Guardian: Israel boycott debate triggered email attack

The Guardian’s Education section today reports on how recent debates on boycotting Israeli universities produced a flood of often abusive emails:

Following a heart attack earlier this year, Paul Mackney, then general secretary of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (Natfhe), was lying in hospital last month flipping through emails on his Blackberry. A proposal calling on the lecturers’ union to encourage an academic boycott of Israel had just been made public, and flooding his inbox were messages accusing him, among many things, of being a “Bin Laden-oriented supporter of Islamic terror and propaganda” and an “ultra anti-semitic Nazi”. Later, at the union’s annual conference, he leaned over during a debate to show the most recent: “Subject: Jew Hater!” it read. “It’s nice to hate Jews and single them out for everything! It’s called ANTI-SEMITISM you disgusting piece of shit.”

Mackney was sent over 15,000 messages from boycott opponents. At least 50,000 more were sent to other leaders of Natfhe and the Association of University Teachers, which passed a similar motion last year. Petitions with more than 17,000 signatories were sent to the union. While much of the criticism was well formulated and respectful, there was something troubling about the massive international campaign.

Mackney’s family gave shelter to Jewish refugees during the second world war. He has campaigned on behalf of Jewish members for policies for those who do not want to work on the Jewish Sabbath. He opposed the boycott, speaking out passionately against it just before the votes were counted at the conference late last month.

The report also explains why some academics might have been motivated to support a boycott of Israeli academia:

While individual Israeli academics have spoken up in defence of academic freedom in the occupied territories, not one institution has officially condemned injustices related to the occupation: not when in Operation Defensive Shield the army sowed destruction on Palestinian campuses, or when students are arrested on their way to university, and hundreds cannot reach their classrooms because of the separation wall or the other restrictions on movement. Under Israeli occupation, all 11 Palestinian universities have been closed at some point, often for years at a time.

What are flourishing in Israeli universities are special programmes for the security forces and centres for security studies, in which the focus is not on academic analysis of the security apparatus, but on finding academic justification for its activities.

More here on the subject of abusive email and letter campaigns by pro-Israel fanatics.

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