Academics complain of covert boycott of higher education in Israel

Education leaders say that an academic boycott against Israel is felt in subtle ways, such as when academics refuse to attend conferences in the country.

June 17, 2015 18:40
2 minute read.

A demonstrator wears a shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' [File]. (photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)


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Israel is experiencing a “dormant boycott” by academics, Council of University Heads president Prof. Menachem Ben-Sasson said Wednesday, addressing a Knesset Education Committee meeting on academic boycotts.

“Universities are not boycotting and major researchers are here on the scene, but there is a phenomenon of a ‘dormant boycott,’ he said, and called on the government to budget funds to bring international researchers and students to Israel to increase cooperation with academia from around the world.

“Every one of us, in his work, finds that colleagues react in a variety of ways toward Israel.

Some will cooperate with me on research, but will not come to visit or to conferences in Israel,” added Prof. Dan Oron of the Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

“The world has a problem with academic institutions over the Green Line. We don’t feel a boycott, but there is still no doubt that there are sparks of one,” he said.

Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities president Prof. Ruth Arnon concurred, saying the boycotts are not felt in every day work and that Israelis still get grants from the European Union, but academics must not rest on their laurels, while Council of College Heads Chairman Prof. Shlomo Grossman, said unrest on campuses runs from students all the way up to the lecturers.

“The serious problem is that the students get together to create a general anti-Israel atmosphere against our academia,” he said, suggesting the government offer scholarships to Israeli students to study abroad so they can fight boycotts.

Council for Higher Education representative Dr. Liat Maoz, however, said the council has not faced any problems or difficulties, and that everything is running normally.

Education Committee Chairman Yaakov Margi (Shas) blamed the academic boycotts on anti-Semitism.

“How can it be that while ISIS is chopping off heads in Syria and Iraq, while Iran is conquering and harming the sovereignty of Yemen and getting involved in Lebanon’s business, and while human rights are trampled in the Arab world, Israel is the only country that has to deal with an aggressive, orchestrated campaign?” Margi asked.

“If European countries are not motivated by universal values and not by humanist values, then what motivates their actions? I have no doubt that it is the old, bad anti-Semitism.”

MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) warned that the situation was “the tip of the iceberg.”

“We can take care of the symptoms, but we have to take care of the disease itself, which is that the State of Israel is not working toward a peace agreement. A peace treaty will not solve all of the problems, because there is anti-Semitism, too, but it will lower the amount.”

MK Masud Gnaim (Joint List), however, called the boycotts a legitimate political tool to exert pressure, as did MK Haneen Zoabi (Joint List).

“There is an entire generation that cannot learn and move. Israel does not criticize itself at all, and the world lost all faith or trust it had for Israel, therefore, it has taken upon itself to bring a solution by using boycotts,” said Zoabi.

MK Merav Ben-Ari (Kulanu) responded to Zoabi by calling the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement “creeping terrorism.”

The discussion concluded with Margi called for the government to form an inter-ministerial committee to examine ways to fight academic boycotts and BDS and to fund existing and new initiatives for student exchanges between universities in Israel and abroad.

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