Academic Boycotts

“If we are to look at Israeli society, it is within the academic community that we’ve had the most progressive pro-peace views and views that have come out in favor of seeing us as equals…. If you want to punish any sector, this is the last one to approach.”

— Al-Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh

 

Defining Academic Boycotts

The Academic boycott aims to keep Israeli scholars and students from coming to the United States or any other country, to end all study abroad programs to Israel, end all research cooperation with Israelis and Israeli universities, and end all dialogue between Israel and the rest of the world.

Those pushing for an academic boycott of Israel seek to isolate it by preventing Israeli academics from working with their colleagues abroad. According to PACBI, academic boycotts involve the following measures:

“Refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions;

Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;

Promote divestment and disinvestment from Israel by international academic institutions;

Work toward the condemnation of Israeli policies by pressing for resolutions to be adopted by academic, professional and cultural associations and organizations;

Support Palestinian academic and cultural institutions directly without requiring them to partner with Israeli counterparts as an explicit or implicit condition for such support.”

Academic boycotts are not motivated by any particular policy or decision, but rather simply because the institutions that they target are in Israel: “all Israeli academic institutions, unless proven otherwise, are complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights [PACBI].”

Why Academic Boycotts Are Unjust

There are three major reasons why the academic boycott campaign against Israel is unjust. First, academic boycotts by their very nature are discriminatory and oppressive. Secondly, Israel is being targeted for an academic boycott while countries that routinely violate human rights and oppress their own people are ignored. Third is that the goal of the academic boycott campaign is not to pressure Israel to change its policies but to annihilate it and replace it with a Palestinian state.

Punishing university professors simply because of where they are from is not only morally wrong, it is a violation of academic freedom, a core principle of academia. Scholars must be free to produce and share their knowledge without threats of interference or penalty, no matter what country they come from or their political views. Boycotts like those endorsed by BDS directly threaten the moral foundation of each and every university that employs them. Chancellor Timothy P. White of California State University explained why his university was against academic boycotts on January 3, 2014:

“The California State University denounces the resolution calling for an academic boycott of the higher education institutions in Israel, which was issued by the American Studies Association and has been supported by other organizations. Academic boycotts violate the basic tenets of higher education including academic freedom and scholarly dialog. Boycotts attempt to limit the unfettered creation, discovery and dissemination of knowledge vital to our tripartite mission of research, teaching and service. These characteristics are essential to preparing students with the analytical and critical thinking skills to lead in business, community, educational and civic organizations.” [CalState Blogs]

Because academic boycotts target all Israeli professors regardless of political position, they include left-leaning professors who advocate for the rights of Palestinians and a two state solution. Boycotts of this kind only serve to create barriers between people and make peace harder to achieve.

Furthermore, it is common for universities to collaborate internationally regardless of politics. American universities for example often host scholars from such repressive regimes as China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Rarely are academic boycotts of these nations considered, regardless of their oppressive policies, because the purpose of universities is to educate and share knowledge, not to render political judgments. Singling out Israel for a unique form of punishment is not only effectively anti-Semitic, but indicates that the boycotts are not in fact motivated by human rights and rather by a desire to destroy Israel.

This leads to the third reason. According to the leaders of the BDS campaign, the goal of these academic boycotts is not merely to end the occupation and secure the human rights of Palestinians but to destroy Israel. Even if academic boycotts in general were somehow considered acceptable, and even if Israel’s policies were severe enough to warrant this manner of unique attention, this academic boycott’s goal is to deprive Israelis of human rights, not to help the Palestinians. Therefore it is unjust and should be rejected.

 

Boycotts are Anti-Peace, McCarthyist and often Anti-Semitic

  • Boycotts punish the most progressive voices in Israeli society.
  • Blocking dialogue and exchanges between Israelis, Palestinians and others makes peace less likely.
  • If the boycott applies only to Israeli Jews, then it is anti-Semitic.
  • Boycotts trample the Academic freedom that universities stand for and deprive students of their right to international viewpoints.
  • A boycott of Israel unfairly singles out one nation, blacklisting  all voices and perspectives.

Notable Academic Boycott Case Studies

Association of University Teachers (2005)

University and College Union (2007)

National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (2006)

Canadian Union of Public Employees (2009)

 

Statements Against Academic Boycotts

American Universities Denounce ASA’s Academic Boycott of Israel

ASA Turpie Awards Winners Opposed to Israeli Boycott Resolution

Trinity College’s Letter to the ASA President

Sari Nusseibeh, President of Al-Quds University

Lawrence Summers: Academic Boycotts are “Anti-Semitic”

Complete List of American Universities Rejecting Academic Boycott

Illinois Representative Peter Roskam and 133 other Congressmen Write Letter Denouncing ASA Boycott

 

Do Israeli academics boycott Palestinian professors?

  • According to Martin Kramer: “Never … not even during the worst days of terror. To the contrary: if you’re organizing a conference in Israel, it’s almost obligatory to have a Palestinian professor on the podium. Free exchange is what academic freedom means, and Israeli universities have done an admirable job of upholding it in trying times. In contrast, the academic boycott against Israel is itself a gross violation of academic freedom, because it explicitly imposes a political litmus test on Israelis scholars. It’s radical-style McCarthyism.”

 

Institutions vs. Individuals

In cases when BDS is not able to convince their targets to impose a full academic boycott on Israel, or when trying to muster support for one, it attempts to distinguish between Israelis and Israeli universities. The ASA resolution for example says that “We are expressly not endorsing a boycott of Israeli scholars engaged in individual-level contacts and ordinary forms of academic exchange …provided they are not engaged in a formal partnership with or sponsorship by Israeli academic institutions,” because their academic boycott “is not designed to curtail dialogue.” Their BDS supporters attempted to parse a distinction in the op-ed pages of various newspapers:

“There is nothing within the guidelines of the academic boycott that prohibit, hinder, or condemn intellectual collaboration with individual academics from Israeli institutions…” [J. Kēhaulani Kauanui]

This argument is laughable right on the surface. A university is nothing without professors, researchers, and students. It is impossible to target a university without targeting the people associated with it.

“Absurdly, the ASA claims it’s going to boycott only the universities, not the scholars and students working therein. In other words, they intend to catch fish but vow not to go near the water.” [Rex Murphy]

Furthermore, insisting that an Israeli academic disassociate herself with her home university or refuse funding from that university before allowing her to teach, as BDS does, is clearly McCarthyist. It is an even more prominent violation of academic freedom than simply refusing to allow that Israeli academic to teach.

Finally, in practice, Israeli academics are often targeted on an individual level by BDS and their various subgroups. In 2002 an Egyptian professor at the University of Manchester in England campaigned for two Israeli academics to be removed from the editorial boards of magazines that she published. She said this was because “I do not wish to continue an official association with any Israeli under the present circumstances.” In response to criticism, the professor told a report from the Daily Telegraph that “I am not actually boycotting Israelis, I am boycotting Israeli institutions.” In June 2003, Andrew Wilkie rejected a student applicant Oxford University because the student had served in the Israeli army. In May 2006, Richard Seaford of Exeter University refused to review a book for an Israeli journal, saying, “I have, along with many other British academics, signed the academic boycott of Israel.” In April of 2015 three Israeli students who were part of an international studies program had to stand alone on a stage in Germany’s Parliament when the Arab students there refused to appear with them. In December 2016, a 13-year-old Israeli child asked a question of  Marsha Levine, an ex-Cambridge academic who studies horses, only to be refused because “I support boycott, divestment, sanctions.”  In June 2016, an Israeli filmmaker was disinvited from showing his movie at Syracuse University because of BDS intimidation. Despite claims to the contrary, academic boycotts of institutions principally affect individuals. It is a distinction without a difference.

More recently, Jake Lynch, the director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney, is currently being sued by Shurat HaDin, the Israel Law Center. Lynch refused to sponsor an application for a fellowship in Australia submitted by Dan Avnon, an Israeli academic from Hebrew University. Lynch cited his support for BDS as his reason for discriminating against Avnon:

“Your research sounds interesting and worthwhile. However, we are supporters of the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and that includes the call for an academic boycott of Israeli universities.” [Jake Lynch writing to Dan Avnon]

Although BDS supporters may try and claim that it is possible to boycott Israeli universities without boycotting Israelis, in the real world it does not work out that way.

“Two Wrongs Make a Right”

When the American Studies Association voted to impose an academic boycott on Israeli universities, they claimed it was justified because of alleged Israeli restrictions on the academic freedom of Palestinians. Their BDS supporters were quick to repeat the same rhetoric:

“[Since] increasing numbers of Palestinians might well enjoy academic freedom for the first time if the occupation is brought to an end, we can safely conclude that the principle of academic freedom will be more substantially realized through the support of BDS than by opposing it.” [Judith Butler]

“If anything, the boycott will expand intellectual exchanges and shine a light on the limitations of academic freedom for Palestinians.” [Curtis F. Marez, President of the American Studies Association]

This argument is that “two wrongs make a right,” or perhaps more precisely “academic freedom must be destroyed in order to save it.” The argument goes that because the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict makes it difficult for Palestinian academics and students to teach and learn, BDS is justified in preventing Israeli academics from doing their jobs. If Palestinians can’t have complete academic freedom, then neither can Israelis.

Obviously, two wrongs do not make a right, and punishing innocent people for the actions of their country is neither moral nor just. If BDS was truly concerned about Palestinian education, they would focus their time and resource on improving Palestinian schools and universities instead of trying to hurt Israelis. The solution to this problem is not to further restrict academic freedom, but to strive for peace so everyone can learn, teach, and educate.

 

Resources:

Academic Boycott Resource Center

What Kind of Academics Signs these Anti-Israel Petitions? by Fred Gottheil

The Real Problem With the ASA’s Boycott of Israel by Peter Beinart

List of Universities Rejecting Academic Boycott of Israel

Is an academic boycott of Israel justified? By Michael Yudkin

Comments are closed.