Drake Rejects Boycott

Chancellor Michael Drake and University of California President Janet Napolitano have both attacked the American Studies Association’s decision to embrace an academic boycott of the state of Israel and reaffirmed their support for the Jewish nation and “academic freedom” between the United States and Israel.

Drake and Napolitano publically announced their opposition to the recent ban on Israel’s academic institutions by the American Studies Association. Chancellor Drake, in combination with UC Irvine Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor Howard Gillman published a statement condemning the boycott, according to a UC Irvine press release from Dec. 23, 2013.

“UC Irvine strongly opposes any boycott of academic institutions. While we support the right to free expression, we believe the ASA resolution interferes with academic freedom,” Drake and Gillman said in their statement. However this was not the only action taken by Drake on the issue.

Chancellor Drake further showed his opposition by signing a statement by the Association American Universities condemning the boycott vote, one of only 11 members of the AAU to do so. The statement called on other academic institutions to oppose the boycott in the name of academic freedom and blasted the boycott as unfair to students in Israel and America.

“Restrictions imposed on the ability of scholars of any particular country to work with their fellow academics in other countries, participate in meetings and organizations, or otherwise carry out their scholarly activities violate academic freedom. The boycott of Israeli academic institutions therefore clearly violates the academic freedom not only of Israeli scholars but also of American scholars who might be pressured to comply with it.”

Other signers included the Presidents of Cornell University, Kansas University, Duke University, as well as the President of the AAU.

Chancellor Drake has been known as a supporter of the State of Israel. In March of 2012, he led a faculty delegation to Israel to “advance research agreements and student and faculty exchanges with the country’s top universities,” according to the chancellor’s website. During the trip Drake met with Israeli President Shimon Peres after which he commented, “Our meetings with university leaders and President Peres were enlightening and productive.”

Napolitano also voiced her objection to the ASA’s vote for an academic boycott of Israel in a statement in December. In it, she defended her stance on the ASA’s actions while defending the goals of the University of California system.

“Universities depend on the unrestrained exchange of ideas, and it is our role to defend academic freedom and our scholars’ ability to pursue research of their choice,” Napolitano said in a statement to the media. Later in it she said, “An academic boycott goes against the spirit of the University of California, which has long championed open dialogue and collaboration with international scholars.”

Napolitano has been a supporter of Israel and has praised Israel’s security efforts when she was Secretary of Homeland Security. However, her statement on the boycott is the first public statement she has made regarding Israel since she became president of the University of California in 2013.

The boycott by the ASA would ban collaborations between American and Israeli scholars. It comes after a vote was announced by the ASA on Dec. 4 on the matter of a possible academic boycott of Israel, and nine months after the Association for Asian American Studies passed a similar boycott, making it the first such organization in the United States to support one. According to the ASA’s website (theasa.net) the boycott was approved to show the ASA’s disapproval of the actions of the State of Israel towards the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

“The resolution is in solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and it aspires to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians. The ASA’s endorsement of the academic boycott emerges from the context of US military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and finally, the support of such a resolution by a majority of ASA members,” said a statement on their website.

ASA members voted using an online ballot on Dec. 4. The final vote on the boycott was 66.05 percent (828) in favor, 30.5 percent (381) against and 3.43 percent (43) abstaining. The total number of voters was 1,252 voters out of a total of about 4,000 total members according to the ASA.

The recent disagreement is but one of many that has emerged over the Israeli-Palestinian issue. UC Irvine has seen other incidents including the “Irvine 11” incident in 2011 where 11 members of the Muslim Student Union at UCI protested the Israeli ambassador by interrupting his speech. Ten of the 11 students were found guilty of conspiring to disrupt the ambassador’s speech and were sentenced to probation.

Whether the disagreement between the ASA and college administrators will escalate has yet to be seen.