The SPME Task Force on BDS has had an active Spring, investigating, monitoring, and assessing appropriate actions on reports of BDS activities in a number of arenas effecting the academic community.
Realizing that a number of erroneous reports of “successful” BDS initiatives captured the headlines in the press, the SPME Task Force on BDS chose to investigate these stories to find out if, in fact, they were true or false. The bad news is that while BDS campaigns continue to be initiated, the good news is that they are still not gaining traction in academia, despite an exam-time successful vote by the student government at Arizona State University and the recent successful effort to persuade the largest denomination of the Presbyterian faith, the Presbyterian Church USA, to divest three from three companies doing business with Israel in their portfolio is cause for concern. The Task Force will study this divestment move and see what the implications are for faith-based and other academic institutions.
TIAA-CREF and Caterpillar: Initial reports from PACBI and the Electronic Intifada claimed victory in getting TIAA-CREF to “divest” from Caterpillar because of the funds socially responsible vendors finding that Caterpillar was engaged in the “occupation,” and violated the socially responsibility planks for the Funds. While the firm did indicate that it was one of five reasons having to do with business-related issues and poorer than expected performance of the company, TIAA-CREF publicly has reiterated its ongoing position that the dropping of the stock had to do with business considerations and not in response to political pressure.
University of Texas Middle Eastern Studies Center: In early June, the University of Texas announced that it would not publish an anthology of work that had been prepared from Middle Eastern female contributors to honor the late Elizabeth Fernea, whose work on women’s issues in the Middle East was universally lauded. The reason given, according to several sources, was that an Arab contributor who was of the 29 contributors initiated a request to have her work withdrawn from the publication because two Israeli scholars also contributed to the anthology. The publishers refused to exclude the Israelis, which was followed by the remaining 13 Arab authors in the anthology withdrawing their work. As a result, the Center decided not to publish the work at all. While this move received general praise throughout the academic world for its refutation of a boycott of Israeli scholars, SPME is studying the ramifications of the move and the impact on the remaining scholars whose work ultimately were not published.
European Union Commission on Research: Reports came into the SPME BDS Task Force that the European Union Commission of Research, a major source of funds for academic researchers based in Europe, was being pressured by a number of boycott organizations based in the UK and France to discontinue funding of European scholars collaborating with Israeli-based academics and researchers. The EUCR has typically resisted this pressure, but there is a perception and evidence that pressure is mounting giving. The BDS Task Force is trying to put together a group of leading SPME faculty in the UK, France, Austria, and Germany to study the situation and recommend a plan of action should the threat mount.
Additionally, despite claims to the contrary by a number of BDS publications, it was confirmed—as has been previously reported by this committee—that the water resources research contracts between Ben-Gurion University and the University of Johannesburg which had been in jeopardy have been restored and are fully operational.
Finally, the BDS Task Force believes that, despite the claims of the BDS movement of increasing victories with pressure, further examination of these reports very frequently not only finds them to be misleading, but entirely false. A good bit of the Task Force’s time has been spent verifying these reports, so it is important when you see one of these reports issued by PACBI, the Electronic Intifada, or any other media that picks up a press release on one of these issues that you send it to: The SPME BDS Task Force at BDS-Taskforce@spme.org so that we can verify the veracity of such claims and take appropriate action.