The president of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev cautioned against complacency over the recent announcement by the American Studies Association of an academic boycott of Israel and warned of the danger that sanctions could spread to other fields.
In an opinion piece published by Ynet on Tuesday, Rivka Carmi wrote that the relatively muted reaction so far on the part of Israeli universities and leaders was rooted in the mistaken idea that the ASA is of only marginal significance and its boycott will prove largely ineffective.
“There is no greater mistake,” she said. “The decision has serious implications beyond the academic realm.”
Carmi warned that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is gaining increasing support that could snowball out of control.
“An idea that was until now considered taboo — a boycott of all the academic institutes in Israel — has become legitimate,” she added. “If a boycott of Israel becomes a legitimate thing then it will be followed by other boycotts in other areas.”
Research cooperation at BGU between Israeli academics and their peers in Jordan and the Palestinian Authority covers a range of fields including ecology, agriculture, solar energy, and desalination, all of which will likely suffer from the boycott. In addition, Carmi predicted, sanctions will prevent some medical treatment and the availability of drinking water for the Palestinians.
Noting a scheduled Tuesday meeting of the Knesset Science and Technology Committee Tuesday to discuss the boycott, Carmi called on the government, along with all members of Israeli academia — tutors and students — “to not stand idly by as the trickle of of boycotts on Israeli institutes becomes a flood.”
Last week Professor Menachem Ben-Sasson, the president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, condemned the boycott in a post on the university’s Facebook page.
“This is not the first boycott we have heard of, but I must emphasize that I am strongly opposed to any move of an academic boycott whether it is taken by individuals, organizations, institutions or governments,” Ben Sasson wrote. “The secret of academic life is based on academic research and collaboration between institutions and between nations, and on the isolation of research from political or ideological appeals. In my opinion the most appropriate answer to boycotts is removing political discourse from the academic arena.”
Last week, the American Studies Association voted to boycott cooperation with Israeli universities, a move that was quickly followed by a similar declaration by the Native American Studies Association.
The ASA’s boycott spurred Kenyon College and Indiana University to officially withdraw their memberships after Brandeis University and Penn State University Harrisburg said they were cutting off ties with the 5,000-member group.
Last week the executive committee of the Association of American Universities harshly criticized the ASA in a statement saying that boycotts violate “the academic freedom of Israeli scholars but also of American scholars who might be pressured to comply with it.”