Leading Israeli Sociologist Calls for Boycott of West Bank University

Prof. Uri Ram, who heads the Israeli Sociological Society, urged colleagues to boycott academic institute in settlement of Ariel.

Prof. Uri Ram, president of the Israeli Sociological Society.
Prof. Uri Ram, president of the Israeli Sociological Society. Ofer Vaknin

An Israeli professor urged fellow academics on Monday to shun a Jewish settlement college in the occupied West Bank, a move that could effectively import an international pro-Palestinian boycott movement. 

Prof. Uri Ram of Ben-Gurion Univeristy, the new chair of the Israel Sociological Society, said Monday that he thinks "the Israel Sociological Society cannot sit on the fence and ignore decades of occupation. The society has no right to exist if it is not involved in the society in which it lives."

The sociological society will discuss a possible boycott of Ariel University in the West Bank at a meeting of the society’s leadership in early April.

Ariel University
AP

The decision to hold the discussion was made after a researcher from Ariel University, Dr. Uzi Ben Shalom, a co-chair and member of one of the organization's communities (professional subcommittees), asked to hold a conference at his university. Members of the community, which focus on the field of military sociology, expressed reservations and asked that the organization's directors consider the issue of cooperation with Ariel University.

“There are deep reservations in the society with respect to cooperating with the university as an institution," said Prof. Yagil Levy of the Open University, one of the society's higher ranking members.

For now, no practical decision has been made along those lines, he said, adding, “We are not banishing researchers at Ariel from the Israel Sociological Society, and there are four or five researchers from that university who are members of the society. When I am asked to write a recommendation for a faculty member there I do it happily, and I work with people there on a personal level, but to travel there or to be a member of a council on behalf of the university – I did not agree to that.”

Ram, who is a leftist, clarified that, “For now it is a specific decision of mine as president of the society to boycott Ariel. The society is not a private nonprofit organization, it has an assembly of members and a leadership, and a decision must be brought for discussion in these institutions.”

Ram denied a report on Army Radio that the society had already decided to boycott Ariel University.

“I am doing this as a way of hoisting a black flag of immorality over the occupation," he said.

Added Ram: “Nonetheless, I want to differentiate between this and the debate over an academic boycott of Israel. I don’t support an academic boycott of Israel; Israel is a legitimate nation, the occupation is not legitimate. I certainly do not boycott academia in Israel, I am part of its academia and do not boycott myself.”

In response, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Monday, "I view the 'internal' boycott [of Ariel University] with utmost seriousness." Nevertheless, he said, he did think the threat of such action is too serious, and he has asked the chairman of the planning and budgeting committee of the Council for Higher Education to present ways to prevent the boycott.

Said Bennett: “A boycott is not education, it is the opposite of education. A boycott is not pluralism, it is the opposite of pluralism, and will be dealt with accordingly. It is absurd that those fighting for academic freedom take the right to differentiate between institutions into their own hands. Israeli taxpayers spend tens of billions of shekels a year to fund higher education and we have no intention to allow boycotts.”

For its part, Ariel University said it was “surprised and disappointed that people for whom pluralism is their professional symbol are working according to models of semi-fascist behavior that cannot coexist with opinions different from their own.

“People with different worldviews work at Ariel University – Jews and Arabs, religious and non-religious, left and right, from all the cities and towns in Israel. This is prominently reflected in the discipline of sociology, for example, in the journal the university publishes, entitled Social Issues in Israel. It expresses a range of research and views in the field of sociology, and constitutes an umbrella for sociologists from every university in Israel.

"We are certain that the viewpoint publicized today [by the sociological society] expresses a minority opinion among sociologists and certainly does not represent the opinion of all the hundreds of sociologists in Israel who were not even asked their opinion on the matter,” said the university.

Said Levy: “We are fighting on a broad front against an international boycott today that has started to harm us in all sorts of ways, and this places us in a dilemma. We have no interest in worsening the situation or endangering our members by deepening our cooperation with Ariel. Recently, we've been hearing more and more about how hostility against Israel influences decisions taken by [international professional] journals, and this has a very negative effect on young researchers whose ... future depends on them.”