One reason we are always told that we can never ever boycott Israel is because of its sterling academic reputation. Israel, we have heard on countless occasions, is a paragon of science, medicine and humanities. If we boycott Israel we’ll be boycotting the cutting-edgiest of high-tech, the most miraculous research in medicine, the inventors of… well, just about everything
Well, it seems that such talk of Israeli academic excellence is pure propaganda.
The TimesHigher Education Supplement which ranks universities has come up with its 2013-14 ranking, and in it we find that Israel is virtually nowhere to be found. Two Israeli universities are in the top 200, and only barely. They are the Hebrew University at 191st, and Tel Aviv University at 199th.
How bad is this? By way of comparison, Ireland with a population of four million to Israel’s eight million, has two universities in the top 200 – Trinity College Dublin at 129 and University College Dublin at 161. Ireland has three more universities in the top 400 – about what you would expect from a small developed country. As such, it is doing far better than Israel, which has only one other university (the Technion) in the top 400.
Although one should take such rankings with a pinch of salt, they do indicate something. In this case, they show the deteriorating state of Israeli academia, especially in the sciences. This was a central message in the Ha’aretz report on the topic. As it stated ‘No Israeli school made it into the top 100 in the health category…No Israeli universities made the top 100 list for life sciences or physics’.
Nor did they feature in the humanities or social sciences. The best they did was the Technion coming in at 69th in terms of engineering and technology. It comes as no surprise that Israel is still hanging in there when it comes to developing weaponry, (and is still being financially supported by the EU in this research). However this does not alter the overall picture of mediocre Israeli universities being underfunded and declining.
One can argue that it doesn’t matter how good Israel’s universities are – they should be boycotted anyway. This is true. But these figures do undermine a central argument used by the anti-boycotters.
So in future when Zionists start going on about the world grinding to a halt and science stopping if we so much as think of boycotting Israeli academia, we can point out that this is nonsense. Scientifically speaking, that is.
David Landy is the author of Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights: Diaspora Jewish Opposition to Israel. (Zed Books. 2011)