February 3, 2016—Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) strongly condemns the actions of two groups of academics, one from Italy and one from Brazil, who recently called for academic boycotts against Israeli scholars and a cessation of collaboration between Italian universities and the Israel Institute of Technology.
In Italy, a petition committing to a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, signed by 170 academics from more than 50 Italian universities and research institutes, stated that the signatories “are deeply troubled by the collaboration between the Israel Institute of Technology “Technion” and Italian universities, including the Polytechnic of Milan, Polytechnic of Turin, the University of Cagliari (medicine) , Florence University (medicine), the University of Perugia, the University of Rome ‘Tor Vergata’ and ‘Roma 3,’ the University of Turin.”
“We invite all those in solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle,” the petition reads, “to join the BDS campaign until Israel recognizes the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and complies with international law . . . .”
Apparently unconcerned that Israel has been surrounded by hostile states and non-state actors who have sought its destruction since the founding of the Jewish state, and who regularly threaten its citizens through terrorism, armed attacks, rocket and mortar assaults from Gaza, and even insurgency within Israel itself from Arab citizens of Israel, the Italian academics want to strip Israel of its defense apparatus and weaken military research and development conducted at Technicon.
“The operation of the vast Israeli military-industrial complex largely depends on the willingness of governments, companies and research centers around the world to collaborate with universities and research centers in Israel,” the petition reads. “The longstanding and active ties Technion maintains with the Israeli military and weapons industry makes it directly complicit in their violations of international law.
The Italian academics then reveal their bias against Israel and their factually incorrect assessment of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict with the meretricious assertion that “cooperation with Technion means becoming an active participant in Israel’s regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid and, as such, in the system of oppression that denies Palestinians their most basic human rights.” By referring to Israel’s government as a “regime” that is based on colonialism and apartheid the signatories expose their historical bias and it is evident that, since they view Israel as a racist, oppressive regime with no moral right to exist, they ascribe all blame for the current failure to achieve peace to Israel, and Israel alone, and clearly are not concerned that Israel might lose its capability of defending itself.
Furthermore, the fact that Hamas of all groups has welcomed the call for boycott from the Italian researchers is extremely telling and revealing about the true nature of the BDS movement and its supporters.
Another serious violation of academic freedom, a “Letter of Support for the Academic Boycott of Israel,” signed by 200 Brazilian professors, purportedly reaffirms “their commitment to social justice and against all forms of racism, including antisemitism, [and] declare[s] their support for the campaign for academic boycott of Israel in the terms proposed by the BDS movement.”
Quoting the founders of the campaign to promote boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel, and in language similar to that used by the Italian academics, the Brazilian professors suggest that “the academic boycott could have a significant impact on the institutions responsible for promoting the theories and knowledge necessary for the continuation of Israel’s politics of occupation and discrimination.”
More importantly in relation to the Brazilian letter, the idea that Israeli academics should and can be held responsible for the actions of their government is absurd, and normally a notion that would be anathematic to academics—many of whom, both in Israel and elsewhere, regularly critique Israeli policies—because it applies an ideological “litmus test” only to Israeli professors. Additionally, it falsely assumes that all Israeli academics have the same attitudes about Israeli policies affecting the Palestinian Arabs, and that Israeli academics deliberately choose to support a government that, at least in the opinion of these Brazilian academics, is mistreating Palestinian academics and other Arab citizens.
The Brazilian signatories also defended their misguided actions by pointing to other academic organizations that have come out in support of academic boycotts against Israel. “Important academic organizations around the world have adhered to the boycott campaign,” the letter read, “such as the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) and the American Studies Association.” “But the call for academic boycotts against Israel by these specific organizations was roundly denounced by hundreds of university leaders and academics around the world, including by SPME,” said Dr. Asaf Romirowsky, Executive Director of SPME, “and revealed the same bias against Israel, lack of balance in the discussion of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and a singular focus on Israeli academics that violates the spirit and intent of academic freedom and reveals a double standard when Israel is involved.”
“The call to boycott Israeli universities is part of the larger, and more destructive, boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign, and is based on many of its supporters’ desire, not merely to chastise Israel economically and culturally, but to weaken the Jewish state’s moral standing and contribute, not towards rectifying a number of political faults, but eventually destroying Israel completely,” said Dr. Richard L. Cravatts, president of SPME. “By joining in this world-wide campaign of the demonization and delegitimization of Israel, the Italian professors who signed this petition are not only violating one of academia’s cardinal principles—namely, freedom of speech and opinion within the university’s walls—but are also facilitating the military weakening of a sovereign state and the Middle East’s sole democracy, while at the same time revealing their unbalanced, counter-factual assessment of the current conflict in which Israel finds itself involved.”
SPME condemns the efforts of both the Italian and Brazilian academics and their role in a campaign to use academia to promote an academic or economic boycotts, as it represents an abandonment of scholarly principles, a degradation of campus civility, and a violation of the precepts of unbiased, rational academic inquiry.