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May 3, 2019 1:53 pm

NYU Department Boycotts Tel Aviv Campus, While Defending Ties With Abu Dhabi Campus

avatar by Shiri Moshe

A New York University (NYU) building near Washington Square Park. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A department at New York University announced on Thursday that it passed a resolution of non-cooperation with the school’s study abroad program in Tel Aviv, accusing it of operating “in the shadow of racial, religious, and political profiling.”

In a statement, NYU’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis (SCA) said the measure passed “by a majority vote,” and was a response to Israel’s “longstanding practice of barring entry to persons of Palestinian descent, and its recent amendments to the Law of Entry prohibit entry to members of groups that are critical of government policies.”

NYU Spokesman John Beckman stated last October, after Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) led more than 30 clubs in a pledge to boycott NYU-Tel Aviv, that “no NYU student has been prevented from going to Israel.”

A 2017 amendment to Israel’s entry law barred access to foreign nationals who are identified as key proponents of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign, among them leaders of National SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace, which maintains an NYU chapter.

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The BDS campaign says it seeks to redefine Israel “as a pariah state” until it abides by international law and key Palestinian demands. Critics, including major Jewish groups in the US and worldwide, say it aims to replace Israel with a Palestinian state and advances antisemitic tropes.

The SCA resolution’s five identified authors — Andrew Ross, Dean Saranillio, Tareq Radi, Ben Zinevich and Rose Asaf — are all supporters of the BDS campaign. Ross, director of NYU’s American Studies program, sits on the advisory board of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI).

Yet the resolution itself stated that it was not “technically” an extension of the BDS campaign or based on its “principles.” It further claimed that Beckman’s acknowledgement that no students have been prevented from attending NYU-Tel Aviv failed to account for Palestinian members of the NYU community who are unable to enter Israel, as well as Americans “who have been banned based on their Palestinian heritage and political activity.”

Israel does not have an entry ban on persons of Palestinian descent. According to the State Department, however, “some US citizens of Arab or Muslim heritage (including Palestinian-Americans) have experienced significant difficulties and unequal and hostile treatment at Israel’s borders and checkpoints.”

A case last year involving an American student who was initially denied entry due to BDS affiliations was reversed by Israel’s Supreme Court.

NYU maintains a dozen study abroad centers internationally, including in Accra, London, Madrid, Paris, and Shanghai.

In explaining why the department chose to “single out NYU-Tel Aviv, and not include NYU-Abu Dhabi” — a campus that operates in the United Arab Emirates — the statement claimed, “While the UAE regularly restricts entry for reasons of ‘national security,’ and while academic freedom is routinely violated at NYU-Abu Dhabi, the UAE has no publicly articulated policy that bars entry to population groups to which NYU faculty and students belong.”

The UAE does not maintain diplomatic ties with Israel, and “does not generally recognize Israeli passports for the purposes of entry into the country,” although exceptions have been made, according to a travel advisory issued by NYU’s own administration.

Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim of the UAE stated in 2010 that the country would “deny entry to anyone suspected of having Israeli citizenship,” adding that security forces would recognize Israelis by “physical features and the way they speak.”

NYU has also published a travel advisory over visa restrictions impacting students who wish to study at its Sydney campus.

The SCA pledged to maintain its non-cooperation with the Tel Aviv program “until (a) the Israeli state ends its restrictions on entry based on ancestry and political speech and (b) the Israeli state adopts policies granting visas for exchanges to Palestinian universities on a fully equal basis as it does to Israeli universities.”

Authors of the resolution did not respond to The Algemeiner‘s requests for comment by press time.

In a statement on Friday, NYU’s spokesperson expressed the administration’s commitment “to our vibrant program in Tel Aviv” and its continued opposition to academic boycotts of Israel, calling them “at odds with the tenets of academic freedom” and citing the American Association of University Professors’ position on the issue.

“With respect to this departmental action: Our Tel Aviv campus does not draw on faculty from the [SCA] for its academic program, so there does not seem to be a practical effect to the vote,” Beckman added.

Miriam Elman, a Syracuse University professor and head of the Academic Engagement Network, which opposes BDS, said the SCA faculty were “being disingenuous in claiming that they haven’t adopted BDS and that the resolution isn’t an academic boycott.”

The USACBI “has been heavily pushing a campaign to shutter study abroad programs for well over a year, complete with resources and a toolkit for activists,” she told The Algemeiner on Friday. “The resolution draws virtually word for word from this campaign’s central talking points, which is why USACBI and other anti-Israel BDS campaigners are already hailing the Department’s decision as a victory for their cause.”

Elman said the SCA was “misreading” Israel’s entry law, noting that it “applies only to major leaders of a select set of organizations that aim to harm Israel and its citizens.”

“Like any country, Israel subjects foreign nationals who may have connections to terrorism to additional airport screening, but US students coming to study in Israel are not routinely barred,” she added.

Conversely, the UAE “denies entry to anyone with an Israeli passport,” she noted. “Surely the [SCA] is concerned as much for Israeli students studying at NYU as it is for the school’s Palestinian students. But this resolution suggests otherwise.”

“It’s absurd that these NYU faculty are encouraging their students and faculty to forgo the educational opportunities that would come with study abroad at TAU simply because they dislike Israel’s visa policies and want to see them changed,” Elman continued. “There are other ways to voice condemnation of a foreign government’s laws. Engaging in academic boycotts shouldn’t be one of them.”

Rena Nasar, managing director of campus affairs at the Israel education and advocacy organization StandWithUs, likewise noted that “Israeli NYU students can’t study at NYU Abu Dhabi unless they hide their identity and use a passport from a different country.”

“NYU should unequivocally condemn this attack against academic freedom and increase collaboration with Israeli academia,” she said.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, head of the antisemitism watchdog group AMCHA Initiative, placed SCA’s resolution in a wider context of “frightening” developments at NYU.

The school’s Student Government Assembly (SGA) adopted an SJP-led resolution supporting the BDS campaign in December, heightening tensions on campus, according to some observers. The school’s Jewish student center had to temporarily close the following week due to threatening postings by a BDS supporter.

Last April, SJP led more than 50 campus groups in announcing a boycott of all Israeli academic institutions, as well as “Israeli goods and goods manufactured in the Occupied Territories, except for those manufactured by Palestinians.” The coalition also agreed to boycott the NYU’s two Zionist student clubs, Realize Israel and TorchPAC, as well as the Anti-Defamation League civil rights group.

Later that same month, two students were arrested and subsequently released after allegedly stealing and burning an Israeli flag while participating in an SJP protest of “Rave in the Park,” an annual celebration held by Realize Israel.

This April, the university honored SJP with its President’s Service Award, which is granted for “extraordinary and positive impact on the University community.” The selection was made by a group of student affairs staff members and a student representative, Beckman said.

NYU President Andrew Hamilton subsequently wrote that he would not have picked SJP as an honoree, and acknowledged their “divisive” behavior.

“[What] makes the situation at NYU even more frightening is that faculty are directly involved,” Rossman-Benjamin told The Algemeiner on Friday, referring to Ross and Saranillio.

“It’s no wonder NYU has seen a serious uptick in anti-Semitism,” she added. “Our research indicates that campuses with faculty who are vocal supporters of academic BDS are five times more at risk for anti-Semitic incidents.”

Rossman-Benjamin pointed to a recent faculty vote at Pitzer College in California to end the school’s study abroad program at the University of Haifa, which was vetoed by Pitzer President Melvin Oliver.

“He recognized that preventing educational access violates the academic mission of his college, that prioritizing politics over students is reprehensible behavior for faculty, and that these academic BDS attempts are blatant discrimination against only one country and its supporters,” she said. “NYU’s leadership must do the same.”

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