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May 10, 2005



Chris Bertram has written about this at crookedtimber.org. As a member of AUT, he's particularly appalled, and has been working to against this ridiculous boycott. His theory is that there was a lack of interest in involvement in AUT and as such a vocal minority managed to push through something most would have found unacceptable. Lesson: go to Union meetings, because if the only people who show up are misguided troublemakers...


I haven't attended AUT Council for several years, but had I been there I would probably have voted for the boycotts. An important thing to bear in mind is that this is not a boycott of Israeli academe in general, on the grounds that Israel is a uniquely evil or racist state. It's a boycott of two specific universities that the AUT regards as guilty of bad practice. There's nothing very unusual about this. We spent much of the last year boycotting Nottingham University (UK), because of its intransigence in contract negotiations.

Let's bear in mind that the AUT is something the AAUP is not -- a union. It views the relationship between academics and universities in terms of employees and employers. Part of the role of a union is to highlight and seek to redress bad practice by employers -- at home and abroad. In any other sphere of employment, this would pretty much go without saying.


But the bad practice, dear brother, is essentially political rather than procedural, isn't it? Why not include, say, Bob Jones University here in the States for its unflagging opposition to homosexuality and Catholicism and fervent support for Bush's Mideast policy? It just seems so incredibly selective...


Anti-semitism is not new to the left, especially the academic left.

Col Steve

non-Israeli academics need to draw a distinction between the actions of a rogue government and the right of its scholars to participate in the world-wide intellectual community

1. Vicious and solitary. Used of an animal, especially an elephant.
2. Large, destructive, and anomalous or unpredictable: a rogue wave; a rogue tornado.
3. Operating outside normal or desirable controls

Yes, Mythago, you are right.

If the British left (AUT in this case) really had the courage of its convictions...they would demand their employers turn down, and have their members refuse to participate in activities funded by, the millions of dollars given by the US DOD and the far greater amount of pounds given by the UK MOD each year to UK universities for research and other activities. Money must fall into a different political or ideological test category in defining "bad activities."


From my personal political perspective, I think boycotting Bob Jones University and -- now that you mention it Col. Steve -- institutions that feed off defense money would be a fine idea. Unfortunately, I doubt I would be able to carry my colleagues in the AUT with me on those votes. Not, mythago, because we're a bunch of lefty anti-semites, but because the aforementioned institutions aren't acting in contravention of UN Resolutions (as Bar Ilan is, by propping up the illegal College of Judea and Samaria in the Occupied Territories) or guilty of the political persecution of their own staff (as Haifa is). Note that the AUT did not support the call for a boycott of Jerusalem's Hebrew University. The charge in that case was bulldozing Palestinian families out of their homes to build dorms. Pretty nasty, but not, it was judged, in the same leage with Bar Ilan and Haifa.


This is a good example of what I call the "Mr. Jordan strategy." When someone in my 6th grade math class misbehaved, Mr. Jordan would give extra homework to the good kids. He told us if we didn't want the extra homework, we should use peer pressure to make the bad kids shape up. The Mr. Jordan strategy failed, because it just made the good kids resent Mr. Jordan. Similarly, the boycott will just make Israeli academics resent British ones.

But even if the strategy did "work," in the sense of getting Israeli academics to denounce their government's actions, it wouldn't help a single Palestinian. The opinions of academics have about zero influence on the actions of their governments. So we've got one group of intellectuals trying to strongarm another group into doing the correct meaningless posturing.


but because the aforementioned institutions aren't acting in contravention of UN Resolutions

Is that the only criterion which the AUT uses?


The boycott would seem to be counterproductive, in that in general the universities have a broader range of dissent than most other institutions, and dissent is worth fostering. Boycotts tend to get people to close ranks and might well limit the range of publicly expressed dissent. Of course, if the univ. in question fired a teacher for expressing dissenting viewpoint in a non-violent fashion, then a labor action might be in order until the issue was resolved, since the issue was clearly within the univ.'s ability to change the outcome. But to blame the univ. for the Wall seems a bit dunderheaded.

Why not boycott agricultural products instead, particularly those types grown on the West Bank?

David hirsh

Engage, at www.liberoblog.com was set up in order to organise the campaign within AUT against the boycott decision. We have been successful in calling the Special Conference of AUT on May 26, and are currently organising in each AUT branch to send policy and delegates to the Special Conference. Please look at our website regularly for news, information and arguments.

boaz sharon

The AUT should begin by boycotting itself for not doing enough to stop UK participation in the Iraq war

Boaz Sharon
Professor, University of Florida

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