Academic boycott of Israel

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Proposals for an academic boycott of Israel have been made by academics and organisations in Palestine,[1] the United States,[2] the United Kingdom,[3] and other countries to boycott Israeli universities and academics. The goal of proposed academic boycotts is to isolate Israel in order to force a change in Israel's policies towards the Palestinians which proponents state to be discriminatory and oppressive, including oppressing the academic freedom of Palestinians.[4]

The ultimate goals and the mission of the academic boycott align with those of the greater BDS movement, calling for international pressure to be placed on Israeli academic institutions, which are understood by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel to be implicated in the perpetuation of Israeli occupation, in order to achieve those goals.[5][6]

Campaigns for academic boycott of Israel have led to significant debate and criticism. Proponents have argued that the situation, particularly in the occupied Palestinian territories, constitutes an example of apartheid[7][8] Opponents state that the boycotters apply "different standards" to Israel than other countries, that the boycott is "counterproductive and retrograde", a collective punishment of Israeli academia,[9] and that the campaign is antisemitic.[10][11][12][13][14][15] Despite this debate, academic boycott initiatives have been undertaken around the world, with support amongst academic associations and unions,[16] but little institutional success.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel[edit]

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was launched in Ramallah in April 2004 by a group of Palestinian academics and intellectuals.[17] According to PACBI, "all Israeli academic institutions, unless proven otherwise, are complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights."[18]

United Kingdom[edit]

In reaction to The National Executive Council of the British National Union of Students’ BDS resolution on 2 June 2015, Prof.Leslie Wagner argues that "In reality, co-operation between Israeli and British universities and their academics has grown in recent years under the energetic leadership of outgoing UK ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould."[19]

Guardian open letter, 2002[edit]

The idea of an academic boycott against Israel first emerged publicly in England on 6 April 2002 in an open letter to The Guardian initiated by Steven and Hilary Rose, professors in biology at the Open University and social policy at the University of Bradford respectively, who called for a moratorium on all cultural and research links with Israel.[20] It read:

Despite widespread international condemnation for its policy of violent repression against the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government appears impervious to moral appeals from world leaders. The major potential source of effective criticism, the United States, seems reluctant to act. However there are ways of exerting pressure from within Europe. Odd though it may appear, many national and European cultural and research institutions, including especially those funded from the EU and the European Science Foundation, regard Israel as a European state for the purposes of awarding grants and contracts. (No other Middle Eastern state is so regarded). Would it not therefore be timely if at both national and European level a moratorium was called upon any further such support unless and until Israel abide by UN resolutions and open serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians, along the lines proposed in many peace plans including most recently that sponsored by the Saudis and the Arab League.[21]

By July 2002, the open letter had gained over 700 signatories, including those of ten Israeli academics.[22]

In response to the open letter, Leonid Ryzhik, a senior professor in mathematics at the University of Chicago, led a rival web-based petition that condemned the original's "unjustly righteous tone" and warned that the boycott has a "broader risk of very disruptive repercussions for a wide range of international scientific and cultural contacts". By July 2002, the counter petition has gathered almost 1,000 signatories.[22]

Mona Baker, Miriam Shlesinger and Gideon Toury[edit]

Mona Baker, a professor of translation studies at the University of Manchester in England and a signatory of the 2002 open letter, was sharply criticized after her decision in early June 2002 to remove two Israeli academics – Dr. Miriam Shlesinger of Bar-Ilan University which at the time had a regional branch in the Ariel settlement, a former chair of Amnesty International, Israel; and Professor Gideon Toury of Tel Aviv University – from the editorial boards of the journals Translator and Translation Studies Abstracts that Baker and her husband publish.[23]

Association of University Teachers[edit]

On 22 April 2005, the Council of Association of University Teachers (AUT) voted to boycott two Israeli universities: University of Haifa and Bar-Ilan University. The motions[24] to AUT Council were prompted by the call for a boycott from nearly 60 Palestinian academics and others.[25] The AUT Council voted to boycott Bar-Ilan because it runs courses at colleges in the West Bank (referring to Ariel College) and "is thus directly involved with the occupation of Palestinian territories contrary to United Nations resolutions". It boycotted Haifa because it was alleged that the university had wrongly disciplined a lecturer. The action against the lecturer was supposedly for supporting a student who wrote about attacks on Palestinians during the founding of the state of Israel. Some aspects of the student's research had been falsified (see this page) and the University denied having disciplined the lecturer.[26] Union members claimed that Staff and students [of Israeli universities] who seek to research Israel's history in full are often "victimised".[27]

Condemnation and backlash[edit]

The AUT's decision was immediately condemned by Jewish groups and many members of the AUT. Critics of the boycott within and outside the AUT noted that at the meeting at which the boycott motion was passed the leadership cut short the debate citing a lack of time. Specifically, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Union of Jewish Students accused the AUT of purposely holding the vote during Passover, when many Jewish members could not be present.[28]

The presidents of Jerusalem-based al-Quds University and Hebrew University issued a joint statement condemning the boycott effort as unproductive towards ending the "shared tragedy" but rather could prolong it:

"Bridging political gulfs – rather than widening them further apart – between nations and individuals thus becomes an educational duty as well as a functional necessity, requiring exchange and dialogue rather than confrontation and antagonism. Our disaffection with, and condemnation of acts of academic boycotts and discrimination against scholars and institutions, is predicated on the principles of academic freedom, human rights, and equality between nations and among individuals.[29]

One of the university presidents, Sari Nusseibeh of al-Quds University, continued: "If we are to look at Israeli society, it is within the academic community that we've had the most progressive pro-peace views and views that have come out in favor of seeing us as equals [...] If you want to punish any sector, this is the last one to approach." He acknowledges, however, that his view is a minority one amongst Palestinian academics.[30][31]

Zvi Ravner, Israel’s deputy ambassador in London, noted that "[t]he last time that Jews were boycotted in universities was in 1930s Germany."[32][33]

The British National Postgraduate Committee also voted to oppose the boycott. Project officer Andre Oboler said that the boycott "runs contrary to our objective, which is to advance in the public interest the education of postgraduate students within the UK".[34]

Cancellation of boycott[edit]

After the backlash and condemnation – both internal and external – members of the AUT, headed by Open University lecturer and Engage founder Jon Pike – gathered enough signatures to call a special meeting on the subject. The meeting was held on 26 May 2005, at Friends Meeting House in London. Supporters of rival positions gathered on the streets outside this meeting. Pro-boycott demonstrators called for the AUT to maintain its course against what they described as ""unbelievable pressure", while anti-boycott demonstrators suggested that the decision had been influenced by anti-Semitism , and argued that the AUT's integrity was being threatened by a group of "leftwing extremists".[35] At the meeting the AUT membership decided to cancel the boycott of both Israeli universities. Reasons cited for the decision were: the damage to academic freedom, the hampering of dialogue and peace effort between Israelis and Palestinians, and that boycotting Israel alone could not be justified.[36]

National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education[edit]

In May 2006, on the last day of its final conference, National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) passed motion 198C, a call to boycott Israeli academics who did not vocally speak out against their government.

The following portions of the resolution are quoted by Brian Klug:[37]

  • "The conference invites members to consider their own responsibility for ensuring equity and non-discrimination in contacts with Israeli educational institutions or individuals, and to consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies."
  • "The conference notes continuing Israeli apartheid policies, including construction of the exclusion wall, and discriminatory educational practices. It recalls its motion of solidarity last year for the AUT resolution to exercise moral and professional responsibility."

The resolution was dismissed by the AUT, the union into which the NATFHE was merging.[38]

Overall four attempts were made to pass pro-boycott motions at the annual conferences of the University teachers, especially following its reorganisation as the University and College Union in 2008. Threatened by legal action on the one hand, and opposed by all University heads on the other, these never went beyond the declarative stage.[3]


A group of eight Nobel laureates denounced the policy before it was passed, suggesting that it would limit academic freedom.[39] Frank Wilczek of MIT was critical of the measure: "The primary value of the scientific community is pursuit of understanding through free and open discourse. The clarity of that beacon to humanity should not be compromised for transient political concerns."

Brian Klug makes this criticism of the NATFHE motion:

"In short, the intention of the Natfhe motion – what it seeks and why – is obscure. But even if the policy and rationale were clear and unambiguous, there is a deeper problem with motions of this sort that prevents them from attracting a broad base of support: they rely on the false (or limited) analogy implied by the word 'apartheid'. This is not to say that there are no points of comparison, for there are – just as there are in a host of other countries where minority ethnic and national groups are oppressed. Nor is it even to say that the suffering experienced by Palestinians is less than that endured by 'non-whites' in South Africa: it may or may not be (although I am not sure how to do the sums). But as I have argued elsewhere: 'The validity of the analogy does not depend on a catalogue of atrocities, however appalling'."[37]

The Association of Jewish Sixthformers (AJ6) issued a press release expressing dismay and concern "about the affects [sic] of any boycott on Jewish and Israeli Sixthformers." Specifically, AJ6 pointed to "partnerships and exchange visits with Israeli schools and colleges may be under threat", that "Jewish students who study in Israel during their Gap Years are worried that teachers may refuse to provide them with references for these programmes."[40]

The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement which condemned the motion explaining:

"It is profoundly unjust for academics in the only democratic country in the Middle East – the only country where scholarship and debate are permitted to freely flourish – to be held to an ideological test and the threat of being blacklisted because of their views. No one would expect a British or American professor to have to withstand such scrutiny of their political views. Yet, when it comes to Israel a different standard applies".[10]

The British government, through Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Lord Triesman, issued a statement that the motion was "counterproductive and retrograde" although the British Government recognized "the independence of the NATFHE."[11]

Paul Mackney, the general secretary of NATFHE, was sent over 15,000 messages from boycott opponents.[12]

Response to criticism[edit]

Mackney, the general secretary of NATFHE and who opposed the motion as passed, is quoted after the fact by the Guardian:

"The ironic thing, is if we had put this to delegates a couple of weeks ago, before the international pro-Israeli lobby started this massive campaign emailing delegates and trying to deny us our democratic right to discuss whatever we like, it probably wouldn't have passed. People feel bullied, and what we have seen is a hardening of attitudes. All they achieved was making the delegates determined to debate and pass the motion."[12]

Tamara Traubmann and Benjamin Joffe-Walt, reporting for the Guardian, conducted an analysis of "whether the campaigns against such boycotts are actually motivated by concerns for academic freedom, or whether they are using the universalist ideal to stifle critical discussion of Israel." They describe their findings this way:

"Through discussions with anti-boycott campaigners and a trace of the most common emails (not necessarily abusive) sent to the union and handed over by Natfhe, we found the vast majority of the tens of thousands of emails originated not with groups fighting for academic freedom, but with lobby groups and thinktanks that regularly work to delegitimise criticisms of Israel."[12]

University and College Union[edit]


On 30 May 2007, the congress of the University and College Union (created by the merger of AUT and NATFHE) voted (by 158 votes to 99) on Motion 30, which called for the UCU to circulate a boycott request by Palestinian trade unions to all branches for information and discussion. It called on lecturers to "consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions."[41][42] This position is considered to be anti-semitic by some Jewish organizations such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center.[43]

In September 2007, delegates at the Liberal Democrat conference voted to condemn the UCU's "perverse" decision. They called for University and College Union members to reject the proposal and continue to engage in "the fullest possible dialogue" with their Israeli and Palestinian counterparts.[44]

Susan Fuhrman, President of Teachers College, Columbia University said, "As the president of an academic institution dedicated in large part to the preparation of teachers, I believe that universities and all centers of learning must be allowed to function as safe havens for freedom of discussion, debate and intellectual inquiry, standing apart from national and international politics and partisan strife. Only thus can they continue to produce scholarship that informs the policies and laws of democratic societies and stand as islands of hope in a frequently polarized world. ... Teachers College welcomes dialogue with Israeli scholars and universities and stands with Columbia University President Lee Bollinger in expressing solidarity with them by inviting UCU to boycott us, as well."[45]

Japanese physicist Shin-ichi Kurokawa of the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization in Tsukuba, Japan, wrote to the general secretary of UCU. He said the proposed boycott "clearly violates" Statute 5 of the International Council for Science.[46]


In 2008 an internal controversy over the University and College Union's proposed academic boycotts of Israel arose. During August 2008, one UCU member, Jenna Delich, forwarded a link to an editorial on the news website to a private UCU activists' email discussion list comprising some 700 people. The editorial, written by Joe Quinn, entitled 'Racism, not Defence, at the heart of Israeli politics' strongly condemned Israeli government and military treatment of Palestinians, specifically during the 2006 Israeli military operation code named "summer rain".[47]

The link, however, was not to the original publication of Quinn's editorial on the web site but to its re-publication of on the website of former Ku Klux Klan member and white supremacist David Duke. Quinn claimed that no permission had been asked or given for the re-publication.[48]

David Hirsh, a lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths College and founder of Engage, a campaign against academic boycotts of Israel, became involved in the controversy when, in August 2008, he obtained a copy of Delich's message to the activists' list and posted it on his Engage website. Hirsh commented that the UCU was now circulating links to Duke’s website on behalf of Delich.[49]

Hirsh, also a University and College Union member, had been banned from the UCU activists’ email list in November 2007 for breaching rules of confidentiality.[50]

Delich quickly clarified that she had not realised who David Duke was and stated that, while strongly against racists and anti-semites, she maintained her support for the views expressed in Quinn's editorial.[51]

On 26 August 2008, The Jerusalem Post's London correspondent Jonny Paul wrote an editorial on the incident.[52]


Developments in early 2009[edit]

A joint open letter by a group of academics was published in The Guardian on 16 January 2009. The letter called on the British government and the British people to take all feasible steps to oblige Israel to stop its "military aggression and colonial occupation" of the Palestinian land and its "criminal use of force". It suggested this should start with a programme of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (the BDS movement).[53]

There has been a great deal of discussion concerning the links between the calls for boycott and a growth of anti-semitism in the UK, and on British campuses in particular. While organisations such as Engage or the SPME argue that widespread anti-semitism is at the root of the problem, some academics dispute this and say that it is a self-defeating argument.[54] This was particularly the position taken by a representative of Israel's universities in the UK, Professor David Newman who, while countering the attempts at academic boycott, did not see all such activity as being inherently anti-semitic. Newman, the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Israel's Ben-Gurion University, focused his activities on strengthening scientific and academic links between Israel and the UK, and was influential in creating the BIRAX research and scientiric cooperation agreement between the two countries – an agreement which was promoted by successive British Ambassadors to Israel, Tom Philips and Matthew Gould, and which has been funded, amongst others by the Pears Foundation in London.

Neither was the counter-boycott campaign helped by a small number of Israeli academics who also supported the boycott. Most notable amongst these was Professor Neve Gordon, a professor of Political Science at Ben-Gurion University, who published a column in the Los Angeles Times in the summer of 2009, supporting boycott activity against Israel for as long as the country continued with its policy of occupation. This led to demands for his dismissal by many of the university supporters and donors in the USA, and resulted in a lively debate about the limitations of academic freedom amongst Israeli academics.

2009 Boycott Resolution[edit]

At the UCU annual congress held on 27–29 May 2009, the union again passed a resolution to boycott Israeli academics and academic institutions by a large majority. Delegates stated that Israeli academics were complicit in their government's acts against Palestinians. However, the vote was immediately declared invalid as UCU attorneys repeated previous warnings that such a boycott would likely trigger legal action against the union.[55][56] The union also overwhelmingly rejected a resolution urging them to examine the trend of "resignations of UCU members apparently in connection with perceptions of institutional anti-Semitism."[57]

Tom Hickey,[58] from the University of Brighton, put forward one of two motions calling for lecturers to "reflect on the moral and political appropriateness of collaboration with Israeli educational institutions". Martin Ralph,[59] from the University of Liverpool, called for a boycott, disinvestment and a sanctions campaign against Israel. He also suggested that a new conference be held to determine how the boycott could be legally implemented.[56]

Camilla Bassi,[60] from Sheffield Hallam University, opposed the boycott, stating that it would "not help anyone" and would be "part of an anti-Jewish movement." She also stated that: "It is a recipe against all Israelis when we need links between Israeli and Palestinian workers." Jeremy Newmark of the Jewish Leadership Council and joint head of Stop the Boycott, sharply criticised the boycott proposal, stating that: "Whether you are a trade unionist wanting a powerful union or whether you are a long-standing campaigner for peace, it is clear that the UCU has taken leave of its senses. There is the potential for this union to play a remarkable role at this hugely crucial time. If the UCU was a serious union representing their members they would be working to involve Israelis and Palestinians in each other's destiny."[56]

Later that year, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology rejected the academic boycott of Israel, stating that being able to cooperate with Israeli academics, and hearing their views on the conflict, is critical for studying of the causes of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and how it can be resolved.[61]


At its annual 2010 conference, UCU members voted to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel and sever ties with the Histadrut (Israel's organization of trade unions). Tom Hickey, from the University of Brighton, who introduced the motion, stated that the Histadrut had supported "the Israeli assault on civilians in Gaza" in January 2009, and "did not deserve the name of a trade union organization." An amendment to this motion, which sought to "form a committee which represents all views within UCU to review relations with the Histadrut" and report back in a year, was defeated. The UCU's boycott motion invoked a "call from the Palestinian Boycott National Committee” for “an isolation of Israel while it continues to act in breach of international law" and calls to "campaign actively" against Israel’s trade agreement with the European Union.[62]

Another motion passed at the conference committed the UCU to starting the investigatory process associated with imposing a boycott on the Ariel University Center of Samaria.[62]


At the UCU's annual conference in Harrogate, Yorkshire held in May 2011, the again union voted to adopt an academic and cultural boycott of Israel.[63][64]

At the same conference, UCU members voted to disassociate itself from the EMC working definition of anti-Semitism[65] on the grounds that the definition of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights stifles debate and is used to deflect criticism of Israel.

After several years of promoting discriminatory boycotts and ignoring the resignation of dozens of Jewish members, UCU has never taken claims of antisemitism in the union seriously. Now, in a final insult to its Jewish members, UCU is cynically redefining the meaning of 'antisemitism' so it never has to face up to its own deep-rooted prejudices and problems.

—Spokesman for the Board, the JLC and the CST[66]

The union's abrogation was sharply criticised by leaders of Jewish organisations in the UK and Israel, including Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews (the Board);[67] Paul Usiskin, chairman of Peace Now UK;[68] Oliver Worth, chairman of the World Union of Jewish Students;[67] Dan Sheldon, Union of Jewish Students;[67] and Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, who said: "After this weekend's events, I believe the UCU is institutionally racist."[68]

The Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) wrote to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to express its concern,[66] while a letter of protest was sent to UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt from Mick Davis (chair of trustees of the JLC), Gerald M. Ronson (trustee of the JLC and chairman of the Community Security Trust (CST)), Vivian Wineman (president of the Board and chair of the Council of Membership of the JLC) and Sir Trevor Chinn CVO (vice-president of the JLC).[69] Wineman, also wrote to university vice chancellors asking them to consider whether maintaining a normal relationship with UCU was compatible with their requirement to "eliminate discrimination and foster good relations" with minorities.[68] Representatives of the JLC, the Board and the Community Security Trust appealed to government ministers David Willetts and Eric Pickles to support a formal EHRC investigation into the decision,[68] and Ariel Hessayon, a lecturer at Goldsmiths University, resigned from the UCU in protest at the union's abrogation of the EU definition.[70]

Sally Hunt responded that the UCU remained opposed to antisemitism and asked for a meeting with Jewish leaders to help write an "acceptable" definition of anti-Jewish prejudice.[68] The union and its branches have held a number of events to commemorate Jewish suffering during WWII.[71][72]

On 30 June 2011, Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles called on the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate the UCU, citing the May antisemitism resolution.[73]

In July 2011, UCU was given notice of the intent of a Jewish UCU member to sue the union for breach of the Equality Act 2010.[74] The case was filed under the Equality Act with the Employment Tribunal in September 2011, and is expected to be heard in the summer of 2012.[75] In March 2013, the Jewish member's complaint was rejected in its entirety.[citation needed]


In May 2013, Stephen Hawking joined the academic boycott of Israel by reversing his decision to participate in the Jerusalem-based Israeli Presidential Conference hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres. Hawking approved a published statement from the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine that described his decision as independent, "based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there."[76] Professor Noam Chomsky and Professor Malcolm Levitt were among a group of 20 academics who lobbied Hawking to undertake the boycott, based upon a belief that a boycott is the proper method for a scientist to respond to the "explicit policy" of "systemic discrimination" against the non-Jewish and Palestinian population.[77] Hawking's decision was met with mixed reactions as public statements of support and statements of condemnation emerged following the announcement.

Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the BDS movement, stated, "Palestinians deeply appreciate Stephen Hawking's support for an academic boycott of Israel. We think this will rekindle the kind of interest among international academics in academic boycotts that was present in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa." Palestinian academic Samia al-Botmeh's response was also greatly appreciative: "I think it's wonderful that he has acted on moral grounds. That's very ethical and very important for us as Palestinians to know and understand that there are principled colleagues in the world who are willing to take a stand in solidarity with an occupied people."[78] The Boston Globe labeled Hawking's boycott a "peaceful protest."[79]

Professor Malcolm Levitt, of Southampton University, supported Hawking, stating that: "Israel has a totally explicit policy of making life impossible for the non-Jewish population and I find it totally unacceptable. As a scientist, the tool I have available to prevent the normalisation of that situation is boycott." Tom Hickey, of the University of Brighton and a member of the UCU's executive committee, also praised Hawking, stating that "It is brave of Hawking for the straightforward reason that someone who has his prominence will be targeted for vilification. If he can do that then all of us should think of doing it. This isn't about targeting Israeli scholars but targeting the institutions."[77]

Writing for British newspaper The Daily Mail, Douglas Murray stated, "Let us be clear. Such a boycott is an on-going attempt to demonise, delegitimise and ultimately destroy the world’s only Jewish state and our closest cultural and security ally in the region. That Hawking should add his name to the boycott is shameful."[80] The chairman of the conference Israel Maimon was also vocal about Hawking's withdrawal. He called the boycott "outrageous and improper" feeling that it was particularly inappropriate for Hawking. He went on to assert that "Israel is a democracy in which all individuals are free to express their opinions " and argued that a boycott prevents dialog.[81]

Author Ian McEwan was critical of Hawking and of the boycott movement in general, arging that "Israel-Palestine has become sort of tribal and a touchstone for a certain portion of the intellectual classes. I say this in the context of thinking it is profoundly wrong of the Israeli government not to be pursuing more actively and positively and creatively a solution with the Palestinians. That's why I think one wants to go to these places to make the point. Turning away will not produce any result."[77]

Delegates of the 100,000 member Federation of French-speaking Students in Belgium voted for "a freezing of relations with Israeli universities" citing the "violations of various international law conventions committed by Israel."[82]

United States[edit]

Boycott campaign[edit]

Haaretz reported in 2009 that a group of American professors had joined the boycott call in the wake of the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict:

"While Israeli academics have grown used to such news from Great Britain, where anti-Israel groups several times attempted to establish academic boycotts, the formation of the United States movement marks the first time that a national academic boycott movement has come out of America."[83][84]

The group's name is "U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel." (USACBI)[85]

Support and successes[edit]


In April 2013, the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) voted to boycott Israeli universities and academic institutions.[86] It was joined in December by the American Studies Association (ASA). In a vote in which 1,252 of its 5,000 members participated, 66% voted in favour of a boycott.[87] The reasons given were "Israel's violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; [and] the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights," and thus "negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students."[88] Many proponents of the ASA's boycott, including Yale professor and past president of the ASA Matthew Frye Jacobson, argue that the action can be seen as "symbolic", as it is such defined by the ASA council statement.[89][90] In response to the resolution, a number of organizations and politicians accused the ASA of applying a double standard towards Israel.[91][92][93][94][95][96] Opponents of the boycott called the resolution antisemitic and anti-Israel.[97]

Israel is the first nation ever boycotted by the ASA in the 52 years since the organization's founding. The New York Times reported that ASA's president Curtis Marez argued that America has "a particular responsibility to answer the call for boycott because it is the largest supplier of military aid to the state of Israel." Marez acknowledged that the United States has previously, and is currently, the largest supplier of military aid to many governments, including some with poor human rights records, but explained that Israel is the only country in which "civil society groups" had specifically asked the ASA to launch a boycott.[98] Further responding to accusations that the ASA was singling out Israel while ignoring many other nations that have comparable or even worse human rights records that Israel (including many of Israel's neighbors), Marez replied: "One has to start somewhere."[98]

Over 700 new members joined the organisation between the December vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions and April 2014. The ASA subsequently released a statement that said it had "collected more membership revenue in the past three months than in any other three-month period over the past quarter-century" and that their organization is "thriving".[99][100]

In December 2013, the council of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association voted unanimously in favor of the academic boycott of Israel, becoming the third American academic association to participate in PACBI's Call to action.[101] NAISA made an official declaration of its support for the academic boycott of Israel, choosing to create an original document of declaration in order to protest, "the infringement of the academic freedom of Indigenous Palestinian academics and intellectuals in the Occupied Territories and Israel who are denied fundamental freedoms of movement, expression, and assembly, which [it] uphold[s]."[102] The declaration "encourages NAISA members to boycott Israeli academic institutions because they are imbricated with the Israeli state."[102]

In November 2015, the annual business meeting of the American Anthropological Association voted to join the academic boycott campaign, by a margin of 1,040 to 136.[103] In 2016 the resolution was put up for vote by all the members of the Association and was rejected. Out of the 9,359 voting-eligible members, 2,423 members opposed the resolution and 2,384 supported it.[104]


In a speech given at Brooklyn College in 2013 with BDS founding member Omar Barghouti, prominent American academic Judith Butler commented on the reasons behind her support of the academic boycott campaign of the BDS movement stating:

"Others may interpret the boycott differently, but I have no problem collaborating with Israeli scholars and artists as long as we do not participate in any Israeli institution or have Israeli state monies support our collaborative work. The reason, of course, is that the academic and cultural boycott seeks to put pressure on all those cultural institutions that have failed to oppose the occupation and struggle for equal rights and the rights of the dispossessed, all those cultural institutions that think it is not their place to criticize their government for these practices, all of them that understand themselves to be above or beyond this intractable political condition. In this sense, they do contribute to an unacceptable status quo."[105]

Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies at Columbia University, is on the advisory board of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel. Dabashi supports boycott efforts targeting both Israeli individuals and institutions:

"The divestment campaign that has been far more successful in Western Europe needs to be reinvigorated in North America – as must the boycotting of the Israeli cultural and academic institutions… Naming names and denouncing individually every prominent Israeli intellectual who has publicly endorsed their elected officials' wide-eyed barbarism, and then categorically boycotting their universities and colleges, film festivals and cultural institutions, is the single most important act of solidarity that their counterparts can do around the world."[106]

Other American academics that have advocated for boycotts against Israel include Andrew Ross and Simona Sawhney.[106]

Other groups[edit]

The Columbia Palestine Forum (CPF), which was formed at Columbia University in March 2009, maintains that Israel is an apartheid state and advocates boycott and divestment efforts against Israel. The group has called for increased disclosure of university finances to establish that Columbia funds are not being used towards "maintenance of the Israeli occupation and human rights abuses in Gaza and the West Bank," and advocates divestment of university funds from any companies that profit from what it describes as the "continued occupation of Palestinian lands, the maintenance of illegal Israeli settlements and the walls being built around Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem."[106]

CPF outlined its demands to a university representative during a demonstration on 5 March 2009. On the previous day, it held a panel discussion featuring multiple Columbia faculty members who have been supportive of the group. Gil Anidjar, a religion professor, advocated boycott as an appropriate "exercise of freedom," while anthropology professor Brinkley Messick indicated that Columbia President Lee Bollinger had agreed to meet with the faculty to discuss the demands for divestment. One CPF member described the group's goals in a 3 March article for Columbia's newspaper, stating that "by divesting from companies that do business with the occupation, we can put global pressure on the Israeli government to end it."[106]


Until April 2013, no American school had ever divested from or imposed an academic boycott on Israel despite strong boycott campaigns.[83][107][108] Former President of Harvard University Larry Summers has called Israel-boycott efforts "anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent."[109] In 2007, nearly 300 university presidents across the United States signed a join statement denouncing the boycott movement.[83] In 2010, a group of 15 American university professors launched a campaign calling for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel.[83]

Many universities and prominent scholars criticized the ASA's support of the boycott. Brandeis University, Pennsylvania State University, Indiana University and Kenyon College decided to withdraw from the ASA. The American Council on Education,[110] an umbrella organisation of 1,800 institutions, the American Association of Universities which represents 62 schools across the US and Canada, and the American Association of University Professors all condemned the boycott.[111]

Ninety-two university presidents[112] including of Harvard, Brown, Yale, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Cornell, Duke, Stanford, Boston, Columbia, Chicago, New York University, Dartmouth College, Wesleyan, Florida, University of Miami, Western Kentucky University ,Connecticut and Washington, condemned the boycott and distanced themselves from the ASA.[111][112][113][114][115]

Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust said that “academic boycotts subvert the academic freedoms and values necessary to the free flow of ideas" and that a boycott was "a direct threat to these ideals". Former Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers stated that Israel was being unfairly singled out when other countries’ human rights records were far worse. The president of Kenyon college dismissed it as a "geopolitical tool", endorsing the decision of its American Studies program to secede as an institutional member of the ASA. The president Wesleyan university deplored this "politically retrograde resolution", describing it as an irresponsible attack under the guise of phony progressivism.[116]

Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress argued that the boycott demonstrated "the Orwellian antisemitism and moral bankruptcy of the ASA"[117] while the ADL described the boycott as "shameful, morally bankrupt and intellectually dishonest attack on academic freedom."[118]

In January 2014, 134 members of Congress (69 Democrats, 65 Republicans) signed a letter to ASA president Curtis Marez and president-elect Lisa Duggan, which accused the ASA of engaging in a "morally dishonest double standard." The letter stated that: "Like all democracies, Israel is not perfect. But to single out Israel, while leaving relationships with universities in autocratic and repressive countries intact, suggests thinly-veiled bigotry and bias."[91][92]

In February 2014 a bill called the "Protect Academic Freedom Act" was introduced into the U.S. Congress. The legislation "seeks to bar federal funds from going to academic institutions that back the BDS movement." Supporters of the legislation claim that its purpose to oppose "discriminatory boycotts which impede rather than advance the peace process and that seek to deny Israelis the right to free speech on American campuses.” Those opposing the bill claim that it would fiercely violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and many doubt its efficacy as a response to the ASA's boycott movement.[119][120][121]

On 30 May 2014, Representative Alan Grayson introduced H.R. 4776, a bill "to prohibit an institution of higher education that participates in a boycott of the Israeli government, economy, or academia from receiving funds from the U.S. federal government." [122]

University of Pennsylvania[edit]

University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann said in January 2012 that the university "has clearly stated on numerous occasions that it does not support sanctions or boycotts against Israel." She said that the school was not a sponsor of a BDS conference taking place on campus in February 2012.[123]

Opposition from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)[edit]

In March 2009, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) reiterated its opposition to any academic boycott of Israel (or any other country) but added that discussion of the Israel-Palestinian conflict should be encouraged. AFT President Randi Weingarten stated that:

"We believe academic boycotts were a bad idea in 2002 and are a bad idea now. Academic boycotts are inconsistent with the democratic values of academic freedom and free expression... We want to make clear that this position does not in any way discourage an open discussion and debate of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or of ways to resolve it. However, we expect that such a discussion would not be one-sided and would consider the behavior of all the relevant actors. An academic boycott of Israel, or of any country, for that matter, would effectively suppress free speech without helping to resolve the conflict."[124]

Jewish presidents of American universities[edit]

The Forward published, in January 2012, an article about Jewish presidents of universities, saying that "many college presidents" see BDS as a "red line" and that "presidents who were previously disinclined to speak out against anti-Israel activity on campus in the name of preserving open dialogue found themselves publicly opposing the movement."[125]


In January 2009, the Ontario branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees brought forward a proposal to ban Israeli academics from teaching at Ontario Universities. CUPE-Ontario leader Sid Ryan stated, "we are ready to say Israeli academics should not be on our campuses unless they explicitly condemn the university bombing and the assault on Gaza in general."[126][127] Ryan subsequently said, "Academic freedom goes both ways. What we are saying is if they want to remain silent and be complicit in these kinds of actions, why should they enjoy the freedom to come and teach in other countries like Canada?"[128] CUPE's national president, Paul Moist, issued a statement declaring his opposition to the motion and saying, "I will be using my influence in any debates on such a resolution to oppose its adoption."

Shortly after its original statement, CUPE removed its call to boycott individual academics from its website and replaced it with statement that called instead for a boycott "aimed at academic institutions and the institutional connections that exist between universities here and those in Israel."[129] Tyler Shipley, spokesperson for CUPE local 3903 at York University, told the Toronto Star that his group will begin to advocate for York to sever financial ties to Israel.[130]

Some observers have questioned what practical effect any CUPE resolution will have since the 20,000 university workers represented by CUPE Ontario include campus staff but almost no full-time faculty.[131]


The University of Western Sydney’s Student Association (UWSSA) formally affiliated to the “Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel” in February 2009, following a request from PACBI.[132] The President of the UWSSA, Jacob Carswell-Doherty, later stated that “We have no interest in hearing the Israeli viewpoint. Our agenda is to persuade the university administration to implement the terms of the boycott.”[133]

In 2013, the issue of Academic Boycotts and the BDS campaign received significant press treatment when a suit was filed against professor Jake Lynch, the director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Sydney University, by Shurat HaDin, a pro-Israel legal lobby organization. The 30 page suit focusses on Professor Lynch's denying sponsorship to professor Dan Avnon of Hebrew University because of his center's pro-BDS policy not to support institutions with ties to the Israeli military and the ongoing occupation of the West Bank. Mr Andrew Hamilton of Shurat HaDin stated “Our strategic aim in this case is to address the unlawful racial discrimination of the BDS movement generally and the academic boycott in particular, rather than to narrowly focus on the discrimination against Prof. Avnon.”.[134] The case has been described as a "landmark legal suit"[135] and "a major test of the legality of the boycott, divestments and sanctions (BDS) campaign."[136]

In July 2014, Shurat HaDin-the Israel Law Center announced that it was withdrawing its Lawsuit against Lynch. Lynch stated that this decision "gives the green light for many more Australians to take their own action in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for rights and freedoms we are lucky enough to be able to take for granted."[137]


In January 2016, 168 Italian academics and researchers published a call to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Israel's Institute of Technology, Technion, was singled out as a boycott target. "The Institute carries out research in a wide range of technologies and weapons used to oppress and attack Palestinians", said the call.[138]


In April 2013 the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) passed a motion calling for an academic boycott of Israel. Jim Roche, who presented the motion, said "I am very pleased that this motion was passed with such support by TUI members (...) there is no question that Israel is implementing apartheid policies against the Palestinians." [139]

Following a referendum amongst NUI Galway students in March 2014, the NUI Galway Students' Union officially began supporting the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.[140]

South Africa[edit]

Campaign to boycott Ben-Gurion University[edit]

The campaign for the boycott of Ben-Gurion University (BGU) launched the first public campaign for academic boycott against Israel in South Africa.

On 5 September 2010, a nationwide academic petition was initiated by academics supporting a termination of a partnership agreement between the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and BGU; a long-standing partnership dating back to apartheid era relations between the two institutions. Well-known academics such as Professors Breyten Breytenbach, John Dugard, Mahmood Mamdani, Antjie Krog and Achille Mbembe are signatories to the academic petition, which is also backed by Vice-Chancellors from four universities in South Africa.[141]

Amidst widespread public attention, both within South Africa and internationally, the campaign to boycott BGU quickly gained momentum and within a few days more than 250 academics had signed the petition, stating:

“The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories has had disastrous effects on access to education for Palestinians. While Palestinians are not able to access universities and schools, Israeli universities produce the research, technology, arguments and leaders for maintaining the occupation. BGU is no exception, by maintaining links to both the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and the arms industry BGU structurally supports and facilitates the Israeli occupation."[142]

On 26 September 2010 Archbishop Desmond Tutu released a letter through the Sunday Times, under the heading “Israeli ties: a chance to do the right thing”, supporting the academics. The Nobel Laureate’s position in favour of the boycott was accompanied by an appeal that: “The University of Johannesburg has a chance to do the right thing, at a time when it is unsexy.”[143]

Former South African cabinet minister and ANC leader Ronnie Kasrils also came out in support of the boycott call and wrote in the Guardian: “Israeli universities are not being targeted for boycott because of their ethnic or religious identity, but because of their complicity in the Israeli system of apartheid” and that "The principled position of academics in South Africa to distance themselves from institutions that support the occupation is a reflection of the advances already made in exposing that the Israeli regime is guilty of an illegal and immoral colonial project."[144]

Decision to set conditions on Ben-Gurion University[edit]

Against the backdrop of the publicly supported campaign, UJ’s highest academic body (Senate) voted on Wednesday, 29 September 2010 "not to continue a long-standing relationship with Ben-Gurion University in Israel in its present form" and conditionally terminate its Apartheid-era relationship with BGU.

A fact-finding investigation conducted by the University confirmed BGU's links with the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and complicity in the Israeli occupation. Accepting the recommendations of the report, the University committed itself to end any research or teaching relationship with Ben-Gurion University that has direct or indirect military links; or in instances where human rights abuses are identified. The University has stated that if BGU violates any of the conditions agreed on by Senate or UJ’s stated principles, which include “solidarity with any oppressed population”, the relationship will be terminated completely after 6 months.[145]

More SA universities check Israeli links[edit]

Within hours of the University of Johannesburg's decision to conditionally terminate its links with Ben-Gurion University, major South African universities began looking into their own ties with Israeli universities.

Wits University vice-chancellor Loyiso Nongxa told journalists that he was not aware of "any formal links – a memorandum of understanding [MoU] – between Wits and Israeli universities". Three hours later, Wits university’s spokesperson confirmed that it "has no formal ties with any Israeli university, according to our database".[146]

The University of Cape Town followed suit shortly afterwards stating that: "There are no institution-level partnerships with Israeli universities." The University of Pretoria, University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and Stellenbosch University have since confirmed that they have no formal partnerships with institutions in Israel.[146]

Wits SRC adopts academic boycott of Israel[edit]

On 27 July 2012 the Wits University Students' Representative Council (Wits SRC) adopted a declaration of academic and cultural boycott of Israel.[147]

The Wits SRC academic boycott has not been renewed since it was passed in 2012 and is defacto no longer operable at the institution. A number of Wits SRC and former Wits SRC members have visited the country and talked about their experiences. They have said they are against boycotts and that calling Israel an apartheid state is an insult to black South Africans.[148][149][150][151] Israeli writers and the Israeli director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have also visited the campus.[152][153]


On 20 August 2009, Israeli Professor Neve Gordon wrote in an Los Angeles Times editorial that he had decided to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel movement. He stated that Israel had become so right wing and 'an apartheid state' that he felt he had no choice but to support this course of action.[154]

Dr Gordon faced intense national and international criticism. In response, the Jewish Voice for Peace organization circled a petition to "Defend academic freedom. Defend the right to talk about boycott, divestment, and sanctions."[155]

According to the petition:

We are protecting here more than one person and one job. Help us protect the ability to talk openly about the Israeli occupation and about nonviolent options to address it, such a boycott, divestment, and sanctions.


Proposed academic boycotts of Israel have been the subject of contentious debate. Some issues that have been highlighted are:[156]

  • Are academic boycotts of Israel ethically justified?
  • Would they be an effective and positive agent of change?
  • Are there overriding issues of academic freedom?
  • Are the proposals a cover for anti-Semitism?
  • Is Israel being unjustly singled out?

A prominent Palestinian academic, president of Al-Quds University, Sari Nusseibeh, has argued against academic boycotts of Israel, telling Associated Press "If we are to look at Israeli society, it is within the academic community that we've had the most progressive pro-peace views and views that have come out in favor of seeing us as equals... If you want to punish any sector, this is the last one to approach." He acknowledges, however, that his view is a minority one amongst Palestinian academics.[157]

Comparisons to academic boycotts of South Africa[edit]

The academic boycott of South Africa is frequently invoked as a model for more recent efforts to organize academic boycotts of Israel.[156]

Some invoke the comparison to claim that an academic boycott of Israel should not be controversial based on a misconception that the academic boycott of South Africa was uncontroversial and straightforward. The reality, at the time, was very different. The effort was the subject of significant criticism and contentious debate from diverse segments. Andrew Beckett writes, in the Guardian, on this frequent mistaken comparison: "In truth, boycotts are blunt weapons. Even the most apparently straightforward and justified ones, on closer inspection, have their controversies and injustices."[156]

Others, such as Hillary and Stephen Rose in Nature (2002), make the comparison and argue for an academic boycott of Israel based on a belief that the academic boycott of South Africa was effective in ending apartheid. George Fink responds (Nature 2002) that asserting that the boycott of South Africa by the world's academic communities 'was instrumental in ending apartheid in South Africa' is a deception and was actually terminated by two pivotal and interrelated political events: strict economic sanctions on South Africa imposed by the United States Congress in 1986 and measures by South Africa president F. W. de Klerk in 1989 and 1990.

In 2010, the Senate of the University of Johannesburg recommended cutting off all links with Ben-Gurion University in Israel because of the country's policies. The scientific agreement, which focused on cooperation in water research, had only been signed in the previous year. Prior to making a final decision, the university sent a senior delegation of its faculty on a fact finding tour to Israel in January 2011.

Accusations of antisemitism[edit]

Anthony Julius and Alan Dershowitz argue that despite a small number of Jews who have supported boycotts, the boycotts themselves are antisemitic, using their anti-Zionism as a cover for "Jew hatred". They compare the boycotts to the 1222 Canterbury Council sharply limiting Christian contact with Jews, and Nazi boycotts of Jewish shops in the 1930s, as well as Arab League attempts to economically isolate Israel and refrain from purchasing "anything Jewish."[158]

Harvard President Larry Summers "blasted" the boycotts as "antisemitic":

“[T]here is much that should be, indeed that must be, debated regarding Israeli policy...But the academic boycott resolution passed by the British professors union in the way that it singles out Israel is in my judgment anti-Semitic in both effect and in intent.”[159]

Summers had previously argued that a proposed boycott was antisemitic "in effect, if not intent". This position was criticized by Judith Butler, in an article entitled "No, it's not anti-semitic". Butler argues the distinction of effective anti-semitism, and intentional anti-semitism is at best controversial. "If we think that to criticise Israeli violence, or to call for economic pressure to be put on the Israeli state to change its policies, is to be ‘effectively anti-semitic’, we will fail to voice our opposition for fear of being named as part of an anti-semitic enterprise. No label could be worse for a Jew, who knows that, ethically and politically, the position with which it would be unbearable to identify is that of the anti-semite."[160]

See also[edit]


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  123. ^ Penn distances itself from BDS conference
  124. ^ U.S. teachers reject academic boycott of Israel, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), 12 March 2009.
  125. ^ College Leaders Balance Israel and Speech
  126. ^ Ontario union calls for ban on Israeli professors by Vanessa Kortekaas, National Post, 5 January 2009.
  127. ^ CUPE Ontario to recommend support for ban on Israeli academics in response to Gaza bombings, Press Release from CUPE Ontarion, 5 January 2009.
  128. ^ CUPE offices picketed over Ryan boycott call by Emily Mathieu, Toronto Star, 9 January 2009.
  129. ^ Steve Janke: CUPE pulls Ryan proposal from union web site[permanent dead link], National Post, 14 January 2009. The 'National Post noted that while the original resolution mentioned Ryan three times and listed him a point of contact, the new resolution did not mention Ryan's name.
  130. ^ CUPE Ontario calls for Israel boycott by Sheri Shefa, Canadian Jewish News (CJN), 26 February 2009.
  131. ^ Ontario union's proposed Israeli ban not anti-Semitic: academics by Katie Daubs and Lee Greenberg, Canwest News Service (reprinted by the National Post), 6 January 2009.
  132. ^ Australian University students support BDS campaign, 7 February 2009 (Posted on the website of the Australian Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions Campaign for Palestine).
  133. ^ Sydney students call for Israel boycott, Jwire, 8 March 2009.
  134. ^ Court told Dan Avnon not hurt by Jake Lynch’s BDS campaign, The Australian, 14 March 2014
  135. ^ Anti-Israeli BDS campaign facing court test, The Australian, 31 October 2013
  136. ^ Israel race case: judge questions class action against Sydney academic The Guardian, 12 February 2014
  137. ^ Israeli NGO quits BDS case against Sydney academic, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, (JTA), 10 July 2014.
  138. ^ Italian scholars boycott Israeli academic institutions (Al Jazeera, January 30, 2016)
    Italian academics call for boycott of Israeli universities (Ynet, January 29, 2016)
  140. ^ Irish student union endorses Israel boycott, Haaretz, 7 March 2014 .
  141. ^ The petition and related information can be accessed at
  142. ^
  143. ^ Israeli ties: a chance to do the right thing - Times LIVE
  144. ^ South Africa's Israel boycott by Ronnie Kasrils, The Guardian (UK), 29 September 2010.
  145. ^ UJ press statement released on 30 September 2010 headed "UJ sets conditions for link with Israeli university"
  146. ^ a b Mail & Guardian [1 October 2010]:
  147. ^ [6], "Wits students boycott Israel".
  148. ^
  149. ^
  150. ^
  151. ^
  152. ^
  153. ^
  154. ^ Gordon, Neve (20 August 2009). "Boycott Israel". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 20 August 2009. 
  155. ^ "Defend Academic Freedom". Jewish Voice for Peace. Retrieved 21 September 2009. 
  156. ^ a b c Andy Beckett (12 December 2002). "It's water on stone – in the end the stone wears out". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 16 September 2006. 
  157. ^ "Palestinian university president comes out against boycott of Israeli academics". Associated Press. 18 June 2006. 
  158. ^ Anthony Julius and Alan Dershowitz in The Times Online 13 June 2007 [7]
  159. ^ Harvard Crimson 5 June 2006
  160. ^ Judith Butler, "No, it's not anti-semitic", London Review of Books, 21 August 2003. Retrieved 23 June 2003.

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