JERUSALEM (CNS) — Calls for academic boycotts against Israeli institutions of higher learning run counter to the tenets of academic freedom and dialogue, said the presidents of two American Catholic universities.
Louis Agnese, president of the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, and Jesuit Father Lawrence Biondi, president of Saint Louis University, said the university setting offers opportunities for differing views to be discussed and debated in an unrestricted atmosphere.
Both academic leaders joined eight other university presidents and chancellors July 1-9 at the University Presidents Seminar sponsored by Project Interchange of the American Jewish Committee in Jerusalem to explore collaborative academic and research projects with Israeli institutions.
“The whole idea of a university is where different schools of thought come together and where people can argue from different vantage points,” Agnese told Catholic News Service July 4.
He explained that as the largest Catholic university in the U.S. Southwest, the University of the Incarnate Word plays a strong role in supporting the faith of its students, including Jews and Muslims who study together, often in departments that have been sponsored by Jewish donors.
While a boycott can be a legitimate form of protest, it “doesn’t make sense” in an academic setting, Father Biondi said.
Agnese also said the trip helped him better understand the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“I have a better understanding of why the peace talks collapsed in 2000,” he said. “The Palestinians do not want to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state.
Father Biondi noted that in the meetings with his Israeli counterparts, he had garnered “a lot of interest” for joint research in the areas of cancer, cardiology, infectious diseases and bio-terrorism, one of the special areas of expertise of St. Louis University researchers.
Agnese said he was hopeful of signing agreements with universities in Israel in an effort to develop joint projects in pharmaceutical, opthomological and biotechnical research fields.
“These are areas Israel excels in,” he said. “There is a lot of potential.”
The presidents also visited holy sites in Israel and in Bethlehem and were scheduled to meet with Israeli and Palestinian academic leaders.