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President Reinharz helps organize response to British Boycott

Published: August 31, 2007
Section: News


In response to the May proposal by Britains University and College Union to boycott Israeli academics, Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz, PhD 72 helped organize an advertisement in the New York Times to condemn the Unions actions. The counter-boycott advertisement, written by Columbia President Lee Bollinger and co-organized by eight other college presidents, has been signed by 400 hundred college and university presidents nationwide.

To pick on academics for actions that their government has taken or not taken is an absurd idea, said Reinharz. It seems to me that as academics, we have to uphold the rights of the academy or anybody else for that matterIm against boycotts, period.

The advertisement in the New York Times was printed by the American Jewish Committee on August 8, 2007. It read Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott Ours, Too!

Bollingers advertisement continued that as a citizen, I am profoundly disturbed by the recent vote by Britains new University and College Union to advance a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. As a university professor and president, I find this idea utterly antithetical to the fundamental values of the academyin seeking to quarantine Israeli universities and scholars, this vote threatens every university committed to fostering scholarly and cultural exchanges that lead to enlightenment, empathy, and a much-needed international marketplace of ideas.

The advertisement ended with a message of solidarity with Israeli institutions: if the
British UCU is intent on pursuing its deeply misguided policy, then it should add Columbia to its boycott list, for we do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish. Boycott us, then, for we gladly stand together with our many colleagues in British, American and Israeli universities against such intellectually shoddy and politically biased attempts to hijack the central mission of higher education.

President Reinharz explained that his decision was not based on the Universitys history as a Jewish-sponsored nonsectarian university. A group of 400 presidents come from every spectrum of the academic scene: theyre Jews, theyre not Jews, theyre men, theyre women, theyre people of color, you name it. Big schools, small schools, state schools, private schools, they all signed onto this, and I suspect if it had not been the summer period, and lots of presidents being away, many more would have signed on.

He added that I think theres a real feeling of solidarity among those 400 presidentsall you have to do is look at those names and those institutions: they come from every walk of life of academia in the United States. I think that they are outraged by what is clearly a politically motivated action by the part of some British academics I think in the final analysis its going to backfire because its an unheard-of action.

In response to criticisms from some regarding a possible bias, Reinharz dismissed the allegations. I dont see any tension whatsoever on the campustheres probably a small group of some faculty and students who have a particular interest in creating tension, said Reinharz, citing his defense of Palestinian professor Khalil Shikaki, the 2006 invitation of Tony Kushner to speak at Commencement, the creation of the SLIFKA program that brings Israeli Jews and Arabs from Israel, and the relationship with Al-Quds University. I could go on forever, so youll have to explain to me how people are so fixated on thinking that Im not even-handed.

Reinharz added that I am criticized that I lean too much towards Israel, on the other hand, I am criticized by others of bending over backwards in the other direction. So my view, my response to this is look at the record, look at the balance of the record, and make up your own mind.

Reaction around campus seemed mostly positive. President Reinharz is to be congratulated for his efforts at international academic solidarity, said Professor Reuven Kimelman (NEJS). He is in the forefront of realizing that attacks on academic freedom in one place can legitimate attacks on academic freedom anywhere. It is especially troublesome that this attack on academic freedom originates in Britain the one-time great bastion of free speech. Hopefully, such efforts will strengthen the spine of those in Great Britain who seek to have it live up to its principles.

Professor Jerry Cohen (AMST) said that I am delighted by the news and would expect something like that from the President of Brandeis, and, I would add, from the Presidents of Columbia and Yale as well.

However, Professor Gordon Fellman (SOC) had mixed feelings about the advertisement: “I'd rather see attention to the Israeli economy than to universities. What makes the matter somewhat complex for me is that Israeli academics appear in general to be more caught up in their careers than in opposing the outrageous occupation. I guess I'd rather see pressure on Israeli academics to bring their consciences and politics (most of them most likely do oppose the occupation) to bear in public protests about the occupation than to see a boycott of Israeli academics. That will firm up their political passivity,” he said. “The tone of the New York Times ad will of course put the Brits under attack on the defensive. What will that gain anyone? Much of the politics of ads like this are about self righteousness, not effectiveness, it seems to me.”

I have found that there appears to be a great difference between the diaspora over here, and Israelis in Israel. There are vocal, active, courageous Israelis who openly oppose many of Israel's policies, said Professor Donald Hindley (POL). I believe it one of my obligations at Brandeis to try to present information and analyses that are contrary to the dominant ones among our students and, it appears, within the current campus administration. I have always felt that a primary purpose of education is to get out of the parochial blinkers of family, ethnic group, nationality, [or] race boycott San Marino, not Israel!

I like the sentiment behind it, said Kenny Fuentes 08. I dont think the boycott is constructive. I think that intellectuals seem, to me, interested in peace, and I would think that they would be the last people that we would want to boycott in this case.