• Rich Barlow

    Senior Writer

    Photo: Headshot of Rich Barlow, an older white man with dark grey hair and wearing a grey shirt and grey-blue blazer, smiles and poses in front of a dark grey backdrop.

    Rich Barlow is a senior writer at BU Today and Bostonia magazine. Perhaps the only native of Trenton, N.J., who will volunteer his birthplace without police interrogation, he graduated from Dartmouth College, spent 20 years as a small-town newspaper reporter, and is a former Boston Globe religion columnist, book reviewer, and occasional op-ed contributor. Profile

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There are 32 comments on Brown Rejects Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

  1. Consider the ‘other side’s’ argument: “The boycott responds to the call of Palestinian academics. They do not have academic freedom. Israeli authorities deny them and their students the right to travel within Palestine and between Gaza and the West Bank or Israel or anywhere else. Israel has closed universities in acts of collective punishment. It has denied freedom of movement to students and to Fulbright scholars who cannot take up their scholarships in the United States. It has prevented academics from leaving the country; and if they leave, it has prevented them from returning.” Furthermore, consider a single sample of the full counter argument here: http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2013/12/asa-boycott-israelpalestineacademia.html

  2. Bravo professor Brown. Spoken like a true leader. Thank you for deciding to wisely avoid the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Let them go boycott real human attrocity happening in Sudan, Syria, Suadi Arabia, Yemen and the list goes on.

  3. With all respect to Brown, he is on the wrong side of history. Literally the entire world except the United States (and that is shifting) recognized the illegality, brutality, and barbarism of the Zionist occupation of the Palestinian people. Not supporting a boycott of Israeli goods and academic institutions (not individual scholars) is an immoral act. To do nothing in the face of violence towards another is itself a form of violence. I hope Brown reconsiders his position.

    1. 100% disagree.

      Even the US doesnt agree with the Israeli occupation of the west bank, but this boycott is counterproductive and so unbelievably foolish. How is boycotting their academic institutions “moral?” Even Mahmoud Abbas disagrees with it – HOW DOES THIS BOYCOTT FURTHER MOVE THESE TWO SIDES TOWARDS PEACE?!

      Not to compare tragedy with tragedy, but why the f*ck is the ASA not boycotting Syria???? Again, what israel is doing in the west bank is not okay but by no means are they gassing civilians to death!

      Brown is absolutely correct. He didnt pick a side regarding Israel v. Palestine… He picked a side regarding boycott academics vs. not boycotting academics. And he DEFINITElY chose the correct side

      1. Just because you print a response in all caps doesn’t make your “argument” any better. Also, your premise is incorrect: only one side needs to move toward peace. And it’s not the people being maimed by white phosphorous, corralled behind barbed wire fences.

        1. I would say it’s not the group who gets missiles thrown at it regularly, or the one trying to bargain with elected terrorists who aim at destroying it. But that’s just rationality speaking.

      2. The boycott moves toward peace in the same way similar boycotts ended apartheid. At the beginning of the SA divestment movement, boycotts were pretty ineffective too. It takes time to ramp these things up.

        Take a look at literature from the 1980s, and you’ll see your rhetoric used by supporters of apartheid and their liberal allies who provide cover by throwing up a cloak of “balance” and “both sides have good points.”

        The “other countries are worse!” argument is a classic apartheid apologia. It’s never been very convincing, then or now. If I beat up someone, should I get a lesser punishment simply because there are others out there murdering people?

        BU, a university that constantly holds up MLK Jr. as an alumni, should be ashamed to support and invest in companies that profit from apartheid.

        1. I’d claim that boycotts of any sort are generally ineffectual, but academic boycotts have the additional issue of also being immoral. The question is, what is to be gained from the ASA’s boycott? I doubt the Israeli government will reply, “oh, the ASA doesn’t like our policies in the West Bank? In that case we must withdraw”. Instead, liberal Zionist groups, leftist parties within Israel, and moderates all over will refrain from talking about Israel’s misdeeds while instead bashing the boycott.
          People claiming “xxx is worse than Israel, why does the ASA boycott them and not Israel?” are missing the point. There are no justified academic boycotts; no human rights record should interfere with the free flow of ideas. The ASA could have easily made a point by releasing a statement denouncing the occupation without also harming academic freedom. Unfortunately for the ASA, it will no longer be able to partner with Israeli institutions that reject the occupation, despite the fact that the movement is strong within Israel (credit that to Israel’s thriving democracy).
          Finally, the commenters on this page have seemed to take a very absolutist stance toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole. This is a contentious, multifaceted issue, pitting legitimate natural rights against each other. Israel has a right to a secure, defensible state, and Palestine also has a right to its own secure, defensible state. The apartheid analogy is an oversimplification. South Africa was creating laws dividing people on account of race, with intent of maintaining a permanent, second-class status for blacks. Israel has had 6 consecutive governments which have supported the peace process. It would be silly to try to integrate the West Bank and Israel if the eventual intent is to create two states.
          So, this debate is overcomplicate and oversimplified at the same time. The boycott has nothing to do with the merits of the conflict, it is wrong on its own logic. And the occupation is a much more complicated issue than commenters are letting on. I hope that this leads to dialogue among passionate individuals, of all opinions; a trend toward boycotts will without a doubt harm that dialogue.

  4. calling Israel a “Jewish state” is not on firm grounds. it fortifies a subtle trick played by Zionists that labels anyone apposing the Israeli occupation a foe of the “Jewish state” and Jews. one can abhor the illegal occupation yet respect Jews and Judaism. the mere fact that Jews live in an occupied land does not make a secular state a “Jewish state” as living 150 million Muslims in Indonesia does not make it an Islamic state.

    1. It is not an illegal occupation. I disagree with Israel’s settlement policies but just like the Palestinians deserve a homeland so do the Jews. G-d, why can’t we just live together in a secular state without being at each others throats. It is ridiculous.

  5. I disagree with Professor Brown. Rather than stifling academic debate, the boycott brings to the fore the human rights violations of Israel. Many in the Israeli and American Jewish academic community also support the boycott as a way of drawing attention to their own government’s brutality and silence of the academic establishment. I reject the claim that academic communities should shy away from being engaged in these debates. I also find it shameful that BU Today quotes ADL, which is among the most staunch distributors of hate speech in this country. If there’s a disservice to the fight against anti-semitism, ADL embodies all of that. I would have expected the paper to be more nuanced.

  6. What gives Brown the right to speak on behalf of the entire university, especially on such a serious political issue that has nothing to do with BU? And why was this article published? Some asked where he stood on this issue. Brown could answer directly to those people if he has an opinion. BU as an institution shouldn’t have an opinion on such a serious political issue. Brown says in this article, “It is ill-advised to make academic institutions the instrument with which to promote a political agenda…” So what is this article doing?

  7. I felt the two paragraphs in President Brown’s letter which addresses the relationship between the American & New England Studies Program and the ASA sound like as a veiled threat. This is, it would be unfortunate if the American & New England Studies Program a lightning rod for expressing the administration’s displeasure with the ASA.

  8. Let’s get everything clear here ladies and gentleman. There is no apartheid in Israel. Arabs and other types of people thrive in Israel and have graduated at the top of schools, are represented in government, win reality shows (ex look who won The Voice Israel and who is Miss Israel). There is no apartheid. The security barrier that everyone calls a “wall” is on the border of the west bank between that and Israel and protect Israeli citizens from terror attacks. You can not call Israel or the wall causing an apartheid because the two areas are separate entities. A boycott is counter productive, causes more obstacles towards peace, and is ineffective. Why boycott Israeli institutions when scholars there have academic freedom compared to those in parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, and many other places. Those who disagree need to look up REAL sources and get their facts straight because the comments here are sickening.

  9. Thank you President Brown for seeing through all the rhetoric, and shunning this hollow boycott.. I agree that academic discourse is the only pathway to peace. And, to equate Israel with Apartheid is an insult to those in South Africa who endured true racial discrimination.


  10. There is only one reason to boycott academic universities in Israel — anti-semitism. The universities do not set government policy. The universities do not subjugate the arab community. In fact, the universities are some of the staunchest supporters of equal rights and the establishment of a fair two state solution.

    If you want to boycott products made from settlements, that is perfectly acceptable as it is disputed land. If you want to boycott ideas from the holy land, you are simply an anti-semite.

    1. Again, the reason for boycott is to end human rights violations.

      Apart from typical finger-pointing and convenient labeling, I’m yet to read a single believable comment with any credible sources that refutes or at least truly challenges the issue of human rights violations by the Israelis.

  11. Brown: “the ASA boycott is pernicious and a rather direct attack on academic freedom and scholarly interactions across borders.”
    Does he also worry so much about the freedom of academia in several other countries that are under sanctions and different restrictions by US government? Or maybe not, because he doesn’t have that much ongoing business with them?!

  12. Dear Colleagues:

    Although I abhor Israeli Government policies against my families in Lebanon and the West Bank, I agree with my President of BU. We need to open communications and speak freely. Closing down speech, even when an opponent wants to try to do this, is not an acceptable reply. Let our enemies close down freedom of speech. We never will.

    Jeff Coulter
    CAS – Boston University.

  13. Thank you President Brown. But “condemning” or “rejecting” the ASA boycott is insufficient. BU must cancell it’s membership in that group as did Brandeis and Penn State Harrisburgh.

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