This is a GUEST POST by Professor Yuval Grossman, an Israeli physicist and Professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, where his research involves theoretical high energy physics.
Most recently, a campus panel discussion was organized by “Students for Justice in Palestine.” As reported by the student-run Cornell Sun, the panel was uniformly hostile to Israel resulting in this exchange:
At a panel discussion Thursday, several professors questioned Cornell’s partnership with the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, sparking heated debate and causing one Cornell professor who formerly taught at the Technion to walk out.
“I used to be a professor at Technion, and I’m very proud of it,” said Prof. Yuval Grossman, physics. “Just to let you know, my political views are very, very different. I think you are my enemy.”
This is not the first time Dr. Grossman has spoken out about anti-Israel agitation on campus.
Now you know the background, so below is Dr. Grossman’s post.
Thanks for asking me to write for your blog. I am currently a professor of physics at Cornell, but up until 2007 I was a professor at the Technion. I still keep very close professional connections with the Technion and I share a research grant with several researchers there.
Last week I attended an open panel discussion about the Cornell-Technion collaboration for the new tech campus in NYC. It was organized by a pro-Palestinian student group, and the general atmosphere in the event was very negative towards Israel.
The basic idea that was discussed was that the Palestinians have called for academic boycott of Israel, and only Israel, presumably because they think Israel’s actions or policies are the greatest evil of our time. (One panelist – and this upset me the most – described Israel as a “death machine”.) Based on such logic, the speakers argue, one needs to support the boycott and thus fight to stop the Cornell-Technion collaboration.
I was the first one at this open discussion to speak against the boycott. While there are many things that have to be said about the Israel-Arab conflict, my main problem at this forum was the fact that the boycott was described as “institutional and not personal”.
I do not see how one can boycott an institution without boycotting its people. One may say that the goal of boycotting Israel is so important that it justifies the effect on the people, but one cannot simply say that it is not against the people. In particular, I was thinking about myself. How can one call for a boycott of the Technion, and at the same time declare that they are not trying to boycott me?
I think that this issue is a legitimate part of this debate, and it is probably easier to discuss compared to other aspects.
Unfortunately, the forum would not discuss it. One person answered me at length but did not touch the issue. Another person dismissed me, by saying that he does not see what the issue is. I did not get another chance to press the issue, so I left without an answer.
To close, I would like to share my view on the issue.
I feel that the boycott is an attempt to make Israel illegitimate. It is not a peaceful move, but a move that is aimed at destroying Israel’s academic institutions. If people are trying to work for peace, they should not boycott the Israeli academia.
Rather, I think that everyone should appreciate that the situation is very complicated and there is no simple solution. I wish I knew what the solution is, but I do not. All I know is that both sides need to work for peace, there is no one-sided solution, and boycott is not the answer.