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2007: The University and College Union want to boycott Israeli Universities.

Why is the boycott a bad idea?

Because it warps the basic recipe for justice: if you're going to punish someone, punish someone who is responsible. Israeli academics have not been particularly strong oppressors of Palestinians. They have no greater involvement than the average Israeli, and probably no more political influence than UK academics have. They are targets of convenience -- they are boycotted because they will notice the boycot, not because they especially deserve it.

For another reason, ultimately, it hurts people other than even Israeli academics. We academics do have a reason to exist and an honorable excuse for taking public money: we guard and preserve hard-earned knowledge so that each generation can pick and choose from among the best that humanity has so far done. We also generate some of that knowledge, and we spread it around across as much of humanity as we can.

By cutting ties with Israel, we would slow science and scholarship. Life for the six billion non-Palestinians will be a little bit meaner and cruder than it would be with fully open cooperation. One has to wonder whether this academic boycott going to improve the lot of the Palestinians enough to compensate for the sum total of the damage it will do the the wider world.

Finally, it is intellectually dishonest. Should we refuse Israeli papers in our journals? Should we pretend that their discoveries don't exist? Why should we punish ourselves by ignoring something useful to make a dubious political point?

Suppose that Israeli Dr. X discovers something, writes it up in an Israeli journal and puts it on the web. Suppose I come across it by way of some search engine. What do I do? Should I refuse to read it once I see that the author is Israeli? (That's stupidity and a waste: I might spend two years and 100,000 pounds of British taxpayer's money to recreate whatever result I am refusing to read.) Should I read it, but refuse to give credit to the author? (That would be the blackest of crimes.) Or, should I read it and use it?

So, if your moral calculus says you need to boycott Israel, be careful of the oranges or wind turbines you buy. Or, maybe, go to a conference in Poland instead of Israel: ship your pounds to Poland, if you want, but keep reading and citing those Israeli papers and don't confuse economics with scholarship.

[ Papers | | Phonetics Lab | Oxford ] Last Modified Thu Jun 2 19:49:46 2011 Greg Kochanski: [ ]