This article was originally published in the JC: http://www.thejc.com/comment-and-debate/comment/148357/boycotts-are-misguided-0
Last week, I joined over 150 British artists and authors, including JK Rowling, Tom Holland and Simon Schama, in backing a new network promoting co-existence and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.
This was about saying that rather than boycotts, it is dialogue and interaction that will promote greater understanding and mutual acceptance and ultimately play a part in moving towards a resolution of the conflict.
But, depressingly, just days later, in a step diametrically opposite to this positive move to build bridges, over 300 British academics pledged in an advert in the Guardian to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
Attempts to boycott Israeli academia are not new and have already been shown to be completely misguided. Boycotts do not soften policies of the Israeli government nor improve the lives of Palestinians – they are just counterproductive and only serve to perpetuate the conflict.
People, of course, can question or criticise the Israeli government. I am a friend of Israel, but I don’t support settlements in Palestinian territories and I don’t consider myself a friend of the current Israeli government.
As a Labour politician and a supporter of the Israeli Labor party I naturally have different values to those of Benjamin Netanyahu.
But we, in the UK and elsewhere, need to support initiatives that help rather than hinder constructive engagement. The sad irony is that the attempts to censor Israeli academia targets the very elements of society that anyone interested in fostering dialogue should be working to strengthen.
How does it make sense to boycott places of collaboration? How can it be helpful to harm the education of thousands of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians who attend Israeli universities?
In the spirit of academic freedom, British academics should be the ones seeking to promote forums for academic and cultural exchanges between Palestinian and Israeli universities.
Indeed, as venues for constructive discussion appear to shrink away in the current turmoil in the region, academics around the world should be focussing on creating bridges between Israelis and Palestinians, rather than burning them. This is precisely where civil society and academia fulfil their role as safe-heavens for constructive debates.
I, like many others, want to see a negotiated two-state solution, with Israel safe and secure in her borders alongside a viable and democratic Palestinian state.
Those who truly care about building the foundations for reconciliation and peace should join initiatives like Culture for Co-existence, work to open up spaces that foster dialogue and reject these counterproductive campaigns that help no one.
Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East and the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport