A new group calling itself “The U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel” has recently issued a call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. This group, organized by individuals from the University of California system as well as other universities in California, includes endorsements from approximately 150 individuals from universities around the U.S. and Canada. According to the group’s apparent spokesman David Lloyd, a professor of English at the University of Southern California,

“on several occasions Hamas has sought direct negotiations with Israel, a pursuit that constitutes de facto recognition of Israel, and has openly discussed abandoning its call for the destruction of the state of Israel conditional on reciprocal guarantees from Israel.”

(Ahren, Raphael, “For first time, U.S. professors call for academic and cultural boycott of Israel“, Haaretz, January 29, 2009)

This in fact is completely misleading. While not citing any specific instances the possible sources for Mr. Lloyd’s assertion may be from the Chinese press or from Israel’s Haaretz. According to the stories from Haaretz and Xinhua News Agency, as reported on The People’s Daily Online on May 20, 2008, Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon was quoted as saying that Israel was in direct talks with Hamas in “direct defiance of the government’s resolution, according to which Israel would agree to talk to the group only after it accepts the conditions set by the Quartet,” (“Vice PM: Israel in direct negotiation with Hamas“, People’s Daily Online, May 20, 2008 ). However, according to JTA.org in a short report on May 13, 2008, Hamas actually rejected two offers of direct negotiation with Israel. These offers were made between the former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Hamas’ leaders. (“Hamas turned down direct negotiations“, JTA.org, May 13, 2008 ).

In an interview with bitterlemons.org a Hamas leader in the northern Gaza Strip whose nom de guerre is Abu Mohammed, stated in February 18, 2008:

bitterlemons: Is Hamas willing to negotiate directly with Israel to reach a ceasefire?

Abu Mohammad: As our political leadership has announced, there can be no direct negotiations with Israel though an understanding can be reached through a third party.

(A PALESTINIAN VIEW – Israel can’t crush Hamas : an interview with Abu Mohammad, bitterlemons.org, February 18, 2008 )

Mr. Lloyd also does not provide specifics on the claim that Hamas has “openly discussed abandoning its call for the destruction of the state of Israel.” One possible source for this statement is former U.S. President Jimmy Carter who, in April 2008, traveled to the region and spoke with Hamas leaders. In a press conference in Jerusalem on April 21, 2008 Carter claimed that
Hamas leaders “said that they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders” and they would “accept the right of Israel to live as a neighbor next door in peace,” (Associated Press, “Jimmy Carter: Hamas is willing to accept Israel as its neighbor“, New York Daily News, April 21, 2008 )

Carter further noted that

Hamas promised it wouldn’t undermine Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ efforts to reach a peace deal with Israel, as long as the Palestinian people approved it in a referendum. In such a scenario, he said Hamas would not oppose a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza said Hamas’ readiness to put a peace deal to a referendum “does not mean that Hamas is going to accept the result of the referendum.” (emphasis added)

(Associated Press, “Jimmy Carter: Hamas is willing to accept Israel as its neighbor“, New York Daily News, April 21, 2008 )

In essence Hamas declared that even if a peace agreement was reached between Israel and the Palestinians and accepted through a referendum (which, according to Hamas would have to include all Palestinians everywhere — all over the world) voted on by all the Palestinian people they could choose to ignore the decision of the Palestinian people if it doesn’t suit them. But back to the question of Hamas’ alleged willingness to abandon their call for the destruction of Israel and to recognize Isreal. It didn’t take long for Hamas to publish a restraction of their sincerity to live with Israel in a permanent peace:

Just hours after former President Jimmy Carter trumpeted Hamas’ agreement to let Israel “live as a neighbor,” the same terrorist leader he met with face-to-face vowed not to recognize the Jewish state.

But Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal did offer Israel a 10-year truce if it withdraws from all lands it seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

(“Hamas Leader Vows Not to Recognize Israel After Carter Trumpets Terror Group’s Willingness to Be Good ‘Neighbor’“, FoxNews.com, April 21, 2008 )

So, in truth, the claims by Mr. Lloyd, the spokesman for this new group calling for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel are very shaky. Hamas has never renounced their call for the destruction of the state of Israel and the evidence for any direct negotiations between Israel and Hamas is still unconfirmed. Nevertheless, this does not deter this group and it’s misguided belief. In fact, a 2007 statement by the Presidents of nearly 300 universities in the U.S. in response to the British University and College Union call for a boycott against Israeli academic and cultural ties expresses the futility of such an effort. As written by Columbia University president Lee Bollinger:

As a university professor and president, I find this idea utterly antithetical to the fundamental values of the academy, where we will not hold intellectual exchange hostage to the political disagreements of the moment. In seeking to quarantine Israeli universities and scholars this vote threatens every university committed to fostering scholarly and cultural exchanges that lead to enlightenment, empathy, and a much-needed international marketplace of ideas.

(Bollinger, Lee, “U.S. Colleges Declare: Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott Ours, Too“, American Jewish Committee, August 7, 2007)

In support of this declaration Andrew Marks, president and founder of International Academic Friends of Israel and chair of Columbia’s physiology department said

“You go to the question of whether or not this [an academic boycott] could possibly ever help the Palestinian people. And that’s quite doubtful, since the academics in Israel, as in many countries, tend to be pretty left-wing and actually are some of the most forceful voices in favor of peace and fair treatment of Palestinians. So I tend to think this whole movement, which originated in the U.K., was very much an anti-Israel movement and not really honestly designed to help the Palestinians. And I think it’s very unfortunate it’s spreading to the United States, but not surprising.”

(“Israel Boycott Movement Comes to U.S.“, Inside Higher Ed, January 26, 2009)

As a final thought, consider the following YouTube video titled “So You Want to Boycott Israel…”

(thanks to Boudica BPI for the original posting of the video)

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