More than 400 scholars and librarians from around the world, including four professors from UNC, signed their names to a letter this month that called for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions until certain demands are met.
The letter was published on the website of Jadaliyya, an independent online magazine produced by the Arab Studies Institute.
The scholars and librarians demanded an end to the violence in the Gaza Strip and said the boycott would continue until certain conditions were met, including recognition of the rights of Palestinian refugees and Arab-Palestinian citizens. The letter cited violations of international law, destruction of Palestinian life in Gaza and obstacles to higher education access for Palestinians by the Israeli state.
Nadia Yaqub, an Asian Studies professor at UNC and one of the faculty members who signed the letter, said she found it through Facebook.
“I’m certainly happy to talk to all kinds of people about this, but it sort of makes sense to me as an academic to address other academics," Yaqub said.
Yaqub said she hopes her action will help put pressure on Israeli academics to “engage with an ethical question.”
“It is incumbent on citizens of Israel, and particularly academics who are shaping the minds of educated Israelis into the future, to engage with their government,” she said. “And it’s my responsibility as a citizen of the world to use the nonviolent tools that I have to encourage them to engage.”
Layla Quran, a UNC junior and president of UNC's chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, said the group supports the boycott and wants to raise awareness about it.
“The academic boycott and any cultural and economic boycott are really important ways to hold Israel accountable when politicians and the media—and really the international community—has failed to do so,” Quran said.
Daniel Blau, a UNC junior, spent eight weeks in Jerusalem this summer for an internship and witnessed the effects of the conflict up close. He said he disagrees with the Jadaliyya letter.
“I had to go to the bomb shelter about 10 different times,” Blau said.
He said a colleague he worked with got called into the Israeli reserves near the end of the summer.
"I didn’t get to work with him for the last two weeks," Blau said. "I didn’t get to say goodbye to him.”
Ari Gauss, executive director of North Carolina Hillel, which supports Jewish life on campus, said the group has not formulated any plans to address the recent letter. Gauss said he thinks the letter oversimplifies a complex situation.
It's not the first time a boycott of Israeli academic institutions has had an impact on UNC's campus. A panel discussion in March centered on a similar American Studies Association boycott and was attended by Gauss and other members of N.C. Hillel.
“We think it’s really important for everybody who cares to educate themselves, to really look thoughtfully for different voices, and we certainly pray for peace,” Gauss said.
“We recognize that there’s a lot of pain, a lot of fear among everybody in the region. I hope that one day there will be a peaceful solution.”
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