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.
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.