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Boycott Calls Against Israel
Part ll - Anti-Israel Academic Boycott, Backlash and Backlash against Backlash: A Brief History

Editorial Note 

As noted in Part I of the IAM post, there is some reason to believe that the boycott by American professional associations initiated by the American Studies Association (ASA) has reached a "tipping point."  Groups as large as the Modern Languages Associations (30 thousand members) and small as the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association are contemplating a similar move.  Certainly, the activists who push for the boycott hope that this is the beginning of a debate on the Israeli occupation. 

It is precisely the fear of a tipping point that animated a fierce backlash against the ASA.  

Individual scholars who have written to protest the idea of academic boycott of Israel on principle grounds.  They point out that any form of boycott stifles academic freedom, constitutes a form of collective punishment against all Israeli scholars, promotes strife and conflict.  Alan Dershowitz, newly retired from Harvard University, spoke for many in this group when he described the boycott as an ill-conceived exercise in double standards. 

A number of universities and colleges have terminated their institutional membership in the ASA.  Among them is Kenyon College and Indiana University, they joined Brandeis University and Penn State Harrisburg in canceling their memberships in the association.  

Dozens of other universities also have condemned the ASA boycott, among them Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Cornell, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, the University of Maryland and New York University, but did not withdraw their affiliations.

American Association of University Professors, a key faculty trade group reiterated its categorical opposition to boycotts.

Professor Lawrence Summers, the former president of Harvard University called on administrators not to pay for professors to attend  meeting of associations that boycott Israel. "My hope would be that responsible university leaders will become very reluctant to see their university funds used to finance faculty membership and faculty travel to an association that is showing itself not to be a scholarly association but really more of a political tool."  While a possible deterrent, it is not clear to what extent university administrations can deny travel funding without infringing on contractual obligations.

Michael Oren, Israel's former ambassador to Washington went so far as to urge Congress to pass an anti- academic boycott law. In his view, the proposed legislation should be patterned after a bill that took on the Arab boycott of Israel.  There are two difficulties with the proposal. The Congress is deeply divided, making passage of any legislation a real challenge.  In principle, if Congress undertakes this task, the bill can be attached to the Higher Education Act, which is now due for reauthorization.  

The biggest constitutional challenge to such a bill would likely be based on NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware, which held that boycotts may be protected under the First Amendment.  However, there is a case-law holding that the NAACP rule does not apply to discriminatory boycotts, which the ASA's action arguably is.

Compared to the massive reaction in the United States, the Israeli response was rather modest. 

Professor Rivka Carmi, the president of Ben Gurion University and other academic leaders condemned the boycott initiative in the strongest possible terms. They stressed that the boycott was antithetical to academic freedom and undermined the ability of the academy to engage in constructive discourse.

The chair of the Knesset's Science and Technology Committee, Moshe Gafni (United Tora Judaism) declared that Israel will not stand for academic boycott and expressed dismay that, despite a long history of boycott threats, the government did not create a co-coordinating mechanism to deal with the issue.  The Committee urged to create a special task force, but Amir Sagi, an official in charge of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in the Foreign Ministry, argued that academic boycott is a marginal phenomenon, pushed by fringe forces.  In a brief position paper, the Knesset's own research center concluded that, so far, the boycott movement has not presented a major problem. 

The massive, negative reaction to the ASA resolution caught boycott supporters by surprise. However, in the past few days, their forces regrouped, creating a "backlash to the backlash."  Part III will analyze this phenomenon.


Academics Brace For More Boycotts

Fear in Israel that ASA vote is ‘tipping point’ in BDS wars.

Michele Chabin
Israel Correspondent

Jerusalem — Israeli university officials say the American Studies Association boycott of Israeli academic institutions is unlikely in the short-term to exacerbate the decade-long “soft” boycott already being felt by many Israeli professors. But they fear that larger, more influential groups will decide to join the boycott bandwagon, with possibly devastating results.

While the officials acknowledge that the ASA, with just 5,000 members (only 1,200 voted on the matter), has relatively little clout, they view its boycott in the context of the larger Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement that likens Israel to apartheid-era South Africa.   

Professor Boaz Golany, vice president for external relations and resource development at the Technion Institute of Technology, told The Jewish Week that he anticipates “no immediate impact” from the ASA boycott on the Technion or other Israeli universities. But he said he worries that the BDS movement, emboldened by the ASA vote, will work even harder to “tarnish the image of Israel in general and in particular its academic institutions.”

Golany emphasized that Israel’s universities “don’t view the ACA boycott as a stand-alone event. We view it as part of a concentrated campaign by people trying to delegitimize Israel.”

The administrator ticked off a list of recent boycott attempts by universities in Australia and England, and on several college campuses in California. Though largely unsuccessful, he said, the campaigns helped fuel anti-Israel sentiments.   

If the boycotters are ultimately successful, many of the Technion’s 560 tenure-track professors could be affected, Golany acknowledged. “Every one of them has several collaborators, co-authors of scientific papers and research proposals from outside Israel, and many of them are in the U.S.”

A large percentage of Technion students do their doctoral and post-doctoral work in North America, and form lasting professional relationships as a result. 

Golany said he and other university officials appreciate “the strong support” for Israel they receive from their American counterparts. 

“Many professors from the rank and file have written us e-mails of support. But I am worried that if we don’t stand up and fight against the campaign, it will eventually hurt us.”

The best way to do this, Golany said “is to expand, strengthen and deepen the collaborations with our partners overseas. Our way isn’t to fight or complain or argue with these [pro-boycott] people. Our way is to show the world there is so much to benefit from partnering with Israeli universities. Such collaboration yields synergetic effects that are for the benefit everyone involved and humanity at large.”

To emphasize Israeli universities’ contributions to the world, the U.S.-based “Friends” organizations of Technion, Hebrew UniversityTel Aviv UniversityHaifa University, the Weizmann InstituteBen-Gurion University and the Open University sponsored a New York Times ad that appeared last Friday.

The ad opens with the words “Boycott a Cure for Cancer? Stop Drip Irrigation in Africa? Prevent Scientific Cooperation Between Nations?” and ends with examples of the scientific contributions Israeli universities have made to the world, including technology being used to clean oil spills and drugs to fight cancer and Alzheimer’s.

The ad congratulates the 40,000 member American Association of University Professors (AAUP), “which has proclaimed that the ASA ‘vote represents a setback for the cause of academic freedom.’”

Like Golany, Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, which, after the ad ran in the Times, added its name to the ad for future publication, predicted little practical short-term fallout from the ASA boycott because it is “a marginal organization.”

Steinberg, the founder of NGO Monitor, an organization that tracks human rights-related non-governmental groups, said that “people with an anti-Israel orientation don’t wait for organizations to issue boycotts.”

Almost since the inception of the BDS movement a dozen years ago, and especially since the British academic boycott movement began flexing its muscles in 2002, individual academics in Europe and elsewhere have tried to impose a “soft” or “silent” boycott of Israeli academics, especially those in the natural sciences, Steinberg said. 

“It’s harder for Israelis who are not of the ‘proper’ political persuasion to get published in many journals, and there are many examples of Israelis not invited to conferences, or in some cases are uninvited,” Steinberg said. “There’s a sinister process going on and I don’t think the ASA will change that, one way or the other.”

Steinberg would like to see Israeli academics do much more to fight these attempts to marginalize Israel.

“The Israeli academic community has been far too silent and ostrich-like to expect political warfare to disappear,” he said. If it were up to Steinberg, the Israeli government would confront European governments, “and especially the EU,” over the “20 million Euros” these governments give to organizations “that use a disproportionate amount of that money to promote BDS.

“The government should tell these governments that if their funding promotes BDS, that takes Europe out of the peace process,” Steinberg asserted.

Rivka Carmi, president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, worries that the ASA vote represents “a tipping point” in favor of the BDS movement. For years “there have been anti-Israel sentiments on campuses abroad. It’s come to the point where you can talk openly about boycotts, and I’m concerned this will turn into something serious.”

Carmi said that “every now and then” her university’s professors, including leaders in their fields, complain they have been excluded from a conference or from contributing to a journal because they are Israeli.

“It’s subtle and not something they can prove, but it’s been happening during the past year or two.”

The BGU administrator fears that the ASA boycott, which in theory targets universities rather than individuals (unless they receive government sponsorship) will encourage or force overseas universities to cancel Israeli study-abroad programs, joint degree programs and funding from abroad.

“I’m very concerned on an institutional level,” Carmi said. “The boycott gives people moral permission to exercise their [anti-Israel] positions.”

Carmi noted that BGU has “close to 1,000” Arab students out of a student population of 18,000, and that last year, 18 Jordanian students completed a three-year degree in emergency medicine. They are now back in Jordan “creating the country’s emergency medicine infrastructure.”

The school also has Palestinian and Jordanian students learning about water and energy use.

“If there is a boycott,” Carmi said, “those will be the first ones to suffer.”



Academic boycott of Israel creates snowball effect

Author Shlomi Eldar. Translator Sandy Bloom

Posted December 19, 2013

The American Studies Association (ASA), numbering about 5,000 academics, decided Dec. 15 by a majority vote to participate in the academic boycott on Israel, joining academic bodies in Europe — particularly in England — that have refrained from cooperative academic ventures with Israel for years. It seems that the prevailing Israeli argument that Europe is more inclined to come under the influence of Palestinian propaganda is no longer relevant. 

Professor Rivka Carmi, president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said in an interview with Al-Monitor that the Modern Language Association is expected to discuss academic boycotts of Israel in January in Chicago. The association numbers 30,000 members. 

The snowball effect has begun,” she said. “True, when it began in Europe, we had excuses and reasons to explain why and what was going on in Europe. We said it was small, esoteric, and then along came the ASA and proved that we are being swept away. In my opinion, it will only escalate.” According to Carmi, “Israel must do something, even though quite a few people say that this boycott has no real effect on the practical level because the Israeli researcher has no problem finding other researchers who will cooperate with him.”

Professor Hagit Messer-Yaron, former president of the Open University and now deputy chair of the Council for Higher Education, agrees that on the individual level, Israeli researchers will not be harmed. She said, “I personally receive frequent emails from colleagues in Iran with technical scientific questions, etc. No one even looks at where the mail comes from.”

However, Messer-Yaron feels that three areas should be examined in order to understand whether the boycott will have a substantive effect on the Israeli academic world. The first is the budgetary issue. Messer-Yaron argues that the main source of funding from the United States is the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF), which is not affected by the recent decisions. The second sphere is that of academic publications. She said, "We must examine if articles written by Israelis do or do not receive appropriate treatment only because of the Israeli origin of the writer. The third sphere is the willingness of colleagues from academia to serve as critics of [Israeli] research proposals or participate in academic committees."

According to Carmi, “People in academia talk discreetly about unproven feelings according to which articles by Israeli researchers are being rejected. Researchers and academics have the feeling that they are not being invited to conventions. No one has proof, but there is a sense that the territory is beginning to burn. And now, with the decision by the American [Studies] Association, it is official — and that is worrisome.”

How do you explain the fact that the international boycott of Israel succeeds precisely in the academic field?

Carmi said, “Because these are the people who feel that they are in the liberal movement regarding human rights, and that this is a supreme, fundamental value to them. But you have to get into these people’s heads and ask them, for example, why aren’t they also dealing with the Arab countries and with Africa? Because there is Israel, and Israel is a model. Israel is not Abu Dhabi or Saudi Arabia. The liberals’ expectation of Israel is that its academia should champion these values, should critique, protest and so forth.”

ASA President Curtis Marez admits that this is the first time that his organization has made a call to boycott a country, even though Israel’s neighbors do not sport exemplary human rights records themselves and, in fact, violate human rights far more severely.

Messer-Yaron said, “A few years ago, an organization in which I publish my articles decided to boycott Iranian scientists. I was part of a group of scientists that operated against this boycott — and succeeded. That was a precedent for not publishing articles of a specific nationality, and today, that danger exists and is very tangible for us.”

Carmi argues that the decision to recognize the academic institution in the settlement of Ariel as a university a year and a half ago also contributed to the recent events. She said, “That did something. I have no proof, but I think that the Ariel example did something in the gamut of decisions, even if it was subconscious.”

Is there a way to stop what you view as the snowball effect?

Carmi said, “We must mobilize ourselves to carry out a kind of public relations blitz, something very substantial on the level of university staff and students. We must organize an aggressive campaign in the universities and recruit the university presidents, deacons and rectors. I don’t know if it will help, but at least in retrospect we will be able to say that we tried, that we did not sit by idly. I am very worried.”

Do you think that the efforts should include the Foreign Ministry as well?    

“I don’t think that the Foreign Ministry can stand behind such a thing, or would even want to," said Carmi. "First, because they don’t have resources, but also because of the attitude of their chief. Their approach is, ‘What do the non-Jews know anyway? It doesn’t affect us, and we couldn’t care less.’ The conventional wisdom there is that it’s not a problem.”

Does the Council for Higher Education have tools with which to try and fight the boycotts and stop the escalation?

“On the basis of past experience," she said, "I know that student organizations have tremendous power. Clearly, some of the things taking place are dictated on high by sources with vested interests. That is part of the war, but we don’t have to follow the 'tooth for a tooth' approach. Instead, we must disseminate the message that the boycott is not a legitimate tool.”

Is it possible that Israeli academia did not demonstrate that it acts on behalf of human rights and opposes discriminatory policies, and therefore contributed to the actions taken against it?

Carmi said, “Not at all. It is very difficult to balance the picture, and that is not academia’s job. Academia does many things in the direction of coexistence. Ben-Gurion University has a long list of cooperative endeavors. An entire class of doctors from Jordan studied emergency medicine here. Eighteen Jordanians, all of them studied here at our expense after the Jordanian government acceded to their persuasive efforts and gave them visas.

“Palestinian and Jordanian students study in a [Ben-Gurion] branch in Kibbutz Sde Boker. Most of the relationships, contacts and cooperative ventures that exist today between the sides are in academia, but I am not sure that people want to hear that. A few years ago, when [the boycott] began in England, I was the first to come out against the phenomenon. I tried to convince them and explain what we are doing. How naïve I was — they ate me for lunch.”

Carmi’s description fits the prevailing mood on the campuses. The boycott train has already left the station and it’s hard to imagine stopping it in the near future — with an Israeli campaign or without it. Surprisingly, one person who came out recently against the boycott was none other than Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. After former South African President Nelson Mandela’s state memorial service in South Africa, Abbas said that he opposed the adoption of a boycott against Israel. Israeli academics can only imagine what would have happened had we not been in the very midst of negotiations with the Palestinians.


Standing Up for Israeli Scholars and Researchers

December 20, 2013

This week, the American Studies Association (ASA) and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association passed resolutions declaring a boycott of “Israeli academic institutions.”

These organizations follow the Association for Asian American Studies which passed the same resolution in April. While these associations are small, other academic societies in the United States are considering the resolution. 

AABGU has joined with the other American friends of Israeli university organizations in issuing a joint statement condemning this growing trend.

NYTimes Friends Article Image

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It is important to note that not one of America’s 4,000 institutions of higher education support the boycott. And the 40,000-member American Association of University Professors came out strongly against these societies’ resolutions.

Penn State Harrisburg and Brandeis University were the first to withdraw their membership from ASA and other U.S. universities are likely to follow suit.

BGU President Prof. Rivka Carmi was interviewed about the "snowball effect" of such a boycott by Al-Monitor, a news website that brings together top journalists from across the Middle East.

“People in academia talk discreetly about unproven feelings [that] articles by Israeli researchers are being rejected. Israeli researchers and academics have the feeling that they are not being invited to conventions," says Prof. Carmi.

"No one has proof, but there is a sense that the territory is beginning to burn. And now, with the decision by the American [Studies] Association, it is official — and that is worrisome.”



More U.S. universities withdraw from ASA over academic boycott of Israel

Kenyon College and Indiana University cancel their memberships in the association.

By  and  Dec. 25, 2013 | 1:01 AM |

Two more American institutions of higher learning officially withdrew their memberships from the American Studies Association after its membership voted in favor of an academic boycott of Israel.

Kenyon College and Indiana University on Monday joined Brandeis University and Penn State Harrisburg in canceling their memberships in the association. Dozens of other universities also have condemned the ASA boycott, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Cornell, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, the University of Maryland and New York University.

Indiana University's president Michael A. McRobbie issued a statementexplaining the institution's decision and exhorting the ASA to rethink the boycott.

"Indiana University values its academic relationships with colleagues and institutions around the world, including many important ones with institutions in Israel, and will not allow political considerations such as those behind this ill-conceived boycott to weaken those relationships or undermine the principle of academic freedom in this way. IU stands firmly against proposals that would attempt to limit or restrict those important institutional relationships or this fundamental principle.

"Indiana University will contact the ASA immediately to withdraw as an institutional member. We urge the leadership of the ASA and other associations supporting the boycott to rescind this dangerous and ill-conceived action as a matter of urgency."

ASA boycott raises bar

The executive committee of the Association of American Universities, composed of 60 public and private U.S. colleges and universities and two Canadian universities, issued a statement December 20 opposing a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Earlier this year, the Association for Asian American Studies announced it would mount an academic boycott of Israel. On December 15, the Native American Studies Association urged its members to boycott Israeli educational institutions. The Modern Language Association next month will debate an academic boycott of Israel.

The December 16 decision made ASA the largest American academic organization thus far to support an anti-Israel boycott.

The association has stressed that the boycott does not prevent its members from engaging in research cooperation or joint publications with individual Israeli scholars. Rather, it bars the ASA as an organization from “formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions (such as deans, rectors, presidents and others), or on behalf of the Israeli government."

“We believe that the ASA’s endorsement of a boycott is warranted given U.S. military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and the support of such a resolution by many members of the ASA,” the national council said in a statement announcing the decision.

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