Amid an increasing number of divestment drives and calls to cease cooperation with Israeli academics on campuses worldwide, President Reuven Rivlin said Wednesday that an academic boycott poses a “first-rate strategic threat” to Israel.

Meeting with Israeli university officials in his Jerusalem residence to discuss the repercussions of the boycott drive, Rivlin said the world’s attitude toward Israeli academia had shifted.

“I didn’t think Israeli academia would face any real danger, but the atmosphere around the world is changing, and creating a situation in which it is impossible to deal with the issue as anything but a first-rate strategic threat,” he said.

Withholding promotions, significantly decreasing cooperation with Israeli enterprises and the rejection of Israelis’ submissions by leading academic journals are among a wide-ranging list of ramifications that Israeli researchers already face, according to the officials.

“The snowball can still be stopped, but we’re heading into the final hour,” University Heads Committee Chairman Prof. Peretz Lavie told Rivlin. “We must mobilize and stop the process in European countries and in the US.”

Hebrew University President Menachem Ben-Sasson  (photo credit: Flash90)

Hebrew University President Menachem Ben-Sasson (photo credit: Flash90)

Hebrew University President Prof. Menachem Ben-Sasson called the boycott a “silent” one. “It isn’t officially declared, and so far most of the work has been done behind the scenes by university heads and research institutes,” he said.

Ben-Sasson said the most important task at hand was to expose the boycott mechanism, and asked the president to bring it to the attention of world leaders.

In response, Rivlin told the academics that he had raised similar concerns with several leaders during recent meetings, and expressed his dismay over “the way the enlightened world speaks of academic freedom while simultaneously mixing in politics.” He further pledged to support the professors in any diplomatic process they may seek to advance.

The researchers also addressed the decade-old boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, or BDS, which has been making inroads on US college campuses.

“We cannot ignore the fact that BDS has garnered massive public relations toward the boycott,” Ruth Arnon, president of the Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities, told Rivlin.

“The movement is heavily financed and extremely active in many universities working toward de-legitimizing Israel and specifically Israeli academics.”

Members of UCLA’s student government listen to supporters and opponents of a divestment resolution targeting Israel, February 26, 2014. (Courtesy of StandWithUs)

Members of UCLA’s student government listen to supporters and opponents of a divestment resolution targeting Israel, February 26, 2014. (Courtesy of StandWithUs)

The BDS movement grew from a 2005 international call from Palestinian groups as an alternative to armed struggle over control of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967 and Palestinians seek for an independent state.

BDS advocates say the movement, based on the campaign against South African apartheid decades ago, is aimed at Israeli policy — not Jews per se, as Israel contends — in response to two decades of failed peace talks and expanded Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

But supporters of Israel say that boycotting the country is no way to make peace, especially since many BDS supporters do not differentiate between protesting Jewish settlements on occupied lands and Israel as a whole.

AP contributed to this report.