One of the arguments of professors against the international boycott campaign against Israeli universities is that it is improper to mix academia and politics. What impact do universities have on Israeli policy toward the Palestinians? How do academic institutions support the Occupation? Many professors get into high moral dudgeon when they respond to arguments in favor of a boycott. It deeply offends them that the purity of academic discourse should be sullied by partisan political considerations in which academia should have no part.
Having spent a large part of my life studying at universities, I am highly sympathetic to their mission. However, something about the above argument I found unpersuasive. Now, a particular incident involving Yigal Arens has further persuaded me of the emptiness of this argument.
Arens, a specialist in information systems related to terrorism and disaster preparedness, was invited by an American colleague who was co-organizing a workshop at an academic conference in Israel to participate. Arens warned the American professor that in the past he has not felt welcome at similar Israeli academic gatherings because his views critical of Israeli policy have rankled both the Israeli government and certain conservative members of the academic elite.
Several days later, the workshop organizer called Arens and disinvited him from participating:
I received a urgent call from Prof. Kantor. He apologized profusely and said that he had been told by the Israelis that government personnel would be present — people who would feel uncomfortable if I participated. He was instructed to rescind the invitation, which he was doing.
It took several email requests before Dr. Shapira [the Israeli workshop co-organizer] agreed to provide an explanation. All she said, though, was that Prof. Kantor had “exceeded his authority in extending the invitation without full consultation with the conference organizers.”
One has to ask the question: if Israeli universities adhere to a policy of separating politics from academic discourse, then why did the Ben Gurion University conference organizers allow Israeli government personnel to cause Prof. Arens to be blackballed?? Why is Arens viewed as someone who might compromise the security of the conference by his attendance? Is he an enemy of the state merely because he espouses views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict contrary to Israeli government policy?
Rather laughably, BGU’s public relations office told a Chronicle of Higher Education reporter that rescinding Arens’ invitation had no political connotation whatsoever:
She [the reporter] said that when she contacted BGU’s PR people they stated that the decision was “absolutely not political”
What amazes me is that this “savvy” reporter took the statement at face value and decided there was nothing to the story! Does this constitute the journalistic standards of the Chronicle? They’re sure bulldogs for a story–tracking down every lead and following them indefatigably wherever they may lead, aren’t they?
I’ve suggested to Yigal that he also approach Inside Higher Education, The Forward and Jewish Week to cover this story if he hasn’t already done so. The conference is scheduled for June 4-5th. Too bad the Israeli government has politicized an academic conference and tarnished the concept of intellectual freedom in the process.
Hat tip to Muzzlewatch.