Your editorial on the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize (“The Guardian view on the new peace laureates: a better bet”) welcomes the award to International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) as a global civil society movement, and highlight this as a change from honoring politicians. However, the claim that the Nobel Peace Prize committee rarely engages with the nuclear issue is questionable, and the claim that “only once before”, to the Pugwash Conferences in 1995, “has the prize been awarded to an explicitly anti-nuclear campaign” is clearly incorrect. The 1985 peace prize was awarded to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), and Alva Myrdal and Alfonso García Robles were given the award in 1982 for their work on nuclear weapons free zones. Moreover, there have been many awards to civil society organizations with a transnational presence, including the 1977 award to Amnesty International. Perhaps some of these awards may not be remembered as vividly as some of the infamous awards to statesmen such as Henry Kissinger, but this is not because the committee has not honored anti-nuclear campaigns or civil society organizations.
As part of the governing council of the Network of European Peace Scientists I helped draft the below statement expressing concerns over the reports on threats to academic freedom in Turkey. Other organizations such as the American Political Science Association and the International Studies Association have also made statements to express their concern.
Academics should be able to express their views openly, without fear of persecution, regardless of their political views.
January, 21st 2016
NEPS statement on academic freedom in Turkey
The Network of European Peace Scientists (NEPS) is concerned about reports on the current situation for academic freedom in Turkey. NEPS as an organization does not take positions on domestic political issues or the original petition by the “Academics for Peace”. However, as an organization with a commitment to academic freedom in the scientific study of conflict and peace, we see it as essential that academics must be allowed to express their views openly, and without the fear of persecution. We call on the Turkish government to protect academic freedom and prevent the persecution of academics.
In November 2015 I co-organized a UK-Israeli workshop on quantitative conflict research at the University of Haifa with Dr. Carmela Lutmar. This event generated some media attention, and I would like to briefly clarify why I am opposed to an academic boycott and in favor of more active engagement.
I am opposed in principle to academic boycotts of autonomous universities. Many countries follow policies that I do not agree with, but I do not see why boycotting universities is a sensible response. I share the view of Universities UK that academic boycotts threaten to undermine academic freedom and that all academic institutions must uphold academic freedom and the fundamental right of academics to question national and international policies.
Principled opposition aside, I also think it is clear that Israeli academics hold a wide range of views, and an academic boycott is unlikely to be helpful to promote academic freedom and pluralism.
Proposals for an academic boycott of Israel have surfaced at regular intervals in the UK. Many people left the Association of University Teachers/AUT around the time when I took up my current position at the University of Essex in 2005 to protest against proposals by some members for an academic boycott of Israel. (To my knowledge, the idea of a boycott has never been supported by the leadership of AUT or its successor the University and College Union/UCU.)
However, if people opposed to a boycott leave the Union it would become easier to get such proposals enacted. I thus became interested in how one might make a more positive contribution to foster active cooperation. I have engaged in some efforts to actively cooperate with Israeli academics in grant applications. Many of these were not funded, but I have since 2011 participated in an EU funded COST action “European Network of Conflict Research” with participation from Israeli colleagues since 2011.
The workshop at the University of Haifa came about when a British Charity (the Friends of Israel Academic Study Group) expressed an interest in supporting a collaborative workshop on quantitative conflict research. In the invitations for the workshop we made it clear that this was an academic workshop, without a specific agenda per se, although active collaboration with academics at Israeli institutions is obviously not compatible with the spirit of the boycott proposals.
The workshop itself was very successful and rewarding, and we hope that it can inspire more active collaboration between UK and Israeli academics in quantitative conflict research. Most of the papers were global or comparative and not related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the workshop included a paper on the effects of the Gaza bombing campaign on Palestinian public opinion. It was clear from the discussion that both Israeli and UK academics have a wide range of views, but the participants had an opportunity to discuss and learn about the research and opinions of others.
Some participants expressed a desire to have more academics from the Palestinian territories at the workshop. I personally think that this would have been a good idea, but I also understand that it is often difficult to get academics from the Palestinian authorities to participate in activities at Israeli institutions. Arab Israeli Citizens make up more than 30% of the student body of the University of Haifa, and I met Arab students while in Israel. We hope to be able to involve Palestinian scholars in future activities.