Thirteen professors at Georgetown University—reportedly more than any other university in the United States—have joined an American Studies Association (ASA) boycott of Israeli academic institutions, according to Georgetown's student newspaper, The Hoya.
The boycott "is designed to put real and symbolic pressure on universities to take an active role in ending the Israeli occupation and in extending equal rights to Palestinians," according to the ASA. The petition comes as a response to the Israeli military occupation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
But even some politically liberal scholars have decried the boycott as contrary to academic freedom, including the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the president of Wesleyan University.
Last year, Georgetown University President John DiGioia reportedly rejected the idea of an academic boycott: "As an academic institution, it is Georgetown's responsibility to deepen engagement and foster dialogue between scholars and societies to enhance the entire global academic community."
And John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America—an institution recommended in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity—condemned the boycott as "throwing gasoline on the fire" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
The academy—universities, faculties, and satellite institutions—is a place where research, open discussion, and creative thought can lead to reforms and new approaches to longstanding problems. I hope the ASA's call for a boycott produces just the opposite of its intended result—a proliferation of U.S. linkages with Israeli universities and other universities in the Middle East.
Nevertheless, signers to the ASA boycott include Dr. John Esposito, professor of international affairs and Islamic studies and director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU) at Georgetown University.
Those who signed the petition "pledge that they will not publish in Israeli academic journals, teach at Israeli institutions, attend conferences at Israeli universities or work on any projects with Israeli academic institutions," The Hoya reports.
Esposito reportedly told The Hoya that he hopes "to put pressure on and to boycott institutions that violate international law and as a result violate the rights of Palestinians."
"There can be no excuse for the cycle of violence that has taken so many lives in Palestine/Israel over the years, and terrorized both Palestinians and Israelis, and most recently in Gaza, the slaughter of so many innocent civilians, especially women and children must be stopped," he said.
Winfield Myers reported on campus-watch.org that Esposito's participation could threaten future funding. "[T]he directors are administrators of bodies required by the Higher Education Opportunity Act to give 'assurances' that they will maintain linkages with overseas institutions of higher education and other organizations that may contribute to the teaching and research of the Center.'"
Committed to increasing American understanding of the Muslim world, Esposito is no stranger to controversy and has been accused by pro-Israel groups of working too closely and in sympathy with leaders in the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2001, Stanley Kurtz of the Hudson Institute charged Esposito with believing that "the political program of Islamic fundamentalism is in fact democratic" and that it is America's "narrow Western definition of democracy" that causes misunderstanding.
The Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, which Esposito directs, was founded in 1993. In 2005, Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal donated $20 million to the Center, which was renamed in his honor. Although Alwaleed reportedly fired a television chief for his public Muslim Brotherhood ties last year, the Prince has also been connected to the Muslim Brotherhood in the past. In 2002, he gave $500,000 to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has links to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, according to The Clarion Project.
Georgetown professors also joined similar boycotts last December and in 2007, according to The Hoya.