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Why Boycott Israel?

January 11, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 2

David Mendenhall defends the academic boycott of Israel (C&EN Sept. 21, 2009, page 3), which was denounced as bigoted in an earlier letter (C&EN, April 27, 2009, page 2). Mendenhall made two arguments against the notion that the boycott is bigoted: It "has widespread support in Britain and other European countries," and the activists he knows who support the boycott "are mostly Jewish."

I don't see how these arguments prove the nonbigoted nature of the boycott. Mendenhall seems to be contending that British and European academics, and Jews in general, are inherently tolerant of Jews and thus any activity they are involved in cannot be anti-Semitic or bigoted. One only wishes this were true. Anti-Semitism exists among a subset of British and European academics, and there are as many self-hating Jews as there are homophobic gay people; that is to say, not a lot, but some.

Mendenhall gives as an example of Israeli academic prejudice Haifa's new private college, the Carmel Academic Center, which closed its accounting academic major one week before classes started, allegedly because too many Arabs were registered. Let's put aside the fact that this is a brand-new college, just opening its doors, and a privately supported for-profit institution as well. Let's also put aside the "official" explanation that the major was canceled due to "financial considerations"; that is, not enough of the accounting students were paying tuition.

Even if one accepts that this brand-new, small private institution canceled a new major with racist intent, is this reason to support an academic boycott against every single academic institution in the country and all of the scientists who work in these institutions?

Regarding academic boycotts, I would say if you abhor the science that a certain researcher is doing, by all means, refuse to collaborate with him or her. If you disagree with the national policies of a certain government, by all means, write letters and encourage your government to withdraw foreign aid. But if you refuse to work with a fellow scientist because you abhor the policies of his or her government, I'm sorry. To me that does smack of bigotry.

Todd P. Silverstein
Salem, Ore.

Mendenhall argues that scientists should support an academic boycott of Israel. His thinking is warped.

Israel is not an apartheid state. That term has been selected by Palestinian propagandists as the way to delegitimize Israel and its existence. More than 1 million Arabs currently live in Israel, within the pre-1967 borders. But Palestine would be an apartheid state, once established. All Jews living in 1948 in what is now referred to as "Arab East Jerusalem" were forced to leave once the area was taken by Jordan; Palestinians refuse to allow any Jews to live in what they regard as "Palestinian lands."

An academic boycott is totally unwarranted, and 190 signatures, including many students', is not enough to show anything.

Joel Ackerman
Richmond, Calif.



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