Friday, December 30, 2011

Fighting UK Anti-Israel Bias, One Professor at a Time

When  Israeli Smadar Bakovic, a post-graduate student at Warwick University, was assigned Professor Nicola Pratt as her master’s supervisor, Smadar immediately asked for a replacement. Pratt, a known anti-Israel campaigner who has repeatedly called for Britain to implement a program of boycotts and sanctions against Israel, couldn’t be impartial on a study of Israeli Arabs, Smadar claimed. The university refused to make a change and Smadar was given only a passing mark.

Smadar’s paper dealt with the identity of Israeli Arabs after the second intifada. In her feedback, Pratt said that Smadar had a tendency to “adopt Israeli/Zionist narratives as though they were uncontested facts.”

“I knew my work was better than the mark I'd been given,” Smadar said, and she spent a year challenging the university's original rejection of her appeal against the decision to allow Professor Pratt to supervise her.

Last week, Smadar’s paper was marked by two other Warwick professors and an external marker and received a mark of 71 per cent - a distinction.

As reported by the Jewish Chronicle Online, the university said it had "bent over backwards" to help Smadar. “A chance was given to rework the dissertation only because the strength of the student’s feelings was not taken into consideration at the start,” an official statement issued by the university said.

But the university stood by Professor Pratt's initial mark of 60 per cent and found her conduct to be "exemplary," a spokesman said.

“Professor Pratt said that I had taken an Israeli and Zionist perspective without investigating the issue,” Smadar told the Jewish Chronicle. “She said I had taken an Israeli government position, but I did not. I included the views of a number of Israeli Arab writers."

Smadar knew that Pratt could never be impartial right from the start. “She moderated a Jews for Justice for Palestinians event, so I knew her stance. As soon as I saw her name a red light came on."

Pratt’s refusal to relate to Smadar’s paper impartially happened “because hatred against Israelis and Jews is widespread among a section of UK academia,” Smadar said. “Inciting racial hatred, as Prof. Pratt does, is seemingly tolerated if it is against Jews and Israelis.”

Now Britain’s Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) will consider whether Pratt breached guidelines on impartiality when marking Smadar's dissertation, the Jewish Chronicle reported.

Meanwhile, an online petition calls for Pratt to be fired, stating, "Professor Pratt must go now. There must be zero tolerance of bigoted academics who do not have the wit to separate their prejudices from their academic objectivity."

“The petition was not started by me, but was brought to my attention,” Smadar said. “I am surprised, positively of course, that people are finding it and signing this. I see this as a great window of opportunity, at a time when Jews and Israelis are usually intimidated and silenced, to fight against this type of racism and discrimination.”

Smadar, 35, is from Moshav Neve Ilan, the community outside Jerusalem where I also make my home. I previously reviewed her book, Tall Shadows: Interviews with Israeli Arabs (Hamilton Books, 2006). The review, entitled Know Thy Neighbor, was published by the Jerusalem Post.

1 comment:

  1. I know nothing of this subject, just what my daughter tells me after visiting her adoptive mother in Tel Aviv for a few month every year.

    But I do want to wish you a very Happy New Year, Ellis!! May it be one of peace, for everyone!!