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Bollinger, Spar announce opposition to academic boycotts of Israel

  • IN OPPOSITION | Bollinger said he believed the boycott “would compromise an essential value of universities in an increasingly global society.”

Updated Dec. 29, 8:50 p.m.

University President Lee Bollinger said he opposes a recent boycott of Israeli universities by the American Studies Association in a statement released Friday.

“I reject the ASA’s position which would compromise an essential value of universities in an increasingly global society—and we look forward to continuing Columbia’s long history of engagement with our peers from Israel,” Bollinger said in a statement.

Barnard President Deborah Spar released a similar statement Sunday, which said she stood in “strong opposition to a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.”

“All scholars have the right to speak out against issues or policies with which they disagree, but academic boycotts pose a threat to the intellectual exchange and open debate that sit at the very core of our educational mission,” Spar said.

Bollinger added that he has made his opposition to such boycotts “emphatically clear over the years,” citing a letter he authored in 2007, which was signed by 400 other academics, in opposition to the British University and College Union’s call to boycott Israeli universities.

“To be sure, it is entirely appropriate for our campuses to provide a forum for discussion and debate about the policies of any government, including our own,” Bollinger said. “But the ASA’s vote runs counter to this essential academic and political freedom and, taken to its logical conclusion, would necessarily result in boycotts of fellow scholars and peer institutions from many nations around the world.”

The American Studies Association, an academic organization focusing on scholars of American culture and history, called for a boycott during a Dec. 15 annual meeting to protest “the illegal occupation of Palestine, the infringements of the right to education of Palestinian students, and the academic freedom of Palestinian scholars and students in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel,” according to the organization’s website.

Sixty-six percent of the 1,252 members participating in the election voted to endorse the boycott, while 31 percent voted against and 3 percent abstained.

As of Sunday, a change.org petition urging ASA members to support the boycott had garnered 615 signatures. Columbia has a number of professors that are members of ASA—though it’s unclear how many support the organization’s boycott.

A Nov. 15 letter penned by non-ASA American Studies academics opposing the then-proposed resolution was signed by several Columbia professors, including Acting Director of American Studies Casey N. Blake.

An academic boycott of Israeli universities is not new. The Association for Asian American Studies adopted a boycott in April, and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association also announced its support for a boycott after the ASA resolution on Dec. 15.

Bollinger’s statement follows other university presidents who have denounced the action.

A New York Times article published Thursday quoted Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust, who said, “Academic boycotts subvert the academic freedoms and values necessary to the free flow of ideas, which is the lifeblood of the worldwide community of scholars.”

The article also quoted Wesleyan University President Michael S. Roth as saying that declaring “institutions off limits because of their national affiliations” is an affront to academic freedom.

Brandeis University and Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg, dropped their memberships from the association earlier this month.

Seffi Kogen, GS/JTS ’14 and outgoing president of Columbia/Barnard Hillel, said he supports Bollinger’s opposition.

He said that the boycott is “absurd, especially when one takes into account the fact that the strongest critics of problematic Israeli policies are often precisely those scholars the ASA’s resolution seeks to censure.”

In the past, activism from Hillel, Students for Justice in Palestine, and LionPAC and calls for divestment from Israel have led to heated debates on campus.

SJP did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Check back for updates.

Samantha Cooney contributed reporting.

christian.zhang@columbiaspectator.com  |  @ChristiZhang

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that as of Friday, 612 of ASA's approximately 5000 members had signed a change.org petition. Those 612 signatures actually included non-ASA members as well. During the ASA's election, 66 percent of members present supported the boycott. Spectator regrets the error.

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Jonathan Marks posted on

"Of the association’s approximately 5,000 members, 612 have signed a petition to support the boycott as of Friday." Just because a petition includes "ASA" in the title does not mean that only ASA members signed it. A cursory glance suggests that plenty of non-ASA members signed on.

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protestfolk posted on

In an August 12, 2013 open letter, many oral historians and academics (including some Columbia University and Barnard College professors) indicated why the academic boycott of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and other Israeli universities should be morally and politically supported by the academic community of Columbia University and Barnard College:

“Dear Colleagues:

“We are a group of Palestinian, Israeli, and other oral historians and academics from Europe, South Africa, and North America calling on you to boycott the June 2014 'International Conference on Oral History’ organised by the Oral History Division of the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. While all Israeli universities are deeply complicit in the occupation, settler-colonialism, and apartheid, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is particularly noteworthy, as we explain below.

“Your actions have a direct impact on our joint struggle for a just peace in Palestine-Israel and on our solidarity with fellow Palestinian academics whose universities have been closed down, blockaded and even bombed by Israeli aircraft in the last three decades; universities which have been subjected to a lengthy and brutal Israeli occupation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.

“Specifically, the land on which some of its MountScopus campus buildings and facilities were expanded was acquired as a result of Israel’s 1968 illegal confiscation of 3345 dunums of Palestinian land. [1] This confiscated land in East Jerusalem is occupied territory according to international law. Israel’s unilateral annexation of occupied East Jerusalem into the State of Israel, and the application of Israeli domestic law to it, are violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and have been repeatedly denounced as null and void by the international community, including by the UN Security Council (Resolution 252, 21 May 1968). Moving Israeli staff and students to work and live on occupied Palestinian land places the HebrewUniversity in grave violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions.

“Further, the university is complicit in the unequal treatment of Palestinians, including those who are citizens of Israel. [2] For instance, it does not provide teaching services to the residents of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas in contrast to those provided to Jewish groups; no courses are offered in Arabic. [3] Additionally, the HebrewUniversity has chosen to remain silent when the entire population of Gaza has been excluded from the possibility to enrol and study in the university by the Israeli government. Palestinian students from Gaza have a better chance of getting into a university in the U.S than into HebrewUniversity.

“The Hebrew University administration restricts the freedom of speech and protest of its few Palestinian students. For example, it had forbidden a commemoration event for the invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009 in which about 1,400 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli forces. [4] On the other hand, the Hebrew University offered special considerations and benefits to students who participated in that invasion as soldiers.

“In December 2012 Israel’s Minister of Defence approved recognition of Arie lUniversity in the illegal colony of Ariel as an Israeli university in the Israeli academic system. As a result, staff from the Hebrew University take part in the supervision and promotion committees of students and staff from the colonial university of Ariel; and the (Jewish only) staff takes part in the supervision and in promotion committees for Hebrew University students and staff. The Hebrew University recognizes academic degrees awarded by the Arie lUniversity, which is built on confiscated Palestinian land and surrounded by Palestinian communities, but does not recognize degrees awarded by the nearby Al-Quds University. [5]

“Ironically, the oral history conference is organised by an institute named after Avraham Harman, President of the Hebrew University from 1968 to 1983. As President of the Hebrew University he was directly responsible for the rebuilding and expansion of the original campus on Mount Scopus built on land illegally confiscated from Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

“At a time when the international movement to boycott Israeli academic and cultural institutions is gaining ground in response to Israel’s flagrant and persistent infringement of Palestinian human and political rights, we urge scholars and professionals to reflect upon the implications of taking part in a conference at a complicit institution, and to refrain from such participation. The conference is an attempt to improve the image and reputation of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the West and to cover up for the fact that the university is closely associated with Israeli annexation and 'Separation/Apartheid Wall’ policies—policies that were strongly condemned on 9 July 2004 by the International Court of Justice in The Hague.[6]

“Since the hegemonic world powers are actively complicit in enabling and perpetuating Israel’s colonial and oppressive policies, we believe that the only avenue open to achieving justice and upholding international law is sustained work on the part of Palestinian and international civil society to put pressure on Israel and its complicit institutions to end this oppression.

“Inspired by the successful cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa, and supported by key Palestinian unions and cultural groups, in 2004, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) issued a call for the academic and cultural boycott of institutions involved in Israel’s system of occupation, colonialism and apartheid. The Palestinian call appealed to the international academic community, among other things, to “refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions” [7].

“Following this, in 2005, an overwhelming majority in Palestinian civil society called for an all-encompassing BDS campaign based on the principles of human rights, justice, freedom and equality [8]. The BDS movement adopts a nonviolent, morally consistent strategy to hold Israel accountable to the same human rights and international law standards as other nations. It is asking the international academic community to heed the boycott call, as it did in the struggle against South African apartheid, until “Israel withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; removes all its colonies in those lands; agrees to United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees rights; and dismantles its system of apartheid” [9].

“Paralleling the Apartheid era boycott of complicit South African universities, we believe that participation in academic conferences or similar events in Israel – regardless of intentions- can only contribute to the prolongation of this injustice by normalizing and thereby legitimizing it. It inadvertently contributes to Israel’s efforts to appear as a normal participant in the world of scholarship while at the same time it practices the most pernicious form of colonial control and legalized racial discrimination against Palestinians.

“Until Israel fully complies with international laws and conventions, we sincerely hope that international academics will not participate in endorsing their violations and the basic human rights of Palestinians – even if inadvertently. We call on our colleagues to treat Israel exactly the same way that most of the world treated racist South Africa – or indeed any other state that legislates and practices apartheid: as a pariah state. Only then can Palestinians hope for a just peace based on international law, respect for human rights, and, more crucially, on the fundamental principle of equality for all, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or other identity considerations.

We, therefore, urge you to boycott the Hebrew University of Jerusalem oral history conference and to call on your colleagues to refuse to participate in it; to refuse to cross the Palestinian picket line.”

And among the many oral historians and academics signing the above letter were the following eight Columbia University or Barnard College professors:

9. Professor Nadia Abu el Haj, Barnard/Columbia University, USA
11. Professor Lila Abu-Lughod, Columbia University, New York, USA
74. Professor Hamid Dabashi, Columbia University, New York, USA
89. Professor Ann Douglas, Columbia University, New York, USA
168. Professor Rhoda Kanaaneh, Columbia University, New York, USA
212. Professor Joseph Massad, Columbia University, New York, USA
246. Professor Gary Y. Okihiro, Columbia University, New York, USA
320. Professor Neferti Tadiar, Barnard College, New York, USA

Endorsed by the following Academic and Cultural Boycott Campaigns: AURPID (France); BOYCOTT! (Israel); BRICUP (UK); InCACBI (India); PACBI (Palestine); USACBI (USA); and by the Alternative Information Centre (Israel).

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Anonymous posted on

What's an "oral" historian? Does it mean that the person does things with her or his mouth? If so, that explains why there is a strong agreement with Bollinger. Bollinger does things with his aaarse. So do most people at Columbia. So fellows in the oral tradition, sorry you are in the minority. lol

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Igor posted on

The boycott is simple anti-semitisim. Israel is the most liberal and tolerant nation in the world. Anti-semitisim will never be defeated, but lets recognize it for what it is. This is anti-semitisim dressed in academia. Jews can be anti-Semitic just as Gentiles.

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Anonymous posted on

You're joking, right?

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Igor posted on

No. Why do u think I'm joking? It's not a laughing matter.

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Anonymous posted on

Israel is probably one of the most if not the most intolerant nation in the world at constant war and encroaching on its neighbors.

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Igor posted on

Israel's neighbors are hell bent on its anihalation. If another "liberal" nation such as the USA were facing this situation it would not react with extreme humanity that Israel does. Rather, the enemy would be destroyed. Israel is a light unto the world as Jews have been throughout history. Nevertheless, anti-semitisim lives in the hearts of many (and there are some that are just uninformed and think Israel is an aggressor based on media coverage but the basis for the misinformation is overt anti-semitisim).

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Anonymous posted on

haha You have a lot to learn! start here http://occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com/2010/12/26/occupation-101-full-movie-in-11-parts/ :)

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CU_Alum posted on

Three points:

1. Disagreeing with the Israeli government is not anti-Semitism. If it was, then people would become (or cease to be) anti-Semites whenever the government changed policies. Even you would become an anti-Semite if the next government did a 180 on policies you favor.

2. There are many wonderful things about Israel. But it does some deplorable things, too. Among them is the way it treats Palestinians. Even if it has found the least bad solution available (which I very much doubt), the fact remains that it discriminates against a great many people due to their heritage. That means it is not the beacon of liberality and tolerance you claim it is. I agree that Israel is liberal and tolerant in many other areas, but that does not negate the way it treats Palestinians.

3. The fact that I wrote Paragraph 2 does not make me anti-Semitic. See Paragraph 1.

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Jim posted on

As Igor implied: given the circumstances (that the Palestinians want to destroy Israel), its treatment of these people is the highest standard of humanity a nation has ever exhibited in world history.

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CU_Alum posted on

That was the same argument we used to justify the way we treated Japanese-Americans during World War II. It was not our proudest moment.

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Anonymous posted on

that's a ridiculous analogy. Japaneese Americans weren't trying to harm America - and if they we're they were justifiably locked up

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CU_Alum posted on

Is every single Palestinian a threat to Israel? Even the children and the elderly? Of course not. Yet every one of them is treated as if they are.
If some Palestinians are threats, then they can justly be dealt with based on their individual circumstances. (Just as the U.S. could have done with any individual of Japanese descent who posed a threat.) But to equate an entire group with the worst among them and then treat them as guilty by default is the very definition of bigotry.

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An actual Jew posted on

Clearly, Jews also have fundamentalist sockpuppets ("Jim"/"Igor") polluting their religion just like Gentiles do.

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Anonymous posted on

I have opinions about this matter myself. This matter is important

Have you ever noticed that Bollinger just does not do his job. Instead, he weighs in on otherwise important matters. But again, he does not do his job. He has not done it for a long time.

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CC15 posted on

I'm not surprised that PrezBo doesn't support the boycott, but the whole "academic freedom" argument is just an excuse to avoid saying anything controversial. Everybody likes academic freedom, but if he says that he supports the Israeli government, the occupation of the West Bank, etc. he's bound to piss someone off. It's crap, of course. Scholars don't exist in a vacuum, immune from political conflict. Israeli academics should be no more off-limits to a boycott than Israeli consumer goods. If you don't think CU should join the boycott, argue against the actual politics of the issue instead of giving lame excuses.

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