What Can Israel Do to Combat Academic Boycott?

What do super star soccer player Lionel Messi and Professor Stephen Hawking, world-renowned theoretical physicist, have in common? The answer is Shimon Peres, Israel’s president. 

A few weeks ago, Professor Hawking pulled out of Facing Tomorrow, the annual conference held in Jerusalem and hosted by Israel’s president. The meeting features major international personalities and attracts thousands of participants. This year, the conference celebrated Peres’s ninetieth birthday. Among the many distinguished guests were former US President Bill Clinton, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prince Albert of Monaco, Barbra Streisand, Sharon Stone, Robert De Niro, and many more famous scientists, authors, politicians and others.

Hawking’s decision was in protest of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and marks another victory in the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israeli academic institutions. By participating in the boycott, Hawking joins a small but growing list of British personalities who have turned down invitations to visit Israel. In April, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland became the first lecturers’ association in Europe to call for an academic boycott of Israel, and in the United States members of the Association for Asian American Studies voted to support a boycott, the first national academic group to do so. The goal is to isolate Israel in order to force a change in Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, which opponents claim to be discriminatory or oppressive. 

Last month, the European Union issued guidelines regarding the use of EU funds in Israel. From now on, Israeli institutions cooperating with the EU or benefitting from EU funding must demonstrate that they have no direct or indirect links to Judea, Samaria, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. The guidelines also forbid any funding, cooperation, awarding of scholarships, research funds or prizes to anyone residing in Jewish settlements in Israeli territories outside Israel’s 1967 borders– 500,000 Israeli inhabitants of Judea, Samaria, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. 

At the same time, prominent figures from all over the world have strong ties with the Jewish state, regardless of their own political views. Just last week, Lionel Messi and his Barca soccer team from Barcelona, Spain were greeted by Prime Minister Netanyahu and hosted by President Peres. Do Hawking and other boycotters acknowledge Israel’s aid to Syrian civilians? Will the fact that 44 severely injured Syrians were treated by top Israeli physicians at Israeli hospitals change the way they see Israel? Will they recognize Israel’s ongoing medical treatment of Palestinians at most Israeli hospitals, regardless of peace talks, Intifada or other threats? 

I was recently invited to present in front of a few hundred teens from North America who were discussing leadership models in the Jewish world. In response to a question on how we should react to “pink wash” accusations, I responded: ” We do the good we do because it’s the right thing to do, and we will continue doing what is right, not because it looks pretty to the media and serves our PR, but because it’s who we are.” 

“Who is the one that desires life… Swerve from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.” Psalm 34:13-15  

Leah Garber, Vice President, JCC Association Israel Office

leah@jcca.org