As the new president of Tel Aviv University, the country’s largest andmost comprehensive institution of higher education, I find myselfcaught in an agonizing double bind. On the one hand, my university andThe writer, a professor of theoretical chemistry, is president of Tel Aviv University and the former chairman of the Israel Science Foundation.other Israeli academic institutions are the subject of an odiousboycott campaign. This effort to instill an academic boycott is partof a much wider campaign that seeks to delegitimize Israel – andultimately eliminate it – by unfairly casting it as the new racist South Africa. Regrettably, some of the campaign’s advocates include ahandful of the university’s own faculty and students. In fact, one ofthe most vocal leaders of the campaign is a current post-graduatestudent.On the other hand, the university is subjected to vehement calls foranother kind of boycott – a financial one – by loyal and long-termdonors. This latter campaign is designed by well-intended friends ofIsrael who seek to coerce us, the Tel Aviv University leadership, into acting against the very small minority of our faculty and student bodythat is critical of Israel and government policies. They demand thatwe fire dissident faculty and expel politically wayward students.It is between these two forces that I operate.Clearly the groups that back the boycott, divestment and sanctions(BDS) effort are fundamentally geared toward negating the Jewishstate’s very right to exist. Though there may be Israeli and Jewishacademics who sincerely believe that their BDS efforts serve to changegovernment policies they disagree with, the ultimate consequences oftheir actions run much deeper. They are, wittingly or unwittingly,lending their hand to a cynical campaign.The truth is that those who seek to target research universitiesclearly understand their strategic importance to Israel and its socialand economic well-being. The universities generate the country’s mostimportant and only natural resource: human capital. Withoutoutstanding universities and the graduates and ideas they produce, wewould not be the “start-up nation” we are all so justifiably proud of.Without dynamic faculties of humanities, arts and social sciences, wewould be a parochial society, rather than a vibrant and culturallypluralistic one.And, most important, without the academic freedom to develop oureducational excellence – the same excellence that lies at the core ofour prosperity – TAU and the other leading research centers here wouldwither. Academic freedom allows TAU’s 1,000 faculty members and 26,000students, who represent all faiths, ethnicities and nationalities, toexchange ideas freely and openly. Academic freedom ensures that thenation’s scientists and scholars win recognition on the basis of meritand not affiliation. This freedom is unique in the Middle East and hasenabled, in such a short period of time, a cluster of outstandingworld-class institutions to develop.The boycott campaign must, for this reason, be opposed on a singleuniversal principle alone – the right to academic freedom.IT IS paradoxical that the faculty members who clamor for an academicboycott are the beneficiaries of that very right. It is for manyIsraelis and Diaspora Jews more than a paradox – it is infuriating. Ican empathize with this anger. I cannot stress enough that thesefaculty members neither speak for nor represent the university. Still,many people expect, and a few insist, that my university and itsmanagement punish these faculty members and students by expellingthem.To do so, however, will subvert the very same principle by which weoppose the boycott and will undermine our best efforts to thwart it.If we impose severe sanctions against dissident faculty and students,we will play into the hands of those who lead the boycott drive bycompromising on our own core value of academic freedom.Moreover, if donors decide to withhold funding from TAU because of theviews of a few faculty members or students, they will inadvertentlystrengthen the boycotters’ position by politicizing and destabilizingour universities. I believe that those who love and believe in Israelshould do the exact opposite – they should increase their support forthe universities. They should make a strong public statement againstboycotts of any kind by providing greater, not fewer, resources forIsrael’s high-achieving academic community, and by strengthening, notweakening, the universities’ national contribution.It helps to think of education as a tree. In our case, investment inhigher education in the early years of the state’s existence yieldedincredible fruits for the people of Israel and, indeed, for the world– including medical discoveries and hi-tech innovations. I hope thatcurrent and future supporters will invest more in the wonderful treethat is the Israeli research enterprise. The double bind we face isthat one group exhorts felling this tree to hurt Israel throughboycott and exclusion, while another would stop watering the tree bywithdrawing funding and support.Either will hurt my university and my country.