You might recall that Steven Weinberg, the Nobel laureate decided that this is a bad time for a Jew to visit the UK on an academic exchange.

Well, here’s today’s news:

The University and College Union (UCU) of Britain, the largest academic organization in the United Kingdom, voted on Wednesday in favor of an academic boycott of Israel.

The motion was passed despite the UCU leader’s appeal to members of the union to ignore the call for an academic boycott.

Of the UCU representatives present, 158 voted in favor of the motion, 99 voted against, and 8 abstained.

No big deal. Seriously. Everybody stop with the anguish and self-searching.

Israel should remember that they’re at war and that this boycott is hypocrisy at its deepest. Singling out Israeli academics is shameful and nothing more. The shame is the union’s, and frankly, this vote is not surprising considering where British (and some American) academia has taken us regarding the Middle East in the past couple of decades. I know they won’t do this, in large part because many careers will be directly impacted in Israel because of this boycott, but Israeli universities should simply put out the appropriate press releases and move on to conduct research and other exchanges with other countries. If other countries follow suit, Israeli academics should focus on the US and allow THE US TO BE AN EVEN GREATER BENEFICIARY OF ISRAEL’S EXTRAORDINARY ACADEMIA.

Really, don’t waste time and energy on this issue because it is nothing more than hypocrisy for a country that sits in Iraq as an occupier, and in many ways is responsible for the divisions in the Middle East, to boycott Israel for its war with the Palestinians.

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  • Well, I’ve cancelled my registration at a conference in the UK this summer. Consider me successfully boycotted.

    I’m not sure how the Palestinians are any better off as a result of this, except maybe for reduced CO2 emissions.

  • The Palestinians are actually worse off if any of the Israeli institutions’ funds are affected. Many Palestinians as well as Israeli Arabs study or exchange with Israeli universities.

  • That’s the last straw. I’m burning all my Radiohead records.

  • Nope TM, doesn’t work that way. In the mystical cycle of boycotts and retaliation you have to make the difficult choices, the ones that may hurt you more than them. Besides, when I think of England as far as intellect and academia, Radiohead is only thing that comes to mind. Then Harry Potter. In any case I can’t find my old Peter Gabriel-era Genesis records.

    You gotta hit ’em where it hurts. After “The Information” I’ve got no problem avoiding Martin Amis. But it’s over and done with Helen Mirren. You think it’s gonna be easy for me to burn my Humble Pie records? Do you think I’m thrilled to cut Shepards Pie out of my diet? It’s fire with fire my friend. Suck it up.

    The question is, does this so-called “UCU of Britain” represent just England or does it also include the “Occupied Territories” (i.e. Scotland, N. and S. Ireland, Wales, and maybe Sheffield)? Because it’d be great to not have to burn my John Cale records.

  • Ramon Marcus,

    I have a suggestion. If instead of burning your Radiohead records you would like to make a donation to those who do not boycott maestros over academic politics, I assure you will be able to find them new, loving homes.

    TM, just curious on your thoughts– is this boycott resonating with the British people?

    I mean, remember what happened at Duke. Sadly, there were Jews among those 88 professors who signed that horrific call for a lynching of those innocent young men, but most Jews do not, in fact, believe in declaring white men guilty of a rape they did not commit, or sounding alarms of a crisis generally that statistics do not support.

    I would hate to blame the British people for a sentiment they do not share. And Tony Blair is hardly an enemy of the Jewish people, but rather, he does stand up to the far-Left’s simplistic understanding of the conflict.

  • Yes DK, I specifically have OK, Computer. An interesting, thought-provoking piece of work by an artist who considers himself an artist and, like most of us, opposes the mainstream right-wing media.

    All the more shame to be smashing it into little pieces.

    You’re making it sound like I’m planning on retaliating against their cultural boycott with another cultural boycott. Wrong. I’m talking about retaliating against their cultural boycott by smashing their cds. Boycotting is a wimp’s protest. Were the Haredim “boycotting” the gay pride parade? I don’t think so. They were burn, baby burning; and that got your attention, didn’t it?

    Like I said, I’m not happy about having to do this. As a supporter of the arts, film and music community and having spent some time it it, I abhor what I’m about to do. The idea of me burning my Sandy Denny collection? Makes me sick to my stomach. But one has to do certain things when confronted by a cultural boycott. Take no prisoners. Sandy Denny doesn’t deserve it. She’s not around to talk me down. Neither is Steve Marriot. Or Ronnie Lane… a shame.

    But Thom Yorke is and there within lies a possible solution. I maybe – I said MAYBE – willing to hold off in order to give Yorke time to issue a condemnation of the UCU vote. I’m sure it’s forthcoming and probably already sampled by Kanye West.

    Like you said, and I wholeheartedly agree with you, you’d “hate to blame the British people for a sentiment they do not share”. Assuming this vote doesn’t represent a growing antipathy by the British academic and intellectual community towards anything Israel, then yes, OK Computer doesn’t deserve to be smashed into bits. I’ll bet Thom has good friends who are Zionists. Even someone in his management.

    Maybe then this is a good opportunity for British artists, writers, intellectuals, musicians that we respect, like Thom Yorke, to take a stand against this UCU boycott that may or may not be misrepresenting their true feelings. Instead of doing what they tend to do when confronted with the complex issues of Israel when confronted with it, which is to avoid it.

    As far as donating money to anyone, I’d have to forego smashing cd for taking the damn things to the record store and selling ’em.

  • Kelsey, I believe it is resonating because as I mention in my Weinberg post, other groups are also seeking or have voted to boycott Israel. More important, we know that their media has a severe anti-Israel bias to the degree where their journalists’ union voted to boycott Israel. People believe what they are told and the media is making the case that Israel is bad, bad, bad.

  • Ramon, I was asking because that’s one of the Radiohead CDs I do not have in its entirety. If you want, would you could send it to me, and I will smash it to bits when and if I feel the time is right? I just want to save you the clean up, of course.


    We need to be real careful about starting a boycott or big ugly fight with gratuitous name-calling and everything A.D.L. with the most loyal ally of the U.S. of A. Better to kvetch responsibly and demand fairness, and show how they are not giving us that. Despite historical problems, the British people are honorable people. And England is the parent nation of the U.S. No small matter. Let’s be gentlemen about this. Even when we fight. They will respect that.

  • Who said differently. I say that in both this post and the Weinberg post. Instead of engaging them in war, it’s better to quietly take the steps necessary to make sure they have as little power as possible over us, while letting them know we’re disenchanted. No need to make noise about it or to turn it into a boycott or ideology.

  • As much as I think we need to live our lives, you ignore the significant damage this is. It’s not as simple as increasing collaboration with the US because of academic differences.

    In the field I know (political science) a lot of Israeli profs, except the ones who did their Ph.D. in the US, can’t get published in top American journals because they didn’t learn game theory and other statistical analyses in their Ph.D. programs in Israel or Europe (even at the top European universities), so the pinnacle is getting published in the top European journals (since the US journals will only publish research that relies heavily on game theory, et al that they don’t know here [besides the US trained]) and most of those are UK journals. So they are locked out of the UK journals due to politics, which significantly impacts their research as “publish or perish” is the rule of quality academia. I’m sure it’s true in most of the social sciences and humanities, although may be less true in the hard sciences

  • There are other solutions. If an Israeli university is determining whether somebody should be up for promotion then the senior faculty can do their own research into the quality of the person’s papers even if they are unpublished. It’s not perfect, but what exactly do you expect Israel’s academics to do? Do you think they can force the government to do something that will somehow magically appease the Palestinians? It’s an absurd premise.

  • Here, Stephanie at Israelity wrote a post about this issue and quoted this post. I wrote the following in response:

    The issue is what we make of it.

    I mean, what exactly is Israel supposed to do, close itself down? Olmert was elected on a platform of unilateral withdrawal from most of the West Bank. However, two things have destroyed that premise: Hizbullah’s attack and especially their use of rockets, which rendered all Israeli solutions ineffective; Palestinians attacks from Gaza, particularly involving rockets for which Israel has no answer, despite Israel’s unilateral and comprehensive exit from Gaza.

    In other words, the Palestinians have made it impossible for Israel to securely withdraw. Moreover, by electing Hamas and by continuing the attacks, they’ve made it impossible to even consider serious talks about peace. So what exactly are these boycotts going to achieve? Israel isn’t going to have its citizens killed because of boycotts and that’s what the choice is at this point.

    It’s not as if this information isn’t available to the boycotters who are journalists, academics, architects and doctors. These are the intelligentsia and they have determined in their votes that it doesn’t matter that serious danger surrounds Israel and that the situation has become untenable because the Palestinians have made it so (instead of choosing to build Gaza into a model of peace and responsibility). The British boycotters know all of this but have decided that Israel must do “something.” That something is what? What? I have no idea, short of shutting down the state of Israel so that the Palestinians would stop their attacks and Israel wouldn’t take many of its current security measures. Of course, then Israel might end up like Gaza or, in the best case scenario, Lebanon or Jordan.

    Let them boycott and in the meantime develop anti-rocket systems and keep targeting the terrorists and let Israeli doctors work with US doctors, and Israeli academics do more exchanges with US schools, and keep British journalists in the territories and outside of Israel (how long would they hold up, do you think?), and don’t give British architects projects in Israel. Yes, it’s a shame that relations with another western liberal democracy will be harmed, but it isn’t Israel’s choice. Israel is being forced into its current circumstances.

    Please note that I’m not excusing settlements or missed opportunities for peace. I’m saying that here and now Israel is in a war and a tough battle within that war and it must deal with the difficult reality. The boycotters live far away in some mythical dream where peace can be had with a snap of the finger. So let them boycott while ignoring them.

  • here’s a pretty scathing take on the UCU vote from the UK Independent:

    31 May 2007
    The Independent


    A bad idea has made an unwelcome return to the spotlight. Two years ago, the Association of University Teachers proposed a boycott of Israeli academic institutions in protest at the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israeli state. This resulted in protests from writers and academics around the world, including 21 Nobel prize-winners. The union eventually overturned the resolution.

    But yesterday, at the annual conference of the successor to the AUT, the University and College Union, lecturers once again found themselves debating a motion calling on UK academics to “consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions”. Despite the appeal made by the new general secretary of the UCU to reject the motion, it was passed by 158 votes to 99. The motion will now be put to the wider union membership to bring it into force.

    Let us be clear why a boycott is a deplorable idea. The purpose of the embargo is fatally unclear. The motion condemned Israel for its “denial of educational rights for Palestinians by invasions, closures, checkpoints, curfews, and shootings and arrests of teachers, lecturers and students”. But what has this to do with Israeli universities who would be the target of this boycott? Some Israeli academics have worked hard to oppose the excesses of their Government in the West Bank and Gaza. What good does it do to punish them in this manner?

    On a philosophical level, boycotts do not sit easily with the principles of universities, which are built upon the foundation of the free exchange of ideas. But it is on a pragmatic level, as we report today, that this idea could do the most damage. A boycott could actually hurt those that it purports to support. Many Palestinian students are eager to study in Israeli universities, but are thwarted by the draconian travel restrictions imposed by the Israeli army. An international boycott would do nothing to help such students fulfil their ambitions. And if it caused Israeli academia to recede into resentful isolation it could do them positive harm.

    We also need to examine the motivation of those who voted in favour of this motion yesterday. There is a strong whiff of gesture politics. Although this motion might have made those who backed it feel virtuous, a boycott will not discomfort the Israeli government. On the contrary, it will offer Israeli propagandists a convenient excuse to accuse British academics of bias whenever they produce work that reflects the Israeli state in a negative light.

    An academic boycott would be a selfindulgent distraction from the real issues. The rank-and-file members of the UCU should demonstrate the good sense that their delegates lacked and vote down this proposal.

  • ramon– check out out ‘House of Meetings’ before you consign Martin Amis to the ranks of the has-beens.

    Middle, the Brits gave us the Balfour Declaration, did they not– which, arguably, is “responsible for the divisions in the Middle East”. Though I doubt that’s quite what you meant.

    You’re too intelligent to once again conflate what some people in a country do, with the country’s own official policy. Shades of ck apropos France.

  • Sorry for the cranky mood, Middle…. Forgot this advice to ramon: pick some other actress to boycott– Judi Dench, maybe. Helen Mirren? Not w/ her unbeatable combination of intelligence and gratuitous nudity.

  • Mr. Kelsey – Genius!! You’ve given me a great idea. I’m assuming you only have part of the record because you… how can I put this… procured it in a manner that may not conform entirely to the spirit of copyright laws? Either that or you bought parts of it from Itunes. Unfortunately I got mine through the Itunes, which does not allow me to either transfer the mp3s, burn them to a cd, or listen to them Tuesdays and Thursdays between eleven am. and three pm..

    So instead of burning their books and cds, let’s mass produce pirated copies and sell them on Ebay… or better yet give them to China. Because I’m feeling Green these days and cds aren’t recyclable.

    Tom, been meaning to check that one out. Hope it makes up for “The Information.” I agree with you about Helen Mirren. Again, we’re trying to make a statement here. You don’t hear me threatening to smash Oasis or Manic Street Preachers cds. I’m boycotting Helen Mirren because IT HURTS.

    As far as that Independent editorial, scroll down to the second to last graph:

    “On the contrary, it will offer Israeli propagandists a convenient excuse to accuse British academics of bias whenever they produce work that reflects the Israeli state in a negative light.”

    You read what seems to be a coherent and well-reasoned editorial and get all sucked in and then they sneak that one in at the end. I know, it’s the Independent, they can’t help themselves. Because, see, you give a Jew just the ever so slightest reason to criticize the British academic community and they’ll jump on it like a kid on a mudpuddle and start screaming anti-semitism so for the sake of keeping them quiet please reject this boycott proposal for gosh sakes!

  • Ramon hit the nail right on the head. First of all, this is a newspaper criticizing academics. For what, for being late to the party? The journalists’ union voted in favor of a boycott of Israel just some weeks ago.

    Second, even while they try to criticize the academic union they can’t help themselves regarding criticizing Israel.

    The IDF’s travel restrictions are “draconian” – no mention of the fact they prevent, you know, suicide attacks or the transfer of rocket technology and certain people from Gaza to the West Bank because the Palestinians have launched a war against Israel. And of course, it will give Israeli “propagandists” ammo against the poor old well meaning British. Those “propagandists” are everywhere and if you give them an inch…

    Tom, no need to apologize for the crankiness, your point about Balfour is precisely what I’m talking about. The British were given a mandate and they decided to do what they wanted. Moreover, they’re the ones who divided the modern Middle East. They’ve also been involved in some of the fighting there, namely in 1956 and the current Iraq war (where they sit as an occupying force). It’s ridiculous to have them preaching to Israel.

    However, I’m not condemning an entire country or trying to retaliate against an entire country. I am merely reacting to what several groups have done or are doing to Israel. I’m saying that if they wish to make the environment hostile, then in those areas, Israelis should find different arenas in which to do their work. If British architects wish to boycott Israel, then Israel doesn’t use British architects. If British academics wish to boycott Israeli academics and institutions of higher learning, then Israelis should do the same to the British. It’s not as if they have a choice, they’re being boycotted. Instead of crying about it and wondering what they could be doing differently, which is the theme of many on the Left and many who support these boycotts, they should move on and ignore the Brits involved.