Ten Cambridge fellows join boycott of Israeli Universities

Elsa Maishman 4 November 2015

Ten Cambridge fellows have announced their boycott of Israeli universities, alongside nearly 500 other British academics.

Academics from over 70 universities – including Cambridge, Oxford, LSE and UCL – have pledged to not accept invitations to visit Israeli academic institutions, act as referees for them, or take part in events organised or funded by them. However, they will continue to work with individual Israeli academics.

The declaration was initially published with 343 signatories as a full page advert in The Guardian on Tuesday 27 October, under the title “commitment by UK scholars to the rights of Palestinians’’. The advert declares that the signatories are “deeply disturbed by Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land, the intolerable human rights violations that it inflicts on all sections of the Palestinian people, and its apparent determination to resist any feasible settlement”.

Since its publication over 160 additional academics have added their names to the declaration.

Cambridge fellows are 10 of the signatories: Professor Nick Humphrey, Professor Patrick Bateson, Professor Clément Mouhot, Professor Anthony Milton, Dr Maha Abdelrahman, Dr Lorna Finlayson, Dr Waseem Yaqoob, Dr Priyamvada Gopal, Dr Mezna Qato and Nadira Auty.

The Cambridge University Israel-Palestine Forum said that “this is an opportunity to hold Israeli universities accountable for their complicity in human rights abuses … It is hoped that boycotts such as these will dissuade these institutions from conducting research which aids the suppression of the Palestinians and perhaps persuade Israel to return to negotiations with some seriousness towards a non-violent solution.”

The declaration states that ‘‘academics, as well as members of civil society, have a moral and practical power which can help shift the dynamics at work in Israel’s relationship with the outside world, and strengthen moves towards equality, freedom and justice for Palestinians.’’ 

The Cambridge University Israel Society has stated that ‘‘there is simply no excuse to single out Israeli academics and institutions for boycott solely on the grounds of their nationality; this is bigoted and highly discriminatory. It’s tragic that those who put their names to this commitment clearly fail to appreciate the opportunity academia has to build bridges and promote dialogue, the most hopeful means of reaching a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This boycott is neither just nor conducive to peace; indeed, it is the complete opposite.’’

In contrast, the Cambridge University Palestine Society has welcomed the pledges, saying that ‘‘boycotts are an effective and essential means of placing pressure on Israel to comply with international law… The pledges made by the academics show that the international community is becoming increasingly aware that negotiations and ‘dialogue’ are simply slogans used by the Israeli government to create the illusion that they want peace whilst allowing them to maintain the status quo.’’

The boycott drew immediate criticism from the British and Israeli governments. The Israeli embassy in London said: “Boycott movements only aim to sow hatred and alienation between the sides, rather than promoting coexistence.’’
Several prominant figures, including JK Rowling, spoke out against such boycotts in a letter to The Guardian last week.