All ten chancellors of the University of California signed a letter — released earlier this week — that condemned anti-Israel boycotts as a “serious threat to academic freedom,” making California the first university system to do so.
The letter was written in response to a request from 101 organizations and calls from the public. The effort was organized by AMCHA Initiative following recent incidents at Pitzer College and the University of Michigan, where faculty or faculty members sought to boycott Israel.
At Pitzer, the faculty voted to end the school’s year abroad program with the University of Haifa last month. However, Pitzer College President Melvin L. Oliver disavowed the vote, saying that the boycott was a “repudiation of Pitzer’s values.”
Earlier this year, a professor at the University of Michigan refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student seeking to spend her year abroad in Israel. Initially, Prof. John Cheney-Lippold had told the student he would write a letter. When she said that she was planning to spend her year abroad at Tel Aviv University, he said that he wouldn’t write the letter because doing so would violate the terms of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign to isolate Israel.
The school subsequently issued a statement saying that it “has consistently opposed any boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education,” and criticized the professor for failing to offer proper “support” to the student. Later, Michigan disciplined Cheney-Lippold, sending a letter that stated, “Your conduct has fallen far short of the University’s and College’s expectations for how LSA faculty interact with and treat students.” The professor was also warned that if he did it again, he would be subject to dismissal.
With the backdrop of the Pritzer and Michigan cases, AMCHA organized a letter sent to 250 university presidents asking them to sign a statement opposing academic boycotts of Israel.
The letter says that abiding by the guidelines of the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), the main BDS organization in the United States, “will not only inflict serious harm on Israeli academic institutions, but on faculty and students at our own schools as well.”
B’nai B’rith International, NCSY, the Academic Engagement Network, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the American Zionist Movement, are among the 101 organizations that signed the letter. The Israel Project, which publishes The Tower, was also among the signatories.
“While the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has long been understood as an effort aimed at Israel and Israeli universities and scholars, that is only a piece of the actual picture. As UC has correctly recognized, an academic boycott, if allowed to be implemented, will directly violate the rights of, and substantively harm, students and faculty on U.S. campuses, many of them Jewish students,” AMCHA’s founder and director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin said in a statement. “If this was just about Israel, we would not be involved, as AMCHA is not an Israel advocacy organization. However, this is about protecting the academic freedom and educational rights of Jewish students, which will be violated if an academic boycott is permitted.”
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