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Misguided And Illegal Boycott

April 27, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 17

WE WISH TO ALERT ACS members to a worrisome development: More than 190 faculty members and student groups at U.S. colleges have endorsed a boycott of Israeli academics. The group promoting the boycott calls itself "U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel." We are very concerned about this movement (both of us sit on the board of the Committee of Concerned Scientists). This action could adversely affect Israeli scientists by denying them access to conferences, research, and jobs in the U.S.

The movement claims to be on the side of morality due to the recent military actions in the Gaza Strip and seeks to punish Israeli scientists for not renouncing the actions of their government. The criticism of Israeli politics is coupled (disturbingly) with scientific professional activities.

The rationale behind the boycott is equivalent to responding to the current war in Iraq by limiting U.S. scientists in their professional activities and capacities to do science. Boycott promoters adopt the language of apartheid policies in South Africa to describe their position, which in our opinion should be viewed as bigoted logic.

But the boycott is not just misguided, it is also illegal. Any U.S. college that tolerates a boycott of Israeli academics may be creating a hostile work environment based on national origin for the employees it does have. Other actions that hinder Israeli scientists from doing science, such as exclusion from conferences, could jeopardize the federal financial assistance those institutions receive and be subject to state and local antidiscrimination laws. There is an insidious nature to the proposed boycott, quite similar to what emerged in the U.K. several years ago. A guide upholding the universality of science was published a few years ago (Nature 2003, 421, 314).

Alexander Greer
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Zafra Lerman



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