The American Studies Association's declaration that it is joining the academic boycott of Israel did not stir a big row. The mistaken notion that the ASA is an insignificant organization and that this boycott has no practical implications left us indifferent. But there is no greater error than that.
The decision holds serious implications which go beyond the boundaries of the academia. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is becoming increasingly powerful, like a snowball which will soon be unstoppable. What was once an aggressive agenda of a handful of radicals may turn into a wide movement before we manage to respond. The idea which was considered a taboo until now – boycotting all academic institutions in Israel – has become legitimate, while the State of Israel is losing its legitimacy in the eyes of respectable and globally influential organizations and institutions.
There is no need to explain to the Israeli audience just how groundless it is to boycott Israel's academic institutions, where hundreds if not thousands of Arabic speakers study and teach – including Jordanian students at the Ben-Gurion University's Sde Boker campus who are studying for advanced degrees in ecology and desert agriculture, solar energy, underground water desalination and more. Their friends, who completed their BA studies in emergency medicine at the university only last year, are now building the emergency medicine infrastructures in Jordan.
Research cooperation with researchers in Jordan and the Palestinian Authority on a variety of issues, like the study of genetic diseases, epidemiology and water resources management, is taking place and has taken place during the most difficult times, to the benefit of all sides. Patients and injured civilians from the Palestinian Authority and even from Syria are receiving life-saving treatment in medical centers in Israel.
The "academic" boycott will deal a serious blow to the research and development in the Palestinian Authority and prevent immediate advanced medical care or available drinking water on the Palestinian side actually.
And yet, the main victim of the boycott will be the State of Israel. This is not just about research cooperation which will be halted, participation in conferences which will be prevented or an article which will not be published due to extraneous considerations. The boycott is much more than this. Academic institutions in Israel are being boycotted not because of their actions (which in fact contradict the claims made those calling for a boycott) but because they are "a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students."
It's no coincidence that the resolution also mentions the settlement, the separation fence and violating Palestinians' rights in general. If an academic boycott on Israel becomes a legitimate thing, it will be followed by additional boycotts in different areas – and the Dutch water company's boycott of Mekorot is just the first crack in the dam.
As president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, I call on the Israeli government, my colleagues at the academia – both faculty and students, our partners in the industry and Israel's friends wherever they are – not to stand aloof as the lean flow of boycotts against Israeli institutions slowly turns into a flood.
Every boycott announced by an American or European organization damages ties which are developed with a lot of effort between us and our partners overseas, as well as those beyond the Green Line and the Jordan River. No one can foresee the event which will lead to the crossing of a hidden threshold, which will be followed by the flood.
We must not be indifferent, but fight with every tool at our disposal for the future of our existence and the existence of the fragile fabric of academic and humane relations with our neighbors. The importance of these ties is not only academic. It is critical for establishing a system of coexistence, which given a diplomatic agreement will serve as an infrastructure for neighborly relations, even if we fail to reach the longed for eternal peace.
Prof. Rivka Carmi is the president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev