Academic boycott of Israel, New green lifestyle and others

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The Independent Online

Free expression and calls for an academic boycott of Israel

Free expression and calls for an academic boycott of Israel

Sir: I am astonished by the Association of University Teachers' decision to put forward a motion to boycott Israeli institutions. The very institutions we look upon as examples of tolerance, understanding and fair dealing are calling for a boycott of three Israeli universities because they don't like what they are doing. These actions remind one of the old Soviet Union.

With the current wave of optimism in the region, a more courageous approach is needed. Now more than ever, it is essential to maintain dialogue and promote understanding. Academic institutions can transcend politics and have a huge role in this.

A boycott by its nature is the antithesis of free thinking; it subverts freedom of expression and thought, the very thing that academic institutions stand for. It is a worrying and dangerous motion that does nothing to promote coexistence and understanding. It does nothing to help Britain's portrayal as an honest broker.

If this is the academic approach, one must fear for the fundamentalist approach. Next will they propose book censorship?



Sir: As a student I fully support the motions to be voted on at the AUT conference on Friday concerning the academic boycott of Israel. Whilst I am aware that dialogue must be kept open between students of Israel, Palestine and the international community, my support for the boycott is a sign of my solidarity for all young persons' rights to education.

Having recently returned from a study tour of the region, I was deeply concerned to discover that the right of education is being denied to the young people of Palestine through means of demolition orders, roadblocks, checkpoints and the palaver of obtaining the correct permit in order to have "freedom" of travel.

Opposing the occupation and humiliation of fellow students in Palestine is by no means anti-Semitic. Instead the boycott of Israeli universities, which are part and parcel of the occupation, will be a way of standing against the atrocious human rights violations, against which I hope all students, of all religions and races, can unite.



Search for a smart new green lifestyle

Sir: A green issue (18 April) and a Green Pages section! This is an excellent initiative that I applaud.

The need to displace the popular obsession with speed and consumption has been obvious for some time. Can we look forward to the appearance in the nation's drinking establishments of young men boasting about the tip-speed ratio of their new wind turbines or the maximum output of their top-spec photovoltaic panels? There's scope for many "Ten Best" pages. Reports of practical experiences with eco-aware living could be inspirational. Thank you for making the effort.



Sir: While I agree with the main thrust of Michael Cullup's letter (19 April) about lifestyles based on the car, we did in fact move to Carlisle two years ago so as to have a lifestyle which is not dependent on the car.

We can walk to the city centre in 10 minutes; the railway station in 20. There are lots of local buses, and trains still head out of the city in six different directions. People asked us if we were wise moving to this street, warning us that it was very difficult getting out on to the main road, the A7; they seemed amazed when we said that we intended to walk or go by bike. We did recently buy a new car, but it is a hybrid, and is used sparingly.

But a worse problem perhaps than car usage is people using domestic flights rather than the train. A friend recently told me that she was flying from Newcastle to Exeter because it was cheaper and quicker than the train, despite having to drive to Newcastle airport. That is another demonstration of the point being made by Michael Cullup. One despairs!



Sir: The Independent (18 April) is festooned with vital issues which the parties aren't discussing. These are the need to do something about climate change, the totalitarian tendencies of this prime minister and the continuation of Thatcherite economic ideas.

The Government won't get to grips with green issues such as emissions and waste disposal because it is too close to big business, and scared of the consequences of compelling responsible behaviour over consumption.

This is linked to the comments of Paul Davies (letter, 18 April) about our economy not manufacturing anything any more. A society which survives on the increasing price of land and the churn of consumer spending is heading for a crash.

We need a leadership which will tackle these problems. That means a coalition, or a party who will insist on real change. It won't be a coalition, so it's the Liberal Democrats. It's a no-brainer.



Blair's obligation to tell the truth on Iraq

Sir: Steve Richards argues that "You can't question Blair's integrity" (12 April). Blair's people cannot understand that the enduring objection is not to his considered judgement that joining Bush in the war on Iraq was the lesser evil, but that in selling the policy to Parliament he consciously misrepresented the nature and seriousness of the threat.

Performing as a barrister (with no obligation to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth"), Blair ignored his ultimate responsibility as Prime Minister to provide Parliament with an objective and truthful summary of the available evidence, to which he alone had full access.

Blair manipulated the intelligence, breaching the firewall between objective threat-assessment and subjective policy formulation. He undermined the integrity of the JIC process, which had been the envy of our allies.

Blair's personal charisma persuades those who work closely with him that his integrity is beyond question. But try asking the intelligence community, retired senior defence officials, or members of our front-line forces, whose core values are truth and trust.



Sir: The excuse that Blair was morally right to go to war in Iraq, if legally wrong (letter, 15 April), needs nailing. It is every criminal's story, with the law-breaking considered a mere technicality. It is also the justification for every tyrant and control-freak who believes he is above the law. If anyone can choose to ignore the law whenever he "believes" he is right, then the law becomes meaningless and might is always right.

Several countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America are or have been run by dictators who have killed thousands of their own people for whatever reasons. Why single out Iraq? We can be sure it has nothing to do with humanitarianism. That was a Blair afterthought on realising his previous deceptions had been rumbled.

While considering morality, there is also the matter of the theft of many billions of pounds of British taxpayers' money to pay for this reckless American adventure, at a time when the "Labour'' government claims it can't afford state pensions or higher education. Far from bring "proud" of our Prime Minister I am utterly sickened by him.



Howard promises chaos in Europe

Sir: Johann Hari is right to be perplexed as to why Tony Blair chooses not to challenge the Tories on their incoherent plans for Europe (Opinion, 15 April).

Europe would be thrown in to chaos by a Michael Howard victory. The Tories have promised a referendum on the Constitutional Treaty as early as this October. With a Conservative government campaigning hard for a negative result, the likelihood would be a "no". The Tories say they would use the result as a mandate to renegotiate key aspects of Britain's relationship with the European Union, reversing agreements on immigration, withdrawing from the Common Fisheries Policy and generally "bringing back powers from Brussels". Nobody seems to know what would happen if these renegotiations fail: there is only Lady Macbeth-like certainty: "We'll not fail!"

So, assuming these renegotiations, so well trailed in advance, would start soon after the October referendum, this would fall in the middle of the British presidency. This raises the fascinating question: with whom would a British Conservative government negotiate? For if Mr Howard were to find himself Prime Minister after 5 May and Britain held the EU presidency, Mr Howard would become President of the European Council on 1 July. He would therefore end up, in effect, negotiating with himself.

Logic suggests that Britain would need to pass on the presidency, with its advantages, handing over the baton perhaps to the Austrians, though whether they would be in a position to accept it at such short notice is another matter. So far as I know the situation is unprecedented, and worth a question to Mr Howard I would have thought.



Good life for lucky teenagers in Bolton

Sir: As the mother of three teenage children being brought up in Bolton I feel I have to respond to the image of the town given in the article about Peaches Geldof (18 April) .

My children have plenty to do in their leisure time. They can play football, tennis or badminton at the Bolton Arena, watch Premiership football at the Reebok Stadium, meet their friends at Starbucks and then decide whether to watch a film or go bowling. A 20- minute train ride takes my 19-year-old to Manchester, where he can go to a gig or enjoy the vibrant club scene.

Of course my children, like Peaches Geldof, are lucky. They are from a well-off family. Miss Geldof did not need to travel to Bolton to see bored teenagers in a deprived area; she could have found them in one of the deprived London boroughs.



A democracy that fails to work

Sir: The problems are deeper and wider than Andreas Whittam Smith suggests ("Why are we governed so badly?", 18 April).

All governments since Thatcher's have been concerned to limit the power of and to "modernise" sectors of British life that they considered needed reforming: the Civil Service , law , medicine, education and others. The most important aspect of British life that requires reform is our system of democracy and government. Not surprisingly, the politicians have carefully and cynically changed things to reduce democracy and accountability.

We enjoy a voting system that allows disproportionate majorities in Parliament based on unfair constituency boundaries and from a relatively small minority of the electorate. We have an executive that aggregates power to itself at the expense of Cabinet responsibility and manages Parliament so that it fails to call it to account.

We are badly governed; for decades wrong and at times bad decisions have been made at the highest political levels. A major reason for this is our inability or refusal to reform and modify our constitution. Perhaps only a hung parliament will bring them to their senses.



Thatcher legacy of bigotry and greed

Sir: May I heartily support Robin Boyle when he speaks of the loss of perspective in the current election campaign (letter, 18 April). The ignorance of "little-island bigots" which dominates matters now has taken a while to grow.

From the late Sixties to the late Eighties I was a teacher of French. I noticed the change in adolescents' attitudes towards foreign languages, which deteriorated in the Eighties in step with the daily government broadcasts from the "little-island bigots" who were our ministers. In the years when greed was reframed as a virtue, most foreigners on the Continent became objects of scorn and resentment and Americans became objects of unmitigated admiration.

Chief amongst these opinion-makers was Margaret Thatcher herself. I can understand a childhood formed in the Second World War leaving one with a fear of the Germans, a scorn for the French and Italians and an ignorance of anything east of Berlin, but a generation of such people held the reins of power for nearly twenty years. All that is left is an Anglo-Saxon internationalism based on greed, backed up by force.

It would take a couple of generations to start to put it right. The current Labour government has not helped in any way.



No student romance

Sir: On 13 April you published a story ("Girlfriend of Euan Blair quits NUS in racism row") which described Luciana Berger as my girlfriend. I want to make it clear that Luciana Berger is not, and has never been, my girlfriend.



Papal mystery

Sir: "For believers, the conclave's point is that it is not the cardinals who decide but the Holy Spirit, acting through them." (Report, 18 April). If the believers were right, then the Holy Spirit - being a manifestation of the all-knowing, all-powerful God - could have delivered a unanimous result on the first ballot. If it doesn't, it's just messing about.



Political climate

Sir: Is King Gyanendra's suppression and gagging of the media in the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal the reason you have dropped Kathmandu from "world temperatures"?



Right first time

Sir: Guy Keleny suggests that when Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke stated, in reference to the Bourgass case, that "it would be hard to underestimate the fear and disruption this plot could have caused across the country", he had meant "overestimate" (Errors & Omissions, 16 April). Given the facts that have since emerged, could it be that Peter Clarke meant exactly what he said?



Question of dates

Sir. I would like to know who decides sell-by dates, how they decide on the dates, and what their qualifications are.