A Movement to Boycott Israel, Part 1: Academic Boycotts


The first, and most thriving platform for the BDS movement is in the academic sphere, in the halls and lecture rooms of college and university campuses worldwide. Organized protests and campaigns have been witnessed across Europe, Australia, South Africa, South America, Canada and the United States. The aim of the academic boycott is to isolate Israel and her citizens by prohibiting any form of institutional collaboration, cooperation, financial investment, or joint projects with Israeli scholars, students or universities. Practically, this characterizes itself through the boycott of all academic events such as conferences, symposia, workshops, exhibits, etc. held in Israel or abroad, the dissuasion of students from participating in study abroad programs in Israel, and the public condemnation of Israeli public policy on campus by pressing for the adoption of resolutions among academic, professional and cultural associations and organizations. For this particular article, we want to shed light on events that are taking place on campuses in North America within the student body, student government organizations, teacher unions and academic associations.

At the level of student organization, an event called “die-ins” is being acted out on several universities’ main campus squads, including the University of California Berkley. Die-ins are dramatic performances which show students falling dead to the ground as someone dressed like an Israeli soldier, holding a gun, shoots them. These events are most often hosted by pro-Palestinian and Muslim student organizations, in partnerships with other student body organizations. For example, groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Muslim Student Association (MSA) host what is called Apartheid Week that performs a mock checkpoint with fake barbed wire and AK-47 firearms in order to create a false and vilifying impression of the State of Israel.

It is clear that these kinds of demonstrations are not created with the intent to cause dialogue or understanding between the opposing groups. It is simply a method that aims to impact popular opinion to believe that Israel is an oppressive, apartheid regime. These type of student groups are having a significant impact on the minds and worldview of young adults in their 20’s, who for the majority are uninformed as to what the accurate history and current events are taking place in Israel and the Middle East.

It is true that every student organization has the right and freedom to organize events and inform others in an educational and social environment. Our concern is not over student groups that seek to inform others on issues surrounding the Israeli-Arab conflict in an open-air discussion that welcomes viewpoints from all sides and does not seek to demonize or delegitimize any one religion or people group. However, what has been happening across many campuses goes beyond raising awareness and has turned into incitement of hostility and hatred towards Israel and subsequently the Jewish people. This is evident when Israeli flags were burned at York University in Canada, or Nazi swastikas were drawn on Jewish students’ mailboxes at Yale University, Emory University and the University of Oregon, among others. Students called for an intifada (Arabic for uprising) at Florida State University, and Jewish students have been severely physically attacked and hospitalized; one such instance took place in November 2014 at the University of Arizona. At Ohio University, this past summer during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, the student body president took the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge,” by dumping a bucket of fake blood on herself to raise awareness for Palestinians who are suffering at the hands of the Israeli state.

At an administrative level, academic bodies like the American Anthropological Association (AAA), a professional organization of scholars and practitioners with 11,000 members, and the American Studies Association (ASA), with approximately 5,000 members, have been the target of the BDS campaign in their efforts to convince these and other associations to adopt resolutions to boycott Israel. These are key associations for professors at universities across the U.S., of which have Israeli members or investments in Israeli universities, and are important for many professors’ careers. Through these associations, members can publish articles, post jobs, and hold large conferences at which faculty members share research and create important professional relationships.

In 2013, the ASA approved a resolution supporting BDS, along with other prominent academic associations. The following year in 2014, at the AAA annual conference, members voted whether they should take measures to support the BDS boycotts. Thankfully, the resolution was denied with a vote of over 300 anthropologists opposing the boycott. Endorsing an academic boycott can stigmatize and potentially damage Israeli professionals’ careers. We have also seen that a number of American universities have restricted the admission of Jewish students and the hiring of Jewish professors. Some university professors are using strong anti-Israel, anti-Jewish rhetoric in class, despite a number of their students being Jewish.

The BDS campaign claims to be a non-violent movement. Yet, several universities in the U.S. and Canada have witnessed a pattern of anti-Semitic behavior that insights a hostile environment for Jewish students or anyone who supports the State of Israel. BDS is not a peace movement; it calls for a single state of Palestine to replace the current Jewish state and focuses all of its efforts towards demonizing Israel rather than promoting a path where Israelis and Palestinians can peacefully live side by side in the land.

It is incredibly saddening and regretful that these and other such anti-Israel activities are surfacing at the very institutions that are educating and preparing the next generation of leaders and world citizens. The amount of hatred, disinformation and at times outright anti-Semitism that is being sown into the minds and hearts of students across America, Canada, and worldwide is an issue that must be addressed. We believe it is important for the next generation to have a correct and biblical perspective shape their worldview, including a rightful understanding of Israel.

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