Israeli, US university heads combat BDS calls for academic boycotts

Leading universities such as MIT, University of Chicago and the University of California campuses all released statements re-affirming their solidarity with Israeli higher academic institutions.

Boycott Israel sign (photo credit: REUTERS)
Boycott Israel sign
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The presidents of Israeli universities have enlisted the aid of their US counterparts to fight back against calls for the boycott of Israeli institutions of higher learning.
Leading American universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Chicago and the 10 campuses of the University of California all recently have released statements reaffirming their opposition to academic boycotts and in solidarity with Israeli academic institutions.
Prof. Peretz Lavie, president of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and head of the Association of University Heads in Israel (VERA); and Prof. Rivka Carmi, president of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in collaboration with Prof. Zvi Ziegler, head of the forum to counter academic boycotts against Israel established by VERA, penned letters earlier this month to their US university counterparts urging them to make public statements opposing the boycott calls.
“Those who did not want to open the door for us got us through the window. The Association of University Heads is determined to do everything possible to combat this spreading phenomenon,” Lavie said.
The call to oppose academic boycotts was made ahead of the upcoming decision of the American Anthropological Association on whether to adopt a boycott to refrain from formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, though not of individual academics.
In November, a resolution in favor of a boycott was approved by an overwhelming majority (1,040 in favor to 136 against) of some 1,400 members of the association participating in the AAA’s annual conference in Denver, Colorado.
Currently, over 10,000 members of the Association are casting their vote on the issue.
Should the boycott resolution pass, it will mark the largest association to date to call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
In a letter penned earlier this month to Prof. Gene David Block, chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles, Lavie wrote: “The impending vote of the American Anthropological Association is a new cause of concern. This is a very large organization, and we believe that if they endorse the boycott motion it will have a very destructive effect and increase the chances of pro-BDS groups obtaining similar results with other associations.
“I therefore approach you, as someone who is highly respected in the academic arena in the US with a request to consider initiating a letter on behalf of a group of presidents of leading universities in which you state that you view the a boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions as an affront to academic values.”
In response to Lavie’s letter, Block appealed to the president of the University of California, Janet Napolitano, who together with the additional chancellors of all the UC campuses penned a letter last week to the AAA voicing their concern over the call for a boycott of Israeli institutions.
“The University of California believes that an academic boycott is an inappropriate response to a foreign policy issue and one that threatens academic freedom and sets a damaging precedent for academia,” the UC president and chancellors wrote.
“An academic boycott goes against the spirit of the University of California, which has consistently championed open discourse and encouraged collaboration with scholars and peers from international institutions of higher education.
We urge Association members to consider the boycott’s potentially harmful impacts, and oppose this resolution,” Napolitano and the chancellors concluded.
The president of MIT, Prof.
Raphael L. Reif, also responded to Lavie’s letter, and said that earlier this month “Hunter Rawlings, the president of the Association of American Universities, wrote all of the AAU presidents and chancellors with a reminder of the association’s consistent public opposition to academic boycotts.”
The AAU is comprised of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada, including Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford and the University of Toronto.
In January, the AAU issued a statement reaffirming its opposition to boycotts against Israeli academic institutions.
“As a member of the AAU board, I support these public statements of opposition, which reflect my disagreement with the proposed boycott,” added Reif.
The University of Chicago also issued a statement in response to the letter by Carmi, reaffirming its position on divestment and academic boycotts: “The University of Chicago will not divest from companies for doing business in Israel and opposes academic boycotts aimed at specific nations, including Israel. The university is restating its policy to address questions regarding its institutional position,” the statement read.
“The university has from its founding held as its highest value the free and open pursuit of knowledge. Faculty and students must be free to pursue their research and education around the world, and to form collaborations both inside and outside the academy, encouraging engagement with the widest spectrum of views. For this reason, the university continues to strongly oppose boycotts of academic institutions or scholars in any region of the world, including recent actions to boycott Israeli institutions,” the university concluded.
Lavie reiterated that Israeli institutions would not sit idly by in the face of calls for academic boycotts against the Jewish state.
“We will not enter an ‘academic ghetto’ which the BDS seeks to place us,” he said. “I hope that the declarations of the American presidents will affect the stances of the members of the American Anthropological Association.”