Saturday, April 30, 2005

That AUT thing again
I’m continuing to turn over Stephen Howe’s article in my head. It seems to me that he is victim to that failing common to specialists, whether they are plumbers or nuclear physicists -- yes, he has “read many hundreds of articles, interviews and documents relating to the controversy;” and he has “talked in detail to many of those most closely involved at Haifa”; he has “even written a little about it” himself, but still, or maybe because of this, he is quite unable to see the wood for the trees.

NEW YORK, April 28 (AScribe Newswire) -- ”The Committee on Human Rights of Scientists of the New York Academy of Sciences has released the text of a letter to the Association of University Teachers (AUT) of the United Kingdom calling upon the organization to "rescind and withdraw its call for a boycott of Israeli universities, passed by AUT delegates on April 20, 2005."”

An excerpt of the letter:

We call attention to the "Commentary" in Nature (vol. 421, 23 January 2003) by four prominent UK academics: Colin Blakemore, Richard Dawkins, Denis Noble and Michael Yudkin entitled "Is a scientific boycott ever justified?" This commentary reaffirmed the importance of the UNESCO-ICSU protocols in the most emphatic manner. It points out, that short of preventing (sic) a nuclear war, even extreme circumstances do not support boycotts.

More specifically, Efraim Karsh puts the affair in perspective beautifully. (HT: Roger Simon)

Saad al-Din Ibrahim is one of Egypt's foremost sociologists and founder of the respected Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies at the American University of Cairo. He is also an outspoken pro-democracy activist ... Professor Ibrahim was peremptorily sentenced to seven years of hard labor and his center was shut down and ransacked. He was released three years later as a result of heavy American pressure.

Professor Hashem Aghajari is a prominent Iranian historian and political dissident. In 2002 he was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death for stating that people should not blindly follow the teaching of religious leaders...

As a longstanding member of the British Association for University Teachers (AUT), I cannot recall a single motion to boycott Egypt or Iran for these appalling human rights violations. Nor, for that matter, do I recall the AUT lifting a finger to ease the abysmal denial of academic freedoms and human rights in the Middle East, where repressive leaders supersede state institutions, where citizenship is largely synonymous with submission, and where physical force constitutes the main instrument of political discourse.

Need we say more?

Update: Yes, we need

To: Sally Hunt,
General Secretary, The Association of University Teachers
United Kingdom

Dear Sally Hunt,

Regarding the AUT recent decision to boycott Haifa University and Bar Ilan University in Israel, I am shocked to learn that, in addition to a call for boycott, the AUT is ready to offer a waiver to scholars on condition that they publicly state their willingness to conform to the political orthodoxy espoused by the academics who sponsored your motion.

Oaths of political loyalty do not belong to academia. They belong to illiberal minds and repressive regimes.

Based on this, the AUT's definition of academic freedom is the freedom to agree with its views only. Given the circumstances, I wish to express in no uncertain terms my unconditional and undivided solidarity with both universities and their faculties. I know many people, both at Haifa University and at Bar Ilan University, of different political persuasion and from different walks of life. The diversity of those faculties reflects the authentic spirit of academia. The AUT invitation to boycott them betrays that spirit because it advocates a uniformity of views, under pain of boycott.

In solidarity with my colleagues and as a symbolic gesture to defend the spirit of a free academia, I wish to be added to the boycott blacklist. Please include me. I hope that other colleagues of all political persuasions will join me.


Dr Emanuele Ottolenghi
The Middle East Centre
St Antony's College
Oxford University