Almost 300 educational leaders have signed a letter speaking out against the threat of an Israeli academic boycott spearheaded by Britain’s University and College Union (UCU), Boston’s Jewish Advocate reported today. Among them are heavyweight prestigious institutions, including Brandeis and Tufts Universities.

The letter, produced in partnership with the American Jewish Committee, was printed in a full-page ad in the August 8th edition of The New York Times and indicates that the undersigned institutions “would not work with institutions engaged in a boycott of Israeli academics”. The letter features a quote from Columbia University president Lee Bollinger:

At Columbia, I am proud to say that we embrace Israeli scholars and universities that the UCU is now all too eager to isolate—as we embrace scholars from many countries regardless of divergent views on their government’s policies. Therefore, if the British UCU is intent on pursuing its deeply misguided policy, then it should add Columbia to its boycott list, for we do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish.

Boycott us, then, for we gladly stand together with our many colleagues in British, American and Israeli universities against such intellectually shoddy and politically biased attempts to hijack the central mission of higher education.

This led one British academic to say that British-American “academic cooperation [was] in jeopardy”, and that to continue with the Israel boycott would be damaging to British academia:

“This is a matter of grave concern,” said [University of London’s Department of Medicine head Professor Mark] Pepys. “The robust position of 300 US institutions in defense of the universally recognized principle of academic freedom cannot be ignored. American academia, with its depth, breadth and scale, has enormous impact in the UK at all levels of academic life.

“There is now an immediate imperative for all British universities to take an equally rigorous and unequivocal public stand so that they are not tainted by association with those individuals who propose a boycott.”

Other institutions signing on to the AJC’s counter-boycott initiative include New York University, Princeton University, Oberlin College, Johns Hopkins University and Texas A&M.

All of the clamoring for and against Zionism causes one major principle to be overlooked: Israel is a country with a distinct culture and viewpoint. An Israel boycott effectively silences this viewpoint from academic arenas. Whether or not one believes Israel “has a right to exist”, the fact is that, at least up until this point, it has existed and does exist, and has formed minds with its environment and educational s’viva. Those minds unequivocally have a right to exist, and their voices have a right to be heard.

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Y-Love

A modern charedi Jew-by-choice since 2000, and igniting headphones with Torah hiphop since 2001.

Originally from Maryland and now holding it down in the shtetlach of New York, won the Jewish Music Awards for "Best Hiphop" in 2006. Vocally anti-prejudice and pro-unity.

Love me, hate me, or debate me, know you can't ignore me, though.

13 Comments

  • As a European resident and academic, I’d like to state that whatever is on the UCU’s agenda regarding a boycott of Israeli educational facilities and academics is a) not symptomatic of European academia in general, b) does not reflect a sound understanding of academic work and discourse, and c) bespeaks anything but a democratic spirit. I’m glad that several British academics have already spoken out against UCU and that the UCU’s move is not backed by government officials.

  • For more coverage visit Engage:

    http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/index.php

    Or The New Centrist!

    Sign the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East petition:

    http://www.spme.net/cgi-bin/display_petitions.cgi?ID=9

    Unfortunately I somewhat disagree with Sarah. While anti-Zionism may not be rampant among academics in the U.K., it is far from unpopular. As you are probably aware, the British Sociological Association journal, ‘Work, Employment & Society’ supports the boycott and other journals do as well.

  • “Ivy League heavyweights from the Boston area, including Brandeis and Tufts Universities…”

    Tufts is in the New England Small College Athletic Conference and Brandeis is in the University Athletic Association.

    As far as actual Boston area Ivy League schools go, Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard and Yale are all conspicuously missing from the letter.

    It seems only the Ivies farthest from Boston signed on (Cornell, Princeton and Penn). Not sure why Columbia is missing, given that Bollinger came out against the boycott in June.

  • themicah, I went to Yale and live in Boston, and can assure you on my own personal knowledge that Yale is not located in the Boston area.

  • Reminds me of the line in The Frisco Kid where the rosh yeshiva of Gene Wilder’s yeshiva, somewhere in Poland, tells him he’s sending Wilder to San Francisco to be the rabbi there.

    Wilder asks “Where is San Francisco?”, and the rosh yeshiva says “by New York”.

  • You tell ’em! There is no shortage of anti-Semitic bigots in this world. Ironically, most of the Israel-haters are academic liberals, most of whom are pro-palestinian. Sad, eh?

  • Look. Everybody wants to strike a revolutionary stance. Everybody wants to be perceived as goldenly youthful, fabulously moral, with hair blowing in the wind.

    But what are you supposed to do if things are essentially pretty quiet during your youth?

    You strike a pose anyway, and act as if.

    You are secretly relieved that no actual tear gas or bullets are flying. You look sooo cute. You change your name to Joan of Arc or Francois Villon.

    Occasionally, you get killed, if you have the imprudence to do your prancing around outside US borders.

    But otherwise you are very safe in the quadrangle, and you can pose as wise, cutting edge, moral and just great to have at a dinner table.

    Lefter than thou, lefter than thou…

    The only original thing left to do is be old fashioned. Absolutely everybody is rebelling in lockstep, and has been, in the exact same way, for a long time. How dull.

    I am NOT boring! I am soooo leftist!

  • You can make money providing this kind of entertainment at dinner tables. It’s a lot easier than swinging around a pole. The patter is not that hard to master, and you don’t have to freeze in a skimpy costume.

    As for Israel, it’s too active to be loved. Jews keep moving, wiggling, talking. But people who crave something eternal without any heavy lifting prefer something static. They confuse “eternal” with “static”.

  • JM- God bless you. The “prancing around outside US borders” conjures up a mental image that needs no words.

    Old fashioned is the last frontier. But you know what? Many people need to live the other side to know they want to get back there.

    You know–proof. 🙂

  • The Micah may have his geography a little askew, but he’s on target in pointing out the silence of Harvard, Yale etc viz academic boycott. It’s loathesome, cowardly and unsurprising. (Yale particularly loathesome as the President is a Jew- but then, Harvard got rid of its own Jewish president recently.) The silence of the heavy-hitters speaks volumes.

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