way with which to convey their protest and anger. The Jewish Funders Network, for one, started collecting money to support universities' exchange programs with Israeli institutions. "We are starting strong", Mark Charendoff of JFN wrote to Haaretz. He was the one taking the softer route, encouraging Israelis rather than retaliating against the Brits. One of JFN's members, the Connecticut-based Goldhirsh Foundation, chose a more confrontational measure: it will not give any grants to British researchers.
Thursday, Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy introduced a resolution on the floor of the House of Representatives condemning the UCU. The resolution has the support of 30 members of Congress from both political parties. Will this help? Just this morning, in a meeting with an Israeli official, I heard a story about British Jews complaining over the accent of spokeswoman Miri Eisen of the Prime Minister's Office. Eisen, all agree, is an excellent speaker. Her English is perfect. Alas, her accent is an American accent, and the complaint coming from Britain was that it does not fair well with the Brits these days. In light of such a complaint, it's quite hard to imagine the U.S. House of Representatives influencing the British Academicians.
In a meeting with an Israeli official, I heard a story about British Jews complaining over the accent of spokeswoman Miri Eisen of the Prime Minister's Office. Eisen, all agree, is an excellent speaker. Her English is perfect. Alas, her accent is an American accent, and the complaint coming from Britain was that it does not fair well with the Brits these days.
Exposing the hypocrisy and the irrationality of the boycott is easy. The Anti Defamation League is offering an add campaign on its web site doing just that. Will that change the decision? Such ads can only work against people who have shame, and I don't think many such people can be found in the body that voted for the boycott.
Official Israel is playing its part this week by forming a new committee, announced yesterday, to fight the boycott. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Education Minister Yuli Tamir said such precedents should not be ignored. Those promoting this measure, Livni said, should know that it will have "a price". Thus, a unified front was presented to the world: Two women of much different political convictions standing together against the boycott.
But what is it exactly that Israel can do?
Israel's Trade and Industry Minister Eli Yishai threatened to mark all British products. That's nice, but will probably result in the marking of Israeli products in Britain. And what about a counter academic boycott? The truth is that Israelis are terrified by the prospect of such a showdown. "A counter [academic] boycott is a mistake," said Tamir in the Knesset Monday. Professors weren't enthusiastic either. "Let's face it", one said, "we need them more than they need us".
I would suspect that in this case Israelis, realistic Israelis, would prefer to take the more mellow approach: Convincing, explaining, talking, engaging. They will act the old Jewish-Diaspora way, not the aggressive-Israeli way. Oddly, that's not the case with some of the leading voices in the American Jewish community who were willing to take the battle to the enemy much more forcefully. Such a reaction, though, will bring to the fore a dilemma every Jew with some sense of history will be very quick to understand.
Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor, threatens to "work on legal moves". He told the Times Higher Educational Supplement that these would include using a U.S. law - banning discrimination on the basis of nationality - against UK universities with research ties to U.S. colleges. U.S. academics, he said, might also be urged to accept honorary posts at Israeli colleges in order to become boycott targets.
One such U.S. academician already reacted to the boycott two weeks ago. Nobel Prize winner Prof. Steven Weinberg (I nominated his for the the Jewish Man of the Year Award) decided not to travel to Britain this summer. If other notables will follow his example, if foundations will eliminate British institutions from their grants lists, if lawyers will sue, and legislators will keep up the pressure, it might help. It might also give those British academicians yet another reason with which to justify their ugly anti-Semitism.
'If you boycott us, we'll boycott you'
Sheera Claire Frenkel, Jerusalem Post
Any country that boycotts Israel or any Israeli products will have all of its imports to Israel tagged with stickers reading, "This country is involved in an anti-Israel boycott," if a bill to be submitted by MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) on Monday becomes law.
If the bill is approved, all British products imported to Israel would be labelled as originating in a hostile country - tagged with stickers reading: "This country is involved in an anti-Israel boycott".
"When we are boycotted, we should respond in kind. When we are isolated by a country, we should isolate them in return," Schneller said Sunday.
The MK drafted the legislation in response to a recent series of anti-Israel boycott calls by organizations in the United Kingdom.
Last week, the British Union of Colleges and Universities decided to consider a boycott of all Israeli academic institutions. In mid-June, the UK's public services union (UNISON) will vote on a boycott proposal. If the proposal passes, UNISON's 1.4 million members will cut economic ties with the Jewish state.
"We must respond to this current trend in England. If the British think that they can pass judgement on us as a group and boycott us in this manner, than we must respond similarly to the British," Schneller said.
MKs Stas Meseznikov (Israel Beiteinu), Moshe Kahlon (Likud), Danny Yatom (Labor), and Ya'acov Margi (Shas) have pledged to support Schneller's bill.
The details of the bill, such as the type and size of sticker, have yet to be determined. If the bill is approved, all British products imported to Israel would be labelled as originating in a hostile country.
"It is important for people to know where the products they are buying come from," said Schneller. He added that if the British were to stop using computer systems from Israel, the UK couldn't function. And "if they boycotted medicines that were researched or created in Israel, half of England would be sick."
Even if the bill is earmarked for accelerated approval by the Knesset House Committee, it would take several months to pass through the three stages of voting in the Knesset.
The cabinet prepared its reaction to the boycott calls on Sunday morning, with a number of ministers preparing targeted responses to the boycott.
"There is a long history of anti-Semitism in Europe, which includes one-sided articles and anti-Semitic harassment, topped by the torching of the synagogue in Switzerland, said Welfare and Diaspora Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog. "Israel must fight this, and the entire international community should take part in the effort."
During the weekly cabinet meeting, it was decided that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni would hold a meeting to formulate an appropriate response to the boycotts.
According to Foreign Ministry officials, the meeting - which will include members of academia - will draw up an action plan on how to combat the boycotts and to keep them from gaining momentum.
Some in the Foreign Ministry have said privately that Israel has not done enough over the last few months - as various groups in Britain debated boycott and divestiture - to protest these moves, and to persuade the British government to register its opposition loudly and publicly as well.
Livni spoke to British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett on Friday and said Israel viewed these steps "gravely" and that they stood in complete opposition to the good relations that exist between the two countries.
Meanwhile, Trade and Industry Minister Eli Yishai said he had begun meeting with business leaders from both Israel and abroad to discuss what effect a boycott could have. Last week, the Histadrut Labor Federation said it would begin holding talks with Israeli businessmen to discuss the possible ramifications.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
Pressure Mounts For Boycott Retaliation
Joshua Mitnick, Israel Correspondent, The Jewish Weekly (NY)
British academic union’s anti-Israel acts prompt outrage, lawsuit threats.
Tel Aviv — The threat of an economic boycott by a leading British academic union has prompted rising pressure on Jewish academics to consider retaliatory measures and abandon their opposition to mixing politics and scholarship.
The boycott would have a great impact on a science and technology university such as the Technion because scientific research cannot take place without collaboration with scientists around the world and funding from international sources
Martha Molnar, public relations director for the American Society for Technion University
Israeli-Anglo ties were strained this week after the University and College Union instructors union passed resolutions urging local chapters to consider a boycott of Israeli academics and universities, and calling on European institutions to stop funding Israeli research.
Later this month the 1.6-million member British civil servants union — UNISON — is expected to vote on a proposal that Israelis fear could have serious economic repercussions and spread to professional organizations outside of England.
Many Israelis are accusing the British professional associations behind the strike of anti-Semitism. They argue that the British teachers have singled out Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians while ignoring humanitarian crises elsewhere in the world.
“Not that I think the debate over Israeli policy isn’t legitimate, but the targeting of the Israeli academic is unjust,” said Nachman Ben Yehuda, dean of the faculty of Social Sciences at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
“What does it mean to boycott the Israeli academy? It means to boycott Jewish professors. We need to put this on the table,” he said.
A spokesperson for Israel’s Technion University said a boycott could stifle scientific research in Israel.
“The boycott would have a great impact on a science and technology university such as the Technion because scientific research cannot take place without collaboration with scientists around the world and funding from international sources,” said Martha Molnar, public relations director for the American Society for Technion University.
Mark Charendoff, the president of the Jewish Funders Network here, said his group will offer “an incentive grants fund” available to academic institutions seeking academic exchange programs with Israeli institutions of higher learning.
Pressure is building among U.S. Jewry for some kind of response, according to U.S. academics.
Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz plans to investigate the legal ways of fighting back. He called for sanctions to “devastate” and “bankrupt” those behind the boycott.
Andrew Marks, a Columbia University professor who founded International Academic Friends of Israel, said that the British academics run the risk of upsetting the international academic community.
“I’m getting contacts from people urging me to boycott British academics,” he said. “I’m getting pressure to start my own boycott and to write letters.”
What is new about this boycott, said Marks, is that it could boomerang against the British. “Worldwide, people are saying this is distasteful and counter-productive,” he said.
Mark Charendoff, the president of the Jewish Funders Network here, said his group will offer “an incentive grants fund” available to academic institutions seeking academic exchange programs with Israeli institutions of higher learning. He said his membership was “outraged” by the decision. “We don’t think that Israeli academics should suffer the consequences of such irresponsible actions.”
Approved by a 158-99 vote last week, the UCU resolutions condemns “the complicity of Israeli academia in the occupation” and “encourages members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions.”
Trade and Industry Minister, Eli Yishai, will meet with ministry officials in the coming days to discuss possible responses to an economic boycott. One under consideration would be a special marking on British products.
Members of an Israeli delegation to the British convention last complained that it was a hostile environment. Ofir Frankel, director of the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom, attended the academic union conference and said the boycott supporters ignored Israeli efforts at the convention to convince them not to support the resolution.
“This is not really a debate because there aren’t two sides,” Frankel said. “They don’t wish to have a debate.” She said that in meeting with those who favored the boycott, “you felt that nobody wants to listen. They have a clear view. You give them contrary claims. They told us, ‘You’re like the Vichy government.’ This was the level of discussion.”
Still, much of Israel’s academic establishment and educational officials remain opposed to retaliatory measures.
“A counter boycott is a mistake,” said Education Minister Yuli Tamir at a Knesset meeting Monday. “We can’t talk about academic freedom and then at the same time limit academic freedom on our own. We need to separate academia from politics.”
Ben Yehuda said Israeli academics must resist the temptation to seek a tit-for-tat response to the boycott.
“The nature of academia is dialogue. If we think a boycott isn’t right then we shouldn’t call on people to do a counter boycott,” he explained. “Once I do that, I give legitimacy to a boycott.”
Ilan Pappe, a political science professor at Haifa University, called the union’s decision “a positive move” because it has prompted the heads of Israel’s five universities to declare for the first time their concern about conditions for Palestinians. “Without the threat of a boycott, this decision would not have been made,” he wrote in an e-mail.
A unified government response to the boycott is still being discussed, though it is expected to be the result of a collaboration of the Foreign Ministry, the Trade Ministry, the Education Ministry and Israeli universities. So far, the Foreign Ministry seems to concur with Tamir’s opposition to a boycott.
But in the Trade and Industry Ministry, officials are mulling retaliatory sanctions. Its cabinet minister, Eli Yishai, will meet with ministry officials in the coming days to discuss possible responses to an economic boycott. One under consideration would be a special marking on British products.
“The label will make the product sign obvious,” said Roei Lachmanovich, a spokesperson for Yishai. “So if someone who decides they don’t want to buy British goods, it will be clear.”
Yishai’s spokesperson insisted that such a counter measure would only be used as a “last resort.”
If the boycott spreads, it will stir public calls for a quid pro quo, leaving the government with no alternative to approve retaliatory measures, explained the spokesman.
While some professors have said the proper response to an academic boycott is to strengthen ties with the United Kingdom, Ofir Frankel, who attended the convention, said the pressure for retaliation might be too overwhelming.
“It is understandable people will take such actions. I will not support it, but I won’t stand against it,” she said.
Frankel said the Branford, Conn.-based Goldhirsch Foundation for brain cancer research is reconsidering grants to those participating in the boycott.
“I believe there will be more counter measures,” said Frankel, who called on the British parliament to intervene and undo the decision, which she called undemocratic. Israeli academics charge that the vote reflected a small radical faction within the British academy.
“The boycott vote has been pushed in the last two years by 250 delegates of a union that has 125,000 members and those who are delegates at the union conference are all junior academics,” said Ben-Gurion political science professor David Newman. “They are all political activists, and a lot of them are anti-Israel, of course. And you won’t find any prestigious senior British academic professor — whether he is for Israel or against Israel — involved in this.”
A small fringe of Israeli academics has supported the boycott move. Ilan Pappe, a political science professor at Haifa University, called the union’s decision “a positive move” because it has prompted the heads of Israel’s five universities to declare for the first time their concern about conditions for Palestinians. “Without the threat of a boycott, this decision would not have been made,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Pappe also called for wider pressure, including boycotts, divestment and sanctions, “very much as was the case with the pressure on South Africa.”
Two boycott resolutions adopted by British university instructors several years ago ultimately were repealed, but some Israeli academics have complained of discrimination. Articles have been ignored for journals, doctorate candidates have been given a cold shoulder, and academics have rejected Israeli requests for external reviews of staff.
Miriam Shlesinger, a translation studies professor at Israel’s Bar Ilan University said she was dismissed in 2002 from the board of a British journal because she is Israeli.
“The editor asked me to resign, on the grounds that she could no long work with Israelis as such,” said Shlesinger, a former head of Amnesty International’s Israel chapter. “Its only Israelis who were being penalized.” n
Staff writer Stewart Ain contributed to this report.
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