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Oxford Professor Boycotts Israeli Soldier

Articles in chronological order


Oxford don rejects student because he is from Israel

Mark Oliver
The Guardian
June 30, 2003

An Oxford University professor is facing disciplinary action after rejecting an Israeli student's application to work with him because he had a "huge problem" with his country's "abuses on the Palestinians", it emerged yesterday.

Andrew Wilkie, who was last month elected Nuffield professor of pathology, apparently rejected an approach by Amit Duvshani, 26, a student at Tel Aviv University, solely because of his nationality.

A spokeswoman for the university would not rule out dismissal as one of the possible disciplinary actions the vice-chancellor, Sir Colin Lucas, might take against Professor Wilkie when he rules on a "thorough report" on the incident which he is expected to receive this week.

Mr Duvshani, who is approaching the end of a masters degree in molecular biology, had applied to work in Prof Wilkie's laboratory towards a PhD thesis, but said he was shocked by the email response he received on June 23.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that in setting out his reasons for rejecting him Prof Wilkie wrote: "I have a huge problem with the way that the Israelis take the moral high ground from their appalling treatment in the Holocaust, and then inflict gross human rights abuses on the Palestinians because they [the Palestinians] wish to live in their own country."

The professor, who is a fellow of Pembroke College, went on: "I am sure you are perfectly nice at a personal level but no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli army."

Mr Duvshani had done his mandatory three years' national service and this was noted in the CV he had forwarded.

The student told the Sunday Telegraph: "I was appalled that such a distinguished man could think something like that. I did not expect it from a British professor. I sent similar applications all round Europe and did not have another response like that. Science and politics should be separate. This is discrimination."

The University of Oxford agreed the rejection at least appeared to be discriminatory. A statement said: "Our staff may hold strongly felt personal opinions.

"Freedom of expression is a fundamental tenet of university life, but under no circumstances are we prepared to accept or condone conduct that appears to, or does, discriminate against anyone on grounds of ethnicity or nationality, whether directly or indirectly."

Prof Wilkie has since made an apology to Mr Duvshani. The professor said: "I recognise and apologise for any distress caused by my email ... and the wholly inappropriate expression of my personal opinions in that document."

Mr Duvshani has made it clear that he is no longer interested in studying at Oxford.

Some British academics have called for a boycott of Israeli scholars and conferences in Israel in protest at the country's treatment of the Palestinians. In May the largest university lecturers' union voted at its annual conference by a majority of about two to one to reject a call for an academic boycott of Israel.



Academic campaigner backs Oxford's Israeli rejection

Polly Curtis
The Guardian
June 30, 2003

A leading campaigner for academic freedom today offered his support to the Oxford don at the centre of a new row over a boycott of Israel.

Andrew Wilkie, Nuffield professor of pathology at Oxford University, is facing possible disciplinary action after refusing to consider an Israeli student for a PhD because of his nationality.

Professor Wilkie wrote in an email reply to Amit Duvshani, a 26-year-old Tel Aviv University student: "I am sure that you are perfectly nice at a personal level, but no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli army."

He has issued a full apology for his comments and the university is investigating the matter. It has refused to rule out disciplinary action against the professor.

Michael Cohen, a founding member of the Campaign for Academic Freedom and Standards, speaking in a personal capacity, told that he would back someone who refused to work with a member of an Israeli university as a demonstration against the Israeli government.

He said: "I'm perfectly happy to support someone who feels that they want to boycott Israeli members of academic institutions - it's a way of bringing home to the Israeli government how appalling their behaviour is.

"It's appalling that disciplinary procedures might follow. He has a perfectly legitimate point of view and I would support him if that's the argument he wants to make. It's a question of balance of the rights of the individuals involved. But that seems insignificant in contrast with the rights of the Palestinian people. If we're concerned about academic freedom, we should look at what's going on in Palestinian universities where lives are being made impossible."

In an email addressed to a colleague, Professor Wilkie made a full apology. He wrote: "I regret that it [the email] is not a hoax. My act was out of conscience about the war and I was completely open about my reasons. It was totally out of order I agree but it was done honestly.

"I am deeply sorry for this and realise that I took the wrong action. In addition an official apology has been issued by Oxford University and the student's case will be taken forward. I retract what I said, which was caused by too personal and emotional a response to the terrible situation in Israel. I hope you can forgive me." And he asked that the colleague circulate the message.

But Professor Wikie's action has attracted widespread condemnation from around the world.

Dr Andy Marks, founder and director of the International Academic Friends of Israel, a group founded to oppose the boycott of Israel, said: "We are saddened and outraged that efforts to isolate Israeli academics continue to gain momentum. Professor Wilkie's blatant discrimination against a scientist based on his nationality is a dangerous threat to academic and scientific freedom. We cannot use political litmus tests to decide who can and cannot conduct scientific research."


Oxford Investigating Professor Who Rejected an Israeli Student

by Richard Allen Greene
JTA - The Global News Service of the Jewish People
8 July 2003

An Oxford University professor could be fired after rejecting a graduate student because he is Israeli.

Andrew Wilkie, a professor of pathology, dismissed an application from Amit Duvshani to work in his laboratory in late June, partly on the grounds that the Tel Aviv University student had done his mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces.

"I am sure you are perfectly nice at a personal level, but no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli army," Wilkie wrote Duvshani in an e-mail that has been widely circulated.

Wilkie accused Israel of gross human rights abuses against the Palestinians, even citing the Holocaust in his argument.

"As you may be aware, I am not the only U.K. scientist with these views, but I´m sure you will find another suitable lab if you look around," the e-mail concluded.

Israel supporters from New York to Tel Aviv responded with outrage.

In London, the Board of Deputies, the umbrella organization representing most British Jews protested to Oxford.

"Oxford University is expected to be a place where ideas are freely upheld and exchanged," board President Henry Grunwald wrote to Sir Colin Lucas, Oxford´s vice-chancellor. "This cannot happen if there remains any scope for refusing to admit or hire someone on the basis of their nationality, religion or race," Grunwald said.

Andy Marks, founder and director of the International Academic Friends of Israel, said such "blatant discrimination against a scientist based on his nationality is a dangerous threat to academic and scientific freedom."

The group was formed to fight against a boycott of Israeli academics by British academics, which has been the subject of fierce international debate since it was launched last summer.

Baroness Susan Greenfield, a neurobiologist and director of Britain´s Royal Institution, has campaigned against the boycott.

She said the controversy over Wilkie´s comments underscores the seriousness of the boycott movement in Britain.

"This will show that it´s something that´s real," she told JTA. "It´s not just a flash in the pan."

Although a British academic union rejected a boycott motion at its annual conference in May by a vote of two to one, "that still means a third voted for it," she noted.

Oxford University was quick to distance itself from Wilkie´s move, describing itself as "appalled that any member of its staff should have responded to an inquiry from a potential graduate student in the terms in which Professor Wilkie e-mailed Amit Duvshani."

Wilkie apologized for "any distress" his e-mail caused, and said the inclusion of his "personal opinions" was "wholly inappropriate."

"I entirely accept the University of Oxford´s Equal Opportunities and Race Equality Policies," he said in a public statement.

Despite Wilkie´s apology, Oxford convened a special disciplinary committee last Friday.

The Visitatorial Board, as it is called, has the power to recommend that Wilkie be dismissed. It could also recommend a lighter punishment, such as a warning.

Wilkie has four weeks to present his case in writing to the committee, which consists of four Oxford staff members chaired by an outsider. He also has the right to appear before the board in person.

He will not take part in selection of Oxford students or staff while the board is considering the case.

Only one other Visitatorial Board has been convened at Oxford in the past year, a university spokesman said.

The Board of Deputies welcomed Oxford´s move, telling JTA it was "gratifying to hear that the case is being taken so seriously."

Wilkie did not respond to JTA requests for comment.

But Sue Blackwell, a boycott supporter who teaches in the English department at the University of Birmingham, said Wilkie´s apology should be the end of the matter.

"I understand that Prof. Wilkie has now apologized to the student and withdrawn his original position of refusing him a place in his lab," she told JTA via e-mail.

"I don´t see what he had to apologize for in the first place, but especially in view of his apology it is completely unacceptable that the University of Oxford should be considering disciplinary action against him," she added.

Blackwell, who proposed the boycott motion that the academic union rejected this spring, highlighted the fact that Wilkie referred specifically to Duvshani´s army service in rejecting him.

"This is an important issue because doing military service involves supporting the occupation either directly or indirectly, and for this reason a growing number of young Israelis are refusing to do their initial period of service or to become reservists," she said.

"Israelis who have not done military service are unlikely to be considered for most jobs, which thus excludes most Israeli Arabs as well as the ‘refuseniks,´ " she said. "So this single act of ‘discrimination´ against a student who has done his military service in Israel has to be seen in the context of the institutional discrimination in Israel against anyone who has not done military service."

There have been concerns that the boycott movement could attempt to portray Wilkie as a martyr, but anti-boycott campaigner Greenfield said she doubted such a defense would be convincing.

"Were he to be punished, I can´t see how anyone could condemn it," she said. "I can´t see how" his e-mail "could not be racism."

Greenfield said she was amazed that Wilkie — whom she does not know personally — had sent such comments by e-mail.

"Sometimes people fire off e-mails without thinking them through," she said. "That is one of the reasons I oppose the boycott."

Forwarding e-mails asking colleagues to refuse to work with Israelis, she said, can give people "a misguided and rather superficial feeling of being liberal."