It isn’t often that our University makes major political statements in an official capacity. Drexel made such a move over winter break, as President John A. Fry released a statement Dec. 27 that the University would not join the American Studies Association in a boycott of Israeli universities. Fry is not alone among presidents of major universities who refused to take part in the boycott, but it’s still a risky move, especially for an institution that so dearly holds the values of inclusion, diversity, and respect for all viewpoints. We agree with many of the reasons behind Drexel’s decision, but we believe that it is important to exercise great caution in standing by Israel’s universities. Any ill-advised action or inaction related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could seriously damage the University’s reputation or contribute to an escalation of hostility between Israel and Palestine — at least academically.
There are several important factors to consider here. For the sake of clarity and organization, we’ll start by identifying some of the reasons we believe that Drexel’s decision to reject the boycott is a wise one, and then we’ll explain why we think it’s important for Drexel to exercise caution in holding this position. Although the complicity of Israeli universities in the oppression of Palestinians is very concerning, it can be addressed in ways that don’t hinder the highly beneficial academic initiatives made possible by partnerships between American and Israeli universities. The recently announced research consortium between Drexel, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Hebrew University is just one of several initiatives that might save lives if the proposed boycott does not stifle it.
Maintaining Drexel’s existing partnerships with Israeli universities also allows us to constructively address the issues that led to the boycott in ways that institutions participating in the boycott can’t. With these close ties still intact, Drexel can serve as a mediator between Israeli universities and Palestinians. Drexel could encourage changes in the universities’ agendas that will help them to have more peaceful relations with Palestinians. If all American universities sever their ties with these institutions, will they have any allies left who might influence them to be less anti-Palestinian? Friends can influence more easily than enemies. Not all American universities need to be friends with Israeli universities, but their ability to help bring about a solution would be greatly diminished if none of them were friends.
While we agree that a boycott is not the solution here, we’d like to see Drexel send a clear message that the infringement of Palestinian rights is not acceptable. Proponents of the boycott are right that Palestinians do not have academic freedom under Israeli occupation. Several barriers make it unjustly difficult for them to get an education. The Israeli government and military are more responsible for this than the country’s universities, but that doesn’t mean that the universities are powerless to try to improve the situation. Drexel should be an advocate for Palestinian rights and should hold its Israeli partners accountable for working toward a just compromise. Without such action, Drexel would become just as complicit as its partners in the Palestinian oppression.
We appreciate the fact that the administration at Drexel is making such strides to connect us to learning and research opportunities around the globe — and working to protect those ties. Still, the Israeli-Palestinian situation is a sensitive one, and we should treat it as such. We hope the University remains cautious in its involvement, and active in its search to participate in the globalization of higher education.