THE BLOG
10/13/2014 02:38 pm ET Updated Dec 13, 2014

To Boycott or Not to Boycott?: That Should Not Be the Question

The doctoral students at CUNY situated at the Graduate Center in NYC, are contemplating a resolution to boycott Israeli academics, as are other academic forums.

I have been outspoken and writing against all academic boycotts for years. In response to the recent call, I have written an op-ed in the New York Post.

Academics might serve as leading lights in this conversation rather than shutting it down into further darkness.

It is a difficult time in the world right now. Each can and should do their part in fighting injustice, engaging conversation, and in compassionately and respectfully trying to understand the warring factions.

Some academics have taken up this call and are trying to move this conversation forward in a productive way. For example, Richard Horton, the editor of the Lancet, who historically has been anti-Israel, has published an editorial this week calling for more conversation and dialogue. He noted in a new editorial:

"What is the opportunity? First, we have to make a conscious choice. Either one can let residual anger prevail and entrench existing divisions still further--a position that has too often scarred relations in the Middle East. Or one can use this moment to nurture something positive and long lasting, which I firmly intend to do. As one American correspondent wrote to me recently, "the answer to speech we do not like is more speech, not the silencing of writers (or editors) whose opinions we disagree with". That is why The Lancet opposes all forms of boycott."

It is indeed a time that requires patience, understanding, and a constant reminder to hold on to the others' humanity.

Be outspoken, but be judicious, wise, and kind. We need to try to find better ways to talk and hear each other.

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Boycotting Israeli Academics

The Doctoral Students Council at the City University of New York will soon vote on a resolution to boycott Israeli academics.

This resolution -- which follows a wave of similar boycotts in academia worldwide -- is not only hurtful and shocking, it is illogical and counterproductive. Here's why.

 Academics tend to be the most engaged in government critique in Israel. To boycott them is to boycott the major players in the fight for justice -- for Palestinians and Israelis alike -- and to ostracize the citizens most likely to pressure their government for change.

Ostracizing individuals and refusing to engage with them leaves no possibility of a discussion and no opening for any movement forward.

The ability of academics to engage with one another beyond politics, or despite politics, may be the saving grace of an increasingly intolerant and divided world. If academics refuse to talk to each other, what chance do our politicians have to engage in a productive dialogue.

 Shunning individuals is not the same as shunning a country. Every country is guilty of violations, including my own Canada -- yet no one has ever boycotted a Canadian academic because they disagree with its colonization of Aboriginal land. No other country in the world faces an academic boycott.

 Boycotting any academics based on their nationality causes enormous damage to scientific progress. Academic collaboration is the cornerstone of human progress, regardless of ethnicity or nationality. For example, Israeli scientists have worked with international colleagues to advance medicine and technology, including recently, a cure for Ebola to the benefit of all. Science should not be sacrificed on the altar of politics.

Boycotting academics is a slippery slope that endangers the values and principles of academic freedom. It puts us in grave danger of returning to the McCarthy-era blacklists. Ironically, some rationalize the boycott in the name of academic freedom and protecting human rights. Yet it amounts to taking away my freedom and rights as a scholar. Like most academics, I'm critical of some government policies, and I do what I can to make my voice heard -- but at the end of the day, neither my personal views nor my nationality should affect my ability to share my research with others.

Boycotts won't achieve the stated goal. Israel isn't South Africa. The history, context and national narratives are profoundly different. Of all people, academics should know that you can't use one way of dealing with a conflict to "solve" another conflict without regard for social, cultural and historical context. Richard Horton, the editor of the Lancet, who has a famed and long history of attacking Israel, recently came to this same conclusion after talking to Jewish and Arab scientists on a visit here

 Boycotts hurt individuals. The stated point is to pressure the Israeli government to change its policies -- yet the inevitable and only outcome of this resolution is to blacklist individual academics.

To read the rest, click here.