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 isolateâ€”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.