Letters to the Editor

Universities under Curfew

When some of us decided in early April to circulate a statement announcing our refusal to cooperate with official Israeli institutions in the wake of the ongoing Israeli military reoccupation of most of the Palestinian autonomous zones, we anticipated, and indeed hoped, that our initiative would provoke a substantial discussion of our reasons for taking such a difficult step, in the pages of the Notices or elsewhere. We did feel entitled to expect, however, that the discussion would be based on the text of our statement rather than on the thoroughly misleading interpretation presented in the letter entitled "A boycott by passport" published in the November 2002 issue. The letter quotes our statement briefly, leading the reader to believe that our intention was "essentially [to] bar all serious contact with Israeli nationals." This interpretation is so far-fetched that we have to assume that many of the signatories simply did not read our statement. Certainly few of them can have read the explanatory material at Regarding the Mona Baker incident which occu- pies most of the text of "A boycott by passport", we do not believe that it is our role to comment on the decisions of individual signatories of our statement, and we decline to do so in this instance. Mona Baker herself did not consult us either before or after taking her action. Nevertheless, our own position is clear. A letter posted at opposition.html in response to a petition opposed to our initiative reaffirms this commitment and makes it more precise: The letter from Etingof states that "Targeting innocent fellow scientists is unacceptable." We agree. The final sentence of our statement affirms our intention to continue collaborating with, and hosting, Israeli scientists, and it goes without saying that this intention applies to all Israeli colleagues, regardless of their political perspectives. In particular we are aware of the "harm", in our opinion limited, our initiative may cause individual Israeli scientists, and are determined to do everything in our power to avoid doing harm, especially to younger colleagues whose resources are limited. On the other hand, many individual scientists who signed our statement have been subjected to harassment by colleagues. Some of us, both junior and senior scientists, have received threatening messages, including threats to boycott scientific activities with which we are involved and journals on whose editorial boards we serve. We also draw your attention to the following response, posted at, to the question, "Is the boycott compatible with scientific responsibilities?" We signed the "Call for a boycott of Israeli scientific institutions" as individuals only. This means it remains subordinated to our duties and will in no way affect our conduct in any official capacity such as editor of a scientific journal, organizer of a scientific conference, director of a scientific group or institution, or officer of a university or a scientific society or in any directly or indirectly related matter. Given the original text and the above clarifications, it is hard to see how anyone can honestly construe our statement as a call for a "boycott by passport". We thus cannot consider the letter published in the Notices a contribution to a substantial discussion: it does not address our statement. For the same reasons, Peter Shalen's letter to the Notices is irrelevant to our petition. The "boycott by passport" letter does, however, raise an important point. Of course we too "condemn all actions that deny academic freedom to individuals solely on the basis of their nationality." Palestinian universities were subjected to repeated closures from the beginning of the Israeli occupation to the creation of the Palestinian authority. With the current military reoccupation of the Palestinian autonomous zones, closure has again become a fact of daily life for Palestinian colleagues. To quote a recent statement signed by academics and others from around the world and published at, "Following Israel's military re-occupation of West Bank towns (including Ramallah) in mid-June 2002, all Palestinian educational life within the re-occupation zones has been brought to a grinding halt by a blanket curfew imposed on the civilian population." Before the Oslo process, the Council of the AMS refused on several occasions to take a position against the closure of Palestinian universities. The we hope temporary opprobrium of the readers of the Notices, due to a misrepresentation of our objectives, would be a small price to pay if the AMS were to make known its intention henceforward to support academic freedom for Palestinians as well as for colleagues of other nationalities.

Viviane Baladi
CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) and Institut de Mathématiques de Jussieu

Ivar Ekeland,
Université Paris IX

Michael Harris,
Université Paris 7

(Received September 13, 2002)

Editor's Note: The above letter was endorsed by twelve mathematicians, whose names are listed on the Web at
Harold P. Boas