BDS calls for an academic boycott of Israel, which is antithetical to the values of free speech and academic freedom.
An academic boycott could include keeping Israeli scholars and researchers from coming to SFU, ending study abroad programs to Israel, ending research cooperation with Israelis and Israeli universities, and ultimately harming the very places that promote a free exchange of ideas — including those promoting a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Those pushing for an academic boycott of Israel seek to isolate it by preventing Israeli academics from working with their colleagues abroad.
Academic boycotts violate the basic tenets of higher education, including academic freedom and scholarly dialogue, BDS asks us to deny academic freedom – one of the core policies and values of our university – to people based on their nation of origin.
Punishing university professors simply because of their nation of origin is not only morally wrong, it is a violation of academic freedom, a core principle of academia. Scholars must be free to produce and share their knowledge without threats of interference or penalty, no matter their political views or country of origin.. Boycotts attempt to limit the unfettered creation, discovery and dissemination of knowledge vital to our tripartite mission of research, teaching and service.
Israel’s harshest critics are against BDS
Even those who are harshly critical of the Israeli government see that BDS is duplicitous and discriminatory in singling out Israeli academics.
“(If) Tel Aviv University is boycotted because Israel violates human rights at home, then why not boycott Harvard because of far greater violations by the US?”
– Noam Chomsky
Boycotts punish the most progressive voices in Israeli society, usually found in academia
Academic boycotts target all Israeli professors regardless of political position, effectively punishing even the most progressive of individuals. Boycotts of this kind serve only to create barriers between people and make peace harder to achieve.
“If we are to look at Israeli society, it is within the academic community that we’ve had the most progressive pro-peace views and views that have come out in favor of seeing us as equals…. If you want to punish any sector, this is the last one to approach.”
— Al-Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh
Institutions vs. Individuals
The FAQ section of the TSSU referendum information page states that only the TSSU as an institution will be engaged in BDS and that members are free, as individuals, to “do as they wish.” It is unclear how an individual TSSU member, as part of the TSSU can actually do this. The distinction of institution and individual is problematic in that the individual relies on the institution for support, funding and so on. The motion is calling on SFU as a university and the student body to pass the same type of motion. How can individual professors work with Israeli counterparts if they are not going receive support from the institution they are employed by?
The argument of BDS only applying at the institutional level has appeared before. In cases when BDS proponents are not able to convince their targets to impose a full academic boycott on Israel, or when trying to muster support for one, they attempt to distinguish between Israelis and Israeli universities. The ASA resolution for example says that “We are expressly not endorsing a boycott of Israeli scholars engaged in individual-level contacts and ordinary forms of academic exchange …provided they are not engaged in a formal partnership with or sponsorship by Israeli academic institutions,” because their academic boycott “is not designed to curtail dialogue.” Their BDS supporters attempted to parse a distinction in the op-ed pages of various newspapers:
“There is nothing within the guidelines of the academic boycott that prohibit, hinder, or condemn intellectual collaboration with individual academics from Israeli institutions…”
– J. Kēhaulani Kauanui
This argument is certainly problematic. A university is nothing without professors, researchers, and students. It is impossible to target a university without targeting the people associated with it.
“Absurdly, the ASA claims it’s going to boycott only the universities, not the scholars and students working therein. In other words, they intend to catch fish but vow not to go near the water.”
– Rex Murphy
Furthermore, insisting that an Israeli academic disassociate herself with her home university or refuse funding from that university before allowing her to teach, as BDS does, is clearly problematic. It is an even more prominent violation of academic freedom than simply refusing to allow that Israeli academic to teach.
In practice, Israeli academics are often targeted on an individual level by BDS and their various subgroups. In April of 2015 three Israeli students who were part of an international studies program had to stand alone on a stage in Germany’s Parliament when the Arab students there refused to appear with them. In December 2016, a 13-year-old Israeli child asked a question of Marsha Levine, an ex-Cambridge academic who studies horses, only to be refused because “I support boycott, divestment, sanctions.” In June 2016, an Israeli filmmaker was disinvited from showing his movie at Syracuse University because of BDS intimidation. Despite claims to the contrary, academic boycotts of institutions principally affect individuals. It is a distinction without a difference.