Can the ELT community respond to this week’s events in the sea off the coast of Gaza?

Should I stay at home or should I go. Arguments for and against?

Should I stay at home or should I go. Arguments for and against?

The role and responsibilities of an educator

A  question which every teacher and every educator is faced with is how to respond to events which unfold in the world. I remember the day after 9/11.  I had my lesson plans but there was nothing else that I could do on that day other than discuss what had happened in New York.

After World War 2 in Germany every teacher East and West was expected to contribute to a process of “Denazification”, this involved actively renouncing the ideas of fascism.  Whether we like it or not everything that we do in the classroom is informed by ideologies about the world from whether we choose frontal teaching over teaching in groups to whether we say that something that happens in the world is right or wrong. While it is fairly simple to walk into class today and condemn the acts of Derrick Bird in Cumbria it is not so easy to decide how to respond to what happened and is happening in Gaza and the sea around it at the moment

This morning  this letter appeared in the “Guardian” written by the well-known Edinburgh writer Iain Banks.

Iain Banks on the responsibilities of writers, artists and academics

Iain Banks

Iain Banks

“Following the murderous attack on the Gaza bound convoy, is it not time to revisit the idea of a full cultural and educational boycott of  Israel ? The sports boycott of apartheid South Africa hit the Afrikaners where, arguably, they felt it most and helped them understand precisely how despicable their regime’s policies were held to be by the rest of the world.

Writers and artists refusing to visit Israel, and the cutting off of as many other cultural and educational links with Israel as possible, might help Israelis understand how morally isolated they really are. It would be a form of collective punishment (albeit a mild one), and so in a way an act of hypocrisy for those of us who have criticised Israel for its treatment of the Palestinian people in general and those in Gaza in particular, but appeals to reason, international law, UN resolutions and simple human decency mean – it is now obvious – nothing to Israel, and for those of us not prepared to turn to violence, what else can we do?

For the little it’s worth, I’ve told my agent to turn down any further book translation deals with Israeli publishers. I

The Wasp  Factory by Iain Banks

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

would urge all writers, artists and others in the creative arts, as well as those academics engaging in joint educational projects with Israeli institutions, to consider doing everything they can to convince Israel of its moral degradation and ethical isolation, preferably by simply having nothing more to do with this outlaw state.”

Iain Banks North Queensferry, Fife

After reading this I wondered whether we in ELT can do anything in this area.


RT @NergizK @Harmerj @annapires:@GuardianBooks Small step towards boycott of Israel What can we in ELT do?

And looking through educational events in Israel earlier today I came across this ELT conference in Israel and I wondered whether there was any case at all for a boycott of the conference or a case for individual people not going.

Once we engage in ELT in the world we are not involved in a neutral activity and there is a need to debate the issues around this to see what we think and feel about it. For two hours this morning we had a lively debate about this on twitter and this is an edited version of what was said. As it is difficult in 140 characters to give this the attention to detail the arguments would need, I thought it would be useful to provide space to discuss these issues more thoroughly.  Here is the discussion as it unfolded.

Today’s twitter discussion


Has an ELT conference ever been boycotted? Is there a case for boycotting this one?


@marekandrews I wouldn’t go but it’s easy to say for me. I would certainly respect my colleagues decisions if taken consciously.


RT @marekandrews: Has an ELT conference ever been boycotted? Is there a case for boycotting this one?


Are IATEFL members happy that their Patron is attending this conference?


RT @thornburyscott: Are IATEFL members happy that their Patron is attending this conference?


@thornburyscott I understand & respect your choice not to speak in Israel. Pressurising other academics to agree with you seems wrong though.


RT @thornburyscott Are IATEFL members happy their Patron is attending this conference? Also Zoltan D, Wendy A etc


@thornburyscott Everybody has right to make their own judgements as to what is and what isn’t acceptable. Do you know *WHY* they’re going?


Oppose any boycott

Oppose any boycott

@thornburyscott Sure, no problem. IATEFL shouldn’t start taking sides in conflicts – that’s not what it is there to do.


@dudeneyge Agree with you. Your conscience, your choice. Just as one chooses to buy/not buy goods from certain countries: your decision.


@thornburyscott I am not (and am surprised by some of the other names on the list). I don’t think everything is down to individual choice.


@thornburyscott should I be concerned? Is ETAI involved themselves in anything other than teaching English in Israel? Not a facetious question.


@thornburyscott When we had associate in West Bank, ETAI gave us a lot of stick for using UN designated term Occupied Territories.

Should teacher associations debate and have positions on current affairs and human rights issues?


@thornburyscott There is a wider situation which is whether educational organisations should remain outside debates of the day.


@thornburyscott The argument about “neutrality” can also be interpreted as a lack of engagement in human rights and social issues…


@thornburyscott TESOL  and IATEFL have very different approaches to this. Its an unresoved discussion IMHO.


@thornburyscott Also difficult to do eloquantly on twitter, but something I mean to blog about at some stage when I have time/clear thoughts


What would be the effects of an academic/intellectual boycott of Israel?

What would be the effects of an academic/intellectual boycott of Israel?

@sjhannam what is the difference between the approaches of IATEFL and TESOL on this sara?


@marekandrews TESOL write clear positions statements on issues of social/educational importance, and have a very active group of caucuses which deal with issues like sexism, racism, homophobia, inequality, access in a pro-active way including advocacy.


Scott raises good question about ELTAI David Crystal, Jo LoBianco, Wendy Arnold…all signed up


Does it benefit education and people’s futures if nobody engages with life in conflictive regions of the world?


@maureenmcgarvey Thanx Maureen.Its not easy to articulate this given my deep respect and love of IATEFL and its work but it is a lack IMHO


But which countries should we NOT go to? Many govts behave badly. Is Israel a special case? Should we present in Iran? (neutral questions)


@Harmerj Not easy questions (see discussion we had yesterday on twitter on issue of boycott).Members should discuss and debate though IMHO.


@sjhannam correct, but until recently Iatefl charity status made it difficult (though not impossible) to present positions to its membership.


But the question about IATEFL honorary president is a good one. Does IATEFL have a view? @herbertpuchta


@sjhannam @harmerj agree subject should be aired and all members’ views be heard. Need to hear views from people in those locations.


@SimonGreenall This is no longer the case. In UK charities are encouraged to engage in community issues.


@dudeneyge Rightly or wrongly (rightly in my view) this was the position I had to take about working in China, and I still get stick about it.

I was worried about being apathetic, but now I just don't care

I was worried about being apathetic, but now I just don't care


@sjhannam @thornburyscott I agree about this – I think apathy can be more dangerous than action in many situations


@dudeneyge I agree that personal choice rules (in terms of should I go to ‘difficult’ countries). But organisations?


@sjhannam Yes, as I said till recently. And even 1998 I presented position to conference on bombing of Belgrade. Crystal was standing beside


@sjhannam @thornburyscott but this has to be based on fact. Serious question – if i were a presenter at ETAI, why should I be hesitant?


@Harmerj @dudeneyge totally agree Jeremy. I think there are different levels of collective responsibility there.


@sjhannam @harmerj For collective responsibility, we need collective action which all members of organisation agree to.Not individual choice then


People like @thornburyscott @SimonGreenall go 2 Gaza = support for Hamas? Or support for teachers? But would we/they have gone to South Africa then?


@maureenmcgarvey I don’t think it is either/or. For an organisation to have collective principles. BC has EO&D policy. Agreed by all?


Anita Roddick

Anita Roddick

One person I often think about was Anita Roddick who I met a number of times and talked to – she was my idol in terms of activism she never kept away from troubled areas because of regime, it made her more determined to go there and affect change where she could, this brought about sustainable palm oil before it was fashionable, and community trade for over 30 years, banning of animal testing on cosmetics. Shouldn’t the question be, how could us small people do something big by going to these places? Wishful thinking?


don’t think in a world where we have so many ways of engaging electronically theres a conflict btw IATEFL making a stand+engaging with teachers


@Harmerj Issue with Palestine is that people from there have asked for international action to boycott Israeli army violence and blockades


@Harmerj I am also torn on whether this right course of action but want more solid discussion than “its down to individual choice”.


@Harmerj Yes, this is important. If we/u don’t go the teachers become the victims of the situation.


@marekandrews Just discussing this aspect with a colleague. This is one way IATEFL could make stand + individuals act too.

@maureenmcgarvey @markeandrews I believe both are possible.


@SimonGreenall but in the long run a principled stand now might benefit teachers much more if it led to them being able to travel etc


@marekandrews I would agree but only if it were a coherent, consistent and widely supported stand. Unsure about long term effects of gesture politics.


@sjhannam @EHerrod @SimonGreenall support teachers. I agree. But Sara’s right about Palestnian call for sanctions – & yet my guess ?


Why Israel? A question of scale perhaps?


@thornburyscott For me yes, esp. the last few years, but also direct call from Palestinian people for action to boycott IDF violence.


Israel teachers almost certainly more ‘liberal’ than many sections of Israel government?


@Harmerj That is for sure. Many Israeli teachers taking radical stance against their government’s violence. Many of them support a boycott.


The role of IATEFL?

The role of IATEFL?

IATEFL’s mission is about building bridges – you can’t build bridges if you ignore one of the sides


I should make clear I am by no means resolved on issue of boycott myself, but think this discussion is essential for educators & their organisations.


Why boycott? While Israeli academics, singers and writers enjoy relatively free … read more


RT @evanfrendo: IATEFL’s mission is about building bridges – can’t build bridges if u ignore one of the sides but if all bridges are blown up?


I can’t help thinking that education & engagement must be part of making things better. Then why isolate ourselves from areas that need us most?


I love you people who make me think 🙂


@Harmerj Totally right. It isn’t always possible to be neutral. Being neutral also involves ignoring conflict and pain. Is that right?

Mostar bridge in Hercegovina, destroyed in 1993 and now rebuilt

Mostar bridge in Hercegovina, destroyed in 1993 and now rebuilt


@Harmerj If all bridges blown up … try again at a different part of the river. Building walls will never help.


@Harmerj Yes. We did try to do an E-W event in Palestine but were advised it would be unthinkable by our sponsors. The security fence is .


@Harmerj psychological as well as physical.


Thanks again for an invigorating discussion on boycotts, positions, organisations, teachers, borders etc. A pleasure as always : )


Israeli Academics against a Boycott

Israeli Academics against a Boycott

Uncomfortable with @thornburyscott ‘s tactic of pressurising acadmics into agreeing with him. Surely issue of #gaza should speak for itself?


@thornburyscott @sethdickens yes, all uncomfortable (!) but the ELT world we inhabit (especially 4 multi conference speakers) is no vacuum!


Agree with @Harmerj Israelis intl. reputation sev.damaged by their Government’s refusal to engage realistically with issue of #Gaza


“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral” [Freire]


Many thanks to all for discussion (from all sides); it’s because ELT is so ‘international’ that we have to talk, I think.


@thornburyscott debate useful, yes. We must avoid seeming like we’re on a “witch hunt” though. We’re against bullying, aren’t we 🙂


David Crystal Just a Phrase I'm going through

David Crystal Just a Phrase I'm Going Through

@thornburyscott Wonder if David Crystal even knows we are arguing about him?


@sethdickens No bullying, no. (But the next time I see that David Crystal I’m going to hit him with a plastic chair!) 😉


Wish twitter wasn’t so interesting. I meant to use it only for professional reasons but the #flotilla debate is gripping. Sorry I digress!


I like hearing everyone’s views on twitter and it is not important to me that we always agree. Debate & discussion very important. Thank you


@sjhannam Nice point. Doesn’t have to always be a cosy club. Debate both healthy and invigorating


@sethdickens Yes and no less respect at the end I hope. That’s the key to successful discussion. Keeping it civil & listening : )


@sethdickens @thornburyscott Seth,nobody is pressurising anybody or is on a “witch hunt” or is bullying. Just discussing important issues.


@marekandrews Methinks there is a certain amount of pressure brewing against David Crystal after @thornburyscott ‘s comment. Of course discussion is vital, which is why I chimed in with my 2c in reply to @thornburyscott


@Harmerj Hi there, just arrived in Izmir. I guess I have missed the history behind your question. Can you enlighten me, please?


@herbertpuchta Hi Herbert. For the last 3 days there has been intense Twitter discussion about Israel & Gaza & the flotilla amongst ELTers


@herbertpuchta today the issue of e.g.IATEFL honorary president speaking at this year’s ELTAI arose. Good idea? Does IATEFL have a view?


@herbertpuchta IATEFL DOES make political statements etc (e.g. your excellent comments about Polish air crash at Harrogate). Should it say something


@herbertpuchta ..about Gaza flotilla, Gaza blockade? etc. Given the limits of 140 charachters that the best summary I can give.


@Harmerj Have read part of it and understand your question as a reaction to Scott’s query.


@Harmerj We have had long discussions over the years whether IATEFL could/should take positions. Political conflicts – as atrocious as they may be are certainly not something where we could take positions. As a charity, we have to act in line with our mission.


Remains of American International School in Gaza

Remains of American International School in Gaza

@herbertpuchta I understand about mission – but if schools are bombed, education (our business) is disadvantaged, communities blockaded?


@Harmerj David Crystal is not there on behalf of IATEFL. It is his own free and personal choice what invitations he accepts.


@herbertpuchta Would IATEFL  have sent you (for example) to speak at S Africa conference during apartheid years? Should they? Is there anywhere that IATEFL should NOT send u as president? Or is engagement ALWAYS the best answer?


@Harmerj We had a session on taking positions in Harrogate, and a) very few people showed interest. Half of the people present said NO to positions


@Harmerj Just for the records. I am not going to that conference. In fact nobody is going on behalf of IATEFL.


@herbertpuchta thanks for all that Herbert. Maybe the issue is not whether IATEFL should take positions generally, but case-by-case?

Power  Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire

So, that’s the discussion up till now. The jury is out and comments welcomed. Is Sara right to echo the words of the Portuguese educator  Paulo Freire?

“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral”

74 thoughts on “Can the ELT community respond to this week’s events in the sea off the coast of Gaza?

  1. I’m interested that we are only talking about one particular conflict, presumably because it happens to be today’s news. Does the media really control our lives and our thoughts that much?

    • Hi Evan,

      I think the newspapers influence the broadcasters and they set the agenda for what is discussed. I’m wondering whether blogging and tweeting, which are much more democratic, will begin to challenge this domination.

      This particular conflict, it could be argued, is the central conflict in the world today and deserves time and space to discuss it. How we as teachers, teacher trainers and educators engage with this or whether we should engage with it at all, is what motivated me to collect those tweets today and create some space to discuss it in a more satisfactory way.

  2. I’m going to agree with Sara on this one. If we believe something is right or wrong, we should act accordingly. I also think it is acceptable to try and persuade others of our position. If we don’t try to implement change however we can, who will? It has to start somewhere and I definitely do think that individuals and organizations should take stands on issues.

    • and hopefully, Nick, having space to debate how we as teachers and conference speakers engage with these things or not will help to work out where we all stand on them. How and when we express ourselves in classrooms though is a much more complex thing and I think Sue below is on the right lines with this with what she says.

  3. Personally, I’d rather that this ‘debate’ hadn’t been resurrected verbatim in blog form. I feel that the change of ‘mode’ – from Twitter to blog – subtly affects the illocutionary force of the argument. A real-time exchange of tweets is a fairly ephemeral thing – hence less formal than a blog – and things get tweeted that might, on reflection, be better left unsaid, or phrased more cautiously.

    For example, the pragmatic force of my question about Professor Crystal’s appearance at the ETAI conference comes across as a criticism – and an unfair one at that, since it was based on a misunderstanding – i.e. that the posted blog site which publicised the conference, and which also included some overt political content, was the official ETAI website. It was not.

    However, the substantive issues at the heart of the debate persist: should ELT professionals join the academic boycott of Israel? And, if so, what form should this take? These are questions that I have been grappling with, myself, for years. Recent events have brought them into even sharper focus.

    • I thought a lot about turning the tweets into a blog post. As you say it is a very different medium. It was motivated by promoting the discussion and the argument in a better way and somewhere where we could write more than 140 characters.

      I did a similar thing to this with the ISTEK conference in Istanbul and feel that there is some value in capturing a tweet exchange, framing it, contextualising it and then problematising it (with the Freire quote at the end:)).

      As you say the issue at the heart of the debate persists. Should there be an academic boycott of Israel and where do ELT people stand on this?

      I think the comments that people have made today show that this is far from clear and that we all benefit from seeing it from as many different points of view as possible.

      We wouldn’t have been able to do this as satisfactorily on twitter.

  4. Oh I got to agree with Scott. Let’s blog, write and think. The only thing I’ve really understood so far – is that twitter is a terrible way to “debate” these things. If people won’t take the time to post their thoughts in a succinct fashion – they’d never have the stamina to really effect change and undertake political action, for or against.

    I’m as radical as they get – in my views on political action and also in espousing liberational pedagogy. However I stop at boycotts and ultimatums over the actions of others.

    Raise your voice loud and clear. Protest, spit or eloquently speak on what you believe. However, let others decide on their own individual actions and how they will “walk the talk”. But you CAN change their attendance and participation in Israel’s own charade IF you persist and convince. That’s what we got to do. Not issue ultimatums nor condemn ad hoc.

    As educators, we should be engaged with the world and also in having our students critically think about power and issues of right/wrong. However, let’s leave the mantle of dictator at home. We all have to decide ourselves – including our students. The trick is in raising issues not declaring them.


    • And the point of transferring the debate from twitter to a blog was exactly that David, to raise issues and not declare them.

      Democracy will never work unless it is accompanied by places where we can come together and discuss things, listen to other people and then come to a more informed opinion that we are comfortable with.

      I hope the discussion here will help the process along in everybody’s heads who takes part, either by contributing comments, retweeting, talking about the issues with colleagues and friends or just thinking through it themselves.

  5. Thank you for doing such a good summarising job on your blog.

    The discussions we have had about Gaza and the flotilla (so far) have raised some very big issues (for all of us) and it really helps if some of the issues are pulled together like this.

    A couple of points to your previous commentators:

    I understand why Scot is concerned about the illocutionary force of tweet vs blog. Nevertheless his question about David Crystal (or any of us, if it comes to that) is a perfectly good one. But (and Scott is right to emphasise this) it is a question, not a statement. That’s how I read his tweet, and it is how it still seems to me. I also asked our current IATEFL president whether he would go to Israel as an IATEFL representative if he was asked. Organisational vs personal.

    Evan Frendo asks why we have singled out this particular incident. Well it IS partly because it is current, of course (although I spent quite a lot of this morning asking about other places – South Africa in the old days, other places that people wouldn’t go to); but it is also because there is something different about the blockade of Gaza and the treatment of Palestinians by Israel. This impacts on Palestinian access to education all the time in a way that is uniquely unattractive.

    You have to take sides. I take the view that (a) Israel has a right to exist, (b) Hamas rockets into Israel are wrong as are any suicide bombings and other acts that target civilians, but that (c) the Israeli treatment of Palestine and the Palestinians, through land grabs, blockades and the overuse of disproportionate force is profoundly wrong and inhumane.

    Each of us has to work out how to deal with stuff like this all the time. Your blog has helped to summarise a difficult and perplexing conversation. And/but (this is something to celebrate) the conversation is all about a deep and really passionate belief in the purpose and merits of education, something which we are all committed to.

    Let the discussion continue!


    • Yes Jeremy the question about David Crystal or any of us is a question and not a statement and a valid one to raise given the current circumstances. The Foreign Office is always advising us not to go to places for various reasons and there are questions that we also need to ask ourselves about the reasons we go to places and when it is helpful and when it isn’t. The point is that going anywhere is a statement of one kind of another and will be interpreted by different people in different ways which we have no control over.

      As you say, we all have to work this through for ourselves and what is so good about what we do is that it is all part of a liberal humanist project that, in my experience, we all broadly subscribe to as educators. Long may it continue!

  6. Hi All,

    So much to say, but I don’t want to crowd with a very long contribution.

    Can I start by saying I understand Scott’s concerns over the way his tweet about David Crystal might be perceived and I think he was right to clarify this. I didn’t take it as a criticism Scott so much as a case in point that was relevant to our discussion. But indeed a summary of tweets can strip a discussion of its vitality though I don’t object to Mark doing this. I have a few bits of padding to add myself as I don’t want my own tweets to be viewed out of context either.

    I have been involved for years with IATEFL as a volunteer and sat on the central committee for three years. I love the organisation, its people, and the work it does. So please temper what I am about to say with the knowledge that I will continue to support it and do whatever I can to further its valuable work. I would also like to make it clear that everything I am about to say here in this blog post is known to all members of IATEFL who sat on the committee with me so I am not divulging anything confidential. I think IATEFL needs to reassess its decision against taking positions on important issues of the day in education and that affect its members, in their localities and collectively. There are no blocks in charity law to prevent IATEFL doing this – I researched this extremely thoroughly during my time on the board as it was an area that I really wanted to see changed, and I found that charity law in the UK is actually very supportive of advocacy work and only expresses reservation when this leaks into ‘big’ politics i.e. elections or supporting candidates etc in campaigns. There is nothing to legally prevent IATEFL from making their position clear on a number of key issues that relate to, for example, inequality through the development of an equal opportunities policy or through statements like TESOL on key issues of they day in education or in politics (like what happened in Gaza or another conflict situation).

    Additionally, although Herbert is completely correct to report back in his tweet that a meeting was held at IATEFL conference 2010 to caucus opinion about whether members felt that a position(s) should be taken by IATEFL, this meeting was poorly attended (less than 20 people). Speaking personally, I do not think this provides enough evidence that an entire organisation with so many members is not intererested in debating this any further. Indeed today and the tweet fest on this issue seems to demonstate there is a debate to be had and people want to have it. This question will never be answered once and for all with a yes or no as the world is just too complicated for that.

    During my time on the board, and now, I am often approached by people asking me what IATEFL is doing about this and that and this has increased since I started writing my column “ELT Under the Microscope” on social issues that affect our members. So I believe that there are some who feel that IATEFL could be doing more. The precise nature of that “more”, both in content and action, needs to be discussed.

    I would venture, after giving this a lot of thought, that a single session in a conference which asks members directly “do you think IATEFL should take positions on social issues?” is perhaps too vague for people to engage with. It seems to lead to multiple interpretations of the word “position” and “social issue” which end up with discussions becoming confused. I think we (and I use the collective term for all of us in the ELT community because I myself am more than willing to share the burden here too) need to find a different way, a different voice and a different language to discuss these issues which does engage members and makes them feel that their opinion is valid, whatever they may think. To give you an example, one attendee tweeted from IATEFL conference on the day of the “positions” meeting that they wondered whether this session was about yoga. It was meant as a joke but I think it illustrates the point. A much clearer line of questioning is perhaps needed and one that asks for specific opinions on case by case issues? This is not an either/or situation (we do issues 100% or we don’t do issues100%) and needs constantly revisiting in light of events in the world. It is one of the oldest and most difficult discussions in any organisation and will continue to be I imagine for many years to come.

    Once again I send this post with the greatest respect for IATEFL and its work and again offer my time and energy if it is wanted in helping to initiate some steps forward on this. I am always willing to help and to work towards a more holistic and representative organisation for all. It may be in the end that the membership decide “yes” on some things, and “no” on others, but that can never be known until it is aired IMHO.

    Sorry as infact this has turned into a very long post (well I did try!)

    Best to all


    • Thanks for this Sara, I too think that a lot of this depends on how you introduce issues, how you create space for them and how you encourage people to engage. Unfortunately we are in a culture where the powers that be are happy if we end up saying things like “I’m not interested in politics” or ” I don’t want anything to do with politics” or “ELT and politics do not mix”.

      I’ve found that when you present issues in reasonable ways people are usually more than happy to engage and discuss things. IATEFL is an organisation where these this can happen.

      I too love IATEFL and have been involved with it in different ways for 16 years now but mostly locally here in Hungary. I can imagine local branches all over the world discussing equality issues and which would then feed into the big conference in Britain or Ireland each year and which might influence policy statements.

      I don’t understand the structure as much as you do but am sure there is a lot we could do. Am very impressed with the aims of the global issues SIG.

  7. Thank you all very much for your contributions. The debate on both Twitter and in the blog has proved to me that there is a serious side to these media.
    However, IMHO a boycott does not seem to be the right answer to the situation.
    Who is going to be punished? What would be the effect?
    I gather that teachers in Israel who are trying to bring about change will be punished because they will be cut off from the lifeline of the international community. At the same time it will be very easy to use such a boycott to close the ranks inside Israel and numb critical voices.
    If we really want to bring about change, we need to engage in talking to both sides.
    Language teaching is all about communication. Refusing to communicate is IMHO not the right message, even in difficult times. However, when people choose to go there they have the chance and the obligation to voice their opinion.

    • What would of course be interesting is to hear the voices of teachers in Israel about this, which is in itself a very complicated thing to find out.

      In a time when electronic media is available to us now I don’t think it is an “either or” situation. We might choose not to attend a conference but continue to engage and communicate with teachers actively from any part of the world in a variety of ways.

  8. Me again. Just wanted to provide a couple of examples of TESOL position statements as food for thought. I selected them for general relevance rather than to make a statement myself on whether they would be suitable for IATEFL, but having said that, I don’t find that I disagree with anything in either of them:

    1. On the Status and Rights of EL Teachers

    2. Against the discrimination of non-native speakers

    • Thanks for those documents Sara, was just looking through the aims of the IATEFL Global Issues SIG

      * To assist in the exchange of information and ideas surrounding issues within ELT such as peace, justice and equality; human rights and social responsibility; globalization and world development; social identity; and the role of the English language and English Language Teaching in the world.

      * To exchange ideas on integrating peace education, human rights education, development education and environmental education into language teaching.

      * To help members fulfil the two roles a language teacher has in society: the conveyer of linguistic knowledge and the educator to enable students to understand better how the modern world functions.

      * To equip learners with the knowledge, skills and values which can help them confront both local and global problems.

      * To promote a less Eurocentric perspective within ELT.

      I guess the things we have been discussing today relate to these areas and how we work as teacher trainers, who we work with as teacher trainers and the positions we take on justice and equality are part of how we behave as global educators. The fact that we travel round the world so much and attend so many international events should make us even more conscious of our roles and the impact we may or may not have.

      • Yes indeed Mark. IATEFL GISIG is a very important part of the organisation and does some great work. There are some very challenging talks in their conference track. Very inspiring! Personally I dream of a time when some of those key values are embedded across the entire IATEFL organisation and not just in one Special Interest Group. I think they perhaps warrant being more central than they currently are and can see no reason why such important values and beliefs cannot be stated more clearly.

  9. I think David hits the nail on the head when he says that “The trick is in raising issues not declaring them”.

    I’m also inclined to agree with Scott and David that Twitter is probably not the best forum for debating such a complex and important issue. I’m not even convinced that blogging is the way to go with this, as the readership of any given blog probably leans towards being to be of like minds anyway.

    What my response as an educator tends to be when these kind of events happen is to work the situation into lessons by putting it in as broad a context as possible, and encouraging students to debate both sides of the argument before arriving at their own conclusions.

    As a general rule, I try and keep my personal opinions out of the classroom as much as possible to prevent them getting in the way of critical thinking. If I express my views on controversial issues then some students may decide to blindly agree with me, either because they want to please me or they assume that whatever I think must be correct, which (to paraphrase a popular bit of ELT parlance) is not the answer we are looking for here.

    In view of this, and given the fact that the boundaries of my classroom extend well out into cyberspace these days, I’m not entirely sure that expressing my personal views about this week’s events via social media is a direction I want to go in…

    For the present time at least, I’ve decided that I’m going to stick to responding to this week’s events unplugged, on a personal rather than a professional level, while I mull this one over; although that’s not to say that I won’t be following the debate with interest (and chipping in the odd retweet from time to time, to help the discussion along).


    • very difficult to discuss these issues on twitter Sue, that’s why I took the plunge and tried to transfer them to the blog. Much more room here to get into the complexities of it all. The interface between ELT and politics is fraught with difficulties both inside and outside the classroom and I’m with you on holding back in the classroom (as long as possible).

      As to whether blogs are good for this? Well, compared to waiting ages for journals to be proofread and printed, the discussion we’ve had today has been spontaneous, immediate and it has connected ELT with the Gaza issue both with people and arguments and that must be good, all within 12 hours.

      On the issue of boycotting, I don’t think there is consensus amongst the people who have contibuted today, we aren’t like-minded and that’s what makes it interesting.

      As Jeremy says, let the discussion continue.

  10. I only want to say thank you for recording the tweets and presenting them like this so that they can be read through and become part of history in a way that Twitter does not provide.


    • yes Karenne, I think there is a value in doing this if only to record the discussion in a more manageable way for people to read afterwards. It’s also good to take it somewhere else, on a blog, where it can be developed further.

  11. Thank you Mark for taking the time to put this all together. Not an easy job given all the unhashtagged opinions and thoughts that were flying around.

    There is so much to address here and so much to think about and I need to think things over a little before putting more thoughts to virtual paper. Thinking is good though and important in such a conversation.

    I do have one thought however that keeps coming forward and it excites me because of the possibilities and frightens me because I wouldn’t know where to start. Something about the boycotting feels wrong. If it were as simple as saying “don’t buy x-brand butter because they dig up peat bogs to grow their palm oil and the people are suffering as a result”, then my decision is not quite as difficult. I think the reason I am struggling is because I am finding it tough to identify who will suffer the most because of my boycott.

    I digress – back to my point. So boycotting feels wrong to me. I don’t judge anyone at all it this is how they chose to go – I admire them for their activism. But to me, in THIS situation, it seems simultaneously active and passive.
    I want to be instrumental in change in the world around me and to affect this with my action in doing, not in not-doing. Please do not as I say take this as a criticism.

    So…I wonder what could be DONE. Workshops with Palestinian and Israeli teachers working together? I just cannot help thinking that this debate can lead on to wonderful and fruitful dialogue and really positive action, where we (again used in the general sense) are able to make ripples.

    Sorry for waffling – I only logged on to check my email!


    btw – I’m looking up at Anita now and don’t feel worthy having my name next to her pics but there you go – a nice touch Mark, thank-you – I’m touched 🙂

    • yes Emma, and the actual writing helps the thinking as I’m sure you will find with your new blog. I started blogging four months ago and am sure it contributes to better thinking and you find better ways of interacting with other people.

      There are so many ways of bringing about change and people will only do what they are comfortable with when they are comfortable with it.

      I co-organised a Canada conference two years ago in Hungary when we brought people together from Serbia and Croatia and where this is possible I think it is a way forward but it can only happen when both sides feel comfortable and are not threatened. Peace, and not just the absence of war, is usually a pre-condition for this. Look at Belfast and Derry.

      Glad you liked Anita’s picture. Have you got a picture with the two of you on it and I could put that up.

  12. I would just like to pick up on Sara’s points above about IATEFL and how politically active it should become. I was also on the committee at the time, and I well remember the discussions we had. My position was that many people who join IATEFL join it because of its role as a networking organisation within the world of ELT, and not because of its stance on the political issues of the day. I felt, and still feel, that is inappropriate for IATEFL to become involved in politics. If I join a chess club I do not expect its organising committee to think about swimming competitions, and likewise with IATEFL. It is not there to use its very limited resources to debate politics.

    And even if IATEFL did decide to take a stand on political issues, how on earth are they going to decide which side to support? Not everybody has the same views about right and wrong, particularly in a membership which stretches across the world. Who in IATEFL could make decisions on behalf of the membership? This flotilla discussion is a case in point – many of the twitterers above seem to take it for granted that we all share the same opinion about who is right and who is wrong, but I would argue that conflicts are never that black and white.

    • Hi Evan,

      but it is a bit different though with ELT and language policy, isn’t it?
      I agree with you it would be strange to discuss swimming competitions at chess clubs (although they do play chess in some of the swimming pools in Budapest).

      But as Elana Shohamy demonstrated in her IATEFL plenary talk in Cardiff, (see link in Sara’s post below, or maybe you were there to see it in Cardiff) language Policy and government are inextricably linked and it would be strange in a teacher’s association for English teachers if we weren’t debating the kinds of English and languages that governments consider appropriate. These things are inextricably linked.

      • Not only language policy, I think, but education in general. Israel regularly and arbitrarily shuts down Palestinian universities or otherwise limits access to those places of learning. During operation Cast Lead it seems that there was a specific targeting of schools and other educational institutions (actually coining a new word “scholasticide” – see this article for more details ). People can not easily travel in to the Occupied territories to work with Palestinians, nor can Palestinians easily travel out. On the level of the utterly ludicrous, A4 paper is one of the things that Israel bans from Gaza.

        These are educational issues and as such have a direct relevance to bodies like IATEFL. I agree, Evan, that IATEFL doesn’t really have a role in taking on a position on the flotilla attack, but I think in the wider area of the occupation and its effect on education it does definitely have a role.

  13. Thank you for putting this discussion for everyone to follow. I missed it because I have been traveling. I grapple with this question. Recently, I changed my Twitter Ribbon for another cause I was supporting to #Flotilla and we will discuss the events in my classes. I want to do more, though. Boycotting is one more I will add to the list and I’ll find something more to do. I think this is a difficult situation and question. Unfortunately, boycotts are most effective when a large amount of people are behind them. This is the same with any movement. There is usually a visionary or leader who will lead and so it seems we have some leaders who are coming forth and speaking out and I deeply respect this. People in the world do need help and I rather people become upset at the discussion raised than to have silence. Everyday I feel blessed that I was born in a country where I am free and not persecuted. Where a person is born determines their struggles and challenges. It determines if they get to eat, what kind of education they receive, what kind of shelter they will have, what health care they receive, and what nightmares they will face if they happen to be a certain religion, gender, or ethnicity. My heart goes out to them. Thank you again for putting up this conversation for all of us to think about because thinking about how we can make a difference is the first step.

    • Like Shelly, I’ve been travelling and will be off again tomorrow. Also like Shelly, I put a Flotilla badge on my twitter photo as a protest for a couple of days and tweeted about it, retweeting things to keep the buzz going.

      Like many others here, I was revolted and angry at what happened there and I have no problem condemning the action and loss of life that ensued. As an educator who cares a lot for global issues I find the situation in Gaza unacceptable. As a former peace activist and aid worker I found the attack on the flotilla especially alarming.

      But I also know from bitter personal experience that some people in activist organizations actually undermine the goals of the organization by acting in violent or unacceptable ways (sometimes these people are in fact agents provocateurs planted there and trying to deliberately goad security forces and protesters into a confrontation…but that’s another story). So I’m aware that there may be some grey areas in this story, but I don’t think these warranted a death sentence.

      If I were invited to Israel for a conference (I have not been) I would think long and hard about it. I’m not sure right now what I would say as I am also aware that the wide coverage of this latest event is influencing me.

      I am not really in favour of a boycott of educational conferences because I think that the hope for long term peace lies ultimately in education. English language teaching, with its focus on communication and progressive values for classroom culture can help play a role I believe. I’ve read some things by Israeli educators who firmly believe in peace and try to work towards that. I think they should be supported.

      I’m still thinking about my reaction to this and other such events as they occur. As a materials writer I think the best way I could “do something” would be to write something to be used in class. But to do that I need a bit of distance, so at present I’m still reading and following the story and doing, like Sue mentioned above, things in an unplugged personal way.

      • thanks for this Lindsay, you say if you “were invited to Israel for a conference” you “would think long and hard about it”. I would too, particulary in the light of recent events and the way in which the actions around the flotilla have foregrounded this as a global issue. I do share Andy’s view, though, that:

        “It is a great shame that it has taken the deaths of 9 non-Palestinians to highlight the plight of Gaza and its residents (especially given the number of Palestinian deaths that happen on a weekly basis) , but if this serves as the catalyst to wake people up and make some take action then they won’t have died in vain”

        I wonder whether there is an approach to this on the lines of going but only going if there are teachers present from Gaza and the West Bank? Check out my reply to Ken’s comment below.

        And yes, as a materials writer to create thought-provoking, engaging, challenging materials to highlight what is, in many people’s eyes THE number one conflict in the world, upon which global peace depends, would seem a valuable contribution.

        I wonder how many published ELT materials focus on this issue.

    • Hi Shelly,

      what you say about where you are born determining if you get to eat, what education you receive, what kind of shelter you have, what health care you receive is so right. I also consider myself very lucky to have been born into comfortable circumstances.

      It’s just to do with accidents of geography isn’t it?

      The ablity to empathise with others and really see things from their point of view is a starting point from which we can then make decisons about what to think and how to behave.

      Whether a boycott is helpful or not in this particular case will I hope become clearer partly through the discussion we are having here.

  14. Hello everyone,

    I find it totally unconscionable that the Twitter ‘debate’ was reported as one-sidedly at the entire conflict in the Middle East is often reported.

    I participated actively in this debate yesterday, expressing very vehemently that I feel that politics and academia do not mix. And yet, I see that not one of my Tweets appears above. Is this representative of who we at IATEFL are? Is this even representative of the debate on Twitter?

    I am concerned, as Evan, that an organization cannot possibly remain loyal to its members, who after all are the backbone of the organization, and still take sides in a political conflict. Is any conflict so very clear that an international organization representing professionals around the world can risk alienating any of its members in this way?

    Within the classroom, I agree with you all that we must raise issues, painful as they may be. As role models for our students, we do, however, have to be careful that we truly collect facts and do not play judge and jury before conclusions have been properly drawn.

    I am an Israeli, and am proud to be one. Am I proud of all actions our government takes? Of course not – is anyone always proud of everything their government does? Could the flotilla issue have been handled better? Most likely. But we as a sovereign nation have the legal and ethical right, together with the crucial responsibility, to make sure that we do not endanger our citizens by allowing weapons (that are slated to be used against us) into an entity which does not recognize our right to exist and actively seeks to harm our civilians. Ask yourself how you would react if your country was under threat daily, and if you had personally lost many friends and children of friends in terrorist attacks.

    But I digress. My main point is that all professionals are entitled to professional development. While individuals can, will and SHOULD choose whether or not to speak at or attend conferences in certain countries based on their beliefs, an organization with members in that country does not have the right to make decisions of that nature as an organization.

    I have benefited from being a member of IATEFL for many years. I look forward to the annual conferences where I present, learn from others, and most importantly network with colleagues and friends. I hope to be able to continue to do so, and to feel the strong sense of belonging to this wonderful community of practice.

    With respect,

    • Hi Randi,

      Thanks ever so much for writing and contributing to the debate and I think this is more of a debate now here on the blog instead of the “debate” on twitter yesterday. It was an interesting exchange of views but it is difficult to go into the complexities of these issues on twitter.

      On your tweets, I didn’t see any of your tweets Randi as I wasn’t following you and I apologise for not including you afterwards by going back and meticulously checking all the tweets which included all the people who I wasn’t following. What I compiled was representative of the people I follow on twitter, that’s all. I wasn’t in any way trying to report things one-sidedly.

      I have now looked at your twitter feed and here are all the tweets you wrote yesterday which are really important to include as a contribution to the debate and am now following you on twitter.

      I too have benefited enormously from being a member of IATEFL and feel a huge sense of belonging to what is, as you say, a wonderful community of practice.

      If you know any other IATEFL members in Israel who would contribute to this debate it would be great if you could pass this on. It would be really good to hear their views.

      Thanks again Randi for taking the time to make this comment.

      All the best
      PS if anybody would like to follow Randi her twitter account is @RandiHarlev

      @thornburyscott Politics & academia should not mix. Do Israeli EFL teachers – both Arabs and Jews – have less right to hear Crystal?

      @thornburyscott Things are not always as they seem:
      @thornburyscott You’re totally correct about Chomsky.

      @Harmerj Why is it a good question? Is IATEFL political? Isn’t it about EFL and education? We should speak wherever professionals want to hear us

      @Harmerj And Israelis lived under constant INTENTIONAL missile barrages against civilians for 7 years – schools, homes, shops, etc

      @NergizK – again, if 1 feels that way personally, don’t take part. but organistions like IATEFL, made up of members from all over, can’t take sides

      @Harmerj Jeremy, still can’t condone organisations taking sides – as an israeli, should i then resign from iatefl if IATEFL VIPs can’t speak here?

      @Harmerj Check facts: tons of humanitarian aid enters Gaza daily from Israel; it’s Egypt whose border was closed till yesterday.

  15. This is a complex discussion with a lot of layers.

    Randi, speaking personally, as I was not following you on twitter at the time (but will now), I did not read any of your tweets and did not know you were taking part in the debate. I know that there were others in my network also (followers) who were taking part who were not in Mark’s network so he may be unaware of their input. Twitter is complicated like that and I think it is difficult to draw clear conclusions about content as we all have different followers and PLNs. Perhaps another argument about the need for care regarding how things are reported. Randi you could post some of your tweets now to the blog post so we can see what you wrote if you feel that they were left out?

    I certainly wouldn’t say that a group of 10 or so people could claim to represent any large organisation, or indeed that any of us who are quoted above claim to be doing so, but the views expressed were still important and interesting in my view as they illustrate how organizations are much more akin to diversity than similarity on millions of issues, pedagogical and otherwise. And as members of IATEFL, I guess everyone cares about our community.

    Speaking personally, unlike Evan, part of joining IATEFL for me is to belong not just to a community of educators, but to a community of educators who want the world to be a better place than it currently is and to “be the change they want to see” (to quote Ghandi). Now I don’t claim every member shares my aspirations, but some do, and the job of an organisation is to allow for the fact that all views are heard, and indeed that some people may change their view of what their own role is in an organisation when they have heard what others have to say on, for e.g., social issues. Human beings are nothing if not constantly evolving. That discussion is never ending.

    I would also like to point out that I did not suggest IATEFL should become “politically active”. I would urge you to read again carefully the way I expressed my views and to note that I was very clear that what I am talking about is advocacy and awareness raising on behalf of educational communities beyond our own which could include taking positions on occassion. This precisely illustrates my fear that there are multiple interpretations of how IATEFL could be involved, and we have yet to really discuss what that may look like, so each person draws on their own experience. This leads to misinterpretation of what kinds of activities could productively benefit the wider educational community.

    I would like again to point out that what I have proposed is a discussion on the issue of how IATEFL could be more involved in issues beyond the classroom that affect its members by citing specific examples and opening the doors to discussion. This involves thinking about dynamic and creative ways to engage members in that very discussion. I would assume even those who are against IATEFL taking a position on specific issues, e.g. the flotilla, would not wish to quosh a discussion on how other members feel about it or giving them the chance to express their views.

    As Shelly pointed out “I would rather people became upset at the discussion than to have silence”. I could not agree more. We do not want to live in a world surely, or exist as educators who make arbitrary decisions about what others around us can and cannot discuss? Accepting difference and listening to all views is part of what makes us human and helps society to move forwards. We have to negotiate the form of the organisations we choose to represent us. I am more than happy to listen to ideas that run contrary to my own, and think that this is surely part of what made me want to teach, so that I could also continue to learn.

    Once again, thank you all for your views and for the discussion.

    With best wishes from Greece

  16. I wanted to direct a few comments directly to/for Randi, if that is OK!!

    I really appreciated your comments during that Twitter discussion, Randi. The conversation was all going pretty much one way (with, however, very open questions being discussed about ‘going or not going’), but you came in and put some strong opposing views. They were and are welcome.

    We may never agree about Israel’s actions, of course (and Mark’s blog is probably not the best place to argue backwards and forwards about stuff like that). But in my professional life, especially in the world of ELT, I have yet to meet someone from Israel who I did not like or wished to engage with. I would go further; there can be absolutely no reason not to wish the country of Israel and its people peace & prosperity & love and all the other good things that we all hope for ourselves. Anyone who does not wish this would not be someone I wanted to engage with. Just so you know!

    But the actions of the government – that is something else. I want to (I am sorry if you are unhappy about this) disagree profoundly and vehemently with some of the things they do.

    But then your comments on this blog got me thinking: I am, like you, happy to ‘own’ my nationality despite some of the truly awful things that British governments do and have done. The invasion of Iraq comes to mind. A disgraceful violent assault based on lies and inhumane greed which killed more than 100,000 people. Should people (other teachers etc) have boycotted Britain then?

    But there’s a difference. It was clear in 2003, through the clamour of voices and the massive, really massive demonstrations, that more than 50% of the UK population was fiercely opposed to its government’s actions. I don’t get that sense in Israel. Please tell me I am wrong. And even if I am not should it make a difference?

    I still don’t really know what I think about organisations like IATEFL ‘boycotting’ another country. The whole point of IATEFL is to reach across borders, reach out to the community of teachers and students of which we all form a part. On the other hand if we believe in the importance – the sanctity – of education what does that mean? Everything in the end is political at some level. The question I kept asking in that Twitter discussion was ‘is there any place you wouldn’t go?’ So I guess I would want to address that question right back to you; are there any places or any organisations that you would refuse if they invited you to speak? Is there anywhere in the world where you believe that ELTAI should not send official representatives?

    There’s so much to say, but this ended up being a much much longer comment than I intended, so I will stop there.


  17. Hi Mark, Sara and Shelly,

    I suppose that when emotions are high, one often tends to jump the gun – I apologize, Mark, for unfounded accusations regarding not including my tweets, and actually, after posting, it suddenly did occur to me what the reason was.

    I have passed on the link to this blog to several of the people that I know, and do hope that they will participate.

    Sara – I understand your desire to have IATEFL represent ‘a community of educators who want the world to be a better place than it currently is and to “be the change they want to see” (to quote Ghandi).’ In fact, I applaud it. It’s simply that we all have slightly different views of the way that should be done. As individuals, I believe that many of us became educators for that very reason – I certainly know that I did!

    Please understand – it is not that I am not accepting the diversity that has been presented here. I simply don’t believe that an organization such as ours should intervene in choices of that its members make.

    And yes, Shelly, I too would prefer dialogue to silence, even when it is painful.

    Mark – thank you for giving us all a forum for this discussion.

    Warm regards to you all from Israel,

    • Randi,

      I can understand how this impacts you personally and appreciate your viewpoint. Now, I am really sad our education panel we planned didn’t work out but it will and we can definitely talk about these issues and how social media can help communities become informed as well as students.


      I think at some conferences speaking about these issues is powerful. With social media we have the ability to spread a message to many. Our students can see history from the eyes of the people in that country. They can read accounts, see photos and video and don’t have to take this information solely from bias media resources. We live in a powerful time when access to information from many resources is available 24 hours. Also, many conferences are followed through Twitter and livestreamed. If the conference allowed the ability to speak openly about these issues then would we speak at these conferences? If these conferences were a way for a keynote to speak against an injustice then would we not support that?

      At the 140 Conferences, just to name one, speakers do this and have spoken about the impact social media has upon various social injustices. There is one that takes place in Israel and I was organizing a panel. In this case, I think I would have felt more compelled to have my speakers speak if their lives didn’t become endangered. However, this debate has me thinking about my role and this panel and how to approach these matters.

      Thanks to your passionate voices that encourage discussion, debate and action!

  18. Hi Jeremy,

    Thanks for responding, and clarifying. In answer to your question, no, there is nowhere that I would refuse to speak, assuming that I am legally able to travel to that country. While I am also an American citizen and can travel on my US passport, I am generally uncomfortable traveling to countries with which Israel does not have relations. I guess my own filter is simply that of safety.

    However, saying that, I would welcome opportunities to speak even in places whose politics I may not agree with. Would I want to live in those places? No. But to meet with the professional ELT community is something I would be happy to do. (An aside: in the late ’80s, my husband and I had the opportunity to spend two years abroad as emissaries of Israel. We chose not to go to South Africa, and instead spent the two years in the UK, for that very reason.)

    I have been fortunate to train EFL/ESL teachers in many places in the world, and have always found the community welcoming and exciting to get to know. Discussions have often found their way to controversial subjects, but I think that building personal relationships with others in our overlapping and intersecting communities of practice is a profound and wonderful way to transcend difficulties and to build bridges, which for me is what organizations like IATEFL are about.

    Hoping for continued opportunities for dialogue,

  19. Thanks Mark for posting this and for everyone who commented.

    I have thought long and hard about the issue of an academic and cultural boycott on Israel. I have been somewhat ambivalent for a while now, but over the course of the last few months have come around to the usefulness, perhaps necessity of one.

    Firstly because it is clear that we cannot rely on governments to put any real pressure on Israel. The US will never do so this is entirely clear, and it seems no European government is really prepared to stand up in support of humanitarian ideals (and let us never forget this is about humanitarianism, and the suffering and brutality endured by the Palestinian people on a daily basis). This is not new news of course, but with the media in the west overwhelmingly biased in favour of the anti-Palestinian pro-occupation side of the argument, it is a tough thing to sell. (As a matter of interest, Randi says the issue is reported “one-sidedly”, with which I entirely agree. Though I suspect we think it’s from the other side). I have been boycotting Israeli goods for as long as I can remember for just this reason (there is an irony here that when one wants to travel to the occupied territories, one has to pass through Israel and therefore cannot be entirely rigid in such a boycott)

    However, I was, as I say, ambivalent about a cultural and academic boycott. I could (and can) see both sides of the argument. Can see the contention that such a boycott would hurt the people who tend to be those who are active in Israeli society speaking out against this awful injustice. But I have come around to the value of such a boycott. Yes, it may serve to further isolate those who speak out at home against the policies of the government in the occupied territories, but many of those people are also fully in favour of such a boycott. Israel is a democratic state where opinions are allowed to be expressed (see, for example, the excellent work in Haaretz newspaper of brave journalists such as Gideon Levy and Amira Hass). It is precisely this fact that makes sanctions and boycotts likely to be more successful tactics. It is internal pressure that is most likely to make the Israeli government think again and stop this murderous and illegal occupation, and internal pressure might be stepped up by support from external sources – and in this I mean a boycott. As cultural events are cancelled, as academic institutions feel more isolated, there will come a point at which Israel may begin to change (from within, which is the only way it can really change).

    I am not convinced that sanctions work in every context – in a dictatorship for example, they seem to have no effect other than to further impoverish the population. Saddam Hussein did not become weaker with sanctions, Iraq just became more poverty stricken. However in democracies I think they can be extremely effective. South Africa, for example, while it wasn’t exactly a democracy, since it didn’t give the vote to the majority of its people, had a (whites only) democratic system and the power of the sanctions was to force those white citizens to think about what was going on in their name and make political choices about them. Even if the level of thought was only at the level of “am I happy with apartheid or would I like to be able to watch a test cricket match” that’s still more than many had previously thought. [Not all obviously as there many white South Africans actively campaigned against apartheid, just as there are many Israelis actively campaigning against the occupation]

    To go fully into the arguments for and against the boycott would take a huge amount of space, and other people can and do express it much better than I ever could, so I would rather supply some links – links which have helped shape my thinking.

    Naomi Klein:

    (Israeli professor) Ilan Pappe:

    (Israeli professor) Neve Gordon:

    And an extremely long piece if you have the time from Mona Baker and Lawrence Davidson (respectively an Egyptian professor in the UK and a Jewish American professor):

    I am very happy to see an Israeli voice on here and would like to see more, as well as some Palestinian voices too. It would be good to hear their feelings on the value and/or effectiveness of such a boycott. I recognise that IATEFL is not about to take a public stand, but I think we all can take a look at the issues and decide for ourselves, and to attempt to convince others not to go, if that is what we believe (just as recently Gil Scott Heron and Elvis Costello, to name but two, were recently convinced not to play planned concerts there).

    The siege of Gaza and the continued illegal brutal occupation of the West Bank are, to my mind, compelling reasons to boycott Israel. I hope some of the articles above help to convince others. It is a great shame that it has taken the deaths of 9 non-Palestinians to highlight the plight of Gaza and its residents (especially given the number of Palestinian deaths that happen on a weekly basis) , but if this serves as the catalyst to wake people up and make some take action then they won’t have died in vain (as Seamus Milne eloquently put it in yesterday’s Guardian:


    Andy Hockley

    • thanks very much Andy for your thoughtful reply, it is not easy to argue these things, especially as we are people who love going to international conferences and love the opportunity to discuss important issues with our colleagues.

      As you say Gil Scott Heron and Elvis Costello have been persuaded to cancel their concerts in Israel. I wonder if Elton John will be similarly persuaded?

      In a blog post “Academic Freedom in Israel and Palestine” Steven Rose, Professor of Biology and Neurobiology at the Open University in Britain, draws attention to the daily reality for Palestinan academics:

      “Here are a few examples of the everyday denial of our Palestinian colleagues’ freedom to research, travel and teach. An attempt to establish a collaborative research project with a colleague from Birzeit foundered when we were told that Israel would not permit the use of radioactive tracers.

      A physiology lecturer at Birzeit is routinely stopped at a military checkpoint and prevented from giving his lectures; on one occasion, a soldier decided that as an ‘assistant professor’ he wasn’t qualified to lecture—only ‘full professors’ could cross. Sometimes only men over the age of 45 or female students are allowed to pass checkpoints.

      Such harassments with their bizarre and humiliating justifications render Palestinian academic life precarious. The fact that some scientists manage to keep strong biomedical research profiles beggars belief.

      In Gaza, the situation is far worse. The Islamic University, Gaza’s leading academic institution, was destroyed during Israel’s incursion. Education at all levels has virtually collapsed under the blockade. Bringing in books and writing materials is prohibited, and Gazan students are prevented from travelling to the West Bank and from taking up studentships abroad.

      Nor is the situation easy for Palestinians in Israel itself. Recently, the Carmel Centre at Haifa University cancelled an accountancy course because, its spokesman said, a majority of students were Arab (Anon, 2009).”

      For the whole article check this out here:

      If this is the situation then maybe these would be reasons for contemplating an academic boycott as a tool to encourage more people in Israel to campaign for the rights of both Israeli and Palestinian teachers and academics.

      Based on my experience of several visits to Northen Ireland or the North of Ireland, the only basis for lasting peace in that part of the world is guaranteeing the rights of all sides and I would imagine that the long term security and interests of Israeli teachers and academics can only be secured if the rights of their Palestinian counterparts are similarly guarenteed.

      Peace in the region can only be brought about by generous people in Palestine and Israel working together to bring up the next generation in a spirit of togetherness, recognising that mistakes have been made on all sides, neither “side” has a monopoly of injustice to complain about and that holding out the hand of friendship in a spirit of forgiveness is the only way forward.

  20. Randi has drawn my attention to this debate and I would like to say a few words if I may. I have been living in Israel since the early 70’s, it is my home, for good or for worse. I have been hoping for peace since I arrived here. I was especially hopeful when in the mid-90’s when Yitzhak Rabin signed a peace agreement with Arafat. I remember as a teacher in elementary school we celebrated the occasion, hosting a dance group from Jordan. They were very happy days, that didn’t last long. Rabin was assassinated and the peace process died with him. Not long after that there were bombs on our buses in Tel Aviv. I remember when we pulled out of Gaza, most of us were elated. But for seven years after that rockets were fired at settlements in the Negev. Gilad Shalit has been rotting in a Hamas jail for the past four years without even a visit from a Red Cross representative. There are always two sides to every story. I am sure that Palestinian mothers, like myself, wish to see their children grow up in peace and prosper. If it were up to the mothers there would have been peace many years ago. Rather than relying on our leaders, we can all make more of an effort to promote peace, and I believe that the only way to do this is through mutual respect and dialogue. Thus, if asked whether an organization such as IATEFL should enforce an academic boycott, my answer would be definitely not. Academic organizations in general and international conferences in particular, provide the perfect platform for dialogue and debate, for sharpening our awareness to differences of opinion and beliefs, for cooperation and the development of mutual respect and understanding.

    • Hi Lisa,

      thanks very much for commenting. I remember being at a British Studies conference in Olomouc in the Czech Republic when Rabin was assassinated and we were all shocked by that as there was real hope for peace then.

      I studied Yugoslav studies at university and am sometimes involved in events which bring together teachers from Serbia and Croatia, post Yugoslav wars, and the dialogue which happens then is very productive. Many Croatian people still won’t go to Serbia and vice versa.

      Lisa,what would need to happen for an event to take place now where teachers from Gaza could be brought together with teachers from Israel to discuss both ELT and the things that we have been talking about here for the last 24 hours?

      As you say, conferences provide the perfect platform for dialogue and debate and a conference of this nature might be very helpful. What do you think?

  21. A few simple and connected arguments

    1 It wasn’t Israeli teachers who were responsible for the attack on the flotilla.

    2 In my fairly extensive experience of teachers worldwide, and with a few exceptions, teachers are a liberal-leaning bunch of people.

    3 Like all teachers everywhere, Israeli teachers probably work very hard for very little reward. Part of that reward for some of them is seeing foreign speakers at conferences. They deserve it, as do teachers in all countries.

    4 If you get invited to a country with pariah status, as Israel is, you get the chance to engage, ask questions and offer an outside opinion. I’ve been to Israel, and the ensuing debate can be robust.

    5 I remember hearing a UK plenary speaker say at a conference somewhere in Central Europe that he felt an affinity with teachers all over the world that he didn’t feel with architects and plumbers in his own society. I agree with that. So think about the teachers first.

    • Thanks for this Ken, picking up on your last point about thinking about teachers first, I wonder if there is a way of thinking about both teachers from Gaza and the West Bank and teachers from Israel?

      Regarding the upcoming English Teachers’ Association of Israel’s conference in Jerusalem between July 13th and July 15th,

      would there be a way of going but going provided that there are also teachers from Gaza and the West Bank present?

      In this way we would be thinking about all English teachers in the region.

      The title of the conference is “Linking through Language”.

      What kind of linking is it if those teachers in the West Bank and Gaza who are no more than a 48 mile or 78 kilometer drive from the conference venue in Jerusalem are not able to go and listen to David Crystal (UK), Cem Alptekin (Turkey), Wendy Arnold (UK), Zoltan Dornyei (UK), Ramon Lewis (Australia), Joe Lo Bianco (Australia), David Hanauer (USA), Batia Laufer, Elite Olshtain, ,Kari Smith,Penny Ur and Richard Curwin speak?

      Teachers in the West Bank and Gaza deserve to listen to these excellent researchers and teacher trainers just as much as the teachers in Israel do.

  22. I am all for a dialogue with teachers from our region, and agree that it would be wonderful if English teachers from Gaza and the West Bank would join our conference. And speaking of English teachers from Gaza, as it happens there is a student from Gaza studying at Tel Aviv University in the Department of Language Instruction (headed by Prof. Elana Shohamy). I am not at all responsible for any of the organization aspects of the conference, however I am sure that registration is open to all teachers. I do admit though that for teachers wanting to come from those areas it isn’t easy to get through border control, however where there is a will there is a way. My husband actually has a business associate in Gaza who comes into Israel for meetings. As I said before, it’s the simple man-in-the-street who can bring about peace even by these small, and seemingly insignificant acts.

    • I too am a fan of “where there is a will there is a way” but sometimes the will involves doing things that aren’t easy and involves taking certain risks.

      You say that “for teachers wanting to come from those areas it isn’t easy to get through border control”. What would they need to get through? Could their fees be waived for the conference, as I imagine they don’t have much money? And could they be provided with papers by the conference organisers to show at the border which certify that they are official participants in the conference and to be allowed through?

      If your husband’s business associate comes into Israel for meetings from Gaza, then why not regular classroom English teachers?

  23. I know that there are many Israelis who want lasting peace. I found this youtube sample which shows an Israeli demonstration for peace which took place recently (31st May in Tel Aviv). I wondered if our Israeli colleagues know people who were on these demonstrations, or if they attended themselves, and also if they have further information to add to this about other meetings/activities taking place in Israel. I think that it is really important for us to receive this information too and would be grateful for their help.

    Here is the youtube from Israeli Social TV.

    Greetings from a rainy Greece on Saturday morning. Enjoy your weekends!

  24. I also noticed that Lisa mentioned Elana Shohamy who is a writer and researcher I have an enormous amount of respect for. I think her work in Critical Language Policy is groundbreaking, and particularly the examples she uses about language policy and Israel (perhaps most notable in her books ‘Language Policy: Hidden Agendas and New Approaches” and also “The languages of Israel: Policy, ideology and practice w/ B. Spolsky).

    I am posting a link to her plenary talk in Cardiff 2009 where she touches (amongst many other points) on the way language policy works in Israel.



    Loved Elana Shohamy’s talk Sara, thanks for that. I had watched it before when she gave the talk but it all seems so much more poignant now watching it within the context of this present debate we are having. And thanks Elana for such a great contribution to IATEFL, I would love to have you here in Hungary some time to talk about the same things.

    I did a plenary talk at IATEFL Hungary in Esztergom in 2006, which is on the border between Hungary and Slovakia, and the whole talk was about the Mária Valéria bridge which connects Hungary and Slovakia. It was destroyed in 1944 and not rebuilt until 2001. Now as part of the Shengen agreement you can just walk over the bridge without showing passports.

    Elana mentioned “Linguistic Landscapes” in her talk, such an important area everywhere concerning identity and multiple identity and sharing space

    During that plenary talk in Esztergom I showed slides of the Hungarian end of the bridge where the Slovak name of the town on the other side Štúrovo had been crossed out and the Hungarian name Párkány had been added. I remember thinking that this was very sad if two nationalities next to each other couldn’t share the names of the same place where there are both Hungarians and Slovaks and celebrate that dual identity.

    Elana’s talk reveals the discrepancies between official language policy in Israel and every day realities,. Like Sara, I would urge everybody to watch the talk if they haven’t seen it or watch it again if they saw it in Cardiff or online. It has greater resonance now within the context of this debate.

    How do we include people? How do we involve people? How do we make people feel at home in the region that they live? These are the questions that need to be worked on and developed.

    Roger Waters of Pink Floyd will be coming to Budapest next year and bringing his new “Wall” programme and he is one person who is not silent on these current issues. See the video he made earlier this year and his latest comments here:

    And to come back to the upcoming English Teachers’ Association of Israel’s conference in Jerusalem between July 13th and July 15th, “linking through language”

    How can we “link” if people from Gaza and the West Bank, no more than 100kms away, cannot get to the conference and would there be a way of helping those teachers to attend? Should we go but only go if those teachers can attend who are “behind the wall”? What do people think?

    All the best

  25. The idea of “where there’s a will there’s a way” is fine in theory, but in practice, Palestinians (for the most part) are just simply not allowed to travel outside (and even within) the occupied territories*. The will must come from the Israeli side to make it happen. If Etai wants to truly make a difference and be a promoter of action and peace it needs to invite and do everything necessary to allow Palestinian professionals to travel. Otherwise all this talk of dialogue and understanding is just that – talk.

    I want to stress that I thoroughly agree with the idea of dialogue. There are an awful lot of wounds that need to be healed on both sides of this conflict but I have to say in the current climate I am extremely pessimistic for the chances of peace (and I fully believe that Israel holds all the cards here, so this is why I want more and pressure to be applied to Israel).

    (* a genuine “where there’s a will there’s a way” story – a taxi driver friend of mine broke down and needed to get his car into Nablus to be repaired. At this time (for months if not years) Nablus was completely shut off by road, so in the end he took the engine out of his car, strapped it to a donkey and brought it into Nablus on paths leading over hills to get it to the mechanic. This kind of thing, sadly, has to happen every day. However, if he’d needed to get out to Israel? Not a chance in hell)

  26. An untrue assumption seems to have been made that Palestinians cannot attend the ETAI Conference.

    I have been in touch with conference organizers who have informed me that there are some Palestinian teachers who have registered to attend ETAI.


  27. Hi Randi,

    Thanks for letting us know about that, I think a lot of us are keen to find out as much as we can about what exactly the situation is with Palestinian teachers travelling from the West Bank and Gaza into Israel.

    I hope that this blogpost can contribute to a better dialogue between those ELT people who aren’t from Israel and Palestine, who care about your part of the world, and those like you who live there.

    Is there any way you could pass on this blog to any Palestinian teachers and ask them whether they would like to contribute to this discussion as well?

    Thanks for telling us that there are Palestinian teachers registered for the conference.

  28. Hi Mark,

    I’m afraid that I do not have any personal contact information for Palestinian teachers, and of course, their registration details are confidential.

    BTW – ETAI is holding a pre-conference workshop given by The CRELL Group (Conflict Resolution for English Language Learners) on ‘knowing the other to know ourselves’. If any of you are attending the conference, you may choose to register for this workshop.


  29. Hello,
    I am a lecturer (EAP) at Tel Aviv University in Israel. I’m not going to get into the political side of this discussion, but I will say that when there is a conflict, there are always two sides. I will also say that even reports from ‘trustworthy’ news sources should not be assumed to be 100% accurate or unbiased. (Case in point – Reuters is under fire for cropping out weapons in pictures taken on the flotilla –

    However, I chose to write because I am quite surprised at the suggestion that boycotting academic exchanges (regardless of what side of the fence you are on) is a positive step toward promoting freedom and human rights. It is the absolute antithesis. I believe that only through dialogue and discussion can any change come about.
    Over the years I have received a number of emails from students and academics in Iran who have read articles that I have published (and thankfully, were not boycotted). I stress that the requests for academic dialogue came from people in Iran, a country whose leader has denied the Holocaust and wants to wipe me, my family, my friends and colleagues–my entire country–off the map, and a country that butchered its citizens for protesting against their election results … After receiving permission from security at Tel Aviv University (permission, no boycott), I replied and we exchanged ideas. I can only say how touched I was that these courageous people contacted me, in spite of the potential danger involved in ‘collaborating with a Zionist entity’. Isn’t that the way to go?


  30. Hi Elana

    Thanks for this. Your story of working with Iranian colleagues is an excellent and inspiring one.

    Perhaps I can come at this from a different angle. Obviously there are 2 sides (or multiple sides) to every story, and I would not want to seek to lessen the experiences of people in Sderot or those affected by suicide bombings or any other act of terrorism, any more that I’m sure you would like to lessen the experiences of those bombed and subsequently imprisoned in Gaza, or of those in the West bank who have to suffer great difficulties and privations and do so with mostly stoic good humour

    At the moment however, it would seem that the Israeli government has decided that it sees no gain in pursuing a genuine two state solution (building more and more settlements, a wall which cuts across land inside the Occupied Territories, squeezing the Palestinians into smaller and smaller bantustans etc). It would appear the approach is either (a) to force the Palestinians out – “transfer” as I believe the Likud euphemism is; or (b) just stick with the status quo all the while building more and more settlements. In this situation, and with western governments clearly unwilling to do anything even to the level of mildly rebuking Israel over these policies, can you suggest what a concerned individual (with both Israeli and Palestinian friends) can do? Dialogue and discussion are wonderful in theory but where is the dialogue. where is the discussion? Where has it taken us?

    I will never condone violence, but with extremism on the increase (on both sides but especially in Israel) and moderate peaceful voices in decline, I think it’s time to do something else. When all the power is in the hands of one side and that side refuses to engage in meaningful dialogue, then I believe it is time for whatever pressure can be brought to bear to be brought to bear. At this stage sanctions and boycott seem to me to be all that is left. I’ll happily listen to any other ideas. It’s not like I want to support something which seems so against everything I hold dear about free speech and engagement. I just cannot see any other options.


    • Dear Andy,
      The most worrying thing about your letter is the fact that you don’t seem to see other options besides a boycott, and as I recall from the beginning of this debate, the talk was specifically about boycotting academic conferences. These, in my humble opinion, are one of the main channels through which moderate people (as you called them) actually do have a chance to express their views. It is a sad day when other, perhaps more creative ideas cannot be pursued to promote the cause of peace. And speaking of other ways, we are witness to something different happening in the West Bank. The economy there is taking off, especially, as I understand, in terms of building. For example, a new and modern city is taking shape as we write, and, from what I hear when speaking to colleagues from the West bank, trade is also developing. It would seem that the people living in the West bank are going about realizing peace it in a different way than those in Gaza. As I said in one of my previous postings, if given the chance, it is the common people who will bring peace to the region. Perhaps, instead of talking about boycotts and sanctions, we could find ways to promote these ‘seeds’ of peace.

      • Dear Lisa

        Honestly you’re right, I don’t see any other options. And yes I find this as depressing as you probably do. I’d love to hear some creative ideas to make a difference and to end the occupation, but honestly I feel that whatever has been tried has failed. And as I have said all the power here lies in Israel. And it doesn’t seem to just be a question of government – OK under Netanyahu and Likud etc settlements expand at a faster rate, and hope seems even more distant, but under Labour or Kadima or who ever, settlement activity is never halted, the occupation and oppression is moire entrenched.

        I too have read that things are improving a little in the West Bank, though this has all come from the mainstream media in the UK and USA which tends to be very pro-occupation anyway. My Palestinian friends have been significantly less enthusiastic (they after all remember the time after Oslo when things did temporarily get much better too, though settlements continued)

        I’m not keen on the characterisation of Gazans as being against peace. I’m quite sure people there would love to have peace, and the fact that a few idiots/psychopaths launch futile, deadly and totally counterproductive strikes towards Israel does not somehow make all Gazans guilty (any more than, say, the actions of Baruch Goldstein make Israelis guilty of all his crimes). It’s that thinking that makes things like Operation Cast Lead somehow acceptable in the minds of otherwise reasonable people.

        But, let’s move forward. Like you I’d like to nurture and support seeds of peace. Can we find something we could agree on in that area, and find a way to give it whatever support we can and encourage others from the ELT community to do the same? On a personal level I’ve donated to organisations like B’Tselem and the Holy land Trust in the past, and will again I’m quite sure. But perhaps there’s something a little more active we could all think about doing. What do you think?

        In dialogue (and actually a little more hopefully than when we began this conversation :-))

  31. Hi Andy,
    Thanks for your response. I’m certainly not here to argue politics. I’m not a supporter of Netanyahu and never have been. However, I’ve lived in the Middle East for many years, and I simply don’t get it. Israel withdrew from Gaza (which I solidly supported) not for some publicity stunt, but because they hoped for peace. Real peace. Gaza was the testing ground. Israel got (and is still getting) THOUSANDS of rockets on its civilians in return–year after year after year. Where was the great international outcry? And again, I don’t get the circular argument that Israel is the occupier–> Israel withdraws–> Israel gets attacked with rockets because Israel is the occupier who refuses to withdraw and engage in dialogue. What a missed opportunity for the Palestinians – and then what a tragedy for them and for all. You are right – you wrote you are coming from a different angle. My angle is that this is a very rough neighborhood. Ask Gilad Shalit.

    Do I want to see a solution that brings peace and security to both sides? Of course I do. But I don’t have the answers. I don’t even presume to know all the facts, and I live here. However, the present discussion seems remarkably one-sided and devoid of broader context.

    So, back to the issue at hand–the academic boycott. I have a few questions:

    You wrote the following: “I will never condone violence, but with extremism on the increase (on both sides but especially in Israel) and moderate peaceful voices in decline, I think it’s time to do something else.”

    What exactly is your definition of ‘extremism’, especially the type that you say is more on the rise in Israel (and I assume less so then, for example, among Hamas or Hizbollah, or say Al Kaida)?

    And you also wrote that “…it’s time to do something else” – do you mean something else besides, as you termed it – “…everything I hold dear about free speech and engagement”? Do you mean it’s time to silence those “moderate peaceful voices”‘ who are presently “in decline”?

    Just trying to understand–you wrote that there hasn’t been dialogue, so stop the dialogue with a boycott, because where did the lack of dialogue get us? Am I missing something here? Maybe burning books will also get the job done? (This is not as sarcastic as it sounds – it’s a very slippery slope.) Isn’t this somewhat similar to the parent who yells at his child for screaming?

    It is especially in times of crisis that these values should not be forsaken for “‘something else.” In peaceful times, they are so easy to uphold – no effort needed, no moral ground required. It’s when the going gets tough that they really and truly mean something and are worth fighting for. So academic boycotts? Cultural boycotts? That’s the proverbial cutting of your nose to spite your face.

    Thanks for allowing my voice to be heard. Unfortunately, this is something that I now do not take for granted.

    • Dear Elana

      Thanks again for this very considered response.

      I think we may have to agree to differ on the motivations behind the withdrawal from Gaza, and whether or not what exists now constitutes occupation or not. That’s OK, I think it’s possible to disagree and still have a conversation.

      When I said extremism is “on the increase (on both sides but especially in Israel)”, it may have come across badly, and I am not (at all) seeking to suggest that certain of the organisations who oppose Israel (such as Hamas and Hezbollah) have somehow got less extreme. What I mean by extremism on the rise in Israel is the amount of people voting for what I consider extremist parties (such as Avigdor Lieberman’s lot) [Honestly I consider Likud extremist too, but then I do recognise they’re mainstream and have been for a long time], and the attendant loss of support for peace which seems to have accompanied this (by which I mean support and membership of organisations like Peace Now). However I could be wrong here, and would love to hear from someone in Israel that this impression is wrong and the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction.

      You have misunderstood me slightly – I don’t believe there hasn’t been dialogue, just that dialogue has so far achieved more or less nothing. UN Security council resolution 242 was passed in November 1967 and the occupation is still no closer to being ended. And in all that time there has been a lot of talking. Yes things have got temporarily better for brief times (under Begin, Rabin and – sort of- after Oslo), but it has all been very fleeting and the structure and pursuit of occupation has never really dropped off. I’m just searching for some way of changing things a little. As I said in my reply to Lisa above, Israel has all the power here and with Israel (by which I mean its government and political/military establishment) seemingly unwilling to actually make any real changes, I am looking for some way that ordinary concerned people who believe in peace and security and a positive future for both sides (as I 100% do), can perhaps make a difference.

      I’m still very ambivalent about a full boycott (as I said initially), but over the last few months I have increasingly become convinced that something needs to shake the status quo, and that this possibly the only thing that can. Any other options would be really genuinely gratefully received. And I’m not really thinking of a boycott as being against dialogue, since I don’t think it would stifle dialogue – indeed this conversation we’re having, which I regard as genuine and useful dialogue (and I hope you do too), has been sparked from a blog post posing the boycott question. I don’t see such conversations ending. (Sadly there is no chance in the foreseeable future of you being able to visit Iran, but that hasn’t, thankfully, prevented dialogue). (I’m not sure if there’s some hardcore version of an academic boycott in which I shouldn’t even be having this conversation with you, but if there is, that’s certainly not what I’m advocating)

      In short it is the chronic nature of this situation which troubles me not the acute “moments” such as the attack on the flotilla or even last year’s bombing of Gaza. Mark’s original blog post is about the flotilla, I realise, but my sentiments and desire for change do not originate there.

      As I said in my reply to Lisa, I’d be really happy to work out what it is we can agree on (and I’m sure that in fact it’s an awful lot) and how we could move that forward. I’d much rather a creative positive approach than a boycott, I’m just not aware of one and have run out of ideas of my own.


  32. Thank you Elana and Lisa for expressing thoughts similar to mine. Your ominous comment, Elana, about not taking for granted that our voices can be heard is something that has reverberated in my head as I try to decide whether or not to attend a conference in Ireland to which I’ve had a proposal accepted. I truly do not want this academic opportunity to turn into a situation where I find that I have to defend my country, especially for an incident where the facts have not yet been examined and/or verified.

    As members of a professional organization with academic underpinnings, I’m particularly shocked that you recommend action before the jury has even been convened, let alone given their verdict. As you know, an official investigation with international participation has been announced. Calling for a boycott before the results of this investigation have been published does not seem to be particularly in keeping with the professional academic behavior of first collecting evidence, then analyzing and triangulating it, and only then drawing conclusions.

    And whatever results that investigation may provide, I do not find the suggestion of an academic or cultural boycott one that will facilitate intercultural understanding and cooperation, but rather, one that will most likely cause a deeper entrenchment of mistrust, anger and fear. Should it be found that Turkey allowed terrorists to board a ship carrying humanitarian aid, will you recommend an academic and cultural boycott of Turkey? I certainly wouldn’t – there’s no connection.


    • Hi Randi,

      Which conference are you going to in Ireland and when? I would have no hesitation in going, if I were you. I have been going to Ireland for 30 years now and teaching Irish Studies courses for the last 15 years including the politics of Northen Ireland or the North of Ireland or Ulster or the six counties, depending on the way in which we decide to describe that part of the world.

      I have learned so much from spending time in Belfast and Derry with both Republicans and Loyalists and often think of moving there, the only thing that puts me off is the rain!

      Under Bush in particular I know several Americans who were constantly questioned about the actions of their government when they travelled outside of their country.

      I also get asked about aspects of British policy whether or not I support them or not. I guess this is part of the way in which we are perceived by others when they get to know what our nationality is and something that can’t be avoided when you travel.

      Tomorrow the findings of the Saville enquiry into the shootings on Bloody Sunday on January 30th 1972 will be made public and I think I can say that I’ve never experienced as much hostility to the British Government amongst people than in that part of Derry where that happened.

      At conferences each of us has a choice about whether to respond to questions if asked or whether to raise questions ourselves. How we behave will depend on what we think is appropriate at any given time.

      I know that when I am in Serbia difficult questions are only really discussed late at night with small groups of teachers who I have grown to trust or they grow to trust me over a period of two or three days, similarly in Croatia.

      Ireland is a wonderful place Randi, go and enjoy it. I only really got to know my own country when I started visiting “my neighbour” and got to see the perspective many different groups of people had on Britain.

  33. I’ve read most comments and I just want to comment on one issue. More than one person agreed that Israeli teachers and Israeli people have nothing to do with their government and I would like to express my political opinion about this. Israel is an illegitimate state. Those who are living in Israel, agree to live on an occupied land. Palestinians were killed, kidnapped and tortured for 62 years by Israelis. We can’t compare Israeli government to other governments in the world. While British people protest against their government bad decisions Israeli people support their government decisions. Many websites showed that more than 90% of Israeli people support Flotilla Raid. I’m sorry because I know this is not the proper place to discuss such issues. But I mentioned all this to say what appears to be true is not always true. Knowing the truth is the first step to take the decision of boycotting.

    Best Regards,

    • Thank you for your comment, Arwa. Israel IS a legitimate state, recognized by the United Nations in 1948. Your attempt to delegitimize our right to exist is the exact reason why we must be sure that humanitarian aid being brought into Gaza is indeed humanitarian, and why the blockade was initiated in the first place.

      Palestinians do deserve their own state, and I believe very, very strongly in a two-state solution. However, it is very difficult to work towards that when the entity that controls the Palestinian Authority at the moment denies our very right to exist, as do you. Our state has been recognized by the UN. I would hope that the Palestinian state will be also. But we cannot work towards a peace that would ultimately cause us to self-destruct. It would be totally irresponsible.

      So yes, knowing the truth is indeed the first step.


  34. I have been following this discussion for a while and I am deeply impressed by the intensity of the discourse and the mutual respect of the people taking part.
    Two years ago I happened to travel through Israel and I had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people from various groups (Jewish, Arab, religious, non-religious). What struck me most was that I could understand all of them and all their problems. All of them were right in their own way, all of them expressed their worries, their wish for an end of the hostilities.
    Were their views compatible with each other? Unfortunately not. They were as diverse and disparate as one can imagine.
    The only way forward to me seems dialogue – and dialogue only. A boycott of a conference would not even be recognized by the Israeli government, but the people who might offer hope – the teachers and the students – would be faced with difficulties.
    Apart from that, boycotting conferences would not end with a boycott of Israel. Would anyone want to boycott ELT conferences in other countries for Human Rights issues? Where would it end? And what would it help?

    Best wishes,


    • Hi Driza,

      thanks for following the debate and thanks for your contribution. You mention that all the people you met when you were in Israel were “right in their own way”.

      The beginning of trying to understand people is seeing things from their point of view and to empathise with their positions. In my experience though, in contested areas, our responsibility is to create conditions in which people are secure enough to be critical of their “own side” while at the same time not to be seen as betraying “their own side”.

      Nobody has a monopoly of injustices done to them and I don’t think it is helpful if we want to build bridges to only be defensive and retreat into more default and long held positions that we may have inherited from our parents and grandparents.

      In saying this I am well aware as a British citizen that I write from a position of security as a result of my country’s role in the world but I also write with a feeling of responsibility as a British citizen coming from a country that was instrumental in the drawing of borders in the part of the world we are discussing.

      I hope that this blog can in a small way contribute to better understandings and insights amongst ELT educators and hopefully the discussions we are having here are going on on many other blogs to help to both bring us together and create space for discussion in a non-threatening place.

      I too welcome the opportunity to exchange views with people here on this blog and am really looking forward to hearing some voices from Palestine. If anybody has any way of passing this on to anybody in Gaza and the West Bank please do so.

      Thanks for your contribution Driza. If anybody has any experience of teaching these issues in classrooms it would be good to hear from you as well.

  35. I just wanted to say what a great post and set of comments this has turned out to be, and to say, yet again, that personally I really appreciated Mark’s efforts in starting the whole thing off in the first place.

    I think Randi should go to Ireland!! Teachers listen. They are, incredibly accepting of different points of view. I spoke at the American University in Cairo a few months into the invasion of Iraq. I felt the need to say something obliquely in my talk to show that I was one of the British people who was opposed to that ghastly illegality. Of course that was easy; I had a reasonable assumption (instantly justified by sustained applause) that my views were shared by the teachers who were present. More difficult if I had been talking in certain parts of Texas, I guess.

    I guess I am not really in favour of an organisational educational boycott really – though I understand the passion that leads to that. But (since people have talked about teachers and their liberalism in these comments), I still want to know (how presumptuous is this – I’m not even an Israeli!) that Israeli colleagues who I respect, and whose work i admire….I still want to hear their voices raised in anger against some of the things their government has done in their name. That would make me feel so much more comfortable about accepting invitation if one ever came (most unlikely now after THAT letter and this discussion)…

    (and once again…no I do NOT agree with Hamas rockets. But I don’t like land grabs either, or high walls, or bombing schools, whoever is doing it. And once again, the maths are compelling, How many Israeli deaths, how many Palestinian deaths?)

    I really appreciate everyone’s willingness to dialogue on this site. That’s great.

    Life doesn’t get easier…


  36. Jeremy, that’s just the point – I would certainly hope that no one would consider NOT inviting you to speak based on your political viewpoint. You have so very much to contribute. Saying that, you certainly need no invitation to join us at ETAI in Jerusalem in July!

    And, by the way, I will most likely attend the conference in Ireland, because it’s on a topic that I am professionally intrigued by and involved in, but also because by doing so, I can show that Israelis are anything but monolithic in our views. Thanks for your encouragement.

    Mark – thank you again for allowing us to make your blog into a forum. 🙂


  37. Dear All,

    I thank everyone for their generosity in joining this discussion and in sharing ideas. I also thank Mark for providing the space. I have learnt a great deal here and am glad to have been part of this dialogue.

    There are one or two questions that I still don’t feel have been answered and if I may, I would like to revisit them before this discussion winds down.

    Like Jeremy I also feel wherever I go I tend to make it clear I do not support the UK government actions in Afghanistan and Iraq and indeed much of their international policy regarding war. I am against these wars, even though the UK government tells me that it is involved in them in the interests of protecting my safety. Sometimes when travelling in other countries I have been criticised as a UK citizen when it is assumed that I may be in support of these actions. I do not blame the individual passing the criticism as I understand why they may have this perception and there are times (particularly during the Iraq aggressions) where I would have understood anyone not wishing to travel to the UK. I try to engage in a dialogue to explain that I do not support this violence myself, and I also demonstrated my opposition to my government because I do not think this violence will lead to any sort of lasting peace. I have yet to experience such a dialogue that has not had a positive outcome. With the history that the UK has, I do not find it at all surprising that some people may feel upset and angry when they come into contact with me as a UK citizen.

    Related to this, I think there is a question that has been asked a few times by Andy, Jeremy and Mark and I would like to ask it again because I really do feel the answer is extremely important. Would it be possible to ask our Israeli colleagues who have contributed here to tell us if they feel that any of the actions of their government are unjustified either in force or magnitude? Are there aspects of the defence forces actions that you perhaps feel uncomfortable about? I would be extremely grateful for an answer to this question. So far I understand that you have wanted to tell us about the other side of the violence that affects Israel because you feel that we might not know about this, and I thank you for this essential information.

    I too do not condone violence of any kind. But from an outsider’s point of view it seems that the current levels of violence being exhibited by the Israeli forces is considerably higher, if only taking into account numbers of those who have lost their lives and damage to the infastructure. Is this perception, in your opinion, wrong? I echo the question that Jeremy asked in his previous comments when he said:

    “…Israeli colleagues who I respect, and whose work I admire….I still want to hear their voices raised in anger against some of the things their government has done in their name. That would make me feel so much more comfortable about accepting invitation if one ever came”

    Please can you help us to understand your thinking on this. I feel it would be a shame to leave this dialogue without addressing this if at all possible.

    Thank you kindly

    Sara Hannam, Thessaloniki

  38. Dear Sara,

    I appreciate your question, but I’m afraid that I cannot give a straightforward answer. I was horrified by the loss of life on the Mavi Marmara, as I think everyone was. The thought of people dying on a humanitarian mission is completely unthinkable. Of course I feel uncomfortable with the magnitude of the actions taken!

    Saying that, there were five other ships in the flotilla, plus an additional one that arrived from Ireland last week, where there was no violence whatsoever. It does beg the question, why? I do not have sufficient information to answer that.

    What exactly the chain of events was that led to the violence has yet to be verified; that is why there is an investigation being conducted with two international observers: Lord William David Trimble of Ireland, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and retired Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin, the former chief military prosecutor in Canada. I will be the first to applaud punishment for the perpetrators of any illegal actions on either side, as I believe will most Israelis.

    Sara – had you been in favor of the UK’s participation in the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq rather than against it, I would probably disagree with your position – perhaps even vehemently. But if you made room for other voices to be heard, I would certainly not respect you any less as an educator. I guess I would expect the same.

    We all belong to intersecting communities of practice. We share many things, but we are also different on many levels, levels that may range from our worldviews to our teaching methods. I think in this discussion we are all in favor of mutual respect. But I believe that mutual respect is something which can be judged only by the respect we show for those who think differently, and that’s what makes it so difficult.

    I hope to meet you all face-to-face at some point. This has been a difficult discussion for me; I consider myself left-of-center politically, as many of you probably do. However, I need to feel safe in my home, and I cannot as long as my neighbors do not recognize my country’s right to exist, and actively seek its end. I truly believe that the best way to attain peace is through dialogue, but embedded in that may be my own cultural assumptions which may or may not be universal. And yes, I live in dissonance, sometimes a painful place to be.

    Apologies for the long posting.

    Thanks to all,

  39. Randi thank you for your answer. I know this is a painful discussion and appreciate very much your willingness to answer the question I posed. Thank you again for being prepared to discuss and debate. Like you I am always willing to listen to other voices, and to try to ask and answer the difficult questions.

    I hope some of our other Israeli colleagues on this thread can add to this discussion.

    With best wishes and thanks again.


  40. I don’t understand anything – I can read ” does not recognize our right to exist” written by people who so much do not recognise the right to the existence of “the others” that they use a euphemism “The West Bank” to describe their country. In my own country, France, I read about how essential it is to stop the “filière d’armes” – the arms supply – for one side while the other side receives considerable aid to buy their arms I read about illegal DIME missiles being used, and see pictures of home made missiles
    I know life’s not fair, but this particular conflict seems to take the “not fair” to extremes (seen from a neutral angle).

  41. “Justice delayed is justice denied” this is William E. Gladstone’s quotes (British Statesman and Prime Minister (1868-1894), and the most prominent man in politics of his time, 1809-1898).

    I just had a quick look at this heated debate, “academic boycott”, but its very important to go back to history to know the rots of this prolonged conflict,
    well, allow me first to say that the Palestinian people “ the indigenous people of historic Palestine” who were uprooted from their homes back in 1948 by Zionist gangs to give space for the state of Isarel, are still dreaming to return to their homes and towns from which they were drive out by force, it is Isarel that denies Palestinians their right to exit, Palestinians including the democratically elected movement of Hamas say they accept a Palestinian state on lands occupied in 1967, but Isarel has never implemented any UN resolutions, its not fair that I can not retune to my grandfather’s town in “Isarel” because I’m Palestinian while any Jew is granted an Isareli citizenship upon landing at any Isareli airport,
    63-ongoing military occupation of Palestinian lands and Palestinians continue to suffer up to date , Israeli historian IIan Pape called it ethnic cleansing and genocide.

    Many Palestinian academics are very active in the cultural boycott, especially in Gaza which is the world’s largest open air prison where people are collectively punished, the tight suffocating Isareli siege has entered its 4th year and Isarel refuses to lift it despite international outcry following its deadly attack on the Gaza freedom flotilla “ Mavi Marmara, the registered Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza”. Isarel has transformed Gaza into an experimental field to test American made weapons and this was clear during the 22-day land-air-sea offensive on Gaza in Dec 2008/Jan 2009, now almost 16 months after the war ended, Isarel continue to deprive people their basic rights, as it prevents the entry of building materials needed to rebuild 1000’s of destroyed houses and much of Gaza’s infrastructure, Gaza’s 1.6 million people were reduced to abject poverty as th siege has paralyzed all aspects of life, 1000’ of factories were forced to close due to lack of raw materials, people are totally reliant on good handouts provided by UN agencies, people were also forced to dig tunnels under the border with Egypt to bring in their basic supplies such as fuel, food , medicines, spare parts for almost all kinds of machines, cars, as well as stationary and toys for children,
    I wonder is this the definition of democracy ? where are human rights declarations, why Isarel is punishing pro-Palestinian activists who say no to the occupation, no to the siege.

    I’m a Palestinian from Gaza, really hope to live in peace with Isarel side by side, but it is clear after 18 years of negotiation, Isarel was just buying time, that’s why people now focus on the non-violent resistance especially BDS, that’s why many academics in Palestine call for academic boycott.

  42. Pingback: Inevitable contact and matters of conscience « Jeremy Harmer's Blog

  43. on what basis do you imply that “the west bank” is a counntry belonging to anyone but the Jews. If the Italians wanted the center of France for themselves, would you then be bothered by those who decided to call that area “Ravioli”? I ask because the term west bank is a tool for systematically erasing the thousands of years old name of Judea and Samaria.

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