Science is an ideal place for developing international links. International academic cooperation catalysed the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. These followed secret talks between Israeli academics and PLO officials. Their talks began because of contacts maintained with both sides by a Norwegian social scientist, Terje Larsen.
Now, imagine that this scientist belongs to a Union staging an academic boycott. The consequence? No peace talks. This example alone shows that the proposed boycott is a barrier to lasting peace. It is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
As Greens we know that peace can only come through dialogue. And one researcher, Paul Frosh, has listed 26 Joint Cooperation Projects between The Hebrew University (Jerusalem) and Palestinian Academics. One is the Joint Masters course in Social Sciences and Humanitarian Affairs, based on the ‘Declaration of Principles of Palestinian-Israeli International Cooperation in Scientific and Academic Affairs’. This course brings together 20 Israelis and 20 Palestinians in public policy development with an emphasis on bilateral cooperation. Another is a project on Leishmaniasis, linking Hebrew University and Al-Quds University Researchers with colleagues from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. This has resulted in 54 peer-reviewed publications, of which 21 were jointly authored by Palestinian and Israeli academics.
Other joint projects include research on Peace Process and Conflict Resolution, joint Palestinian and Israeli Textbooks, The “Enemy” as Portrayed in the Israeli and Palestinian Media, Social and Economic Distress among Palestinian Citizen’s of Israel, and Environmental Protection of the Israeli-Palestinian Shared Aquifer.
All this finds favour with Greens. These projects tackle economic, environmental and social justice. And they are being worked on collaboratively by Palestinians and Israelis – exactly the same sort of collaboration that will underpin a lasting peace in Israel/Palestine, and the sort threatened by any boycott.
Yet still the call for a boycott comes, even though the academic boycott would be in breach of a law which anti-racism campaigners took years to secure, of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and also of the Green Party’s own manifesto commitments on discrimination. The last issue of Green World carried an article urging boycotts, both academic and economic. The University and College Union’s possible boycott of Israeli academics has now been deemed by its own lawyers to be in breach of anti-discrimination law – but this does not appear to satisfy everyone.
Yet this ruling alone should make all Greens pause for thought. Some suggest Israel should be singled out for boycott because it is supported by the USA and is thus a legitimate target. However, Saudi Arabia is also supported by the USA, and has an appalling human rights record. China – the US’s number one creditor – has a shocking human rights record and the Olympics next year are a ripe target for boycott. Can one really say that Israeli policies in occupied territories are any worse than China’s in Tibet?
Some might say, “Well well, let’s boycott them as well!” But China and Israel are hardly the only countries with poor records of occupation. What about the UK and US in Iraq and Afghanistan? Yet in Britain there is no call for a boycott of the US; and given our record in Iraq, who are we to boycott others from the supposed moral high ground? Of course, we are not responsible for the policies of the British government. But neither are Israeli academics or cultural figures responsible for the policies of Israel’s government.
Some will contend that the vital importance of showing solidarity with Palestinians outweighs all these considerations. They argue that the boycott will put pressure on Israel. However, this is a dangerous line to take when there is no certainty of success. It is just as likely to boost hard-liners on both sides and thus, if anything, make the situation worse for Palestinians. Participating in the OneVoice movement is a much better way of expressing solidarity and hope for the future.
Either we campaign against discrimination, regardless of nationality, or we don’t. We should reject the boycott, and take advantage of any decent opportunities to collaborate with both Israelis and Palestinians in the search for a peace which can only come by finding dialogue and mutual humanity, not by pursuing extremist policies of any kind.
Information about the OneVoice movement can be found at http://www.onevoicemovement.org/
Toby Green (North and Mid Shropshire GP), Raphael Levy (Liverpool GP)
and Peter Sanderson (earthquakecove.blogspot.com).