Israeli plan for West Bank university fuels boycott debate in British academia
The Israeli cabinet this week approved the upgrade of settlement-located Ariel University Center to full university, drawing a rebuke from Britain's Foreign Office.
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But David Hirsh, a lecturer in sociology at Goldsmith's College, University of London, says that moves towards a boycott do not enjoy broad support among his peers or the general public. Rather, he says, the boycott movement's effect is to teach union activists, students, and young people that Israel should be treated “as one of the greatest threats on the planet.”Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Hirsh adds that the boycott campaign, which he has vigorously opposed, may be making the situation worse. He notes that the Israeli cabinet of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the first to endorse the idea that Ariel should become a university, did so not long after one of the major boycott debates in Britain. “So it was done almost as if it was an Israeli answer to the boycott campaign," he argues.
He also criticizes both the Israeli settler movement and the British boycott campaign for falsely equating the school with Israel's established, certified universities.
"The right-wing Israeli pro-settler side kind of mirrors the idea of the British anti-Zionist side in as much as both are pretending that this is a university and both are pretending that there is no significant difference between Ariel [University Center] and, for example, Tel Aviv University."
By blurring the distinction, Hirsh argues, the settler movement bolsters the school as a legitimate West Bank institution, while the boycott campaign uses the school to discredit Israel's university system broadly.
"In my view there is a very significant difference" between Ariel University Center and the rest of Israeli academia, he says, and that difference undermines both sides' positions.
Implementation of the upgrade for Ariel University Center depends on Israel's high court ruling on a petition opposing the move, which has been brought by a body representing existing Israeli universities. They are concerned that state funds will be diverted away from their institutions.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told cabinet colleagues that the settlement of Ariel, where the school is located, "is an inseparable part of Israel and it will remain [so] in any future [peace] agreement just like the other settlement blocs."
In his statement, Britain Foreign Secretary Hague added that the move was “particularly regrettable because it comes at a time of rapidly expanding co-operation between UK and Israeli universities, and when the British Government has taken a firm stand against those who seek to undermine Israel’s legitimacy by boycotting educational and cultural institutions.”