Should we consider a boycott of British academic institutions too?
Browsing the last issue of the BMJ, we were surprised to encounter
the article ‘Should we consider a boycott of Israeli academic
institutions?’ (1). This is a political-ideological debate, devoid of any
clinical or scientific interest, for which there is no shortage of
alternative fora, and which is completely misplaced in the pages of what
is meant to be a medical journal.
The BMJ has granted few countries other than Israel the dubious
honour of being the focus of such kind of debate. Tom Hickey, the proposer
of the ‘yes’ motion, claims that, of all countries, and on account of her
policies in the Occupied Territories, only Israel should be entitled to
the privilege of being subjected to a boycott. This is because it is "a
society whose dominant self-image is one of a bastion of civilisation in a
sea of medieval reaction. And we are speaking of a culture, both in Israel
and in the long history of the Jewish Diaspora, in which education and
scholarship are held in high regard".
To single out Israel for a boycott on these grounds is clearly
demeaning to powerhouses of civilisation such as China and Russia, whose
self-image and culture are as towering as any. And yet, despite the
annexation and suppression of Tibet by China, and Russia’s devastating
policies in Chechnya, China and Russia fall short of Mr Hickey’s exacting
threshold for a boycott. Sudan probably ranks very low in Mr Hickey’s
list. Despite the genocide perpetrated in Darfur, either by policy or with
the connivance of the Sudanese government, Mr Hickey does not even grant
Sudan the recognition of a brief quote. By mentioning Saudi Arabia, Iran
and Zimbabwe, he is slightly more considerate to these "other states whose
policies are barbaric", yet they too fall short of his strict criteria for
a boycott. Is it because Mr Hickey thinks that, unlike Israel, none of
these proud nations hold education and scholarship in high regard?
Why focus on Israel alone? If the BMJ really wishes to be part of
debates about boycotting academic institutions in countries whose policies
are thought controversial, it should extend the list to the many
candidates available. There is plenty of material on offer, as the world
is not short of unfair, dictatorial or nasty regimes, nor of countries
whose foreign policies may be as objectionable. The UK itself could be a
good start. There are many reasons, past and present, why Britain could be
seriously criticised. There is a long litany, from the tragic partition of
the Indian subcontinent to the war in Iraq, not to mention the enduring
misery in the former colonies, in Africa and elsewhere.
As irrefutable evidence that no country is being singled out for a
debate on a boycott, the BMJ could set the example by instigating a debate
as to whether other countries should boycott British academic institutions
until Britain repairs the damage it has caused and finally mends its ways.
By Mr Hickey’s own standards, nowhere else would an academic boycott stand
a better chance of "having a desirable political effect". After all, this
is his own country, so clearly where "education and scholarship" are held
in the highest regard. Alternatively, the BMJ could stick to its original
purpose and publish articles that are relevant to the medical readership
it purports to serve.
1. Hickey T, Baum M. Should we consider a boycott of Israeli academic
institutions? BMJ 2007; 335: 124-5.
Competing interests: No competing interests