GRADING THE BRITISH ACADEMICS: F
By Rabbi Perry Raphael Rank
Most of us have probably never heard of NAFTHE. It is the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education and is one of the United Kingdom’s largest teachers’ unions. As trade unions go, it operates as trade unions should, promoting the interests of its member educators. But this year, it entered the arena of national politics. It approved an academic boycott of Israeli institutions that do not condemn Israel’s “apartheid policies.”
Bar Ilan University requested Richard Seaford, professor of Greek literature at the University of Exeter, to write a book review for publication in its distinguished Scripta Classica Israelica. Seaford refused and in explanation wrote:
Alas, I am unable to accept your kind invitation, for reasons that you may not like. I have, along with other British academics, signed the academic boycott of Israel, in the face of the brutal and illegal expansionism and slow-motion ethnic cleansing being practiced by your government.
Brutal and illegal expansionism? This after Israel has withdrawn from the Sinai and dismantled all Israeli settlements in Gaza? Slow-motion ethnic cleansing? This with Arab Israelis enjoying official representation in the Knesset by their own political party, the United Arab List? What exactly is Seaford talking about? Moreover, why should a Classics professor’s opinion matter?
Celebrity endorsements have long been used to advance commercial and political interests. But is it reasonable to assume that a famous Hollywood actor or producer knows more about politics than you? Likewise, should a professor of biology or astronomy or the Classics, for that matter, weigh in heavier on a discussion about MidEast politics than you or I or your neighbor? Yet, this is precisely the fallacy of this academic boycott, creating the impression that all these smart people have some insight into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that you and I just can’t see.
What most of us ought to be able to see is this—British academics violating the sacred principle of academic freedom on the altar of partisan politics; terminating the free exchange of ideas with the very people (i.e. Israelis) who cherish that value; and accusing academics of “sins” which are unsupported by the realities of Israeli governmental policy. It is as if these academics were prosecuting a political position with that famous caveat—please do not confuse me with the facts.
But here’s the irony of irony. NAFTHE died. It was the UK’s largest teachers’ union until its demise on June 1, 2006, when it merged with another educators’ union. This academic boycott was one of its last resolutions at its final convention this past May. One would think that a union on the verge of dismantling would have more parochial concerns at hand. But the anti-semitic sickness, a disease which distorts judgment and compromises one’s rational faculties, moves its victims, even the smart ones, to make really dumb statements. Grade for the British academics: F. They have failed their students by trampling on the very principles they claim to cherish. May all such boycotts end as their trade union has: dead, gone, and relegated to a footnote in the back pages of some irrelevant, sophomoric, and dusty tome.
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