- A British academic has sparked worldwide protests after
sacking two scholars from her highly respected international journals because
they are Israeli.
- Mona Baker, a professor at the University of Manchester
Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), admitted yesterday that she
had dismissed Dr Miriam Shlesinger and Prof Gideon Toury because of their
- Despite a storm of complaints raised by her action, Prof
Baker stood by her decision, telling The Telegraph: "I deplore the
Israeli state. Miriam knew that was how I felt and that they would have
to go because of the current situation."
- Prof Baker asked Dr Shlesinger and Prof Toury to resign
from the boards of two academic journals she owns, after signing a website
petition last month calling for academics to boycott Israel. When they
refused to resign she sacked them.
- The dismissals raised no public opposition from within
British universities. International academics, however, led by Prof Stephen
Greenblatt, a world-renowned Shakespeare scholar at Harvard University,
have now condemned the decision and called on British academics to stand
up for intellectual freedom.
- Prof Greenblatt, who flew to England last night to collect
an honorary degree from London University, said that Prof Baker's actions
were "repellent", "dangerous" and "intellectually
and morally bankrupt".
- He described any policy of singling out a group for collective
punishment as "grotesque". He added: "Excluding scholars
because of the passports that they carry or because of their skin colour,
religion or political party, corrupts the integrity of intellectual work."
- Both of the sacked scholars had worked for the periodicals
for three years. Dr Shlesinger, who enjoyed a friendship with Prof Baker
and was even a guest at her house in Manchester, worked for the editorial
board of The Translator. Prof Toury, who teaches at Tel Aviv University,
held an honorary advisory role at Translation Studies Abstracts.
- Dr Shlesinger, a respected American-born academic at
the Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, is also a former chairman of Amnesty
International in Israel and has criticised her country's policies in the
West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
- Prof Baker, who is the director of the centre for translation
and intercultural studies at UMIST, was unrepentant, however. Although
the boards of the journals remained split over the dismissals, Prof Baker
said: "I am not against Israeli nationals per se; it is Israeli institutions
as part of the Israeli state which I absolutely deplore.
- She said that her actions were "my interpretation
of what a boycott of Israel means". Prof Baker added: "Many people
in Europe have signed a boycott against Israel. Israel has gone beyond
just war crimes.
- It is horrific what is going on there. Many of us would
like to talk about it as some kind of Holocaust which the world will eventually
wake up to, much too late, of course, as they did with the last one."
- She conceded, however, that the pair would not have been
sacked had they lived in Britain and severed their ties with Israeli institutions.
- The petition that Prof Baker signed claims that Israel
should be boycotted because it is "racist." Prof Baker, who refused
to disclose where she was born, claimed that her actions were supported
by a growing number of academics across Britain and in Germany. She alleged
that since the sackings she had been the victim of a hate campaign.
- "My husband and I receive hate mail every day, up
to 50 [letters] a day, some of it extremely obscene," she said. "I
can't read it out it is so obscene and very threatening. It is also sent
to my university, to my vice-chancellor and to some of my colleagues, and
they threaten people who want to stay on the board. The Americans are the
- "There is a large intimidation machine out there
which is waiting to intimidate anyone that it doesn't approve of."
- In an open letter to Prof Baker, however, Prof Greenblatt,
the president of the Modern Language Association of America, described
the "chilling shadow" cast by her actions. "An attack on
cultural co-operation, with a particular group singled out for collective
punishment violates the essential spirit of scholarly freedom and the pursuit
of truth," he wrote.
- "The pursuit of knowledge does not suddenly come
to a halt at national borders. This does not mean that serious scholars
must be indifferent to the world's murderous struggles, but it does mean
that they are committed to an ongoing, frank conversation . . . [that]
often includes passionate disagreement."
- The letter is understood to have the backing of other
senior academics at Harvard. Following calls from The Telegraph, a number
of leading academics in Britain lent their voice to Prof Greenblatt's condemnation.
- Francis Robinson, a professor of history at London University,
said: "Whatever anyone feels about Israel, this is absolutely appalling.
Certainly there are strong feelings, not often spoken but nevertheless
strongly felt, shared by the majority of British liberal intellectuals
about the problems with Israel. Nonetheless, this sounds dreadful. It runs
counter to the very principles of academic freedom."
- Prof Greenblatt's intervention was welcomed by Lord Janner,
the chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust. He said that the sackings
set a worrying precedent: "This is disgraceful and dangerous. You
should no more sack an Israeli academic for his nationality than you should
a Palestinian in the same situation.
- "I do not buy this argument that, just because there
are more fee-paying Arab students at UMIST and elsewhere, their views should
prevail. In every university in the UK today there are problems between
the two groups. They must try to insulate themselves from what is happening
in the Middle East or else you are going to get the most terrible conflicts
seeping into our university campuses."
- Prof John Garside, the vice-chancellor of UMIST, distanced
himself from the debate. Even though Prof Baker uses UMIST's logo in her
promotional material for the journals, he said: "The position of UMIST
is that the two journals Prof Baker is involved with have nothing to do
- "These are activities that she is involved with
in her own time. What happens on those journals and the editorial policy
on those journals are entirely a matter for those journals. It's an issue
that we are dealing with internally and not something I want to make any
public statement about at this stage."
- A spokesman for the Israeli embassy said: "We think
the Palestinian cause is not helped in any way by people trying to shut
down those who communicate across boundaries through dialogue and the exchange
of ideas. It's the rejection of the legitimacy of the state of Israel itself
which lies at the core of the Israeli-Arab conflict."
- -- Additional reporting by
Tony Freinberg and James Pope
- From Roberto Guidone
- Hi Jeff,
- I would like to comment on this Telegraph article.
- At this stage 'I do not agree' with the actions of Prof
Mona Baker, but I donít know exactly where she is coming from so
without more information from her I canít totally disagree with
her either. Mona Baker may very well re-instate Dr Miriam Shlesinger and
Prof Gideon Toury at a later stage or has inadvertently gone too far in
the heat of the moment.
- What I would like to mainly comment on is my disgust
that once again the real victims, the Palestinians, are given a back row
seat. While I agree with the comments of Francis Robinson professor of
history at London University when he says: "Whatever anyone feels
about Israel, this is absolutely appalling. Certainly there are strong
feelings, not often spoken but nevertheless strongly felt, shared by the
majority of British liberal intellectuals about the problems with Israel.
Nonetheless, this sounds dreadful.
- It runs counter to the very principles of academic freedom.î
I donít agree with the direction of his stance. Academic freedom
should not be discouraged in any way and certainly not because of race
but the freedom and safety of a people should take precedence without question.
As I perceive it once again intellectuals have missed an opportunity to
highlight a very worthy and just cause and that cause being the lively
hood of fellow human beings. I can no longer accept "strong feelings"
being "softly spoken" when the stakes are too high and affect
us all. An opportunity to divert attention from an isolated incident (more
than a couple of days is needed to determine whether a precedence has been
set) that falls into total insignificance when compared to deaths and immoral
collective punishment of an entire people.