In a recent controversial move, over 4000 Italian academics, including about 1500 associate and full professors, have signed a petition calling for an academic boycott of Israel. This appeal, rooted in the ongoing conflict involving Hamas and Israel, demands an immediate ceasefire and adherence to international humanitarian law.
However, the nature and implications of this appeal raise significant concerns. For one, it seems to deny Israel’s right to exist by speaking of 75 years of occupation. Moreover, it unilaterally accuses Israel of aggression in the Gaza conflict, disregarding that it was Hamas who initiated this war, and triggered Israel’s self-defense, a move that united both left and right factions in Israel against a common threat.
The number of signatories on the appeal is surprising and, upon closer examination, somewhat misleading. Many signatories, it appears, did not fully grasp the appeal’s implications. When contacted, several expressed opposition to the boycott, with some even retracting their signatures. This reveals a gap between the appeal’s perceived and actual support.
In response, a counter-appeal has been launched, quickly gathering 8000 signatures. This pushback has garnered attention from various quarters, including journalists and politicians. The Italian President, Sergio Mattarella, has notably commented on the situation, emphasizing the need for international scientific collaborations to remain unaffected by international tensions. A letter from a think tank of 150 professors, including the Italian Minister of Education, has also called for a stand in favor of freedom and democracy, reflecting the majority opinion in the Italian academic community.
Yet, there’s an unsettling silence from the academic leadership, including the Minister of University and Research and the newly elected president of the Conference of Italian University Rectors (CRUI). This lack of public response, particularly in light of recent visits to Israel by some of these figures, raises questions about the academic community’s stance on this issue.
The situation in Italy mirrors a concerning trend observed in American universities where the right to free expression risks being transformed into support for terrorism. The Italian academic community is at a crossroads, needing to balance freedom of speech with responsible and informed discourse.