The Doctoral Students Council at the City University of New York will soon vote on a resolution to boycott Israeli academics.
This resolution — which follows a wave of similar boycotts in academia worldwide — is not only hurtful and shocking, it is illogical and counterproductive. Here's why.
- Academics tend to be the most engaged in government critique in Israel. To boycott them is to boycott the major players in the fight for justice — for Palestinians and Israelis alike — and to ostracize the citizens most likely to pressure their government for change.
- Ostracizing individuals and refusing to engage with them leaves no possibility of a discussion and no opening for any movement forward.
The ability of academics to engage with one another beyond politics, or despite politics, may be the saving grace of an increasingly intolerant and divided world. If academics refuse to talk to each other, what chance do our politicians have to engage in a productive dialogue?
- Shunning individuals is not the same as shunning a country. Every country is guilty of violations, including my own Canada — yet no one has ever boycotted a Canadian academic because they disagree with its colonization of Aboriginal land. No other country in the world faces an academic boycott.
- Boycotting any academics based on their nationality causes enormous damage to scientific progress. Academic collaboration is the cornerstone of human progress, regardless of ethnicity or nationality. For example, Israeli scientists have worked with international colleagues to advance medicine and technology, including recently, a cure for Ebola to the benefit of all. Science should not be sacrificed on the altar of politics.
- Boycotting academics is a slippery slope that endangers the values and principles of academic freedom. It puts us in grave danger of returning to the McCarthy-era blacklists. Ironically, some rationalize the boycott in the name of academic freedom and protecting human rights. Yet it amounts to taking away my freedom and rights as a scholar. Like most academics, I'm critical of some government policies, and I do what I can to make my voice heard — but at the end of the day, neither my personal views nor my nationality should affect my ability to share my research with others.
- Boycotts won't achieve the stated goal. Israel isn't South Africa. The history, context and national narratives are profoundly different. Of all people, academics should know that you can't use one way of dealing with a conflict to "solve" another conflict without regard for social, cultural and historical context. Richard Horton, the editor of the Lancet, who has a famed and long history of attacking Israel, recently came to this same conclusion after talking to Jewish and Arab scientists on a visit here.
- Boycotts hurt individuals. The stated point is to pressure the Israeli government to change its policies — yet the inevitable and only outcome of this resolution is to blacklist individual academics.
We look back at the McCarthy era and gasp, How could it have happened? This is precisely how. A boycott resolution is not a theoretical debate: It has consequences for real people and real relationships.
And the chance of achieving the stated goal is minuscule to none, while the damage done to personal and academic relationships is painful and lasting.
Everyone has the right to put themselves on the line for what they believe in, as academics have historically done at personal risk to fight for civil, women's and LGBT rights in their own countries.
Yet, boycotters of Israeli academics risk nothing of themselves, while severely punishing people who aren't responsible for the policies in question.
This is not social justice. This is discrimination.
Academics are charged with opening up the conversation, with giving shape and structure to conflicts that move beyond personal politics. These boycotts threaten the very core of that mission.
To have any hope for peace and a better world, we must engage in the hard dialogues, and have as much contact as possible with one another — particularly with those who come from places we may not like, or agree with.
Gandhi said it best: "Peace between countries must rest on the solid foundation of love between individuals." There is no other way forward.
Leeat Granek is a health psychologist and researcher in the Department of Public Health at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva, Israel.