Petition Opposing NYU Department's Decision to End Relationship With Tel Aviv Campus Gathers Nearly 3,000 Signatures

A petition opposing New York University's Department of Social and Cultural Analysis' (SCA) decision to end its relationship with the Tel Aviv campus gathered almost 3,000 signatures within days of being posted online.

On Thursday, only one SCA faculty member voted to oppose the non-cooperation resolution, which ended official sponsorship of faculty teaching at the Israel site. The resolution claimed Israel's amended law of entry violated the university's values of nondiscrimination and infringed on academic freedom.

Despite the strong support within the department, others, including the administration, opposed it on the basis that regardless of the exact wording used, it was an academic boycott.

"The University's position on the issue of academic boycotts of Israel is clear: they are at odds with University policy, and they are at odds with the tenets of academic freedom, as the [American Association of University Professors] also notes," NYU spokesman John Beckman told Newsweek.

On Friday, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, who serves as the university chaplain and executive director at the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU, started a petition opposing SCA's decision. In it, Sarna wrote the "academic boycott" sought to marginalize NYU Tel Aviv.

"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 said. "This principle extends to faculty residing in the United States of America."

NYU faculty resolution tel aviv campus
On Thursday, NYU's Department of Social and Cultural Analysis ended its official relationship with the university's Tel Aviv campus. Google Maps

The petition was an expression of support for faculty at the Israel site and "all faculty who exemplify the values of equity, diversity, belonging, inclusion and the pursuit of knowledge." As of Monday morning, it had over 2,700 signatures out of its goal of 5,000.

"This petition gives voice to the vast majority of faculty who believe that this academic boycott is inconsistent with the mission of the university," Sarna told Newsweek.

Ben Zinevich, a student at NYU, disagreed and said the number of signatures wasn't "representative of the climate on campus" or how faculty members feel about the non-cooperation pledge. NYU Professor Andrew Ross, who voted in favor of implementing non-cooperation resolution, told Newsweek the petition misrepresented the resolution.

"It ignores the main purposes of the resolution, and, ironically, for a letter purporting to come from 'the faculty of New York University,' it disrespects the right, and moral obligation, of faculty and students to withdraw their cooperation from programs that cannot operate without violating the university's policies against discrimination," Ross said.

In 2017, Israel's parliament amended its entry law to prohibit people who've publicly called for a boycott against Israel or made a commitment to participate in such a boycott from entering the country. Those with Israeli citizenship or a permanent residence license were exempt from the amended law.

Ross previously told Newsweek that having a site in Israel was contradictory to NYU's values because the entry law discriminated against certain students and faculty, thereby restricting their academic freedom.

However, NYU Business Professor Jonathan Haidt criticized the reasoning for the resolution in a thread on Twitter, calling it "disingenuous." He noted that the SCA didn't boycott NYU's locations in the United Arab Emirates or China, two countries he wrote are "much further away from our values."

"The [department] of SCA can certainly criticize Israel's amended law of entry," Haidt wrote. "But I believe that the very idea of academic boycotts — like open letters of denunciation — is contrary to the academic spirit."

Students and faculty members weren't prohibited from conducting research at the Tel Aviv site, per the resolution. However, the department won't dedicate resources to faculty exchanges or sending faculty to Tel Aviv. Students don't need permission or letters of recommendation to study abroad in Tel Aviv, either, so they aren't barred from the program. Although, the resolution asked everyone in the department to "act in the spirit" of noncooperation.

Sarna called the use of the word "non-cooperation" and not "boycott" a "distinction without a difference." He added that instead of boycotting other professors, those critical of Israel's amended entry law should "do what universities do: do research, hold a conference, bring in experts."

Petition Opposing NYU Department's Decision to End Relationship With Tel Aviv Campus Gathers Nearly 3,000 Signatures | U.S.