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Boycott Israel: A Professor’s Op-Ed, A University’s Nightmare

What should Israeli universities do when their tenured professors support boycotts that damage their own institutions?

by
Stephanie L. Freid

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August 26, 2009 - 12:02 am
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When you’re trying to run a university, the very last thing you need during a global recession is for one of your professors to go off on a public diatribe that angers donors into withholding funding.

But that uncomfortable scenario is precisely what is playing itself out at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, after an op-ed by Neve Gordon, a professor of political science at Ben-Gurion University, ran in the Los Angeles Times. The piece was titled “Boycott Israel.” Its subhead was “An Israeli Comes to the Painful Conclusion that it’s the Only Way To Save his Country.”

Describing Israel as an apartheid state and calling for an academic and cultural boycott of the country, Gordon cited and approved of  international sanctions already in place: film festival organizers eschewing Israeli produced movies and Oxfam severing ties with Sex and the City celebrity spokesperson Kristin Davis after she appeared in an Israeli cosmetics ad.

In the column, Gordon admitted the seeming contradiction in advocating a ban of his own country but maintained:

It is indeed not a simple matter for me as an Israeli citizen to call on foreign governments, regional authorities, international social movements, faith-based organizations, unions and citizens to suspend cooperation with Israel. But today, as I watch my two boys playing in the yard, I am convinced that it is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself. I say this because Israel has reached a historic crossroads, and times of crisis call for dramatic measures. I say this as a Jew who has chosen to raise his children in Israel, who has been a member of the Israeli peace camp for almost 30 years and who is deeply anxious about the country’s future.

Within hours, the backlash began. The professor’s column was reprinted in the Guardian, eliciting nearly 500 comments. Local columnists and bloggers penned immediate responses. None-too-happy, influential Los Angeles community benefactors picked up the phone to call Yaakov Dayan, Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, to let him know they were considering keeping their checkbooks pocketed this year when BGU came calling.

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