Irish Academics Boycott Israel, Academic Integrity and Common Sense

On April 4, the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) annual congress unanimously adopted a resolution calling for all members “to cease all cultural and academic collaboration with Israel, including the exchange of scientists, students and academic personalities, as well as cooperation in research programs.” To be clear, this is a boycott of professors, researchers and students because of their nationality and for no other reason.
Since intellectual exchange is fundamental to quality scholarship, a boycott is profoundly anti-academic. And in this case, where the only reason for the boycott is nation of origin, it is also despicable and bigoted. Despite the important nature of this troubling action, it has attracted very little American media attention outside of the Jewish press.

The TUI is the first academic union in Europe to endorse the Palestinian call for an academic boycott of the Jewish state and the resolution was promoted by members of the fringe Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign. According to the TUI Web site:

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland is a Trade Union organising [sic] teachers and lecturers in Ireland engaged in post-primary, higher and further education. TUI represents over 14,500 members at second and third level in the education service.

The Jerusalem Post quotes Maurice Cohen, chair of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland, saying:

The Irish Jewish Community knows that while there are many fine people throughout the TUI and across the Irish teaching profession, it would appear, however, that some of its members have been unwittingly manipulated by a tiny number of activists who are pursuing other agendas in line with their own view of the world.

While the radical agitators who proposed the resolution certainly know that they are putting ideology ahead of academic freedom and the advancement of serious scholarship, perhaps the other fourteen-plus thousand members should be made aware of the reality that Irish academia is likely to suffer by severing ties to Israel. Cultural and scientific exchange with Israel undoubtedly benefits Ireland’s teachers and students more than the boycott would hurt Israel’s. As Elliott Abrams wrote for the Council on Foreign Relations:

Israel is a world leader is science and high-tech, and any exchange must be entirely one-sided. So what the teachers have done is to cut themselves off from knowledge and advancement. Far worse, of course, they have deliberately tried to cut their students off.

It’s worth remembering:

  • Israel has the highest number of university degrees per capita in the world.
  • Israel produces more scientific papers per capita than any other nation.
  • The Weizmann Institute of Science has been voted the best university in the world for life scientists to conduct research.
  • Since the founding of Israel, Israelis have won ten Nobel prizes. That’s more Nobel prizes per capita in that time period than any other country. In the same time period, there have been five Irish winner.
  • Israel has more museums per capita than any other nation in the world.
  • Israel has more orchestras per capita than any other nation in the world.
  • Israel publishes more books per capita than any other nation in the world.
  • Israel reads more books per capita than any other nation in the world.

And then there is the perverse, immoral singling out of Israel for condemnation among all the nations in the region, let alone the world. Abrams concludes:

…Meanwhile, of course, no mention (much less boycott) by the Irish teachers of China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba or anyplace else where students are “struggling for the right to education under extremely difficult conditions” that include repressive governments, no academic freedom, political tests for admission to higher education –and in the Saudi case greatly restricted opportunities for girls. What a lesson to their students: ignorance, bias, bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and anti-Semitism wrapped in self-righteousness.

Ironically, TUI is promoting a boycott of Israel, a country with robust academic activity that includes scholarship, books and papers that are critical of Israeli policies. Because it is a free country, Israel’s own academies allow as much. The same cannot be said of Israel’s neighbors. (Freedom House has identified Israel as the only free country in the Middle East.)

241. Executive Committee/Dublin Colleges(x4)

TUI demand that ICTU step up its campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the apartheid state of Israel until it lifts its illegal siege of Gaza and its illegal occupation of the West Bank, and agrees to abide by International law and all UN Resolutions against it.
Congress instructs the Executive Committee to:
(a) Conduct an awareness campaign amongst TUI members on the need for BDS
(b) Request all members to cease all cultural and academic collaboration with Israel, including the exchange of scientists, students and academic personalities, as well as all cooperation in research programmes. [sic]

Though it has gotten little mainstream media coverage, Jewish leaders have condemned the boycott. David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) has condemned the boycott, but no major news media outlets have picked up his statement. Harris points out that “Teachers should be dedicated to cooperating with colleagues in other countries, including Israel, and not shunning other teachers for narrow political agendas.”

Furthermore, he admonishes:

Meanwhile, we trust that the leaders of the Irish campaign, to be consistent, will seek to ensure that they do not benefit from any life-saving Israeli medical advance, technology in their comput
ers, innovations in their cellphones, or other Israeli contributions to the world’s well-being.

In 2007, a British academic union considered a similar boycott. At that time, over 400 American University presidents endorsed a statement by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger declaring such action “utterly antithetical to the fundamental values of the academy.”

Bollinger’s 2007 statement reads in its entirety:

As a citizen, I am profoundly disturbed by the recent vote by Britain’s new University and College Union to advance a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. As a university professor and president, I find this idea utterly antithetical to the fundamental values of the academy, where we will not hold intellectual exchange hostage to the political disagreements of the moment. In seeking to quarantine Israeli universities and scholars this vote threatens every university committed to fostering scholarly and cultural exchanges that lead to enlightenment, empathy, and a much-needed international marketplace of ideas.

At Columbia I am proud to say that we embrace Israeli scholars and universities that the UCU is now all too eager to isolate — as we embrace scholars from many countries regardless of divergent views on their governments’ policies. Therefore, if the British UCU is intent on pursuing its deeply misguided policy, then it should add Columbia to its boycott list, for we do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish. Boycott us, then, for we gladly stand together with our many colleagues in British, American and Israeli universities against such intellectually shoddy and politically biased attempts to hijack the central mission of higher education.

It is time for academicians around the world to issue similar statements and to call for the media to report on this shameful exercise in bigoted, ideologically-motivated intellectual dishonesty.

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