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The Boycott of Israeli Academics and Its Effects on the Global Economy

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Mark Mattayev

The Israeli – Palestinian affairs have been the center of the world’s attention in recent decades. The latest Arab spring which began in December 2010 in the Middle East has brought about transformations in the power structure of governments such as Egypt, Libya and Syria.

All these have created an image of the region characterized by governmental and financial instability. Under that turmoil the Israeli – Palestinian conflict still remains unsolved and keeps both sides seeking for a permanent resolution to the conflict as they negotiate over a potential peace agreement.

As part of the negotiations conditions the Israeli government led by PM Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to release Palestinians who are imprisoned in Israel as agreed in accordance with the Secretary of US state John Carry. The Palestinians have also expressed their desire to commit themselves to the peace negotiations according to Mahmud Abbas, the Palestinian Prime Minister. However, after more than half a year of peace talks, both sides condemn each other for trying to withdraw from their responsibilities which puts the discussions on continuous halt.

Boycotting Israeli products which are produced in settlement is one attempt that has been used by some EU member states to put economical pressure over Israel in order to weaken the Israeli economy and, consequently, resume peace talks.
The reasoning behind such acts assert that Israeli companies that will not be able to export their products will soon run out of financial means to support themselves and will, therefore, be forced to close or relocate to a different city which is under the officially agreed upon borders of 1967.

The same reasoning underlies the recent boycott of Israeli academic institutions by A.S.A, the American Studies Association, which aims at isolating Israel from the academic world in order to hinder their research and development processes, funding and international collaboration with other universities in the world.
The move made by A.S.A to take a stand against Israel has made worldwide headlines in various media channels. Yet, it soon became a target of criticism by the academic world.

For instance, the American Council on Education’s president Molly Corbett Broad stated that “Such actions are misguided and greatly troubling, as they strike at the heart of academic freedom.”1.

“It is dangerous business, and basically unwise, for institutions to become embroiled in these kinds of debates,” Mr. Bowen said. “The consequences for institutions are just too serious.” 1

On the other hand, for example, a proponent of the boycott, Mr. Marez, the chairman of the ethnic studies department at the University of California at San Diego, argued that, “if anything, the boycott will expand intellectual exchanges and shine a light on the limitations of academic freedom for Palestinians.” 1
J. Dawson, a professor of English at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center and editor of the A.A.U.P.’s Journal of Academic Freedom, said: “it is daring to bring up the issue of what is happening in the Middle East.” 1
Regardless of what the immediate effects of the boycott will be, it will be judged by its long term achievements and its capability to efficiently assist or further delay peace negotiations.

International boycotts over countries, institutions or groups of people might prove to be effective. For instance, the sanctions that were imposed on Iran by the international community indeed might catalyzed the leadership of the Iranian government to reassess their priorities concerning the development of a nuclear weapon and negotiate its halt.

Nonetheless, the nature of boycotts is isolation and depravation, which might cause a complete opposite effect if a country is suffering from economical drain and compelled to use force to resist the oppression, such as Nazi Germany.
Judging purely from an economic perspective such academic boycotts could prove inefficient to global welfare. Israel is a “Startup nation” which is heavily dependent on research and development through academic institutions. In fact, relative to GDP Israel is one of the countries that spends most of its finances on R&D. 2

These Israeli research centers in the academic field constantly collaborate with a global network to achieve better results and assume other perspectives on research approach.

The economic growth of Israel is dependent on new startups and innovations, indicating that if international support of academic bodies would cease it would slow down the development of new business ideas and ventures.

Such an act might not only slow down the Israeli economy, if succeeded, but has the potential to slow down other international corporations who do business in Israel through academic institutions or through private companies.
To summarize, the recent boycott promoted by the A.S.A is viewed from two contradicting perspectives in the international community. The results of these actions are unknown since they are directly dependent on its impact. However, if they succeed this might prove to have a negative impact on certain segments of global economy and education.

The writer of the article, Mark Mattayev, is an Israeli High Tech Entrepreneur and International Business Management student in Finland.

Sources:
1) Topic the counter response to boycott:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/06/us/backlash-against-israel-boycott-throws-academic-association-on-defensive.html?_r=0
2) Invest In Israel, Where Breakthroughs Happen:
http://www.investinisrael.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/D8B76E12-BC96-436A-9CA5-B53D9B8060E1/0/IsraelWhereBreakthroughsHappen.pdf

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