Israeli university heads fight to prevent US group's boycott motion

A final vote of the American Anthropological Association is set to take place in April, where over 10,000 members will cast ballots on whether to officially adopt a boycott.

A demonstrator wears a shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' [File] (photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)
A demonstrator wears a shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' [File]
(photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)
The Association of University Heads in Israel (VERA) on Monday called on the American Anthropological Association to reconsider a motion to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
“We ask that before bringing this motion to a formal vote by all members of the association, to consider revisiting the motion, which presents a distorted and false depiction of reality in Israel,” Prof. Peretz Lavie, chairman of VERA and president of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology wrote in a letter to Prof. Alisse Waterston, president of the AAA.
The letter, signed by the presidents of all seven Israeli universities, was a response to a vote taken last month by members of the AAA in favor of adopting a motion to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
The resolution, in favor of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), was approved by an overwhelming majority (1040 in favor to 136 against) of some 1,400 members of the association participating in its annual conference in Denver, Colorado.
A final vote is set to take place in April, where over 10,000 members will cast their vote on whether to officially adopt a boycott to refrain from formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, though not of individual academics.
“It is both ironic and absurd that specifically those supporting such boycotts are using politics in an attempt to incite and introduce hatred and racism into the Israeli academia. With these actions, they are creating a division where one does not exist,” Lavie wrote.
Lavie said that the motion is endorsed by the BDS movement – “an aggressive global anti-Israel campaign led by interest parties.”
“[The BDS movement] is maliciously circulating vile slander and lies about Israel in general and Israeli academia in particular, while posing as a civil rights activist group.
Over the past several years, the BDS movement has been leading a hate campaign on academic, political and economic fronts with the sole objective of delegitimizing the State of Israel,” he wrote.
“Their agenda, which is inherently political, hostile and self-serving, is deliberately presented in an attempt to mislead and deceive you. They are intentionally proposing to you distorted, one sided, prejudicial and false information, spread through populism and hatred,” Lavie continued.
The VERA head explained to Waterston that Israeli universities are open to all students, “regardless of religion, gender or sexual orientation” and informed her that a “significant percentage” of the student population is made up of Israeli-Arab students who “benefit from full equality.”
Lavie added that universities in Israel are staffed with both Jewish and Arab officials and researchers working side by side to “promote and advance science and the pursuit of knowledge.”
“We believe you will agree with us that proposals of this kind have no place in academia. The success of academic research worldwide is based on interinstitutional and international cooperation without limitations or restrictions, and free of political or ideological appeals, partitions and barriers,” Lavie wrote.
“Academic boycotts contradict, in no uncertain terms, both the basic academic ethos and values, and violate the mere academic freedom by banning collaborations and international research on the whole,” he wrote.
Lavie further warned that boycotting even a single researcher has “serious implications” which infringe on “academic freedom and collaborations between universities.”
“When resorting to implementing measures such as ‘boycotts,’ no researcher or institution is immune.
It is us today and you and others tomorrow and ultimately, the scientific world in its entirety will be the one to pay the price,” he wrote.
Lavie called on the AAA president to present all the facts to the association members before the final vote and refrain from “taking such a groundless measure.”
“Supporting the proposed motion and approving it will lead members of the association to act contrary to the principles of academic integrity we all believe in,” he wrote. “We call on our colleagues, faculty members in institutions around the world, to join those working to combat politically motivated exclusions and boycotts, and condemn proposals of this nature.”