It is not surprising therefore that even the Palestinian Al-Quds University in Jerusalem headed by Sari Nusseibeh released a statement against the British association blacklist, saying, "We are informed by the principle that we should seek to win Israelis over to our side, not to win against them... Therefore, informed by this national duty, we believe it is in our interest to build bridges, not walls; to reach out to the Israeli academic institutions, not to impose another restriction or dialogue-block on ourselves."
But instead of heeding the moderate words of those they claim to support, British university teachers will collectively punish Israeli academics in a manner that leading Palestinian academics do not support. They've become more Palestinian than the Palestinians, and at precisely the time when Israel is taking more risks and making more sacrifices for peace than it has since Camp David in 2000.
A spokesman for the Union of Jewish Students got it exactly right when he said, "Things in the Middle East are moving forward while in the UK they are moving backwards. These boycotts have struck a blow at talks between Israel and Palestine."
As Israel's Ambassador to the Court of St. James's Zvi Hefetz noted, "The last time that Jews were boycotted in universities was in 1930s Germany."
Not only is the academic blacklist harmful and wrong; it may also be illegal. According to Jocelyn Prudence, head of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, "This would appear to run contrary to contractual law, race and religious discrimination law, and academic freedom obligations..."
It's a good thing Israel has only to make peace with its Palestinian neighbors and not European university professors.
The terrible message being sent by this anti-Semitic action – anti-Semitic because it will apply only to Israeli Jews, not Arabs or Christians – is that the Jewish state will not be rewarded for taking steps toward peace and ending the occupation. Instead it will be punished.
This isn't the first time the AUT has targeted Israeli professors and universities. Back in May 2003, in response to Israeli re-occupation of several West Bank towns, the union considered but voted down a proposed boycott of Israeli academics. The ban would have directed members to "sever academic links with Israeli institutions and funding agencies, boycott conferences in Israel, and refuse to participate as referees in hiring or promotions by the country's universities."
The resolution failed by a ratio of two to one, because the members feared that a boycott would "harm progressive Israeli academics campaigning against the Sharon government."
Why did the boycott resolution succeed this time around? What's changed in the last two years? From the Palestinian perspective, the political and social climate is objectively improved over what it was two years ago. In just this year, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have signed a cease-fire agreement, Israel agreed to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, and Israel is about to withdraw from all of the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements.
The "second intifada" has effectively ended, and Palestinians are preparing to police their own streets after the Israelis disengage. By any reasonable standard, things are better for Palestinians today than they were in 2003.
Instead of applauding Israel for taking courageous actions toward ending the occupation, British lecturers choose to attack Israel by blacklisting the nation's Jewish academics. From now on, professors in the UK are not only permitted, indeed, they're instructed, to discriminate based on nationality and ethnicity. As The Jerusalem Post wondered, "Why is it that just as the Palestinians are about to receive the greatest unilateral concession ever from Israel they urge a boycott? It is hardly the manifestation of goodwill that would encourage Israelis to support yet greater existential risks."
The Guardian concurred, pointing out a troubling double standard: "Singling out Israel raises other questions. AUT members are not proposing, after all, to boycott universities in North Korea, Zimbabwe or Sudan, where the government has been accused of perpetrating genocide against its own people."
" I used to think that it didn't matter what we did," an Israeli moderate once told me. "They will hate us just as much even if we give back the whole West Bank as well as Gaza."
He paused and then continued: "I was wrong. It does make a difference. They hate us even more when we give more, because it confuses their image of us as totally evil. And our enemies see it as a sign of our weakness and their strength."
My friend was right. This academic boycott makes clear that when Israel does precisely what its detractors demand that it do, even then – especially then! – extreme left-wing academics will only despise Israel more for putting the lie to the professors' hate-filled views.
By targeting Israeli Jews, Britain's "Professors Against Peace" – that's what they really should be called – have displayed bigotry against Jews, done violence to academic freedom and anti-discrimination laws, and are fast closing a window of opportunity for reconciliation in the Middle East.