Dissecting the British academic boycott

When it comes to Israel, the acadmics have ignored the most elementary statistics.The British University and College Union describes itself as the largest national association of lecturers and academic related staff. And of all the burning education issues – budgets, …

When it comes to Israel, the acadmics have ignored the most elementary statistics.The British University and College Union describes itself as the largest national association of lecturers and academic related staff. And of all the burning education issues – budgets, standards and more – discussed at its recent conference, I am astounded to see which one has been assigned as the ‘top story’ on the union’s website. The answer: An academic boycott of Israel, due to continuing violation of Palestinian rights.

As an economics lecturer might say, assume that Israel is a pariah state and that Palestinians had not bombed the Hebrew University in Jerusalem nor the Sapir campus near Ashkelon. And accept that all those who voted for the resolution still believe that Israel has a right to exist in some guise. Even then, the intellectual logic of such a proposal will tax the most senior of professors.

The proponents of the boycott are academics, dedicated to the purity of fact and of research. Yet when it comes to Israel, they have ignored the most elementary of boring and inconvenient statistics. For example, a Jerusalem scholar pointed out recently that when Israel controlled the Palestinian territories, it founded seven Palestinian universities. Until then, there were none. And since 1994, when the Palestinian Authority assumed responsibility for education, no other pluralistic centers have been established.

Under the new ruling, British universities will not be allowed to accept this material, as it was obtained from an Israeli institute of higher learning.

Grasp the importance of this statement, and you realize how much the UK academics have just shot an enormous hole in their great big feet, all in the name of supporting peace. Academia thrives and depends on the exchange of materials, ideas and study papers.

For example, a recent survey conducted by the Milken Institute showed that of over 400 universities examined, Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University were ranked 12th and 21st respectively for registering biotech patents. Only one British establishment, London University, could beat those placings. Aside from deliberately sabotaging one of the potential areas of Israeli-Palestinian co-operation, UK academia will now deprive itself of much valuable input.

A business colleague of mine confirmed the problem. He is working with an Israeli start up on a unique technology in the field of homeland security. The company wishes to complete the research in the UK. He confined in me that “the software development is essential to prevent repeat bombings of the kind seen on the London underground. This latest development – political correctness taken over by extremists – will jeopardize the venture and place people’s freedom in danger.”

Israel’s software achievements in the past two decades have been extensive. They reach to numerous areas of daily lives of all peoples. A classic example is the very technology used to drum up support for the boycott, the Pentium NMX Chip. It was designed at Intel in Israel. Both the Pentium 4 microprocessor and the Centrum processor were designed, developed, and produced in Israel, as well as voice mail and the ICQ technology. Much of the groundwork for all these ideas came from whiz kids at Israel’s universities.

The absurdity of the issue rapidly stretches in to areas of Israeli bio and nanotech. To quote three examples, which mask thousands more: Medinol’s stents, used in cardiac surgery, are arguably the best in the world. Protalix is developing a system to produce complex human therapeutic proteins, which will help fight genetic disorders. Professor Aaron Ciechanover, recent Nobel laureate, has developed a series of cures for specific cancers.

All these projects emerged from research at Israel’s various universities. And not only is the UCU is asking its members to disassociate itself from such works. It is thus asking them and others not to use such breakthroughs, although they will improve the lives of millions.

Ludicrous? Maybe even wicked? Consider the Wolfson Medical Center, south of Tel Aviv. It is famed for its ‘Save A Child’s Heart’ program, which has treated around 1,500 children from around the world. Approximately 50% of the patients have been Palestinians. Much of the work is subsidized via the European Union and is supported by visiting doctors, including from the UK. Time to shut down the wards?

As a businessman, I meet with many Israeli companies developing new technologies. I recently visited Atlantium. Located outside Jerusalem, it targets the water protection and purification market in Scotland, where many rivers are losing fish due to a rare virus. Another CEO has made a presentation to the UK National Health Service, using Israeli medical trials that show he has discovered a way to contain the spread of contagious diseases in hospitals.

The delegates to the UCU conference are also asking for these projects to become taboo to its members and the consumer.

When I studied in Britain, new ideas were actively sought after. In the words of Dr. Sari Nusseibah, president of the Palestinian Al-Quds University: “The free flow of science and information… constitutes a powerful force against war… Of all possible bridges to burn as a form of ‘well-intentioned’ political pressure, the boycott of academic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians should be excluded…”

If the UCU represents the best tradition of British academia, which has taken pride in its openness and progressiveness, the elected delegates of the members have taken a major step backwards towards selective teaching and predetermined research. Their decision will bring scorn upon itself and the community at large. It will damage those people they are supposedly seeking to help.

If that is the result of the union’s actions, the time has arrived to question seriously the true motives that have brought its members to such a segregationist position.