The AMCHA Initiative
Seventy-nine civil rights, religious and education organizations today urged Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) President Tim Sands to unequivocally reject its graduate students’ demands for an academic boycott of Israel.
Specifically, the groups called on Sands to make it abundantly clear that his graduate students are prohibited from using their classrooms to promote an academic boycott of Israel, and that the university commits to ensuring no student will be impeded from studying about or in Israel, or subject to unfair discrimination or harassment, because of a boycott.
“In the statement you issued last week, you noted the free speech rights of those who support the resolution,” wrote the groups in the letter organized by AMCHA Initiative. “What your statement failed to address is that you and the Virginia Tech administration have the same free speech rights, which include the right to reject and condemn the resolution. More importantly, your statement failed to recognize the possibility that GPSS members, many of whom serve as Graduate Teaching Assistants, may implement elements of the academic boycott on campus and in their own classrooms, in ways that would directly and substantively harm undergraduates on your campus, particularly those who are Jewish and pro-Israel. We urge you to take immediate steps to ensure that this does not happen at Virginia Tech.”
Last month Virginia Tech’s Graduate and Professional Student Senate (GPSS) passed a resolution endorsing BDS. It calls for the boycott of “all Israeli academic institutions complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation and the denial of basic Palestinian rights,” as well as to divest from “all institutional investments from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation and apartheid.”
The groups point out in today’s letter that although an academic boycott of Israel targets Israeli universities and scholars, its implementation on US campuses such as Virginia Tech can’t help but violate the academic and civil rights of undergraduate students. For example, the PACBI guidelines call for boycotters to work towards closing their own institution’s academic exchange programs in Israel; refuse to write letters of recommendation for their students who want to study in Israel; and disrupt or shut down educational activities about Israel or featuring Israeli scholars or leaders at their own schools.
All of these actions directly subvert the educational opportunities and academic freedom of undergraduate students who want to study about or in Israel.