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Israeli university heads, politicians, warn of a growing boycott

An Israeli parliamentary committee dealing with boycotts against Israeli academic institutions heard stark warnings on Wednesday about the growth of the boycott.

Addressing a special meeting of the Knesset’s Science and Technology Committee, aimed at discussing the impact of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement on Israeli academia, academics and politicians alike sounded the alarm bells.

“In the beginning this took place in marginal campuses, but very quickly it spread to leading campuses in the US,” said Peretz Lavie, president of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and chair of the Association of University Heads in Israel. “The students who are being exposed to these activities will be the next generation’s senators, and this is where the long-term danger is hidden.”

He added: “The American Anthropological Association wrote in its report that we are apartheid universities. The same association decided to conduct a referendum, should they boycott Israeli academia. We must reach every single one of the 12,000 association members. This is a symptom, and if we don’t act the fire will spread. There must be one authority in charge of this issue.”

Prof. Zvi Ziegler, recently appointed head of an Association of University Heads forum to counter BDS, told the committee that he is “very worried about the future.” According to Ziegler, “there is a covert boycott among faculty members [abroad]. It is still below the surface because they think it is illegitimate. With our meagre forces, we are unable to stop this erosion.”

Meanwhile, a representative of Ariel University, based in the West Bank settlement of the same name, admitted: “We’re having a real problem with governments, including Western governments who are pushing for boycotts.”

Responding to the testimonies, panel chair MK Uri Maklev commented: “The boycott [campaign] harms the strength of the State of Israel. The government must allocate appropriate funds for the good of the struggle in this hour of national emergency.”

He went on: “There’s no doubt the phenomenon of academic boycotts is spreading and is connected to the economic and consumer boycotts against Israel. The economic and commercial boycott has a political rather than an essential connotation; on the other hand, an academic boycott being carried out by educated and moderate people would have a serious effect.”

Zionist Camp MK Nachman Shai said he was “troubled by the fact that the BDS movement never stops, and we constantly discover new developments.” MK Basel Ghattas of the Joint Arab List, however, dissented: “As academic institutions you have neglected to initiate moral means of preventing the occupation.”

The panel also heard from Dr. Zeev Feldman, chairman of the Israeli Medical Association (IMA), who revealed that more than 70 British doctors had recently signed a letter to the World Medical Association, urging the expulsion of the IMA on the grounds of complicity in torture.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Feldman commented: “We are in a struggle, everyone must understand that there is an organized struggle – a fight against academia, doctors, and other Israeli bodies…We are engaged in a dialogue with the World Medical Association and we will bring forth the facts, and I hope that it will be enough to [persuade the association to] reject this request.”

While the IMA has successfully countered previous calls for boycotts, Feldman said he fears a time when such efforts will succeed: “If there will be many hammer hits, eventually the wall will give in.”

 

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