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A Jewish community leader and prominent physician has written to the rector and president of Tel Aviv University, calling for the school to take a stand after two of its lecturers called for support of a boycott of Israel in a British newspaper last week.
Prof. Stuart Stanton, president of the British Society of Urogynecology and chairman of Hadassah UK, wrote to TAU rector Prof. Aron Shai and president Prof. Yossi Klafter after Prof. Rachel Giora and Dr. Anat Matar, along with 10 other Israeli activists, wrote a letter that was published in the Guardian, calling for British author Ian McEwan to turn down the Jerusalem Prize.
McEwan is set to receive the prize, Israel’s highest literary honor for foreign writers, at a ceremony at the Jerusalem International Book Fair on February 20.
The letter also reiterated support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.
“As Israeli citizens who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions call on Israel, we believe that if Ian McEwan accepts the Jerusalem Prize in Jerusalem, it will make him a collaborator with Israel’s worst human rights offenders and its ‘business as usual’ policy,” the letter stated.
Maintaining that the prize was awarded by the Israeli establishment, “which is keen on branding Israel in general, and Jerusalem in particular, as beacons of enlightenment and democracy,” the activists said McEwan would be playing into the hands of “cynical politicians who are trying to whitewash their systematic human rights violations.”
Stanton – a visiting professor in Hadassah’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Department who goes to Jerusalem to teach, consult and operate on a voluntary basis – said in his letter that with academic freedom comes responsibility, and that if the two lecturers had been working for a public or private company, they would have been suspended.
“Academic freedom is not just a privilege and a right, but it also entails a responsibility, and you must be painfully aware that many Jews, myself included, find this public call by other Israelis, particularly lecturers from your university, for boycott divestment and sanctions, utterly unacceptable and degrading,” he said.
Calling for the university “to take a stand,” he stated, “It is hard for me to understand how you will continue to employ them [the lecturers], and compromise and prejudice the name of your university. Their actions are totally counterproductive to fundraising for your university abroad, particularly in the UK.
“I hope you will give consideration to taking disciplinary action against them and look forward to hearing from you,” he said.
“We are firmly against BDS in all its forms, but there is something particularly insidious in calling on writers and thinkers, and academics for that matter, to participate in boycotts,” said Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. “Closed minds are not the solution to the problems in the region.”
Last year, Matar, from TAU’s philosophy department, was the guest speaker at an event advocating a boycott of Israel at London University’s School for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), a campus renowned for anti-Israel activity. Her talk was entitled “Supporting the Boycott of Israel: Campaigning from Within.”
Both Giora, of the university’s linguistics department, and Matar are active in the BDS campaign and are members of a group called “Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS call from within.” In 2009, they both stood in solidarity with Ben-Gurion University academic Neve Gordon, who was criticized for an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times calling for a boycott of Israel.
“As citizens and residents of the State of Israel, we stand with Dr. Gordon in echoing the Palestinian call for boycott, divestments, and sanctions, and in saying NO to the persecution of those who strive for freedom,” they said.
Practical measures included adopting “wide, context-sensitive and sustainable boycotts of Israeli products, companies, academic and cultural institutions, and sports groups, similar to the actions taken against apartheid South Africa.” They also called for the “canceling and blocking” of free trade and other preferential agreements with Israel.
The same year, they sent a letter signed by other activists to Madonna and Leonard Cohen, telling them to not play in Israel.
“A performance here would simply support for the illegal and inhumane policies [of Israel], described by many as war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Giora said as the group’s spokeswoman.
Recent recipients of such requests included singer Macy Gray, who, like McEwan, refused to heed to the call. Gray is set to play in Tel Aviv this weekend.