Letter: Academic boycotts of Israeli universities are unlikely to be helpful in search for Middle East solutions
(The following letter was first published in the Irish Times yesterday.)
Those who in a letter by 600 Irish academics call for a boycott of Israeli universities, and in the same breath reduce the Hamas atrocities of October 7th to a mere “incursion by Palestinian armed groups”, do themselves and the academy a disservice (Letters, Irish Times, November 4th).
At the very least, a university’s mission is to develop critical thinking, examine issues in the round, and question selective and highly partisan interpretations.
Maintaining lines of communication with universities round the word, and that includes China where the Uyghur Muslim minority suffers extreme persecution, or Myanmar where another Muslim minority faces genocide, forms part of that commitment to fundamental values that can be traced back to the Enlightenment.
It would be a pity to see our institutions of higher education reduced and devalued to the extent that ideologues of left or right selectively focus on some conflicts only and in the process simplify and distort understandings of highly complex problems.
What is happening in Israel-Palestine is a tragedy. It will need well-informed, creative minds to help fashion a future that accommodates both Israelis and Palestinians. Boycotts and partisan claims are unlikely to prove helpful along that tortuous pathway.
Liam Kennedy, Emeritus professor of history, Queen’s University Belfast