Over 300 British academics pledge boycott of Israel

Days after J. K. Rowling and 150 authors call for dialogue with Jewish state, scholars publish ad decrying ‘illegal occupation’

Protesters urging a boycott against Israel in Melbourne, file photo (CC-BY SA Takver/Wikimedia Commons)
Protesters urging a boycott against Israel in Melbourne, file photo (CC-BY SA Takver/Wikimedia Commons)

Over 300 British academics signed a public letter pledging to boycott Israel, mere days after a star-studded cast of over 150 British writers and artists published a letter urging the opposite.

The letter, signed by 343 scholars, was set to appear on Tuesday in a full-page ad in The Guardian, according to organizers of the letter of commitment.

“As scholars associated with British universities, we 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,” the ad reads.

The signers declared that they would not “accept invitations to visit Israeli academic institutions; act as referees in any of their processes; participate in conferences funded, organized or sponsored by them, or otherwise cooperate with them.”

But academics wrote that they would, “however, continue to work with our Israeli colleagues in their individual capacities.”

Among the signers are Tom Kibble, a prominent British theoretical physicist at Imperial College London; Timothy Shallice, a past director of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, and Iain Borden, former head of the Bartlett School of Architecture.

In response to the ad, the British Ambassador to Israel David Quarrey said that the British government was firmly opposed to boycott calls and that London was “deeply committed to promoting the UK’s academic and scientific ties with Israel, as part the flourishing partnership between the two countries.”

“As David Cameron has said, the UK Government will never allow those who want to boycott Israel to shut down 60 years worth of vibrant exchange and partnership that does so much to make both our countries stronger,” Quarrey said in a statement to the press Monday.

Ronnie Fraser, director of the Academic Friends of Israel organization, said in a statement that the number of signers represents less than a quarter of 1 percent of the 194,245 academics working in the United Kingdom, which he said constituted a “statistically insignificant minority.”

Simon Johnson, chief executive of Britain’s Jewish Leadership Council, accused the signers of employing double standards.

“These academics should realize that boycotts are divisive and discriminatory and do nothing to advance peace or improve the lives of Palestinians,” he wrote in a statement Monday.

On Thursday, over 150 writers and artists published a public letter in The Guardian opposing a cultural boycott of Israel and encouraging coexistence and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

British author J. K. Rowling in 2010 (Daniel Ogren CC BY-SA Wikimedia Commons)
British author J. K. Rowling in 2010 (Daniel Ogren CC BY-SA Wikimedia Commons)

The list included Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling, popular historians Simon Schama and Simon Sebag Montefiore, as well as 14 members of Parliament and former cabinet member Eric Pickles.

In the letter, the signatories countered a letter published in the paper in February which called for a boycott of Israel. “Artists for Palestine UK” was comprised of over 700 musicians, actors, writers, sculptors, painters, designers, filmmakers and technicians who vowed to maintain their pledge “until Israel respects international law and ends its colonial oppression of the Palestinians.”

“Culture for Coexistence,” on the other hand, on Thursday said that it seeks “to inform and encourage dialogue about Israel and the Palestinians in the wider cultural and creative community.”

“While we may not all share the same views on the policies of the Israeli government, we all share a desire for peaceful coexistence,” the letter said.

“Cultural boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory, and will not further peace. Open dialogue and interaction promote greater understanding and mutual acceptance, and it is through such understanding and acceptance that movement can be made towards a resolution of the conflict,” the letter stated.

The Guardian pointed out that the list is notably absent of Palestinian names.

“This is essentially a British initiative – we haven’t reached out to Israelis or Palestinians,” Loraine da Costa, head of the group, told the paper. “If there are Palestinians who’d like to be part of our initiative, we’d love to reach out to them.”

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