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Brown Condemns UK Academic Boycott of Israel

University leaders, Nobel laureates sign petition deeming proposal “wrong”

University President Robert Brown joined 31 Nobel laureates and 35 university presidents in signing a petition against a proposed boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Photo by Fred Sway

University President Robert A. Brown joined a group of academic leaders and Nobel laureates this week in condemning a boycott of Israeli academic institutions proposed by the British University and College Union.

“I am deeply concerned that the University and College Union in the United Kingdom, an organization representing the faculties of universities, would consider a resolution to boycott Israeli universities,” Brown says. “Their proposed action would be counter to the role of universities in society. Through education, scholarship, and exchange, our institutions should transcend political disagreements and give a safe haven to students and scholars seeking to exchange ideas and strengthen the bonds of humanity between our institutions and countries. The UCU’s resolution to isolate Israeli students and scholars is simply wrong-headed.”

The University and College Union, which represents academics working in higher education throughout the United Kingdom, voted to endorse the boycott — initially proposed by a Palestinian trades’ union — at a meeting on May 30. The boycott, which has not yet been instituted, could withhold funding from research projects conducted by Israeli professors and prevent Israeli lecturers from participating in conferences or seminars sponsored by participating institutions.

The proposal has drawn criticism from the presidents of other academic institutions throughout the United States and Europe; administrators at Columbia University, New York University, and the University of California at Berkeley have issued statements saying that their institutions should be included in the boycott as well. “If the British UCU is intent on pursuing its deeply misguided policy, then it should add Columbia to its boycott list,” wrote Columbia University President Lee Bollinger. “We do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish.”

A petition, created by the organization Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and signed by more than 8,000 people, including Brown, takes a similar tack, declaring its signatories “Israeli academics for purposes of any academic boycott.”

“We will regard ourselves as Israeli academics and decline to participate in any activity from which Israeli academics are excluded,” the statement reads.

This is the first petition Brown has signed as president of Boston University. In signing, he is joined by BU faculty members Sheldon Glashow, a Nobel laureate in physics and a College of Arts and Sciences professor of physics, and Elie Wiesel (Hon.’74), a Nobel Peace Prize winner and Boston University’s Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities. Other signatories include the presidents of Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, and Tufts, as well as Nobel laureates in chemistry, economics, and physiology or medicine.

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.