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Students attack Israel boycott


Will Woodward, education editor
The Guardian
July 9, 2002


The boycott of Israeli universities led by British academics was condemned last night by the National Union of Students.

The NUS attacked as "racist" the sacking of two academics from a pair of Manchester-based journals because they work at Israeli universities.

Mona Baker, a professor of linguistics at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (Umist), angrily denied the charge levelled at her by the union. She dismissed Gideon Toury and Miriam Shlesinger from their minor roles on two translation journals owned by her company because they worked for Israeli universities.

She insisted that it was their university and not their nationality which provoked her decision. More than 700 academics worldwide have signed a petition supporting the boycott, begun by Open University professor Steven Rose in a letter in the Guardian.

The Association of University Teachers has also condemned Israeli aggression and backed a motion calling for a boycott.

But Mandy Telford, president of the NUS, said: "The National Union of Students stands firmly against all forms of discrimination. This is an abuse of academic freedom that can only have a negative impact on students at Umist.

"We wouldn't support the infringement of [people] being able to study because of where they live and where they are."

Daniel Rose, the union's anti-racism campaign convenor, said: "To exclude people based on their nationality is abhorrent and nothing short of racism, and should be universally condemned."

But Prof Baker, who has received hundreds of abusive emails from pro-Israelis, said last night: "The other issue of academic freedom is if they succeed in what they are doing in trying to get me out of Umist. That would mean nobody would ever be able to do anything they believed in. I boycotted South Africa in exactly the same way."

She said 10 Israeli academics were supporting the boycott.