American Universities Oppose Israel Boycott


The world Jewish community and fair-minded people everywhere were shocked and dismayed by the recent vote by the new British University and College Union, which supports a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. The fact that an organized union of British professors and university administrators would support a boycott against Israel’s outstanding and exemplary colleges, universities and scientific institutes is certainly the most odious anti-Israel action taken by an official organization since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the infamous Zionism equals racism resolution back in 1975 — a resolution which was later rescinded. While the action by the British University and College Union was deeply disappointing and distressing, nearly 300 college and university presidents in the United States have responded magnificently to the boycott in a full-page advertisement placed in the Aug. 8, 2007 edition of The New York Times, as a public service by the American Jewish Committee.

An open letter signed by Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University in New York appears in the center of the full page under the headline, “Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott Ours Too!” In the letter, Bollinger, who has been one of the nation’s leading advocates for fair and just treatment of Israel by institutions of higher learning, says, “As a citizen, I am profoundly disturbed by the recent vote by Britain’s new University and College Union to advance a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. As a university professor and president, I find this idea utterly antithetical to the fundamental values of the academy, where we will not hold intellectual exchange hostage to the political disagreements of the moment. In seeking to quarantine Israeli universities and scholars, this vote threatens every university committed to fostering scholarly and cultural exchanges that lead to enlightenment, empathy, and a much-needed international marketplace of ideas.”

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Bollinger’s powerful statement is endorsed by literally hundreds of other college presidents and chancellors, including Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton of Washington University in St. Louis; President Brady J. Deaton of the University of Missouri-Columbia and President Thomas F. George of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Other university and college presidents and chancellors are expected to sign the dramatic statement, which includes the powerful words: “If the British UCU is intent on pursuing its deeply misguided policy, then it should add Columbia (and by extension the other universities on the lengthy list of signatories) to its boycott list, for we do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish. Boycott us, then, for we gladly stand together with our many colleagues in British, American and Israeli universities against such intellectually shoddy and politically biased attempts to hijack the central mission of higher education.”

Here in St. Louis we especially appreciate the superb ongoing positive relationships which Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of Missouri-St. Louis have with their colleagues at Israeli universities. Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton of Washington University last year visited the State of Israel and several of its campuses and reported on his experience as the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. The University of Missouri-St. Louis has co-sponsored several programs featuring Israeli scholars with the Jewish Community Relations Council and other groups.

Alone among the nations of the Middle East, Israel has a group of colleges, universities and scientific institutes that are truly world-class in stature and contribute not only to Israel, but to the region and the world. Professors enjoy absolute academic freedom at Israeli universities, which are attended not only by Jewish students, but by Muslim and Christian, Israeli and Palestinian students as well. Professors are free to offer severe criticism of Israeli leaders, policies and even to the concept of Zionism itself without fear of dismissal or punishment by their insitutions.

We applaud the national American Jewish Committee for its initiative in assembling this impressive rejoinder to the British University and College Union boycott vote, and hope that it leads to action by the union to rescind this totally unjustified and destructive action. We also appreciate our local college and university leaders for joining in this impressive and very welcome effort to reverse a severe injustice.