President Reuven Rivlin.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
President Reuven Rivlin has offered to put himself at the disposal of Israel’s institutes of higher learning in the national struggle against BDS, which includes academic boycotts.
“I am a soldier in your army,” he told the committee of heads of universities and colleges who met with him on Thursday at the President’s Residence.
Prof. Peretz Lavie, committee chairman and president of Haifa’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, said members of the committee were greatly concerned that academic boycotts will snowball and cause strategic damage not only to academic research but to Israel’s economy.
“We’re at the eleventh hour,” he said.
Whereas anti-Israel activities on campus were peripheral in the past, he said, now they are prevalent on leading US campuses, not so much on the part of heads of universities as of student organizations.
“We must take strategic action,” he said.
Lavie told Rivlin that there was no doubt that the president’s participation in countering academic boycotts carried a lot of weight. The consensus among those present was that the situation is worse in America than it is in Europe.
Lavie also mentioned that the Technion was conducting a course on nanotechnology in Arabic on the Internet, for which there had been 7,000 applications, including from countries throughout the region. Many of the students could not believe that the professor teaching them was an Arab who was a member of the university’s faculty. They had been brainwashed into believing that no Arab could hold a faculty position in an academic institution in Israel, he said.
Prof. Ruth Arnon, president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, said it was a very grave situation when the heads of a country’s institutes of higher learning had to meet with the president of the state to discuss such an issue. While academic freedom is very important on a global level, she said, “We live in a world where politics play a major role.”
BDS in the US receives a lot of highly sophisticated public relations, especially from among Palestinians. Elsewhere in the world, it is also sponsored by governments, which are working not only against Israeli academia, but also seek to delegitimize Israel.
As yet, Israeli academia does not feel the effects of the boycott she said, “but we don’t know about the future.”
She referred Rivlin to what she and her colleagues consider to be “a very important book” – The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel edited by Cary Nelson and Gabriel Noah Brahm – which will benefit Israel in its planning of strategy.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s president, Prof. Menachem Ben Sasson, said the boycott is a quiet one in that academics from around the world are not coming to scientific conferences in Israel.
Where BDS is effective, he said, was in the area of research because research is seldom isolated, but conducted in cooperation or collaboration with academics from other institutions in other countries.
If they choose not to cooperate with Israel, which is one of the leading scientific countries in the world, “they will only harm themselves” he said.
Ben-Sasson also proposed that in his meetings with foreign dignitaries, Rivlin should tell them that Israel has no tolerance for academic boycotts.
He also said Israeli academics attending international conferences must strengthen their personal contacts.
Part of the silent boycott, said Prof.
Shlomo Grosman, president of Ashkelon College, is the rejection by scientific publications of articles written by Israeli academics.
Prof. Daniel Zajfman, president of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, disclosed that the boycott is not merely against academia but against academic industries.
There are already signs that leading international companies are unwilling to fund academic research that would result in scientific or medicinal products, he said, adding that there has been a fall-off in investment in the research of Weizmann Institute scientists. “They don’t tell you why,” he said.