Boycotting the Boycott: Sanity Prevails

The American Studies Association (ASA) voted to boycott Israel's academic institutions last month. Happily, the backlash has been vigorous. The ASA's campaign hasn't quite caught on, but the rebuttal denouncing ASA is spreading rapidly.

Leaders from more than 80 American universities, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, and Northwestern, joined with a host of public officials and editorial boards to condemn the boycott. Five institutions -- Bard College, Brandeis University, Indiana University, Kenyon College and Penn State University Harrisburg -- have severed their ties with the ASA, and other schools are considering doing the same.

The experience should serve as a wake-up call for groups weighing a similar stand on a boycott: exposure to daylight reveals its shortsighted and irrational character. It also reminds those around the world who want to preserve academic freedom to stand up and stand together.

To advocate withdrawal from institutions that welcome students from around the globe -- opening the doors of opportunity to all -- is stunningly parochial. It is a body blow to the free exchange of ideas.

As the President and CEO of American Friends of Tel Aviv University, representing one of Israel's leading institutions, I find this call to boycott some of the world's finest universities deeply discouraging. But I am uplifted to see so many leaders denouncing the boycott as repugnant.

College campuses are the natural home of free thought. A boycott not only violates that freedom, it stifles the global dialogue and collaboration that Israeli universities actively engage in.

At Tel Aviv University, for example, we have a pioneering executive education program that addresses the unique challenges facing Palestinian high-tech companies. The successful and enthusiastically received course provides Palestinian executives with the tools to effectively manage their businesses, court foreign funding, and break into international markets. Entrepreneurs from the West Bank and Palestinian business leaders come to TAU -- in the heart of Israel -- to hear top Israeli and American academics as well as leaders in the tech and venture capital fields. They share their expertise on the tools and skills needed to maximize global commerce opportunities.

Fostering Israeli-Palestinian collaboration, the innovative program not only helps to boost the Palestinian economy, it's a necessary precursor for the kind of direct communication needed for mutual understanding. And for peace. Who would want to boycott that?

And as part of TAU's commitment to cross-cultural academic and scientific collaboration, molecular geneticist Prof. Karen Avraham and her Palestinian colleague Prof. Moien Kanaan are celebrated -- together -- for the discovery of key genes related to deafness in the Israeli and Palestinian populations. Their research team has helped identify 10 hearing loss genes, a significant step in understanding the high incidence of genetic deafness among Palestinian children.

Knowledge knows no borders. Examples like these abound throughout Israel's institutions of higher learning. The knowledge they produce benefits the entire population of our planet. From advances in Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease to technologies for cleaning oil spills in seas around the globe, Israel exports extraordinary research in science, health, archaeology, the humanities and virtually every field of study.

When you boycott Israeli academic institutions, you boycott a better life for all humanity.

So I stand to applaud the leaders of great academic institutions in America and around the world who are standing up for freedom of thought. I am relieved and heartened that sanity prevails.