SHAMING OF OUR DONS; She Is a Top University Professor Who Has Just Sacked Two Employees. Their Sin: To Be Israeli. Worse, There's Barely Been a Word of Protest from British Dons

By Levy, Geoffrey | Daily Mail (London), July 9, 2002 | Go to article overview

SHAMING OF OUR DONS; She Is a Top University Professor Who Has Just Sacked Two Employees. Their Sin: To Be Israeli. Worse, There's Barely Been a Word of Protest from British Dons


Levy, Geoffrey, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: GEOFFREY LEVY

THE worst thing is the silence, the blank, fearful, don't-step-out of line silence. Nothing stirs in Britain's academia to make any official protest against the sacking of two highly respected scholars by a professor who works at the world-renowned University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST).

The scholars, both expert translators, are Dr Miriam Schlesinger and Professor Gideon Toury. They were sacked - when they refused to resign - simply because they are Israeli.

The professor who dismissed them, just over a month ago from advisory posts in two obscure translation journals she owns privately is Egyptian-born Mona Baker, professor of translation studies at UMIST. She has a British company director husband, Ken, and has worked in this country's universities, including Birmingham, for many years.

'I deplore the Israeli state,' says Professor Baker. 'Miriam [Dr Schlesinger] knew that was how I felt and that they would have to go because of the current situation.' In the 'current situation' of which she speaks, with deaths from fanatical suicide bombers on one hand and shells and rockets on the other, a pernicious boycott of Israeli colleagues and institutions by academics who have tied themselves to the Palestinian cause has been spreading through Britain.

Its intention is to turn Israel into a pariah state, but its immediate, Stalinist, effect is to threaten the extinction of intellectual freedom of thought and make it politically incorrect to express any sympathy, let alone support, for Israel.

While the two sacked scholars do not actually work for UMIST, one might at least have expected some words of regret from its vice-chancellor, Professor John Garside, Mona Baker's boss.

BUT instead, Garside has washed his hands of the affair on the grounds that 'the two journals Professor Baker is involved with have nothing to do with UMIST. These are activities that she is involved with in her own time'.

Yesterday, the university meekly stepped even further back from the disturbing implications of the sackings by issuing a statement directing 'any complaints' to the journals involved.

But perhaps we should not be too surprised at the refusal of Britain's academia to step in to protect colleagues sacked not for what they do or are not doing, but simply because of who they are.

Sacked in a way that would rightly cause an outcry if they were black or gay.

In April, when the Israeli military action in response to suicide bombers had reached a peak, The Guardian newspaper published an open letter signed by 120 university professors (90 from the UK) calling for cultural and research links with Israel to be suspended.

Before long a petition, led by Steven Rose, an Open University professor and a Jew, was set up with signatories saying they could 'no longer in good conscience continue to cooperate with official Israeli institutions, including universities'.

The petition was signed by more than 700 academics, including Oxford professors Colin Blakemore and Richard Dawkins.

In May, the executive of the Association of University Teachers passed a resolution supporting UK calls for a halt on EU and other funding for Israeli cultural and research institutions 'until Israel abides by UN resolutions and opens serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians'.

NO ONE would deny that there are excesses in Israeli military actions, but the resolution made sure to offer not a syllable of criticism of the suicide bombers or those who brainwash and arm them.

The result is to leave an impression similar to that left by Cherie Blair when she said: 'As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up, you are never going to make progress.' Earlier this year Tom Paulin, the English lecturer at Oxford who writes poetry but is best known for his argumentative TV appearances on Newsnight's Friday arts review, was reported as comparing American Jewish settlers in the Palestinian territories to Nazis who should be 'shot'. …

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