LONDON (Oct. 29)
British Jewry’s main organization is praising Oxford University for suspending a science professor without pay for two months after he rejected a graduate student for being Israeli.
But a British Jewish students group says university officials didn’t take strong enough action against Andrew Wilkie.
In late June, Wilkie rejected an application from Tel Aviv University student Amit Duvshani, partly on the grounds that Duvshani had done his mandatory military service.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews praised the university for disciplining Wilkie.
“We are very pleased that Oxford University has recognized that the actions of Professor Wilkie were unacceptable. No student should be refused admittance to an academic institution on the basis of nationality, religion or race,” board director general Neville Nagler said in a statement. “Through this decision Oxford University has demonstrated the importance of maintaining an inclusive environment in which ideas can be freely upheld and exchanged.”
However, the Union of Jewish Students is demanding further action.
“Although the steps taken by the university are positive and set a precedent for further cases, there is yet to be decisive action taken concerning Wilkie’s involvement in the admissions process,” the union said in a statement. “The Union of Jewish Students calls for Professor Wilkie to be removed from all relevant decision-making bodies.”
The union campaign’s organizer, Danny Stone added, “We will be writing to Oxford raising our concerns, and suggesting areas in which action can still be taken.”
Wilkie was unavailable for comment.
Britain has seen intense debate about university boycotts of Israel since two British professors launched a movement to cut ties with Israeli academics in the summer of 2002. Though that move failed, anti-Israel feeling is not uncommon in British academia.
In rejecting Duvshani, Wilkie cited his service in the Israel Defense Forces.
“I am sure you are perfectly nice at a personal level, but no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli army,” Wilkie wrote Duvshani in an email that was widely circulated. “As you may be aware, I am not the only U.K. scientist with these views, but I’m sure you will find another suitable lab if you look around.”
Israel supporters from New York to Tel Aviv responded with outrage.
Wilkie quickly apologized for “any distress” his email had caused and said the inclusion of his “personal opinions” was “wholly inappropriate.”
Oxford convened a special disciplinary committee on July 4. The Visitatorial Board, as it is called, recommended that Wilkie be suspended without pay — the most severe penalty it can impose short of dismissal — and ordered him to undergo a sensitivity training program.
Oxford announced Monday that it would implement the recommendation, prompting Wilkie to resign his chair at Oxford’s Pembroke College. The resignation of his chair does not prevent him from resuming his normal duties when his suspension ends.
As part of his punishment, for the next two years Wilkie will not be allowed to make admissions or hiring decisions on his own, but he could do so as part of a committee, university spokeswoman Nicola Old told JTA.
Stone, of the Jewish student group, said Oxford had not gone far enough.
“I actually don’t think that is acceptable,” Stone said in an interview. “I think that Oxford should take him out of the entire process at least until he has undergone the equal-opportunities training. Until they take away his admissions powers, they are not taking the matter seriously enough.”
But the student at the center of the controversy said he was pleased with Oxford’s decision.
“I am satisfied that a decision has been made to take action against him,” Duvshani told Reuters. “This is not a matter of personal vendetta, but of exposing academic boycotts against Israel as part of anti-Semitic trends in the world, and specifically Europe.”