Survey: Fearing Boycott, One in Six Israeli Academics Hide Their National Identity

A full 16 percent of researchers feel it necessary to avoid mentioning Israel, especially in the early stages of publication.

IFOR director Sharona Goldenberg.
Judy Maltz

A fairly large number of Israeli scholars have begun to hide their national identity to avoid being targeted by the international boycott movement, the director of a new research institute that advocates on behalf of Israeli academics said Monday.

A recent survey conducted by the International Freedom of Research Center, a non-profit that operates out of the Netanya Academic College law school, found that 16 percent of Israeli academics disguise their national identity when undertaking or submitting drafts of their research. In some cases, it meant using only part of their name or a different name at the initial stages of obtaining feedback. In other cases, it meant avoiding reliance on Israeli subjects in survey samples, and in yet others, it meant excluding data pertaining to Israel in international comparative studies.

The IFOR findings were presented at a conference held in Tel Aviv on anti-Semitism and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

“These are the new hidden Jews, the new anusim [forced converts] within Israeli academia,” said IFOR director Sharona Goldenberg, discussing the findings. “By putting them into a situation where they need to hide their identity, the boycotters are breaching their basic rights.”

The survey, conducted last month, was distributed to 500 Israeli academics – both those living in the country and those stationed abroad. 

Goldenberg said she decided to initiate the survey because of her own reluctance to identify as an Israeli. “I had done a study on work hours in Europe and asked a Jewish colleague from overseas if he would have a look at it,” reported Goldenberg. “The first thing he asked me was why I was only writing about Europe and not about Israel. I told him that I was afraid to be identified as Israeli, and that’s when I got the idea to do this study.”

An expert of cyber security, Goldenberg also teaches at the Netanya law school. Asked if she was surprised by the percentage of Israeli academics who hide their identity, she said: “It’s a large number. The academic boycott is definitely having a chilling effect.”

Two American academic organizations – the Association for Asian American Studies and the American Studies Associations – have approved motions to boycott Israeli universities and institutions. The American Anthropological Association is now in the process of a similar move. 

Last year, an inter-university forum was established in Israel to combat the academic boycott. Several Israeli academics have reported being targeted by colleagues abroad because of their nationality, but according to the heads of the inter-university forum, the phenomenon is not very widespread. 

Referring to academic boycotts as “de-facto censorship,” Goldenberg said her research center was currently engaged in studying the phenomenon, “but in the future, we intend to also act against it.”