These columns haven't hesitated to criticize the president of Columbia, Lee Bollinger, when criticism is called for. So it's only fair for us to acknowledge when Mr. Bollinger moves in the right direction. At a time when university presidents are wary of taking a stand on controversial issues, Mr. Bollinger spoke out against the boycott approved by the British Association of University Teachers against two Israeli universities. Mr. Bollinger, in a statement to The New York Sun, called the boycott against Haifa and Bar Ilan universities an "unacceptable attack on the basic tenets of academic freedom and scholarly life." He said the boycott "does nothing to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East" and "threatens the core of what universities both are and represent."
Though a step forward, Mr. Bollinger's statement failed to deal with the anti-Semitism of the AUT measure. Nor with the level of support for the boycott among Columbia University faculty members. On the Web site of an anti-Zionist group called Academics for Justice is a petition signed by academics calling for a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. Among the signers listed on the site are the former chairman of Columbia's department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, Hamid Dabashi; the Herbert Lehman professor of government at Columbia, Mahmood Mamdani, and an assistant professor at Columbia, Joseph Massad. If the boycott is such an "unacceptable attack on the basic tenets of academic freedom and scholarly life," Mr. Bollinger might well want to ask himself what members of his faculty are doing endorsing it and whether those who support such anti-Semitic discrimination ought to be trusted in the classroom with Jewish and Israeli students.
But the president has at least seen the need to denounce the boycott, as have a number of other educational leaders in the city, including John Sexton, the president of New York University, and Matthew Goldstein, the chancellor of the City University of New York. It's going to take a great deal more than issuing statements, however, to combat the escalating hostility to the Jewish cause that is spreading within the halls of academe. Our sense of the rebellion at Harvard is that it started with President Summers's denunciation of the movement for the university to divest itself from certain companies that do business with or in Israel, a movement that he called anti-Semitic in effect if not intent. The most important thing for all these leaders is to confront the haters and agitators right in their own faculties. Those that do will emerge as heroes in the long run.