Dear President Phil Hanlon,
I am writing to thank you for joining with over 80 other university presidents across America to condemn the American Studies Association’s academic boycott of Israeli colleges and universities. I am also asking you to do a little more.
In your Dec. 28 letter to the Dartmouth community, you were right to point out the danger that an academic boycott poses to the “free exchange of ideas that are at the heart of Dartmouth’s dual mission to educate citizen-leaders and advance the frontiers of knowledge.” As Michael Beechert explained in these pages earlier this week (‘Backward Boycott,’ Jan. 8), the boycott is both unlikely to accomplish much and ironic in its failure to address the human rights abuses being committed by repressive regimes elsewhere in the world.
As it turns out, yours is not a particularly controversial position. A few weeks ago, the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas announced that he does not support boycotts of Israel, either. Yet the relatively insignificant academic association still presumes to have a better idea of what is best for Palestinians than Abbas himself. Like your counterparts at other universities, you strongly condemned academic boycotts on principle. But I’m writing today to tell you that you can do more than merely denounce boycotts. The association’s boycott has presented the academic community with a timely opportunity to express support for the state of Israel. As I write this, peace talks backed by the U.S. are taking place between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Academic boycotts will not generate a two-state solution, but American support for Israel can. History shows that Israeli leaders are more willing to take risks for peace when they feel that they have the support of the U.S. A strong U.S.-Israel relationship allows Israeli leaders to make decisions with confidence rather than fear.
When I was in Israel last week, I met Israelis and Palestinians who expressed unambiguous optimism. Leaders on both sides truly believe that the current round of peace talks facilitated by Secretary of State John Kerry could result in a successful deal in the coming months. Despite overall enthusiasm, the Israelis I heard from are nonetheless concerned that the relationship between our two countries is weakening. If a peace deal is the goal, then actions like the association’s boycott and the larger Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement send the wrong signal. If Americans want peace, then now, more than ever, we must stand with Israel.
American universities can play a critical role in maintaining and expressing that support. Dartmouth is already connected to Israel in more ways than one. Our community includes Israeli professors, Israeli students, Israel Defense Force veterans, students who spent a gap year in Israel and students who plan to move to Israel after graduation. Dartmouth students routinely study abroad in Israel. Even more students will have the opportunity to study in Israel if the new Asian and Middle Eastern languages and literatures exchange program with Hebrew University is approved. Over 50 Jewish students travel to Israel each year on a Birthright trip, and that number is growing. In November, we even had the privilege to host former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on campus.
Support for Israel is already prevalent on our campus. Do not let the misguided protest that occurred after Olmert’s speech fool you — though about 10 people protested his speech, there were at least 50 more who cheered when the Israeli flag was waved. I would estimate that over the past year, I’ve spoken with nearly 100 students, both Jewish and non-Jewish, about Israel and its relationship with the U.S. They hail from all walks of campus life. Many are campus leaders. The vast majority of students with whom I have spoken care deeply about Israel, recognize the complexities of the region and want to see peace between Israelis and Palestinians realized.
Dartmouth can be a leader among its peer institutions by taking a bold step to announce our support for Israel. Denouncing the association’s boycott because it undermines free speech in academia is simply not enough.
Marissa Wizig ’14
Wizig is the Co-President of Dartmouth Students for Israel.
Dear President Phil Hanlon,