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Fearing boycott, Israeli academics warn against accrediting West Bank school

The Israeli higher education committee for the West Bank approved accreditation of Ariel University Center today. One university president warns the move endangers Israel's 'next Nobel prize.'

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But even though some boycott proponents say they are solely focused on settlement activity considered illegal by the international community, many supporters of Israel consider boycotts part of a broader campaign to delegitimize Israel's right to exist.

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Organized efforts at a boycott of Israeli academia started in 2002 in Britain, when a pair of Israeli language experts from universities inside Israel were dismissed from the editorial board of a British journal on translation studies.

Other universities have been dragged into the debate. In 2005, Jonathan Rynhold, a Bar-Ilan University political science professor, led a delegation of Israeli academics on a trip to Britain to help defeat a motion at the national Association of University Teachers that would have boycotted Haifa University for trying to censure a revisionist historian and Bar-Ilan University for operating classes on the Ariel campus, which was initially an outgrowth of Bar-Ilan.

Mr. Rynhold, who says he opposes academic boycotts in principle, says the core supporters of BDS would seek a boycott against Israel regardless of its policies in the West Bank. But he also says AUC's accreditation would hurt the work of Israeli professors because it would bolster boycott advocates' message among moderates.

"The ability of these people to gain wider sympathy depends on resonating with more liberally minded people. There's no doubt in my mind that by making Ariel a university, this is bad news for the antiboycott movement," Rynhold says. "It makes [the anti-boycott] case much more difficult to make."

The move to accredit AUC comes as support for a commercial boycott of Israeli companies with activities in the West Bank is growing. South Africa's ministry of trade recently announced that it would insist on special labeling for Israeli products from the West Bank – they are currently marked "Made in Israel" – to give consumers the option of avoiding the purchase of settlement goods.

In April, The Co-operative Group, Britain's No. 5 food retailer, said it would end trade with companies that export produce from Israeli settlements. Earlier this month, European Union members got a legal opinion stating they could legally ban trade with the settlements. Efforts at the Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn, N.Y., to ban Israeli goods from the shelves were ultimately rejected, but only after a bitter battle.

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