NATFHE, a union of British educators that has just merged with AUT, another union, has decided to boycott the Israeli scholars who don't publicly denounce their country. You should not attend conferences in Israel, collaborate with the people in Israel, or review their papers. Maybe you should not even use their papers in your research - I am not sure whether our British friends will be allowed to use relativity and the Standard Model.
Except that some of the discoverers of the Standard Model might denounce Israel after all, so maybe pieces of the Standard Model will survive. ;-)
The Reference Frame believes that these acts are anti-Semitic because they selectively attack innocent scholars in one of the most democratic countries in the Middle East, if not the most democratic one or the only one, that only differs from others by its predominantly Jewish population.
As you can see, I am not the only one who urges the misled academics to end their boycott and to apologize to everyone who has been affected by their pernicious and disgraceful and wrong campaign. I agree with our president that at this stage, there is enough data to argue that the boycott is anti-Semitic both in effect as well as in intent (see The Crimson). And I also agree with Malcolm Grant, the president of University College London, that the motion violates the principles of Academia and the unifying element of all scholars in the world - their common search for the truth in which the political goals should never become primary.
My visits to the museums of holocausts have taught me quite a lesson. For example, in Pilsen, we had about 2,600 Jews before the war. Virtually all of them died in the 1940s, but the road to death was a gradual one and it resembled what is happening in NATFHE and other places. First, the "racially clean" people were not allowed to talk to the Jews, except for screaming at a Jewish neighbor for not having cleaned the staircase. Then the Jews had to wear the identification signs. Later, their coats and ski, among other things, were confiscated. At the end, they were brought to the gas chambers.
The statements that the boycotts today substantially differ from what was happening in Germany in the 1930s are illusionary. The Nazis had also invented some cliches explaining why the Jews were guilty, just like the commies do today. The ideology and the logic is almost identical: the main motivation is that the Jews have been successful in the system of capitalism - in fact, more successful than some other ethnic groups that live on the same territory. Is Israel more guilty today than the Jews were in the 1930s? No way. Some people were always doing questionable things. The Jews were doing them, too. But the same statement applies to all other nations.
Anti-Semitism is about a selective treatment of the Jews or Israelis.
Certain extreme Left and extreme Right forces - which are closely related - don't like the "plutocracy", as they called it in the past, or "apartheid", as they call it today, and they selectively start to invent pseudoreasons to justify their attacks against the Jewish nation (or other groups). They create a completely false image of the "unwelcome" group, invent non-existent correlations, unnaturally divide people into sharply separated groups, and start to force all other citizens to collectively terrorize the "unwelcome" groups.
This is how the totalitarianism always starts, and it really does not matter how the protagonists call themselves. Some of them are Nazis, some of them are communists from the angry Socialist Workers Party (UK) that is apparently beyond the recent boycott, some of them are radical feminists. The principle is shared: the main goal is to define how all people must look like and behave, and humiliate and eliminate all who don't fit the narrow box.
I admire Israel for its achievements and the peaceful approach to the difficult situation in the region. And I am confident that if Israel is sufficiently supported by the good people in the world, it will have enough freedom to improve policies that seem imperfect today and make life better for everyone in the region: Arabs, Jews, and others. Boycotting Israeli scholars for their being Jewish and for their better understanding of the situation than the members of NATFHE have is unacceptable, I view it as a moral equivalent of a crime, and I denounce it in the strongest possible terms.
Also, I support the calls by the Simon Wiesenthal Center addressed to the U.K. authorities to halt government grants for institutions that more or less officially participate in this dirty game because these things should not be paid for by a taxpayer. All my criticism applies to an analogous boycott declared by the labor unions in Ontario, Canada.
The British boycott is organized by people like Steven Rose. His opinions are rather scary and incidentally, you can guess whether I think that his research has ever had any value if I tell you the following. The most famous book he has co-authored is an anti-scientific rant attacking genetics and its effects on human nature, while his second most famous work denies the whole field of evolutionary psychology. There is a whole community of people paid from taxpayers' money who are permanently citing this junk.
Of course, Steven Rose himself might be driven by the desire to punish Tel Aviv University for having given an honorary PhD degree to Steve Pinker who has politely but convincingly demonstrated that Rose is - let's say it - a crank in The Blank State.
It's not overly encouraging that people like Rose have gained such an immense influence on Academia, and in some sense, I feel that it's already too late to complain. The contamination of academic unions by these memes might be beyond a critical mass so that it might be better for whole nations to build new unions or abolish them altogether - or more radically, to build a new Academia from the scratch, at least in the social sciences. ;-)
Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism
Some people want to distinguish anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Fine, but if the target of the boycott are individiual Jewish scholars, then it is clearly anti-Semitism, not anti-Zionism. For me, the discussions about the difference are not terribly meaningful. I believe that the Jewish nation has a right to have its own land - I am probably a Zionist. Virtually all nations, especially the influential ones, have their own territory, too. The Jewish nation is clearly among the important ones in my opics. From my perspective, if someone says that it is exactly them who should have no land, he or she must be an anti-Semite. Imagine that Italians are not allowed to live in Italy.
Palestine belonged to the Jews a few millenia ago, according to the historical sources - and some of the most important religious texts - so it was a natural place to choose. Surely, getting a piece of that land back was not a smooth sailing. But you should realize that the fact that the Jews lost their control over the territory in the past could not have been quite clean either. Israel has been around for more than 50 years. If it did not exist today, I would support the proposals to try to create it. For me, debates questioning the existence of Israel in 2006 are just weird and hostile speculations.