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UC President Opposes ASA Israeli Boycott

UC President Janet Napolitano recently issued a statement rejecting the American Studies Association’s call for an academic boycott of Israel.

The ASA, an organization dedicated to the “interdisciplinary study of American culture and history,” organized a boycott of Israeli academic institutions based on the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The organization views Israeli academic institutions as “complicit” in the “denial of the rights to full education and academic freedom to Palestinians” as “guaranteed by international law,” according to their site. In December, Napolitano denounced the statement and denied any possibility of the UC system joining the ASA’s boycott, citing the UC’s commitment to a free exchange of ideas and partnerships with a wide variety of academics.

“The University of California prides itself on a rich tradition of free speech and diversity of thought,” Napolitano said in the statement. “An academic boycott goes against the spirit of the University of California, which has long championed open dialogue and collaboration with international scholars.”

The statement divided students and campus organizations, reigniting last year’s debate surrounding a UCSB Associated Students resolution that would have supported a divestment of Israeli-based companies that hold business relations with the campus.

Rabbi Evan Goodman, executive director of Santa Barbara Hillel, a Jewish student organization in Isla Vista, said he fully supports Napolitano’s statement, arguing a boycott would contradict the university’s ethical foundation.

“I reject it in the strongest possible terms,” Goodman said. “Just as I encourage open dialogue between Jewish, Christian, Muslim and all kinds of students, I want a free exchange of ideas among academics … Academic boycotts are antithetical to the work of a university. Scientific and other intellectual breakthroughs are made possible by academic cooperation, not through restrictions.”

However, on-campus organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine disapprove of Napolitano’s decision to reject the boycott. Speaking of behalf of SJP, fourth-year political science major Katlen Abuata said the University should comply with ASA’s boycott and added that Napolitano’s statement is not representative of the student population. Abuata said the UC president’s voice is not necessarily representative of all the University’s students, in light of many protesting her lack of a professional background in education, amongst other issues.

“Napolitano, the newly appointed University of California President, does not represent student voices,” Abuata said. “Backlash following her appointment illustrates the disapproval by a wide array of students.”

Abuata also said that by rejecting the Israeli boycott, the UC President continues to uphold the current suppression of academic freedom in Palestinian academics.

“Israel’s occupation of Palestine has prevented collaboration with Palestinian academics, innovators and artists, and Napolitano’s rejection of divestment or boycott resolutions stifles these productive dialogues that encourage critical thought and action,” Abuata said.

However, President Napolitano does not stand alone in rejecting the academic boycott. A website called Legal Insurrection which counts the number of universities across the nation rejecting the boycott, currently lists 145 universities — including UCSB and other individual UC campuses.


The American Studies Association’s call for an academic boycott against Israel fails to garner support from UC President Janet Napolitano (above).

The American Studies Association’s call for an academic boycott against Israel fails to garner support from UC President Janet Napolitano (above).

Photo by Kenneth Song / Daily Nexus

A version of this story originally appeared on page 3 of Wednesday, January 8, 2014′s edition of the Daily Nexus.

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8 Responses to UC President Opposes ASA Israeli Boycott

  1. Cara Yoshizumi Reply

    January 9, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    A State does not have a right to exist except by consent of the governed. This would include the Palestinian people who are subjected to political domination by the state of Israel.

  2. Cara Yoshizumi Reply

    January 9, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Palestinian refugees, in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and internationally, have the right to return to their lands under international law. There was discussion as this Syrian War was getting worse whether the Palestinian refugees could be allowed to return home. It would be a great gesture on Israel’s part to repatriate them and allow them to leave the horrors of the Syrian war. Most of the Palestinians I have talked to would accept a two state solution as proposed by President Obama. But few believe that will ever happen.

  3. Arafat Reply

    January 9, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Since its inception in 2005, the BDS movement and its founder, Omar Barghouti – a Joseph Goebbels reincarnation – have failed miserably in their nefarious attempts to demonize and ostracize the Jewish State. Israel continues to flourish culturally, academically, economically and politically while its Islamic Arab neighbors continue their descent into blackness and medieval backwardness.

    Today’s malevolent enemies of freedom, like Barghouti and his BDS campaign, are more bark than bite. In eight relentless years, they’ve failed to move the campaign beyond the fringe or even scratch the surface of Israel’s economy. Like the infamous Goebbels and his Nazis, Barghouti’s and his BDS are destined for the trash heap of history.

  4. Arafat Reply

    January 9, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    Palestinians are being starved to death. But this is not happening in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Nor is it taking place in Israel.
    Rather, this is happening in an Arab country, Syria, while the international community continues to turn a blind eye to the tragedy.
    At least 15 Palestinians have died from starvation since last September in the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
    UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said, “We have received reports over the weekend that at least five more Palestinian refugees in the besieged refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus have died due to malnutrition, bringing the total number of reported cases (of starvation) up to 15.”
    According to reports from Syria, some 20,000 Palestinians living in Yarmouk face death from starvation as a result of the siege on the camp that began last July.
    Yarmouk has been under siege by the Syrian army after a large number of gunmen belonging to the Syrian opposition found shelter inside the camp.
    Yet it is not only the Syrians who are besieging the camp. A radical Palestinian group called Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, which is loyal to Bashar Assad, is also taking part in the siege.
    Human rights activists say the Syrian authorities are refusing to allow aid into the camp, creating a severe humanitarian crisis.

  5. Rabbi Evan Goodman Reply

    January 9, 2014 at 6:17 am

    Whether it relates to intergroup or interpersonal relations in general, or the Israeli-Palestinian situation in particular, my goal is to bring people together to find a solution where everyone wins. One would have hoped that the ASA as well as the commentors on this article might have taken a similar approach. Rather than dispute each point in the comments section, in the interest of academic discourse, I will share this cogent analysis of the ASA boycott and its implications. It is a little bit long for this space, but is well worth reading to gain a nuanced understanding. It’s written by my friend and colleague Rabbi Rick Block who is currently President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

    Deciding to boycott Israeli academic institutions, the American Studies Association has aligned itself with the BDS movement, which calls for boycotts, disinvestment, and sanctions against Israel. The ASA resolution, approved by voters who received only pro-BDS materials and no opposing viewpoints, illustrates the moral and political bankruptcy of this approach to one of the world’s most complex conflicts.


    Most fair-minded people recognize that in any complicated dispute, responsibility for the situation and the capacity to solve it are shared among the parties. Not the BDS posse! The ASA’s action is but the latest example of a pernicious bias that focuses obsessively on Israel’s flaws – real, exaggerated, and imagined – while ignoring or attempting to justify the misdeeds, failures, mistakes and shortcomings of Israel’s adversaries. This willful blindness, which singles out the Jewish State, and it alone, for condemnation and delegitimization, and holds that nation, and it alone, to standards that it fails or refuses to impose on others, is the newest form of the world’s most enduring prejudice: anti-Semitism.

    For a taste of the hypocrisy inherent in condemning Israel for alleged human rights violations and repressing academic freedom, consider some of the countries on which the ASA and the BDS movement exercise the right to remain silent: Zimbabwe, Iran, North Korea, China and Russia, where dissident teachers and students are targets of violence, the ruling regimes’ ideological opponents are imprisoned or worse, elections are rigged, the media are state-controlled, homosexuality is banned, and the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and religion are denied. The ASA continues the proud tradition of those who ignored the atrocities of Pol Pot and Idi Amin, totalitarianism in Burma, mass murder in the Congo, and genocide in Rwanda to focus their moral lasers exclusively on Israel.


    BDS is a weapon in the arsenal of those who deny, explicitly or implicitly, the Jewish People’s aspiration to statehood and the right of a Jewish state to exist, while asserting vehemently, and often violently, the Palestinian People’s national rights. Non-state actors like Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Al Qaeda, as well as Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, are determined to use all means available, ranging from disinformation to nuclear weapons, to destroy the Jewish State and annihilate its citizens.

    Even Peter Beinart, with whom I disagree fundamentally on so much that pertains to the Middle East, denounced the ASA’s action. “BDS proponents note that the movement takes no position on whether there should be one state or two between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. But it clearly opposes the existence of a Jewish state within any borders…This is the fundamental problem: Not that the ASA is practicing double standards and not even that it’s boycotting academics, but that it’s denying the legitimacy of a democratic Jewish state, even alongside a Palestinian one.”


    Bias and dishonesty aside, BDS does nothing to advance Palestinians’ national goals or improve their quality of life, either in the territories or within Israel. There is much to be learned from Mais Ali-Saleh, 27, the observant Moslem woman from a small Arab village near Nazareth, in Northern Israel, this year’s medical school valedictorian at the Technion, often called “Israel’s M.I.T.,” who observed, “An academic boycott of Israel is a passive move, and it doesn’t achieve any of its purported objectives.” Sooner or later, Dr. Ali-Saleh pointed out, the boycott will impinge upon academic researchers she knows, both Jews and Arabs. Her clear message: Efforts like BDS are unproductive and misdirected. Those who truly seek to assist Palestinians and promote Middle East peace should invest their energies in supporting successes like hers and those of her husband, Nidal Mawasi, also a Technion-educated M.D., and on pressing Arab countries and the Palestinian authorities themselves to emulate Israel’s academic freedoms and democracy.

    Fortunately, many in the Arab world are far wiser and more sensible than their erstwhile supporters in the BDS crowd. The Allgemeiner reports that thousands of students from Arab countries have signed up for the Technion’s first course taught in both Arabic and English. Even before officially opening, the nanoscience course has drawn more than 32,000 views from all over the world, including 5,595 from Egypt, 1,865 from Kuwait, 1,243 from Saudi Arabia, and 1,243 from Syria. The course will be taught by Professor Hossam Haick, a Nazareth native and a pioneer in innovative cancer detection, one of the many the ASA now boycotts.

    Academics are often accused of inhabiting an “ivory tower,” blissfully and cluelessly detached from the messy reality of the world. In aligning itself with BDS, biased, dishonest, and self-defeating, the ASA’s shameful resolution substantiates that notion.

  6. Ismael Illescas Reply

    January 8, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    The international community has persistently condemned the settler-colonialist situation in Palestine. One of the main reasons for instability in the Middle East is due to Israel’s excessive use of military force to resolve both regional and local disputes. The systematic expulsion of Palestinians from their native land keeps adding fuel to the fire. The boycott is essential because, contrary to what Napolitano and others claim, it demands academic freedom. Palestinian scholars, intellectuals, and even school children are limited to fully enjoy academic resources due to both physical and legal barriers. When children are unable to attend school due to checkpoints. When there is unequal investment in education or infrastructure, or when children of the age of 13 are criminalized and detained. How can these conditions be said to promote academic freedom? Furthermore, the criminalization of the boycott by the Knesset in 2011 is borderline illegal. It hinders any sort of dialogue concerning the issue, and violates freedom of expression. It stifles peaceful dissent.

  7. Cara Yoshizumi Reply

    January 8, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    Supporting the state of Israel means supporting the systematic ethnic/racial suppression of the indigenous people of Palestine. Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, Steven Hawking, Alice Walker, Elvis Costello, Roger Waters all support Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) of the political structure (state)of Israel until 1)The basic human and civil rights of the Palestinian people are respected, 2)The State of Israel ceases its illegal occupation of Palestinian land, and 3)The lawful return of the refugee population under international law. Israel does not allow academic freedom to Palestinian activists. President Abbas is not a democratically elected leader. Of course the UC system will maintain close academic cooperation with the state institutions; who will maintain and upgrade all of our nuclear weapons systems?

    Criticizing a state is not antisemitism. Many Jewish people oppose the policies of the state of Israel. The Semitic peoples are everyone who speaks Semitic languages which includes the Arab people.

    Palestinian civil society widely endorses this boycott, based on the boycott movement that ended South African Apartheid. Anti Apartheid South African activists recently met with Palestinian activists and stated that the repression of the Palestinians was much, much worse than the repression under the South African system of Apartheid.

  8. Rabbi Evan Goodman Reply

    January 8, 2014 at 6:53 am

    Thank you to Cole and the Daily Nexus for sharing this news. Two notes to add. First, Chancellor Henry Yang has also issued his own statement on behalf of UCSB rejecting this boycott as being entirely against the principles upon which our university operates. You can find his statement here: http://santabarbara.hillel.org/home/aboutus/blog/blogpost/14-01-07/SB_Hillel_Applauds_Chancellor_Yang_s_Rejection_of_ASA_Academic_Boycott_of_Israel.aspx. Second, even Palestinian President Abbas has come out against boycotts such as this, saying that Israel and the Palestinians are partners in seeking peace. Nearly all leading universities in the US have already rejected this anti-Semitic singling out of Israeli universities, and I am glad that UCSB maintains close academic cooperation with many Israeli scholars and academic institutions.

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