Tel Aviv U. Academics Hold First-ever Discussion on BDS

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Students walking at Tel Aviv University.
Students at Tel Aviv University.Credit: David Bachar

About 30 Tel Aviv University students, mostly graduates and Ph.D. candidates, took part on Monday in a discussion about the boycott movement against Israel, particularly the academic boycott. The very fact that a discussion was held that did not completely condemn the BDS movement and included some expressions of support, is considered unusual.

The discussion was held under the auspices of the university’s sociology and anthropology department. It was the first such event held by the department, and apparently the first at Tel Aviv University.

One of the speakers was Dr. Hila Dayan of Amsterdam University College in Amsterdam, one of a group of about 40 anthropologists who oppose the attempt by the Israeli Anthropological Association to ban discussion on Israel at an upcoming international conference. The association is due to discuss the issue on Thursday.

Dayan drew a connection between what she said was the failure of Israel’s universities to deal with inequality in education and “their indifference to what is happening in the occupied territories.” She said that she did not support an academic boycott “because I think that Israel will be saved from itself only thanks to the enlightened world.” But she said she supported an “inner boycott.”

According to Dayan, “sanctimoniousness reigns” among leftists who oppose a boycott. “Many of them think that an economic boycott, like the pressure on Orange and boycotting the settlements is legitimate, but an academic boycott is not. Why, though?” Dayan criticized the universities for “on the one hand claiming that they are for dialogue and an exchange of views and on the other, vehemently opposing any demand to take a stand on the occupation. So what kind of an exchange of opinions is that?” she asked.

Professor Dan Rabinowitz of the university’s sociology department and head of its Porter School of Environmental Studies pointed to a  petition signed by some 1,300 anthropologists worldwide calling on universities in Israel to persuade the government to withdraw from the territories as one of the conditions for lifting the boycott. 

“That is a condition that cannot be met,” he said. “The universities are not in a position to make an institutional stand on political issues. We don’t know the opinion of Tel Aviv University on the occupation and refugees, just as we don’t know the opinion of UCLA Berkeley on climate change, Guantanamo or the war on terror.”

According to Rabinovitz, BDS is led by people who “never believed in a two-state solution, or who gave up on it,” while in the Israeli academic world there are still many people who believe in Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. For people who believe that it is better for Israel as a political entity to stop existing, “the presence of Israelis who can show an enlightened face and arouse empathy is an obstacle. Therefore Israeli academic and cultural institutions are a nuisance. The universities are more dangerous to the post-Zionist vision than Netanyahu, Bennett, and Shaked,” he added.

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