Watchdog explores correlation between academic boycott and antisemitism

Amcha Initiative finds faculty boycotts of Israel legitimize anti-Zionist expression among students.

A supporter wears a T-shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' (photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)
A supporter wears a T-shirt reading 'Boycott Israel'
(photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)
“When an anti-Zionist expression occurs at department- sponsored events, it confers academic legitimacy on the expression and encourages students to adopt similar anti-Israel perspectives and engage in [a] similar anti-Zionist expression.”
This, according to a study released on Tuesday by the Amcha Initiative, a watchdog that seeks to investigate, document, educate and combat antisemitism on university campuses in the United States.
The study explored previous findings by Amcha that faculty boycotts of Israel significantly increase the likelihood of antisemitism on campus.
Recent research conducted by the nonprofit organization found that schools with one or more faculties that boycott Israel, were four to seven times more likely to have acts of anti-Jewish hostility, and the more faculty boycotters on a campus, the greater the likelihood of such antisemitic acts.
The link was identified repeatedly in three separate studies conducted over two different calendar years.
Its latest report examined the reasons for that correlation, finding that the higher the number of faculty boycotters in a department, the greater the number of outside BDS proponents brought to campus by that department – the greater the instances of anti-Zionist expression on campus, the higher the incidents of anti-Jewish hostility by students.
“Although the statistical link in previous studies between faculty boycotters and aggressive acts toward Jewish students is quite strong, it is not immediately evident why this is so,” the researchers wrote. “For unlike members of anti-Zionist student groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, whose activities have directly resulted in incidents of anti-Jewish hostility, it is not obvious how the mere presence of faculty boycotters is associated with an increase in campus antisemitism.”
“This new research strongly suggests that at least some faculties who have signed petitions or statements in support of an academic boycott of Israel, bring their anti-Israel sentiments and support for BDS to campus through their department’s sponsorship of pro-BDS events and those events increase the likelihood of resulting in anti-Jewish hostility on campus,” the authors of the study added.
The study investigated the three disciplines which it had found to be disproportionately affiliated the academic boycott of Israel: Gender, Ethnic and Middle East Studies. Within these three disciplines, academic units with faculty boycotters were between five and 12 times more likely to sponsor events with BDS supporting speakers.
It also found that schools that hosted BDS supporting speaker-events sponsored by the three disciplines were twice as likely to have both occurrences of “student-produced anti-Zionist expression” and incidents of anti-Jewish hostility. These two components are related, according to Amcha’s finding; schools with instances of student produced anti-Zionist expressions were seven times more likely to experience incidents of anti-Jewish hostility.
“The incredibly strong association between students’ anti-Zionist expression and acts of anti-Jewish hostility indicates a possible and dangerous chain reaction: BDS supporting speaker-events incite anti-Zionist expression among students, which in turn increases the likelihood of anti-Jewish incidents,” noted the researchers.
The study included research of 557 academic units affiliated with Ethnic, Gender and Middle East Studies at 100 schools. The schools were the same ones included in Amcha’s 2015 and 2016 studies of antisemitism on US college campuses and universities with large Jewish undergraduate populations, identified by Jewish campus organization Hillel International.
In 2014, the Amcha Initiative came under fire when it circulated a list of more than 200 Middle Eastern studies faculties which it urged Jewish students and others to avoid, asserting that they support anti-Zionist and antisemitic viewpoints in their classrooms.
The move drew a statement by Jewish studies professors at North American universities who publicly opposed Amcha’s actions which they described as “deplorable” and accused its monitoring technique as straining “the basic principle of academic freedom on which the American university is built.”
Amcha monitors more than 400 college campuses across the US for antisemitic activity.
Campus antisemitism has increased 40% and genocidal expression has doubled in 2016, according to the NGOs most recent annual study.
The organization has recorded 466 known antisemitic incidents so far in 2017.
In its latest press release, Amcha researchers stressed that they “are not suggesting that anti-Israel events or BDS speakers should be prohibited – academic freedom makes them permissible.
“Indeed, we believe discourse, debate and dissent on the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other issues certainly belong on the college campus,” it said.
However, Amcha said it hopes their findings “will raise awareness about the harms that may result from on-campus promotion or possible implementation of an academic boycott by individual faculty members and academic units, and that it will, in the very least, spark a conversation in academic senates and administrative offices about those harms and how to address them.”