How can the academic boycott of Israel be fought more effectively? This question becomes increasingly relevant as anti-Israeli forces, whether on various campuses or within professional associations, push for actions against Israel.
The anti-Israeli boycott campaign among academics started in April 2002, with an open letter in the Guardian from scholars of various countries. It called for a moratorium on all cultural links with Israel at European and national levels. In recent years, the main growth of anti-Israel boycott activities has occurred in the United States. One has to differentiate, however, between boycotts originating from student organizations and those coming from the academic faculty. Students will leave campus after a few years, but academics stay on and their boycott decisions are therefore more dangerous.
The boycott is yet another derivative of the successful Arab propaganda to push the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the center of the international stage. This debate distracts attention from the huge and ever-increasing criminality in many parts of the Arab world.
Arab academics may play a role in the anti-Israeli boycott on some campuses, but it is the Left, however – including sometimes Jews or Israelis – who provide its main power. There are other factors at play, though. This was explained by Curtis Marez, the former president of the American Studies Association (ASA), which supports the anti-Israel boycott. He was reported to have said that many other countries, including some in the Middle East, have a human rights record comparable or worse than that of Israel. Marez added that, “One has to start somewhere.” He mentioned that Palestinian civil-society groups had asked his organization to boycott Israel and no similar requests had been made by groups in other countries.
So far, the boycott battle has been run according to classic lines. The anti-Israeli boycotters attack, and afterward, some pro-Israeli professors oppose the move.
Depending on the local situation and on the support often given by Jewish grassroots bodies, one of the sides wins. The majority of scholars often does not participate in the vote. This was the case with the ASA boycott vote.
One of the most complex battles took place in 2009, concerning an anti-Israeli boycott proposal by a number of professors to the board of The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim. Many major Jewish organizations, including The American Jewish Committee, The Anti-Defamation League and The Simon Wiesenthal Center were involved in the battle. A key role was played by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, who mobilized thousands of scholars, including a number of Nobel Prize winners, who requested that they be included in the boycott if Israeli academia were to be boycotted.
The Norwegian Jewish community, the Israeli embassy and the American ambassador also intervened. Finally, when the Norwegian government realized that this was becoming a potentially major international issue, it told the state university that it had no business making foreign policy. Ultimately, the entire NTNU board voted against the boycott.
Yet there is one less conventional, potentially successful avenue to fight the academic boycott which has not yet been attempted.The inspiration for such a method can be taken from events that have occurred within several European countries, and is far from being theoretical.
In 2011, the popular German defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, was forced to resign after his doctoral thesis was found to contain substantial plagiarism.His doctorate was also taken away. Annette Schavan, the German minister of education and research, had to resign in 2013 following the revocation of her doctorate due to plagiarism.
These are the best known such cases, but the German Guttenplag Wiki site gives a list of many other dubious researchers at various German universities that have been exposed over the years. In Poland there is such a plagiarism-checking site, as well.
Several Dutch professors, too, have had to give up their positions due to falsification of data or sloppy work. The best known among them is Diederik Stapel, a former professor of social psychology. An investigation found that 55 of his papers contained fraudulent material.
One does not have to limit one’s investigations to plagiarism or fraud. A number of scholars are also sloppy with their footnotes and may quote from incorrect or poor sources. If a scholar has many footnotes as references, the risk of a significant number of mistakes increases.
Once one has a list of those university lecturers who support the boycott of Israel, one can select targets among them for investigation. It is likely that if one chooses one’s targets intelligently, one would find a few who plagiarize, publish using incorrect sources or are guilty of academic fraud. It is also likely that some of their colleagues would gladly provide the names of those to be investigated. The lecturers that do not meet academic standards would then be exposed within their universities and among their professional colleagues. One only has to find a few such cases in order to greatly diminish the threat of boycotts.
Much like the general population, most academics are cowards. Many of those who enjoy the free anti-Semitic boycott lunches today may think twice before joining any boycotts in the future if it could means their careers would be at risk.
There would be nothing wrong with the Israeli government partly financing such investigations, in addition to private funding.
The boycotters are hostile elements and might even be called Israel’s enemies.
There is also a potential side benefit from such activities: exposing negligent and fraudulent academics is of benefit to academia at large.
The author’s upcoming book The War of a Million Cuts analyzes how Israel and Jews are delegitimized and how to fight this. He is a former chairman (2000-2012) of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.