CiF Watch exclusive interview with Smadar Bakovic, who fought anti-Zionist bias in UK Academia & won!

An Israeli postgraduate student at Warwick University (in Coventry, UK)  recently prevailed in efforts to have her dissertation re-marked to a distinction after it was originally given a poor mark by a professor who promotes academic boycotts of Israel.

Smadar Bakovic had repeatedly told the school she was uncomfortable with the professor, Nicola Pratt, overseeing her master’s dissertation on Israeli Arab identity.

Professor Pratt is an anti-Israel activist who, following Operation Cast Lead, was one of more than 100 academics who wrote to the Guardian saying “Israel must lose” and calling for the UK to implement BDS against the Jewish state.

Ms Bakovic, 35, who lives near Jerusalem, spent a year challenging Warwick’s original rejection of her appeal against the decision to allow Professor Pratt to supervise her.

She was told last week that her re-marked dissertation had obtained a distinction, with a score 11 points higher than the original mark given by Professor Pratt.

Upon contacting Ms. Bakovic, she agreed to answer a few of my questions:

Adam Levick: First, congratulations on your success in having your dissertation re-marked to a distinction after it was originally given a poor mark by Professor Pratt. How do you feel about prevailing?

Smadar Bakovic: It was a hard, frustrating year. I had to spend a whole year writing letters and reports to the university, and even had to appear in a video-conference with the university’s Complaints Committee, in order to persuade them that an injustice took place. A WHOLE YEAR. 

I did this for myself, for Israel, for Jews and for all other minorities all over the world who are being discriminated on the basis of where they come from or anything else. I am sure that had I been gay or black and professor Pratt were to sign petitions to boycott all gays and/or blacks, the university would have kicked her out a long time ago, and petitions would not be necessary, as the act would have been so disgraceful to the university.

But Israel and Jew hatred are a free for all – not meaning that all British people are racist, but there is definitely an atmosphere within UK academia and other fields such that one can be anti-Semitic without paying the consequences. As if there is justice for all, BUT for Jews and Israelis. I feel great. I won the battle. But the war is not over yet.  The most disgraceful thing is that the university is STILL backing Pratt and saying that she is “exemplary.” Would the university defend her were she against ANY other minority? No. Pratt would be already looking for a new job.

AL: Can you briefly explain how you first realized Professor Pratt was biased against you do to the fact that you’re a Zionist?

SB: I first came across Pratt when one evening, there was an event in which the Palestinian society (can’t remember its name) invited a Jew from Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

The message the event sent to the audience was: Israel should not have been established (but since now it is too late for that, some political solution should be reached), it is a murderous Apartheid regime, etc….Professor Pratt was the moderator for this.

She was also connected to other activities on campus, so I knew this was something she was regularly involved in. Then, when I saw that she was allocated to me, a red light came on immediately, and I did some research about her on the Internet.

It took me exactly 2 seconds to see exactly what she was about – one of the largest supporters of the academic (and other) boycotts of Israel, who signs petitions accusing Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and being an “Apartheid state.” Even she (on her site on the Warwick page) calls herself an activist.

I then knew that I was dealing with a self-defined anti-Israel academic, who really calls to boycott Israeli academia, meaning Jewish Israeli academia, which makes her also an anti-Semite.

If I were Muhammed Jaber but with an Israeli passport, then I am sure Nicola Pratt would not at all object to having me in the university, even if I were to apply from an Israeli institution which she calls to boycott. Additionally, Pratt, in her feedback of my dissertation said that I was pursuing Israeli and Zionist lines and perspectives.

What is a Zionist perspective, or an Israeli one?

Obviously, she doesn’t acknowledge that Israel is a pluralistic, democratic state, so there are MANY different opinions about everything. She also put down anything I wrote which was even slightly from the Israeli perspective and said “surely this is the perspective of the Israeli government.” (And she reduced points for this).

AL: As The JC reported, following Operation Cast Lead Pratt was one of more than 100 academics who wrote to the Guardian saying “Israel must lose” the war and calling for the UK to implement a programme of BDS. What are your broader views about the fact that such racism against Israelis seems so egregious within the UK media and Academia?

SB: Nicola Pratt and her likes think that everyone should be treated equally, except Israelis and Jews. Meaning that she has no problem with Iran, Hezbollah, and she doesn’t call for the boycott of Iran or Lebanon.

Her obsession, as is the obsession of many others, is ONLY the “evil” coming out of Israel, the ONLY democracy in the Middle East, where woman and minorities have rights, and where they can vote and participate in all walks of life. The only place in the Middle East where human shields are not used, and where the army has strict guidelines about when they can fire.

This to her and to her like is the only point – Israel represents to her everything that is evil, the cause of everything that is bad in the region.

On my dissertation, she also claimed that my claim that minorities in the Arab Middle East don’t have equal rights is incorrect – that the only aspect in which they are discriminated against is religiously. And she is an “expert” on women in the Middle East. So you see? Nothing is as evil as Israel. And when something is evil…..well, you know what should happen to it.

This is why they compare Israel and South Africa  – South Africa was an Apartheid state which was illegitimate. And because of its illegitimacy, it had to be eradicated.  She and the BDS movement are smart – they don’t explicitly say let’s boycott Israeli Jews, but, rather, let’s boycott Israeli institutions. While it may not be okay in most circles to explicitly say you hate Jews, hating Israel is just fine.

In effect, Pratt knows that, unlike other forms of racism, racism against Israel is often condoned, and she probably never thought that this would become an issue. And the response of the university shows that to a great extent, she was right! They know exactly who they can pick on. I say, enough of this!

AL: I was very moved by the fact that you said you fought this battle for Israel. Can you please elaborate?

SB: Nicola Pratt, and those who think like her reject Israel’s right to exist and especially to exist as a Jewish state, separate Israel from all other states. In effect, what they are saying is that Zionism, which represents the national aspirations of the Jewish people, is illegitimate, evil and racist. But yet they have no problem with their own states having been born out of nationalism…or being defined as a Christian [or Muslim] state (in name, in customs, in the way of life…).

This has only one answer: if Israel should not exist and Jews should not be able to define themselves as they want, then Jews themselves don’t have a right to exist as free people, as this is the only place they have where they can be guaranteed to live freely without the oppression of anti-Semitism. If Israel won’t be a Jewish state, then we all know what will happen to the Jews who reside there.

Pratt calls to boycott all Israeli institutions, in EVERY way – not to accept applications, not to host Israeli professors, to stop any UK and EU cooperation between themselves and Israel. ONLY Israel. It is not like she is saying, look the Middle East is all violent….look what is happening now with the Arab Spring…..thousands are being killed…..let’s boycott them all. No, to her ONLY Israel is the problem in the region. This is not only anti-Israel bias, but also blatant anti-Semitism….singling Israel out as the Jew among nations, where everyone else is pure, and Israel is bad. This is unacceptable.

AL: As Harry’s Place noted, it seems odd that, given the obvious potential for conflict between you and Pratt, that the dissertation wasn’t second marked to begin with.  Was this possibility ever discussed?

SB: There are two points here. The dissertation was marked by another professor (who is not an expert in the Middle East) who gave me a higher mark. But with Pratt’s low mark, the total mark was very low. This, however, is not the point. Because from the very start, I could not write the dissertation freely – my real politics and beliefs were suppressed, that it doesn’t matter how many people would have marked it, it wasn’t something I really wrote and believed in.

When it was marked again, I changed a few sentences which were only there because I knew Pratt’s political orientation. This is why I based my entire appeal on what the department didn’t want me to find, the Charter of Statutes, in which paragraph 20 details this issue, where you can’t be politically intimidated when writing. You can find this here.

The dissertation could have been marked by 1,000 more people…but since its content was “biased” anyway…what was the point?? It is not only about the mark – the university violated my right (signed by the HM Queen) to write freely without any intimidation.

When I wrote to the department about Pratt, BEFORE starting to write, and I even sent them links as to Pratt’s desire to boycott Israel, they said I *had* to work under her. They didn’t want to understand what was going on. Any other minority would have been treated differently (ALL minorities should be protected from such bias).

AL: Finally, can you tell us a little about the petition being circulated asking that Professor Pratt be fired for such unprofessional conduct?

SB: The petition was not started my me, but was brought to my attention. I am surprised, positively of course, that people are finding it and signing this. I see this as a great window of opportunity, at a time when Jews and Israelis are usually intimidated and silenced, to fight against this type of racism and discrimination.

This must be done while we can, before the momentum disappears. Professor Pratt should not be a part of Warwick, or of any other reputable institution, as she supports racism against a very specific group – Israelis and Jews. Anyone who believes that the academic world in the UK should be liberal, open-minded and inclusive should sign this. Each of us might face discrimination one day, and we have to support each other in combating it. I urge everyone to sign it.

Smadar BAKOVIC, December 23, 2011, Israel.


Like the Facebook Page of “Fire Nicola Pratt


Per The Jewish Chronicle, Nicola Pratt is being investigated by the agency that reviews the performance of universities.

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