Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Feature Head to head

Should we consider a boycott of Israeli academic institutions? Yes

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 19 July 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:124

Rapid Response:

Report of the UK Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism and the anti-Israel boycott debate

The BMJ provides a veneer of medical legitimacy for debating
proposals for an academic boycott of Israel. A front cover page calling
for peace rather than a debate about a boycott would have been in keeping
with the traditions of a British Medical Journal. Do doctors wish for a
Biased Medical Journal or Boycott Many Jews?

The BMJs declared mission is “To lead the debate on health, and to
engage, inform, and stimulate doctors, researchers and other health
professionals in ways that will improve outcomes for patients.” (1) What
is the evidence that an article promoting an anti-Israeli boycott will
“improve outcomes for patients”? The evidence from the 1930s Nazi
boycott of Jews was of the prelude to the genocide of the Holocaust in
which about 6 million Jews were murdered. (2) Many Jews thus feel uneasy
that the British medical establishment has entered the boycott Israel

This article (3) is published less than 2 years after the Israel
withdrawal from Gaza. (4) The BMJ rewards withdrawal from territories
with discussion of a boycott! It is published the year after publication
of the “Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism”.
(5) Some extracts from this report are:

“The committee unanimously recognised that criticism of Israel should
not, in itself, be regarded as antisemitic but equally recognised that
anti-Jewish prejudice in any context should not be overlooked.”

“Over the past three years there has been a continuing debate about
the case for boycotting products or people from Israel and we were told
that often the language supporting such boycotts has compared the policies
of Israel with those of Nazi Germany. This may be political propaganda but
it is still objectionable.”

“We received evidence regarding the attitudes of a small number of
academics whose critical views of Israel have adversely affected their
relations with Jewish students. Particular tension has been caused by rare
cases of academics who have crossed the line between personal interest or
activism, and academic abuse of power.”

“Some witnesses noted that even though the motivations of the
boycotters may not in themselves be antisemitic, the effect of their
actions would be to cause difficulties for Jewish academics and students.
The majority of those who have institutional affiliations to Israeli
universities are Jewish, and thus the consequences of a boycott would be
to exclude Jews from academic life.”

“The singling out of Israel is also of concern. Boycotts have not
been suggested against other countries.”

“We conclude that calls to boycott contact with academics working in
Israel are an assault on academic freedom and intellectual exchange.”

I propose that the BMJ accepts the conclusions of the “Report of the
All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism”. The BMJ’s deliberate
venture into the anti-Israel boycott debate soon after publication of this
Parliamentary report may confirm some doctors’ experiences that the multi-
ethnic British medical world is becoming uncomfortable for Jews.

This BMJ article encourages conflict (Hickey acknowledges that a
previous proposal to discuss whether to boycott Israeli academic
institutions “caused a furore” (3)), and the BMJ focuses a front cover
headline on one country - Israel. Would there be a discussion of a
boycott if Israel were an Arab or Islamic rather than Jewish state? Both
Gaza and the West Bank were each previously occupied by Arab countries
(Gaza by Egypt 1949 to 1967; the West Bank by Jordan) (6) – were these
countries subject to calls for a boycott by the BMJ?

This BMJ article does not highlight Arab-Israeli achievements. Many
Arabs and Muslims (as well as Jews and members of other religions) are
integrated at high levels in Israel including many in medicine and some as
members of Parliament. Hebrew and Arabic is used in the Israeli
parliament. (7) However, some Arab countries have been noted to have an
official policy of refusing to accept Jewish and Israeli visitors. (8)
Does the BMJ proposed a boycott against such countries that have declared
an official policy of anti-Semitic racism?

The BMJ poll lists many countries in its poll, including the
“Occupied Palestinian territory” and “Israel” (9) – and I cannot find
mention of any “Unoccupied Palestinian Territory” - why not?

Palestinians and Israelis need to progress towards peace, and in my
view, towards a two state solution. The BMJ could opt to help – or harm -
this process.

The BMJ has choices. Bias or impartiality. Controversial Israel
focused front cover headlines or brave calls for peace. Dialogue or
conflict. I would like the BMJ to choose peace, dialogue and
impartiality. But will the reality highlighted by the UK Parliament that
“consequences of a boycott would be to exclude Jews from academic life”
prevail? I fear that the BMJ may have already chosen – the wrong path.


(1) Our vision and mission. BMJ.
(accessed 26 July 2007)

(2) Never again. A history of the Holocaust. Martin Gilbert.
Harper Collins. 2000.

(3) Should we consider a boycott of Israeli academic institutions?
BMJ 2007; 335: 124

(4) Israel completes Gaza withdrawal. 12 September 2005. BBC. (accessed 25 July 2007)

(5) Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism.
All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism. September 2006;
London: The Stationery Office Limited

(6) The Arab- Israeli Conflict. Its History in Maps. 4th edition.
Martin Gilbert. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. 1984

(7) Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel.
2D7379B305B7%7d&NRCACHEHINT=Guest (accessed 26 July 2007)

(8) Jews barred in Saudi tourist drive. 27 February, 2004, (accessed 26 July

(9) Where do you stand on the issue? Vote in our poll at
BMJ (accessed 25 July 2007)

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

27 July 2007
Peter Simmons
Consultant Psychiatrist
QEII Hospital AL7 4HQ