Academic Israeli Boycott: Perspectives From Two Generations in Higher Education

That some of my fellow academics have chosen to take a stand against the very intellectual exchange that we are committed to by definition as academics, I find hard to understand. It is contradictory to our scholarly code of conduct.
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By Devorah Lieberman and Emery Lieberman-Auerbach

Recently, three U.S. academic organizations, as a stance against Israeli politics, supported resolutions declaring their boycott on intellectual exchange with Israeli universities, and, by implication, Israeli scholars. They are protesting Israel's treatment of Palestinians and what one organization described as the involvement of Israeli universities in supporting government policy.

Irrespective of political views, as a scholar, an educator and university president, I am a member of the community of academicians committed to advancing intercultural communication as well as identifying strategies, attitudes, beliefs and values that bridge human differences, rather than creating further division. That some of my fellow academics (such as the American Studies Association, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and Association for Asian American Studies) have chosen to take a stand against the very intellectual exchange that we are committed to by definition as academics, I find hard to understand. It is contradictory to our scholarly code of conduct.

Universities are one of the few places in the world where all students are encouraged to seek opportunities for intercultural interaction, to enter into debate, to increase critical thinking, and to become informed citizens. As an institutional leader, part of my responsibility is to ensure that faculty, staff and students interact with and learn from scholars and students from around our globe. If we, as administrators, educators, and scholars, choose to strategically curtail our own intellectual interactions because we do not support the politics of a government, we are not modeling what we espouse: broadening our students' minds, encouraging debate and dialogue, and seeking strategies for increasing global awareness. Effective communication, across, between and among individuals from diverse cultures is a critical strategy for increasing global competencies, understanding and mutual respect. The very act of boycotting intellectual exchange undermines our own professional commitments and our students' growth.

After learning about the American Studies Association resolution I asked my daughter, a current undergraduate student, to explore how she interprets this action. I asked her to write down her thoughts and she offered the following:

I am a young woman defined by an intercultural education. Before I had the autonomy to choose which type of education to pursue, my parents opened my awareness to the languages, traditions and belief systems of others in the world through schools and teachers that exposed me to multiple perspectives. When I was old enough to choose for myself, I sought a college that embraced collaboration, empowerment and activism. My identity is defined by my education; my education is defined by intercultural exchange. It is apparent that the boycott of Israeli academic institutions stops the potential for student-to-student reciprocation of knowledge and ideas. I believe that long-term global stability and sustainability has greater potential for success through people-to-people engagement and the empowerment of young people to bring about social justice around the world. Israel and the U.S. are already separated by more than 5,500 miles of ocean, by the history of our nations, by the prejudices of our parents and grandparents and by the assertions of the mass media. How harmful will it be to divide us through education as well?

It is our varying perspectives on any issue that helps us to understand the whole. We share with you our perspectives, as a President/scholar/educator/mother, deeply entrenched in higher education, and as a student/daughter, yet to make her mark in a profession that contributes to understanding the breadth and scope of a resolution such as this one.

Devorah Lieberman, Ph.D. is President of the University of La Verne and holds her doctorate in Intercultural Communication. She can be reached at Emery Lieberman-Auerbach is a student at Scripps College majoring in International and Intercultural Studies and is looking forward to her graduation in May 2014.

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