There've been some developments over the past few days in the case of Professor Mona Baker, director of the Center for Translation and Intercultural Studies at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in England. Turns out she's a native Egyptian, for one thing.
Which by itself would be an altogether unremarkable detail--had Professor Baker not recently made herself internationally notorious for a particularly outlandish expression of hostility to . . . um . . . Jewish people.
In case you missed it: Sometime around late April, a petition began circulating in British universities calling for a full-scale academic boycott of Israel--specifically, for a European Union moratorium on funding of Israeli scholarship until the Sharon government proves willing to abandon the use of force in response to Palestinian terrorist attacks. Forget the selective disapproval of violence on display here; purely on its own terms, as a practical political device, such a boycott is risibly illogical. How exactly will an aid cut-off to Israel's professoriat--one of that country's most dovish demographics--work to rein in the Likud Party's off-campus hawks? How, for that matter, does a blanket ostracism of Israeli scholars in disciplines remote from politics--biochemistry, for example--make sense? And how can British dons marching under the supposed banner of academic freedom countenance any sort of research boycott at all?
Yes, well. One makes one's minor compromises with principle where necessary to put the Jews in their place, doesn't one? Over the past six weeks, the British Association of University Teachers has formally endorsed the Israel ban. As has "NATFHE," the lecturer's union. As have more than 700 individual academic signatories to the original boycott petition. And Mona Baker is one of them.
Only she has gone her colleagues a step further. Having thought globally, she has acted locally, purging a pair of Israeli professors from the editorial and advisory boards of two academic journals she edits. "I can no longer live with the idea of cooperating with Israelis as such"--even, apparently, on a magazine subtitled "Studies in Intercultural Communication"--"unless it is explicitly in the context of campaigning for human rights in Palestine," she has written to one of her purgees. She signed that petition, and so she believes herself morally obliged to abandon "official association with any Israeli under the present circumstances."
Again, all this happened back in late April, and for more than a month afterwards, apart from a handful of mocking op-ed pieces and complaints from England's not-especially-influential Jewish organizations, Ms. Baker went about her ordinary business with very little trouble. Was the University of Manchester, her employer, at all concerned that Baker's suddenly Judenrein publications continued to bear its logo on their mastheads? Actually, no. Manchester does not own or otherwise finance the magazines, you see, so its administrators were able to brush off the incident as one faculty member's purely private affair.
And there things stood, more or less, until just this past weekend. Whereupon Baker--apparently irked by transantlantic criticism from Harvard's Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespeare authority and current president of the Modern Language Association--decided to grant an incendiary interview to the Sunday Telegraph of London. She herself is the victim, Baker told the Telegraph: "There is a large intimidation machine out there," organized by international bankers one supposes. And this machine means to silence all critical commentary on Israeli government policy. And "the Americans are the worst offenders." But "I'm damned if I'm going to be intimidated." And as if to prove it, Baker went on to liken Israel to Nazi Germany: "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."
Baker's Telegraph interview seems finally to have aroused a popular reaction against her. Fleet Street, at least, has besieged her anew, publicizing the fact--which Baker had previously refused to acknowledge--that she was born and raised in Egypt. Best of all, Baker has finally earned a formal reproof from within the British academy. Earlier this week, London's Guardian reports, the National Union of Students, while voting to condemn faculty efforts to boycott Israel as "an abuse of academic freedom" generally, singled out Mona Baker's purge as particularly "racist" and obnoxious.
David Tell is opinion editor of The Weekly Standard.
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