UC chancellors oppose academic boycott of Israeli scholars, higher learning institutions

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Updated 01/02/18: This article has been updated to reflect additional information from the Sacramento Regional Coalition for Palestinian Rights. 

The 10 University of California chancellors universally signed a statement issued Dec. 13 in opposition to an academic boycott of Israeli scholars and higher learning institutions.

The letter comes as a reaction to the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, which has more than 1,400 endorsements from professors at U.S. institutions, including UC Berkeley. The campaign is a part of the wider Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

“Our commitment to continued engagement with Israeli, as well as Palestinian colleagues, colleges, and universities is unwavering,” the statement read.

According to the statement, the boycott advocated by the BDS campaign poses a threat to the exchange of ideas and perspectives, including debate and discourse regarding conflicts in the Middle East.

Shortly before the UC statement, the AMCHA Initiative sent a letter to 250 universities across the country asking them to oppose the boycott. AMCHA Initiative is an organization that documents, investigates and combats anti-Semitism on U.S. campuses.

If implemented, the boycott would block linkages with Israeli universities and scholars, according to Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of the AMCHA Initiative.

Rossman-Benjamin added that the boycott would be “impeding the educational opportunities and academic freedom of UC students who want to travel or to study about Israel.”

The chancellors do not believe that academic boycotts resolve conflict or lead to foreign policy reconciliation, according to UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

In 2013, the UC chancellors issued statements in opposition to the American Studies Association, or ASA. ASA issued a statement that endorsed the boycott of Israeli institutions because “there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupations.”

The Sacramento Regional Coalition for Palestinian Rights released a statement Wednesday objecting to the chancellors’ opposition to boycotting Israeli scholars, saying the university’s support of these scholars makes the UC system “complicit in perpetuating an illegal occupation and abusive apartheid system.” The statement compares apartheid Israel to apartheid South Africa in which the “global boycott … included its academic institutions.”

“We ask that you reconsider the position you have taken and instead choose to follow the example set by your students, who have refused to accept Israeli apartheid like their predecessors refused to accept South African apartheid,” the Sacramento Regional Coalition for Palestinian Rights statement said.

While the UC chancellors have previously spoken out against the academic boycott of Israel, the AMCHA Initiative letter called for further and more forceful action in light of recent events at the University of Michigan and other universities.

A University of Michigan professor and graduate teaching assistant both refused to write letters of recommendation for students wanting to study in Israel, Rossman-Benjamin said in an email. She added that at Pitzer College, the faculty voted to shut down the college’s study abroad program with Israel, also in compliance with the academic boycott of Israel.

The AMCHA Initiative letter was signed by 101 Jewish and academic organizations across the country, including the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity and the American Truth Project. After the UC statement, the organizations sent a thank-you email to the chancellors.

“Thank you again for your moral leadership, and for speaking up in defense of the academic rights of all students and faculty at the University of California,” the email said. “We look forward to many other university presidents and chancellors following your lead.”

Staff writer Amanda Bradford contributed to this report.

Contact Isabella Sabri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @isabella_sabri.