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SCARY EDUCATION PROSPECTS IN BRITAIN

Maurice Ostroff

The decision of the UK Association of University Teachers (AUT), to boycott Israeli universities gives cause for despair to any British mother hoping to provide her children with a meaningful education. It is not the decision to boycott that disturbs, but the totally irrational reasoning process.

Parents are entitled to believe that their children will be taught to think and to make decisions based on carefully verified facts. But when academic teachers make no attempt to distinguish between facts and assumptions before making very important decisions, it is frightening to contemplate the irrational influence they are exerting on their students. It bodes ill for the reasoning abilities with which they are equipping our future leaders.

Let me explain by quoting just one example. The decision to boycott Haifa University was based on a claim that senior lecturer Ilan Pappe, faced possible dismissal because he "slandered departments and members in the humanities faculty, damaged their professional reputation and endangered the possible promotion of some of them." In normal circumstances the AUT would not deny any university the right to take a member of staff to task for the reasons cited. The AUT's anger results however, from the fact that the university's action arose from Pappe's defense of graduate student, Teddy Katz, whose Master's thesis had been revoked. No consideration has been given by the AUT as to the reasons for the revocation.

The readily ascertainable, indisputable facts are that In March 1998 Katz submitted a thesis, in which he claimed that in 1948, Israeli soldiers carried out a massacre in the village of Tantura. Pappe was his unofficial supervisor. Far from denying freedom of expression, Haifa University granted Katz an A+ for the thesis.

However, when veterans of the battle learned of Katz's allegations, they adamantly denied them and sued for libel. When faced with proof that he had falsified evidence, Katz recanted and apologized. It is astonishing that the AUT refuses to recognize that in these circumstances any self respecting university would be obliged to suspend the degree they had granted. It is frightening indeed to realise that the education of our children is in the hands of such shallow thinkers. Katz later recanted his recantation and unsuccessfully appealed to the Supreme Court. It has been reported that his legal fees were paid by the PLO.

If there were any logic at all in the AUT's reasoning, one would expect it to heap praise on, rather than boycott, the university' for its dedication to academic freedom in having decided to take no action against Pappe. The anomaly is that Pappe, the strongest supporter of the boycott is the first to break it, continuing as he does, to work for and interact with Haifa university. .

If the AUT is motivated by a sincere concern for human rights, its singling out of Israeli universities demonstrates not only inconsistency, but ignorance. Far from the academic freedom, characteristic of Israeli universities, Palestinian educational institutions are tightly controlled. The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG) has in the past reported that undercover agents are present on Palestinian campuses in flagrant violation of students freedom to express opinions. Even a student writing a report in the classroom may be questioned by undercover security members. If AUT's motives are to be considered sincere, one would expect simultaneous support for PHRMG's call for the PA to eliminate these practices.
 
27/04/2005
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