Megan Schmidt
MEGAN SCHMIDT/THE HOYA

Over the course of history, boycotts have been powerful instruments in catalyzing social change. Individuals and institutions have wielded such measures to dramatically express their disagreement with certain policies or practices.

But dramatics in the university sphere are not frequently the most productive way to rectify a situation, as the act of removing oneself from a dialogue runs counter to a main purpose of academia: fostering open and honest debate and education on the most pressing issues of our time.

The American Studies Association’s recent boycott of Israeli academic institutions — which has been signed by 13 Georgetown professors, a total that outnumbers the faculty of any other university in the United States — brings up questions of how an academic community can most effectively have an impact on another community’s policies.

In traditional boycotts, withholding one’s business deprives the subject of valuable cash flows, effectively putting financial pressure on the subject to change objectionable practices. In the world of academia, however, interactions between institutions are not in currency, but rather in ideas, arguments, opinions and discoveries.

Irrespective of any position one might hold on the contentious and complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict, any academic boycott — this one included — will prove to limit the flow of ideas.

For any academic who wishes to contribute to a peaceful resolution to any conflict, closing these channels of communication and dissent will only impede progress toward a diplomatic solution. This is especially true at Georgetown, where professors of international relations and the Middle East are sought-after experts in their fields, and have valuable contributions to make to any related discussion.

While the American Studies Association’s petition makes clear that its intent is to increase attention and opposition to Israel’s violations of human rights in Palestine and to protest Israeli academic failure to intervene in these violations, this goal would likely be better served through communication of ideas and coalition-building. In respect to an issue like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where each side is already so entrenched and can often seem unwilling to hear other viewpoints, the importance of reasoned academic communication is redoubled.

The enduring, exhausting nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes it even more imperative that academics from all perspectives continue to have conversations about these issues. Cutting off dialogue in any environment only exacerbates already tense situations.

Silence will not lead to progress. Academia is a place for discussion, and that discussion should extend to all issues. Boycotts can lead to progress, but Israeli universities and their relationship to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a situation where they will not.

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One Comment

  1. The editorial board’s equivocation and insistence on the incomprehensibility of the “conflict” fails to take into account the clear power imbalances between occupier and occupied. More serious critics of the academic boycott at least acknowledge the imbalance. Noam Chomsky, for example, argues against the boycott by saying that it is not an effective strategy at present and does not further Palestinian freedom. He also asks if Israeli universities are boycotted because Israel violates human rights, “then why not boycott Harvard because of far greater violations by the US?” You could probably add Georgetown to that comment as well.

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