The American Studies Association, a congregation of professors and students dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history, voted with an overwhelming majority last month to endorse the academic boycott of the state of Israel. Last week, UC president Janet Napolitano joined a small group of university heads who have rejected the call, saying it “goes against the spirit of the UC, which has long championed open dialogue and collaboration with international scholars.”
It’s to our deepest disappointment that Napolitano can so easily allow herself to forget about the values that the University of California was founded on, as the nation’s first and largest public university system: access to higher education for all, to promote the self-determination and progress of American students from every racial, gender, and socioeconomic background. As members of a university system founded on those values, we should be at the forefront of expanding that access nationally and globally.
The boycott of Israeli academic institutions—which are directly complicit in human rights violations, as institutions of the Israeli government—is a nonverbal statement against the crimes they commit against students within Israel and the Palestinian territories. When Palestinian students in the territories are unable to access their own education due to forced closures, roadblocks, and spontaneous flying checkpoints by the Israeli government, it is the duty of all educational institutions to speak against it. The responsibility lies not only on the shoulders of Israeli academic institutions, but academic institutions all over the world, including the ones we attend.
The call to BDS—the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement—is one made by Palestinians on the ground of occupation itself. It is not a conception of the American academics who endorsed the ASA vote, nor one of the students calling on their universities to divest from companies complicit in human rights violations internationally. We as American students and professionals are not in the position to decide the best solution to the occupation, as we are not living under the active occupation. If we choose to act for what’s best for those living under occupation, we must set aside our self-perceived sense of superiority and heed whatever call to action they make to us as we stand in solidarity, rather than continue to be apologists of an occupation that the overwhelming majority of the rest of the world considers illegal and a complete violation of basic human rights.
Janet Napolitano’s statement against the academic boycott proves her priorities not to be with maintaining the UC value of educational access for all otherwise disenfranchised people internationally, but rather with the government position from which she came.
As South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” Our institution of the University of California must cease its devotion to this concept of “neutrality”, because it does not foster means for progress; it simply maintains the status quo while allowing us to feel good about ourselves as we turn a blind eye to our complicity in global oppression.
For those interested in more information about the BDS call, Students for Justice in Palestine meets weekly on Wednesdays at 4:00pm. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about our meetings and mission statement.
The Highlander accepts letters from the campus community. They should be 600-800 words in length and include the author’s name and contact information. Contact opinions editor Colette King at email@example.com for more information.