Judged by actual fiscal impact, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel has been a dismal failure. The Jewish state’s economy successfully weathered the global financial crisis and its GDP continues to grow at a robust pace; the country famously boasts the second highest concentration of tech companies in the world after Silicon Valley. And while Israel faces serious challenges in closing social gaps among the ultra-Orthodox and Israeli Arabs, among others, those problems stem from internal rather than external factors.
The sole arena where the BDS movement might appear to have had an impact, then, would be in academia, where various smaller scholarly associations and campus student councils have passed resolutions supporting boycotting Israel. But a new study released this week, conducted jointly by the Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Research at Israel’s Technion and the U.S.-based Israel on Campus Coalition, debunks even this presumption.
Contrary to what one might expect given the storm and fury on campuses, the study found that American-Israeli academic collaboration had skyrocketed 45 percent in the last decade. Notably, the more prestigious a U.S. university, the more likely it was to have worked with Israeli scholars. Thus, the top ten American institutions with joint academic publications with at least one Israeli co-author include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1,835 publications), University of California-Berkeley (1,697), Columbia University (1,596), Harvard University (1,451), Stanford University (1,350), University of Pennsylvania (1,295), and Yale University (1,233). Collectively, Israeli and American scholars accounted for over 40,000 publications since 2006. In addition, according to the Institute of International Education, the number of U.S. students studying in Israel grew from 1,981 in 2005-2006 to 3,317 in 2014-2015.
What explains the disparity between the polarized perception of Israel on campus and the reality of collaboration? In large part, it’s a case of the volume of an opinion being mistaken for provenance. Niche academic organizations and radical student groups railroading measures through student council meetings are not representative of the broader university community. And when it comes to scholarly associations, the few to have actually endorsed an academic boycott of Israel have hailed from smaller fields in the humanities, like American Studies, where little collaboration was likely to transpire in the first place. (It’s not like an analysis of Milton calls out for Israeli input.) In the Sciences, by contrast, there has been no serious BDS push, and rates of American-Israeli cooperation continue to soar.
All in all, the study is a reminder that the best antidote to the extreme attacks of anti-Israel boycotters is serious interaction with actual Israelis. In the end, demonization cannot take root where humanization already has.