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December 13, 2018 5:01 pm

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

avatar by Shiri Moshe

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 nationwide by supporters of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign, whose leaders reject the continued existence of a Jewish nation-state — “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 AMCHA Initiative, an antisemitism watchdog,  and 100 other civil rights, education, advocacy, and religious groups. The coalition urged administrators to sign a statement against the academic boycott of Israel — which each of their schools renounced in 2013, after it was endorsed by the American Studies Association — following several recent efforts to implement BDS in US universities.

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These include two separate attempts by faculty members at the University of Michigan to withhold letters of recommendation this fall from students who wanted to study in Tel Aviv, and a vote by Pitzer College faculty in November to suspend 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 school while maintaining programs in other countries accused of human right abuses — among them China, which is involved in a territorial dispute with Tibet and has “one million Muslims imprisoned in re-education camps,” as well as the United States itself, where Pitzer is located.

If the exchange program ended, 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 danger was likewise emphasized in the pledge AMCHA encouraged university leaders to sign, which recognized the right of faculty members to free speech, but noted 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 guidelines 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 members of the campus community “collateral damage to a political agenda,” AMCHA’s statement warned.

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

The letters’ authors represent an array of concerned stakeholders — including a UCLA professor, Stanford University alumnus, and Harvard Law School donor.

A graduate of UC Berkeley, whose two children attended schools in the UC system, explained in his note that he was reaching out in dismay “at the amount and virulence of Anti-Israel/Semitic activity on the UC Berkeley campus.”

“My personal feeling is that much of this stems from a lack of intellectual diversity and lack of diversity of opinion among faculty and student body alike,” the alumnus wrote. “Those holding pro-Israel views are afraid to speak out or to go against the prevailing orthodoxy.”

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