Academia,  Iran,  Israel/Palestine

On boycotts: Qom and Moty Cristal

The first story was brought to my attention by a friend – and HP lurker – who thought I might find it interesting.  The Jerusalem Post reports major concerns being expressed over a joint academic programme between the University of Potsdam and the University of Religions and Denominations in Qom. The exchange involves a small number of doctoral students from Iran studying in Potsdam:

The cooperation agreement between Potsdam and the Qom-based university was a way for Iran’s regime to advance its Islamic doctrine and carry forward the “polices of the totalitarian dictator of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Dr. Wahied Wahdat-Hagh, a prominent German-Iranian scholar in the Federal Republic, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. He warned of the use of Iranian academics to engage in espionage work in Germany.

Wahdat-Hagh, who serves on an Interior Ministry commission on modern anti-Semitism in Germany, added that the University of Potsdam had “underestimated the anti-Semitic potential of the URD [the University of Religions and Denominations].” …

In response to the criticism of the URD-Potsdam academic program, Dr. Johan Hafner, who is coordinating the program with URD, wrote the Post, “We are aware of the lack of religious freedom and the doctrinaire influences in Iran, and consider an academic exchange with qualified intellectuals to be possible.”

Hafner, who is a professor of religion at the University of Potsdam, added that “we expect from the dialogue with Muslim colleges a critical reflection…and we will pay very close attention that intellectual exchange with Jewish scholars is possible.

I’m strongly opposed to academic exchanges being closed down – without very good reason – and would want to know more about the dangers posed by such students before agreeing with Wahdat-Hagh.  It seems, from what Hafner says, that Potsdam will take care to ensure bigotry isn’t allowed to set the agenda for this exchange.  Individual Iranians are not responsible for the horrifying rhetoric of their regime – and, if these students, do share such views they are more likely to adjust them if exposed to different perspectives.

The other story is about Moty Cristal – the conflict resolution expert who was ‘uninvited’ from an NHS conference because of his nationality after complaints from Unison reps. He is now bringing a claim against the NHS trust for discrimination. This was a completely outrageous case – even boycotters don’t generally propose discriminating against individual Israelis in quite this way – Palestinian groups have been happy to work with Cristal, as has the Muslim Council of Britain.  I hope he wins.

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