Over 2,000 People Sign Petition Against Boycott of NYU Tel Aviv
An NYU rabbi started a petition voicing opposition to a resolution by the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis pledging noncooperation with the study away site.
May 6, 2019
A petition condemning the Social and Cultural Analysis Department’s resolution of noncooperation with NYU Tel Aviv has amassed over 2,000 signatures from students, alumni, faculty and others since it was published on Friday.
The petition, started by NYU Chaplain Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, said the SCA’s pledge of noncooperation with the global site alienates it and the faculty who teach there.
“Neither they nor any NYU faculty operating around the world should be held accountable for government policies or actions in the countries where they reside,” the petition reads. “This principle extends to faculty residing in the United States of America.”
According to Sarna, the petition was put together by multiple faculty members. In a statement to WSN, Sarna condemned the SCA for publicizing the resolution on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“Making public this sort of academic boycott on Holocaust Remembrance Day meant that the people around the table either are ignorant of the history that such restrictions played in Nazi Germany, or they don’t care for the Holocaust survivor community at NYU,” Sarna wrote.
On Thursday, SCA became the first department to announce it would pledge noncooperation with NYU Tel Aviv, citing Israel’s restrictive entry laws. The Entry to Israel Law prohibits entry to anyone who has publicly called for a boycott of the country, and the resolution says that the law directly affects students involved in groups such as NYU Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine. Many students involved in these organizations on campus are also affiliated with the SCA department, according to the resolution.
No students or faculty have been denied entry to NYU Tel Aviv. However, Israel initially denied entry to the president of SJP at the University of Florida in October 2018, although she later won an appeal in Israel’s Supreme Court and was able to stay in Israel. A 2016 Independent article noted that over 100 British citizens were denied entry to Israel; human rights lawyer Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man claimed those of Palestinian or Arab heritage were disproportionately targeted.
SCA’s boycott was a student-led initiative by SCA majors and CAS seniors Rose Asaf and Benjamin Zinevich. Asaf is the president of NYU JVP and Zinevich is a member of NYU SJP. Both have voiced support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which protests Israel due to human rights violations against Palestinians. Asaf and Zinevich supported a similar pledge by 30 student groups in October 2018.
The resolution states that the boycott of NYU Tel Aviv is not affiliated with the BDS movement, as the global site does not receive any public support or funding from Israel. In a statement to WSN, SCA Professor Andrew Ross said the petition misconstrued the aims of the resolution.
“The wording of the petition is a misrepresentation of the resolution,” Ross wrote. “Those who actually read the resolution will see it is aimed at upholding NYU’s Policy on Ethical Conduct regarding nondiscrimination and equal opportunity. In light of that policy, departments have a moral obligation, and a right, to withdraw their cooperation from programs whose operations are tainted by racial, religious and political profiling.”
While SCA is the first department to boycott NYU Tel Aviv, other departments have boycotted other global sites in the past. In 2017, NYU’s journalism department cut ties with NYU Abu Dhabi after professors in the department were denied visas due to what one professor claimed were discriminatory practices based on religion. SCA’s resolution states that it decided not to boycott NYUAD because, unlike Israel, the United Arab Emirates does not have any publicly written laws that discriminate against certain groups.
The petition does not seek any administrative action against SCA’s noncooperation with NYU Tel Aviv but is meant to publicly show that some members of the NYU community do not support the move, according to Sarna. The university did not support SCA’s resolution to boycott NYU Tel Aviv.
“With respect to this departmental vote: it’s a little puzzling as to what form [noncooperation] would take, as our Tel Aviv campus does not draw on the department of social and cultural analysis for its academic program,” university spokesperson John Beckman said in a statement to WSN.
Stern professor Natalia Levina told WSN that she signed the petition because she believes that universities should be able to operate in other countries, regardless of their official political ideologies or beliefs. Levina also expressed support for the university’s operations in NYUAD.
“Cross-pollinating ideas from diverse cultures and nations should foster diversity of thinking and enable change in [a] political institution,” Levina wrote. “I was for cooperating with [NYUAD] for the same reason I am against the notion of boycotting NYU Tel-Aviv.”
Realize Israel president and Stern junior Ezra Cohen was also a signatory of the petition. While Cohen told WSN he does not always support Israel’s actions, he did not believe it was fair for the SCA department to single out NYU Tel Aviv in its boycott.
Cohen said that citing the fact that Israel has a written law that denies entry to certain people, while Abu Dhabi does not, is not a reason to solely boycott NYU Tel Aviv.
“How does that make it any better?” Cohen said. “If a country is still restricting people, does it matter if it’s in the law or not? I don’t think that it’s written in the law makes it any more condemnable. Abu Dhabi may not have a written policy about it, but they’re still rejecting students.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, May 6, 2019, print edition. Email Meghna Maharishi and Victor Porcelli at [email protected]