Breaking ties
    The Study Abroad Office officially affiliates with five approved programs in Israel:
    1. Tel Aviv University (Public Health in Israel, Tel Aviv University Exchange, The Modern State of Israel: Politics, Economics, and Ethnicity)
    2. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
    3. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

    Illustration by Margaret Kadifa / North by Northwestern

    In December, a national debate was ignited over the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli aca­demic institutions. With a brief state­ment from President Morton Schapiro and Provost Dan Linzer, Northwestern jumped into the fray.

    On Dec. 23, an email announced to students and faculty that the Uni­versity disapproved of ASA’s boycott, citing Northwestern’s breadth of joint-degree programs, research partnerships and study abroad programs with Israeli universities.

    Supporters of the boycott claim that Israeli academic institutions sti­fle academic freedom and enjoy nu­merous structural and governmental advantages compared to their Palestinian counterparts. The boycott’s opponents counter that Israel’s re­cord of academic freedom is sterling compared to that of other countries in the Middle East, and that a boycott is counterproductive.

    “Being the president of an aca­demic institution and you’re sup­posed to boycott other academic institutions because of the policies of their government?” Schapiro says. “It’s just completely against every­thing you believe in.”

    The December email echoes the sentiments of over 100 university presidents and chancellors and the American Association of Universi­ties, who have issued similar state­ments. Four universities withdrew all affiliation with the ASA. Schapiro sits on the executive committee of the AAU and participated in discussions regarding the wording in the associa­tion’s official statement.

    Northwestern has close ties to Israel, offering joint degrees with Tel Aviv University in both law and busi­ness.

    The statement ignited controver­sy across campus as students rushed to either praise or condemn the administration. Nearly 20 student-group leaders published a letter to Schapiro and Linzer criticizing them for speaking on behalf of the entire University community.

    “We want them to clarify that that is their view and that it doesn’t repre­sent the whole NU community,” says Dalia Fuleihan, Weinberg junior and co-president of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

    “I’m sure that nominally [Israeli] universities support academic free­dom but their actions say otherwise,” Fuleihan says. “Most importantly they’re complicit with the military that significantly curtails Palestinian academic freedom.”

    Others have been more support­ive of the President’s letter, including Weinberg sophomore and Wildcats for Israel president Jonathan Kamel.

    “By boycotting Israeli academ­ics, you’re preventing collaboration between the US and Israel which is counterproductive to the goal of pro­moting academic freedom for all,” Kamel says.

    Schapiro did acknowledge that the letter doesn’t speak for the entire community, including several profes­sors who are affiliated with the ASA.

    “We absolutely support the right of any of our faculty, staff and students to say what they want,” he says. “It wasn’t meant to stifle discussion. The irony is that boycotts stifle discussion.”

    In January, the Modern Language Association voted to support a more limited condemnation of Israel, but it did not call for a boycott in the same way as the Association for Asian American students and the Native American Indigenous Studies Asso­ciation, which have announced boy­cotts similar to the ASA’s.

    Since December, public forums organized by SJP have sustained campus interest in the ASA boycott. If larger and more visible organizations join ASA’s stance, this episode could be the start of a larger public debate over academic freedom in Israel and around the world.


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