Academic journal article The Geographical Review

The Failure of Academic Boycotts

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

The Failure of Academic Boycotts

Article excerpt

Academic boycotts are, in the view of this author, problematic in almost any context. Moreover, they have failed to achieve any significant political objectives beyond media attention. In the specific case of Israel-Palestine, the media coverage of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) proposals is far greater than the limited, almost insignificant, impact on the nature of academic and scientific collaboration between Israeli universities and the broader global academic community.

The academic boycott attempts remain, at this stage, little more than proposals to members of a small number of scientific communities and guilds to cease all forms of collaboration with Israeli scientists and scholars, regardless of their political positions on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the status of the Occupation. The boycott cannot be enforced upon the members of these scientific communities and guilds, the majority of whom continue to undertake full scientific collaboration with their Israeli colleagues and research partners.

The small number of proboycotters who do not participate in scientific meetings and conferences that take place in Israel, or who do not invite Israeli colleagues to participate in conferences arranged elsewhere, are far outnumbered by the many members of the international scientific community who do participate, and are more than ready to take their vacant place around the conference table or in the lecture theatre. Scientific congresses, in all fields of academic endeavor, have continued to thrive against the background of calls for a boycott and if there have been some absent participants for political reasons, it has not been noticeable. A glance at the long list of academic meetings and seminars that have taken place at Israeli universities during the past two years, or those that are planned for the coming academic year, is clear evidence of this; if there have been individuals who have decided not to participate because of their desire to practice boycott, it has passed without notice or impact upon the conference itself.

Unlike the case of South Africa, where there was an almost blanket boycott in all political, economic, and social realms, this is not the case with Israel. In both Western Europe and North America, where most of the boycott proposals emanate, the major universities and, in some cases, the governments themselves, have made it adequately clear that, regardless of their own personal positions concerning the Israel-Palestine impasse, they do not support selective or discriminatory academic boycotts and, in some cases, this has even led to a strengthening of scientific ties where none existed previously.

In a letter issued by the European Union Science and Research Authority, in response to a request by some scholars to boycott projects with Israel, the union expressed their views that academic boycotts were discriminatory. Since the EU will not fund any university or research consortium that practices policies of discrimination, the EU letter made it clear that they would have to rethink the funding of any such institutions, or individual scholars, that blatantly practiced boycott. This is perceived, by university principals and provosts, as being much more harmful to their own research and funding objectives than lending support to calls for a boycott, and they constantly make the point that the members of the University and College Union (UCU) speak for themselves as individuals, and do not speak in the name of the universities, who are opposed to any such action. The universities, as such, view the UCU as an organization that should exclusively focus on issues pertaining to employment, tenure, and wages and that should not involve the universities in issues relating to "foreign policy" and insist that any member of faculty who does declare his/her intent to practice boycott, does so on the basis of his individuality and not as a faculty member representing, or speaking on behalf of, the university to which he/she is affiliated. …

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