The decision by the American Studies Association to join the boycott of Israel did not initially cause a firestorm within Israel beyond the walls of academia. There seems to be a misconception that the organization lacks importance and the boycott has no practical consequences and this has left us complacent. We couldn’t be more wrong.
The decision has serious implications beyond the academic realm. The campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel (BDS) is gaining a momentum that soon will be unstoppable. What was once a militant agenda of a handful of extremists may become a larger organization before we have enough time to respond. The idea that was taboo until now – a boycott of all Israeli academic institutions – has become legitimate, while the State of Israel is losing its legitimacy in the eyes of respected and influential organizations and institutions throughout the world.
There is no need to explain to the Israeli public how far-fetched the idea of boycotting Israeli academic institutions is, institutions where hundreds, if not thousands, of students and lecturers are Arabic speakers – including Jordanian students on Ben-Gurion University’s Sede Boqer campus studying towards postgraduate degrees in ecology and desert agriculture, solar energy, desalination and more. Their friends, who only last year completed undergraduate degrees in emergency medicine at BGU, are currently building emergency medical infrastructure in Jordan. Collaborative research projects with researchers in Jordan and the Palestinian Authority on issues as diverse as the study of genetic diseases, epidemiology and water resource management currently exist and also existed even during the most difficult periods for the benefit of all parties. The sick and wounded from the Palestinian Authority and even Syria receive life-saving treatments at medical centers in Israel.
An “academic” boycott would hit research and development hard in the Palestinian Authority and would actually block advanced medical care and access to drinking water on the Palestinian side.
And still, the primary victim of the boycott would be the State of Israel. It’s not only research collaboration that would halt, about preventing participation in conferences or articles that would not be published due to extraneous considerations. The boycott would impact much more than these things. Israeli academic institutions would be boycotted not because of their actions (which in themselves actually contradict the arguments calling for the boycott), but because they are “partners in the State of Israel’s policy which violates human rights and has a negative impact on the working conditions of Palestinian researchers and students.”
It is not a coincidence that the decision mentioned the settlements, the separation wall and the damaging of the rights of Palestinians in general. If an academic boycott of Israel becomes a legitimate matter, other boycotts will follow in other fields – and the boycott of Israel’s national water company Mekorot by the Netherlands’ largest water supplier will be just the first crack in the dam.
Any boycott declared by an American or European organization damages existing relationships that have been built and maintained with great effort between us and our partners overseas, and also those beyond the Green Line and the Jordan River. No-one can predict which event will cause the passing of a line, a line from which there will be no return.
The importance of these ties is not purely academic, they are critical to establishing a foundation of coexistence, which, in the event of a political agreement, will enable a meaningful and significant relationship with our neighbors, even if we do not achieve long-awaited eternal peace.
On December 24 the Knesset’s Science and Technology Committee held a special meeting to discuss the boycott and its implications. As representative of Israel research universities, I called upon the Israeli government, academic faculty members and students, our partners in industry and friends of Israel wherever they are not to stand idly by while the trickle of boycotts of Israeli institutions everywhere slowly becomes a flood. I am buoyed by the response and hope that the government will rise to the occasion and take action.