All 10 University of California Chancellors Condemn Academic Boycott of Israel as ‘Direct, Serious Threat to Academic Freedom’

Photo: UC Berkeley.

All ten chancellors in the University of California system have reaffirmed their opposition to the academic boycott of Israel, following requests by more than 100 organizations.

In a statement shared on Tuesday, the chancellors said their “commitment to continued engagement and partnership with Israeli, as well as Palestinian colleagues, colleges, and universities is unwavering.”

They acknowledged that the boycott of Israeli universities and scholars — promoted to various degrees in universities nationwide by supporters of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign — “poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty,” as well as to the free exchange of ideas and perspectives on campus.

The chancellors’ statement was prompted by a letter sent to 250 university leaders earlier this month by the the campus antisemitism watchdog AMCHA Initiative and 100 other civil rights, education, advocacy, and religious groups. The letter urged the leaders to sign a statement against the academic boycott of Israel — which each of their universities condemned in 2013, following the American Studies Association’s anti-Israel boycott — following several efforts to implement academic boycott in US universities.

These include two separate attempts by faculty members at the University of Michigan to withhold letters of recommendations this fall from students who wanted to study in Israel, and a vote by Pitzer College faculty in November to end a study exchange program with the University of Haifa. Both incidents were condemned by each respective university shortly after they took place, with the president of Pitzer underscoring the hypocrisy of cutting ties with an Israeli university while maintaining programs in other countries accused of human right abuses — among them China, which is involved in a territorial dispute in Tibet and has “one million Muslims imprisoned in re-education camps,” as well as the United States itself, where Pitzer is located.

If the boycott was enacted, he warned, it would be “a major blow to the reputation and reality of Pitzer College as a scholarly institution,” and would limit the “ability of students to pursue their vision of educational engagement.”

This harm was likewise emphasized in the pledge AMCHA is encouraging university leaders to sign, which recognizes the right of faculty members to free speech, but notes that any effort to implement the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) would “not only inflict serious harm on Israeli academic institutions, but on faculty and students at our own schools as well.”

The PACBI rules require members of the academic community “to boycott and/or work towards the cancellation or annulment” of any events or projects involving Israeli universities “or that otherwise promote the normalization of Israel in the global academy.”

They encourage adherents to subvert the academic freedom and educational opportunities of their colleges and students, making them “collateral damage to a political agenda,” AMCHA’s statement warns.

A petition urging university leaders to sign the statement or draft their own has already attracted nearly 2,000 signatures, while hundreds of concerned stakeholders have sent supporting letters, the group said.

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Author: Shiri Moshe

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