American university and college chancellors met with Education Minister Yuli Tamir on Monday evening in Tel Aviv, and agreed to work together to forge academic cooperation between Israeli and American academic institutions.
During her speech, Tamir addressed the boycott resolution passed against Israel in May by Britain's main academic union, saying, "Not only is the boycott misguided, it is also a destructive tool. It targets the people who keep their doors open even during the worst of times, the academics, who talk with Palestinians. It's an ironic step."
Tamir added that she was planning to visit Britain next week, as part of the government's efforts to tackle the boycott.
Robert Herman, Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said the UK boycott was being received with extreme criticism among American academics.
"Vast numbers of people are outraged. Most university presidents would gladly express outrage against action which violates the principles for which universities stand for," he said.
Mark G. Yudof, Chancellor of the University of Texas, described the boycott as "a genuinely stupid move".
"I don't see any boycotts being proposed of African countries, or a boycott being proposed against Libya," he said.
"It's a double standard in my view. As the minister said, it's ironic to target the community which keeps dialogue open during national disputes. I think you'll see many American academics joining Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University, in his condemnation of the boycott," Yudof added.
"My English friends told me I shouldn't take the boycott too seriously, that the group is not mainstream. But all I can do is judge them on their name and their actions," he added.
During a question and answer session, a number of academics told Tamir they were unhappy with the US State Department's decision to issue Americans wishing to visit Israel with a travel warning, saying the decision impeded academic cooperation. Tamir agreed, and added that the Israeli government has attempted to overturn the decision. "When someone fires a gun in the West bank and Gaza, they're not also firing in Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Beersheba," she said.
The education minister did however discuss Israeli colleges in the north which were damaged during the Second Lebanon War, and drew attention to the Sapir College in the Negev which "is currently under rocket attack."
The chancellors arrived in Israel as part of an initiative of Project Interchange. Laurie Wexler, Executive Director of the Project, told Ynetnews that the visit was not part of an advocacy effort.
"We show people the difficulties and the positive aspects of Israel, so they can go back to their fields of influence, and initiate cooperation opportunities, technology transfers, and help in informing campus policy," she said.