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Watch who you call Nazis

Rod Liddle
The Guardian
July 17, 2002


A young British lecturer working at the University of Tel Aviv decided he would like to take a post back home, in the United Kingdom. However, the head of the first university department to which he applied told him, charmingly: "No, we don't accept any applicants from a Nazi state." We can imagine this university factotum very easily, shrouded in self-righteousness and spite, delighted at last to be able to vent a bit of spleen about a situation very far away which he either fails to understand, or perhaps, even, wishes to understand.

This is the latest development in the dunderheaded boycott of Jewish - sorry, Israeli - academics. The campaign seems to be spreading, despite intense vilification from almost all normal (ie, non-academic) people. The names of so many leading scientists on the letter to the Guardian that instigated the campaign should have been enough to put people off. But no such luck. Most of the moral objections were dealt with, superbly, in this newspaper by Jonathan Freedland last week.

But here are another couple of points to consider. If the applicant above was a young Iraqi from the University of Baghdad wishing to study, say, nuclear physics, he would be welcomed. Step right in, Tariq; the particle accelerator is over there in the corner. A similar welcome would be afforded to a Zanu PF-supporting professor from the University of Harare.

But this is what happens if you turn the thing round. If the same campaign had been directed at a real Nazi government, in Germany in about 1936, a Jewish professor wishing to leave a German university for Britain would have been barred from doing so under the terms of the boycott. Obviously, or obviously to most people, the thing manages to be at once morally repugnant, fatuous and self-defeating.

At the University of Manchester, Professor Mona Baker "unappointed" two Israeli academics from the journal for which she worked. She hopes that, none the less, she can still be friends with them. I hope they punch her on the nose. Her husband, Ken, whined that they had received 15,000 emails in 24 hours, many "abusive and obscene". Just 15,000, huh? Better keep them coming.