Rivlin: Academic boycotts against Israel are first-rate strategic threat

President meets with university heads to weigh the impact of the boycott movement and discuss strategies to fight it.

President Reuven Rivlin yesterday described academic boycotts against Israel as a “strategic threat of the first order.”

During a discussion of the issue at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, the chairman of the Council of Presidents of Israeli Universities, Technion president Prof. Peretz Lavie, said it was still possible to stop the snowball effect of the movement, but warned that “we are at the 90th minute.” Lavie, who attended the meeting together with fellow university heads, called for “strategic action” to stop the boycott movement in Europe and the United States.

“Anti-Israel student organizations were once very few; now they are at all the leading universities. We are appealing to you to place the issue on the agenda,” Lavie said, addressing Rivlin.

During the meeting university heads noted a number of results of the boycott movement, including a significant decline in collaborative scientific research with international companies out of fear that the resulting products would be boycotted, the rejection by academic journals of articles by Israeli researchers and enormous pressure from student organizations on academic leaders around the world to participate in the boycott.

In response, Rivlin stressed the importance of dialogue and discussion at international conferences, saying, “Academia is the stronghold of criticism and of openness, and we must allow, in our meetings with our colleagues abroad, the raising of the various complaints about Israeli policies, because in the majority of cases that is the best way to reach resolution and understanding.”

Rivlin went on to say that in recent meetings with a number of world leaders he expressed his apprehensions about the way the enlightened world talks about academic freedom on one hand while at the same time bringing politics into academia. “I did not think there would be a genuine danger to Israeli academia, but the atmosphere in the world is changing, making it impossible not to see this issue as a strategic threat,” he said.

Rivlin told the university heads that he was willing to take part in any effort to fight the boycott movement and promised to raise the issue whenever he meets with diplomatic figures in Israel and abroad.