The academic boycott actually had some effects that could be considered beneficial. Lacking convenient access to foreign textbooks, some faculty members wrote their own, more appropriate to the South African situation; some departments moved from the study of Dutch literature to the study of the domestic literature.
The boycott had intangible, psychological effects that are difficult to assess. Many scholars felt left out, isolated, unjustly discriminated against. Suspicions were created-for example, that a submission was really rejected for political reasons, not the reasons claimed, or that the high incidence of inactive research materials, such as biological agents and antibodies, received by South African institutions was not a mere coincidence. Barriers to the free exchange of information with foreign scholars seem not to have improved collaboration at the local level. Indeed, scholars frequently felt that the isolation brought more local acrimony than local harmony.
This matters more to Israel than you might imagine. Academic activity, and particularly science, are areas in which the country excels. “In physiology and neuroscience, physics and computer science, the Israelis certainly punch above their weight,” says Blakemore. Schuldenfrei calls Israel “a very important player in the academic marketplace”. For a small nation without abundant natural resources, this has had obvious benefits. From agriculture to arms manufacturing, Israel has become more technology-driven and successful than comparable nations.
At the same time, though, the nature of Israel’s academic pre-eminence makes it vulnerable to a boycott. “We are top of the world league with Switzerland and, I think, Sweden for the proportion of research projects that are international collaborations,” says Zinger. “Close to 40% of papers published in Israel involve cooperation abroad.” For complicated and expensive scientific research, there is often no alternative; yet for the weightiest historical and political reasons, campus links between Israel and its Arab neighbours have always been limited. Instead, Israel has developed academic connections with the west, and Europe in particular – which has its own equally weighty historical reasons, notably the holocaust, to treat it generously. Israel receives subsidies from EU funds for scientific research, the only non-member state to do so. “In the most recent four-year framework programme, we paid in €150m,” says Zinger, “and we got research grants of €165m.”