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I didn’t expect to be rejected by Oxford because I was an Israeli%PM %08 %b %2003
author: Amit Dushvani

Israeli PhD candidate Amit Dushvani responds to Oxford's race-based rejection of his application.

I didn’t expect to be rejected by Oxford because I was an Israeli

Amit Dushvani

When I applied to do PhD research at Oxford University I expected my academic record to be taken into account, but not my nationality or politics. As an Israeli I am well aware that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict arouses strong feelings, but I was astonished when my request to work in his laboratory elicited this e-mail from Andrew Wilkie, Nuffield professor of pathology.

“I have a huge problem with the way the Israelis take the moral high ground from their appalling treatment in the Holocaust, and then inflict gross human rights abuses on the Palestinians because they wish to live in their own country,” he wrote.

“I am sure you are perfectly nice at a personal level, but no way would I take on somebody who has served in the Israeli army.”

The leak of our correspondence last week caused quite a stir. Wilkie has been threatened with disciplinary action and has issued an apology. But his initial thoughts betray a huge ignorance about the situation in Israel, even among educated people who should know better. I have news for Wilkie: in Israel, nobody asks you whether you want to go into the army or not. Service in the Israeli Defence Forces is mandatory.

In any case, I don’t feel that I have to apologise for serving my nation. I wasn’t in any elite combat unit, but I did spend three years in an armed forces battalion, as a communications sergeant, while my British counterparts were completing their degrees.

It may not be my only spell in the army. Every man (and some women) are in a reserves unit, which has the power to call you up for more than a month each year (pilots, officers and some commando units serve more). When a reserves soldier sees the dreaded brown envelope in his mailbox, he knows he has to drop everything and join his unit in training or active duty, usually guarding a place in the occupied territories. I’ve heard of men missing the births of their babies, having to leave work (which for people running a business is very inconvenient), having to leave university (as in my case) in the middle of a term or, even worse, during exam time.

But one doesn’t have to serve in the IDF to know that Israel is unlike anywhere else. Terrorists and suicide bombers are part of our everyday life. News stations in Europe run items such as heavy traffic on the autobahn or bad weather in Scotland. I wish we could start a broadcast with that kind of news instead of daily reports of violence.

Wilkie thinks that we are using the moral high ground to justify violating human rights. Six million Jews were put in concentration camps, abused and brutally murdered in gas chambers. How can that be compared with the current conflict?

Our army cannot work in sterile conditions and sometimes innocent Arab civilians do get hurt. I appreciate Wilkie’s sensibility to any wrongdoing on our part, but my case has led him from sympathy for the Palestinians (something a lot of us have, too) to pure prejudice and bigotry. Even if some Israelis were violating human rights, as the Oxford scholar suggested, why would he reject me? I am an individual and cannot be blamed for what is going on here. I should be hired or rejected based on my academic experience and skills. I sent a full CV, but all he cared about was my military service and country of origin. Is this how you judge whether someone is a good scientist?

Science is an international language and one of its strengths is the way scientists exchange ideas and share information. This would not be possible if every scientist talked or shared ideas only with members of his nationality or religion. I hope, for science’s sake, that there are more pluralistic professors in the UK.

It is easy for affluent Europe to criticise Israel. You don’t live the life we have here. What you see on television is often only one side of the story. Are you aware of the number of Israeli left-wing groups and organisations that help Palestinians? There are demonstrations, protests, doctors for human rights etc. All of them support the Palestinians’ right to their own country.

This conflict, I believe, should be resolved by peace talks and mutual understanding of the needs of both nations. Both parties will have to make some painful concessions. The sooner leaders on both sides realise this, the less violence there will be in the Middle East.

Let me just say that a man who won’t hire an Israeli for being an Israeli, tomorrow won’t take someone because of his colour or race. Has history taught us nothing?

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