Columbia University's president, Lee Bollinger, said a boycott of two Israeli universities, approved last month by Britain's largest union of college professors, is "an unacceptable attack on the basic tenets of academic freedom and scholarly life."
In his first public statement regarding the boycott motions against Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities, Mr. Bollinger told The New York Sun in a written statement that measures approved by the British Association of University Teachers "does nothing to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East, but it certainly threatens the core of what universities both are and represent."
The council of the association - in a meeting from which many Jewish members were apparently absent because it fell on the eve of the Passover holiday - approved two motions calling on its roughly 40,000 members to boycott the two Israeli universities. It blamed the University of Haifa for curtailing academic freedom when it threatened to fire anti-Zionist historian Ilan Pappe, and it accused Bar-Ilan University of being "directly involved with the occupation of Palestinian territories" through its connections with the College of Judea and Samaria in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
According to an article in the Jerusalem Post, the council rushed the vote on the measures and refused to allow those who opposed them to speak out during its session.
Causing a stir in Britain, the measures were immediately condemned by Jewish groups in America, the Israeli government, and the targeted Israeli universities. The Israeli Cabinet voted yesterday to confer university status on the College of Judea and Samaria.
The boycott measures, as published on the British association's Web site, are to take the form prescribed by anti-Israel boycott organizers at Birzeit University in the West Bank, a school where the terrorist group Hamas placed second in student council elections last month.
The Palestinian Arab organizers at Birzeit have demanded that academic institutions "refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration, or joint projects with Israeli institutions." Excluded from the boycott are any "conscientious Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their state's colonial and racist policies."
A similar boycott, published on the Web site of an anti-Israel group called Academics for Justice, was signed by a Columbia assistant professor of modern Arab politics, Joseph Massad, according to a petition on the group's Web site. Mr. Massad, who was the focus of an internal investigation into his classroom conduct, has accused his critics of threatening his academic freedom and said Mr. Bollinger had failed to support him. Mr. Massad has also demanded that Columbia divest its holdings in companies that sell military hardware to Israel. Mr. Bollinger has called the divestment campaign "grotesque."
The American Association of University Professors, essentially the British faculty union's counterpart in America, is expected to release a statement today opposing the boycotts.
Roger Bowen, general secretary of the AAUP, told the Sun the boycott was a "bad idea" and said the association would challenge it on "several grounds." The association has consistently opposed academic boycotts, including ones that arose in the 1980s against South Africa, Mr. Bowen said.
The CUNY chancellor, Matthew Goldstein, told the Sun in a statement that he is "deeply dismayed" by the boycott and hopes "AUT members will ignore this misguided effort to damage higher education institutions."
CUNY's faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress, has not taken a position on the boycott.
NYU's president, John Sexton, declined to comment on the boycott, but the university's chief spokesman, John Beckman, issued a statement saying the boycott "runs counter to the essence of the University, and to the values to which New York University in particular is committed."