Ur Shlonsky: an exchange on the academic boycott of Israel

IOA Editor: An illuminating e-mail exchange between Ur Shlonsky, professor of linguistics at the Universite de Geneve, and the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation. As Shlonsky points out, it is remarkable when accusations of anti-Semitism, or “self-hating Jew” (the version used for Jews), come from the executive director of a major research-funding agency.

Updated: Item #4 added 2 Feb 2010

By Ur Shlonsky (distributed by email) – 31 Jan 2010

The first item is a copy of an e-mail message I sent to the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation.
The second item is the response by the Executive-Director of the BSF.  The third item is a very short comment.


Dear Madam, Sir,

Thank you for your e-mail and invitation to review BSF research proposal …

In the following paragraphs, I would like to explain my reasons for turning
down  your invitation.

In 2002, along with 700 other academics, I signed a declaration, stating

“I can no longer in good conscience continue to cooperate with official
Israeli institutions, including universities. I will attend no scientific
conferences in Israel, and I will not participate as referee in hiring or
promotion decisions by Israeli universities, or in the decisions of Israeli
funding agencies. I will continue to collaborate with, and host, Israeli
scientific colleagues on an individual basis.”

More recently, a call has been issued by over 170 Palestinian
non-governmental organizations to boycott and impose sanctions against
Israeli institutions (http://www.bdsmovement.net/?q=node/52). This call has
received the support of three major trade unions (the South African COSATU
and the British and Scottish TUCs) and of numerous groups and associations
world wide.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel
(PACBI) has recently fine-tuned a set of guidelines for the practice of the
academic boycott. PACBI urges academics and cultural workers “to
/comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural
institutions/ as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel‘s occupation,
colonization and system of apartheid.”
http://www.pacbi.org/einside.php?id=69. Point (1) and particularly point (7)
of the PACBI guidelines are directly relevant to your invitation to review:

1. Refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural
cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions;

7. Research and development activities in the framework of agreements or
contracts between the Israeli government and other governments or
institutions.  Researchers in such projects are based at American, European
or other universities.  Examples include the United States-Israel Binational
Science Foundation (BSF), an institution established by the US and Israeli
governments in 1972 to sponsor research by Israelis and Americans,

The universities in Israel are an important part of the state apparatus and
as a recent report spells out in detail:
These institutions are complicit in the system of oppression
that has denied Palestinians their basic rights guaranteed by international

I was raised to believe that a basic component of human decency is to refuse
to cross picket lines. I see no reason why academia should be an exception.

In light of these considerations, I must refuse your invitation and will
attempt to persuade colleagues to do the same.


Ur Shlonsky


Dear Dr. Shlonsky
Thank you for your detailed refusal letter. You might be interested to know
that we have sent already over 3000 request letters and had only two
refusals such as yours. Since both were from academics bearing
Jewish/Israeli names who live in Europe, one can only wonder if it reflects
a higher moral standard or just the old Jewish self hatred. I expect that by
itself it can be a topic for an interesting psychological research.
Have a nice and fulfilling life!

Dr. Yair Rotstein
Executive Director
U.S. – Israel Binational Science Foundation
8 Hamarpeh St.
P.O.B. 45086
Jerusalem, 91450
Tel.: 972-2-5828239
Cellular: 972-52-6020454
Fax: 972-2-5828306


Accusations of anti-semitism (or the Jew-directed “self-hating Jew”
variety) are fairly common, but it is quite remarkable and
citation-worthy, when it comes from the pen of the executive director of
a major research-funding agency. If anyone had doubts about the
complicity of the BSF in Zionist politics, Rotetein’s response settles
the issue, to my mind.


Dear Dr. Rotstein,

Your response to my message, for which I thank you, honestly took me by
surprise. I expected your answer to stress the importance of dissociating
science from politics. The documents referred to in my letter suggest a
variety of responses to a claim for such a dissociation, but it remains,
even among severe critics of Israeli politics, a controversial issue and one
that requires perhaps more argumentation than my letter provided.

However, you chose a different path, namely, to label me a self-hating Jew.
Coming from the Executive Director of a major research foundation, it is a
serious charge. But I am not offended, only perplexed and would appreciate
some clarification.

Should I take it that you accept the premise of my letter, that the BNF is
committed to promoting Zionist ideology and supporting its practice? Do you
believe that a Jew or an Israeli who thinks that the BNF should be boycotted
for this reason is self hating and that, by extension, a non-Jew who holds
such views is Antisemitic?

Charges of ‘self-hate’ leveled at Israeli or Jewish critics of Israel are
not new and are usually employed as invective against Jewish critics of
Israel. I take it that you did not intend this term as an insult and
therefore would appreciate it if you could elaborate a bit. In particular, I
would like to understand what you consider to be the opposite of a
“self-hating Jew”, which, for lack of a better terminology, we might call a
“self-loving Jew”.

I look forward to your response.


Ur Shlonsky

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