Special report: Israel and the Middle East
British academic boycott of Israel gathers pace
Andy Beckett and Ewen MacAskill
Thursday December 12, 2002
Evidence is growing that a British boycott of Israeli academics is gathering pace.
British academics have delivered a series of snubs to their Israeli counterparts since the idea of a boycott first gained ground in the spring.
In interviews with the Guardian, British and Israeli academics listed various incidents in which visits, research projects and publication of articles have been blocked.
Colin Blakemore, an Oxford University professor of physiology, who supports a boycott, said: "I do not know of any British academic who has been to a conference in Israel in the last six months."
Dr Oren Yiftachel, a left-wing Israeli academic at Ben Gurion University, complained that an article he had co-authored with a Palestinian was initially rejected by the respected British journal Political Geography. He said it was returned to him unopened with a note stating that Political Geography could not accept a submission from Israel.
Mr Yiftachel said that, after months of negotiation, the article is to be published but only after he agreed to make substantial revisions, including making a comparison between his homeland and apartheid South Africa.
The issue of a boycott was highlighted in the spring when two British academics, Steven and Hilary Rose, had a letter published in the Guardian supporting the idea. It was signed by 123 other academics.
Professor Paul Zinger, outgoing head of the Israeli Science Foundation, said: "Every year we send most of our research papers abroad for reference. We send out about 7,000 papers a year. This year, for the first time, we had people writing back, about 25 of them, saying 'We refuse to look at these'."
The following correction was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and Clarifications column, Thursday December 19 2002
In this report we referred to the treatment of a paper written by Professor Oren Yiftachel of Ben Gurion University and Dr Asad Ghanem of Haifa University, which was submitted to the journal Political Geography. We reported that Professor Yiftachel had, after a protracted dispute, agreed to revise the paper according to suggestions made by Political Geography, including the insertion of a comparison of Israel and apartheid South Africa, and that on this basis the paper had been accepted for publication. We now understand that the paper's acceptance for publication has not been guaranteed, and that agreement has not been reached between Professor Yiftachel and Dr Ghanem and Political Geography over all the changes the journal suggested - in particular the comparison of Israel and South Africa. Professor Yiftachel and Dr Ghanem have received a list of comments and suggestions from three academic referees appointed by Political Geography, and they are considering what revisions are most appropriate for the paper, purely on scholarly grounds. Whatever revisions are finally made, the paper will then be refereed again. Professor Yiftachel, as we reported, has consistently opposed the academic boycott, and he remains committed to his position, as well as to the ending of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
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