“It could happen here” is the shorthand phrase frequently used for a variety of alarming hypothetical scenarios. “How could this happen here?” was the question more pertinently asked in Great Britain recently, as its universities witnessed the unfolding of an all-too-real and perplexing action.
In early June, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), Britain’s largest academic union, with 67,000 members, passed a motion to sever ties with all Israeli professors and institutions of higher learning unless they publicly dissociate themselves from “continuing Israeli apartheid policies.”
The motion was subsequently revoked; but the fact that it was put forward at all is astonishing enough.
Indeed, the union’s call for a wholesale boycott contravened its most fundamental values: the principle of academic freedom, openness, and exchange; protection of research from state politics; and the fundamental right to free speech. The motion implicitly adopted the yardstick of collective punishment and a distinctly McCarthyite tone, demanding a sort of “disloyalty oath” from Israeli academics.