Gafni calls to establish official body to coordinate fight against academic snubbing of Israel

MK Ohayon: We need to win battle at home against those who say government’s policies are racist.

MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
“There is no place for an academic boycott of Israel or any political involvement in academia,” MK Moshe Gafni said on Tuesday.
He was speaking at a Knesset’s Science and Technology committee meeting on the consequences of the recently announced academic boycott by the American Studies Association against Israel.
“The committee considers the fact that there is no government body in Israel coordinating the efforts of the struggle against the academic boycott a national failure. Such a body must be established, because the phenomenon will only worsen, regardless of the source of the problem, anti-Semitism or occupation,” said Gafni (United Torah Judaism).
MK Nachman Shai (Labor Party) initiated the committee discussion that included representatives from government and educational institutions, among them the Science, Technology and Space Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, the Association of University Heads, the Council for Higher Education, the US and British embassies, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Ariel University and the National Union of Israeli Students.
“The phenomenon of boycotts against Israel is not a new phenomenon, and in fact this phenomenon has been with us for many years. Israel should not take this lightly or pass over the current event on the agenda.
This event may develop into larger dimensions as one activity leads to the activities of other organizations,” said Shai.
A heated debate ensued as representatives voiced differing opinions on the reasons for and the consequences of the boycott. Nearly everyone was in agreement that the American Studies Association boycott, no matter how insignificant, could not be ignored.
“The current academic boycott is not a part of the central discourse in academia or in the Western world in general. It comes from fringe and radical organizations; yet at the same time we don’t just close our eyes,” said Amir Sagi, a representative of the Foreign Ministry.
MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) blamed the delegitimization efforts on settlers and the extreme Right in Israel.
“Settler organizations play into the hands of the world call for a boycott of Israel. Boycott initiatives that arise with increasing frequency in the world stem from the expansion of settlements and the impasse in the peace process,” he said.
“Settler groups and the extreme Right are pushing government institutions in Israel into a dark corner of addressing each of these boycott initiatives as anti-Semitic, delegitimizing and opposing Israel’s very existence.
Such a move would only strengthen the radical and trivial organizations in the world that really do oppose Israel’s existence,” Horowitz said.
MK Shimon Ohayon (Likud Beytenu) responded that the boycott constitutes “anti-Semitism in every respect. This is a global campaign, but we cannot win this war out there if we cannot win the battle first in our country against those who view the government’s policies as racist.”
Ben-Gurion University president Prof. Rivka Carmi said, “the Association of University Heads opposes any kind of academic boycott that harms the basis of science and research. Academic research in the world is based upon cooperation between institutions and nations, and a detachment from ideological or political requests, and its success is contingent on this.”
Prof. Zvi Ziegler, chairman of the Inter-Senate Committee of Universities, agreed and warned the committee that “state or government intervention could cause more harm than good, because it could be perceived as inappropriate political involvement in the academic world.”
The Knesset members concluded the committee hearing by issuing a joint statement and agreeing to meet in three months to discuss any progress on the matter.
“The Science and Technology Committee sharply condemns all academic boycotts against any country in the world and against Israel in particular. Academia should stay out of politics. We call upon heads of state and universities to stop the phenomenon of boycotts. The committee has the impression that this is not a marginal issue but a phenomenon that should not be allowed to continue,” the legislators said.