In a moment of honesty during the Israeli elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that a Palestinian state would never exist under his watch and warned of “Arabs advancing on the ballot boxes in droves,” and then he won a decisive reelection. Netanyahu’s political rivals were hardly better. One of them proudly orchestrated Israel’s 2008-2009 bombardment and massacre of Palestinians in Gaza, and the other criticized Netanyahu for not bombing Gaza hard enough this past summer.

A straight line can be drawn from 1947-1948, when Zionist troops forcibly expelled over half a million Palestinians from their homes and destroyed over 500 villages, to this week’s electoral drama, which demonstrated the fact that Israelis want to maintain Israel’s control over the West Bank, where nearly three million Palestinians live under Israeli military occupation and apartheid. Since 1948, Israeli state policy has remained the same: displacement of the native population and replacement with Jewish settlers.

What does this mean for academia in “the holy land?”

Israeli academic and cultural institutions are deeply intertwined with the occupation and ongoing colonization of Palestine. Most Israeli universities are state-run, give admissions priority to soldiers, and discriminate against Palestinian students. Israeli universities conduct research for the Israeli military, including developing remote-controlled bulldozers used in home demolitions, and several of them operate out of illegal settlements. 

No Israeli university has spoken out against Israel’s occupation and military assaults against Palestinians. Instead, Ben-Gurion University, Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and the University of Haifa all made explicit statements of support for the bombardment of Gaza last summer and provided financial benefits to soldiers.

Israeli universities cooperate with the Israeli military and the Israeli government in all functions of settler colonialism, and are essentially inseparable from the occupation itself.

According to a New Israel Fund study published in 2005, the educational system in Israel is segregated, with the state spending an average of $1,100 for each Jewish student as opposed to $192 for each Palestinian. In the occupied West Bank, Israeli authorities regularly kill Palestinian students and professors, raid universities, and subject scholars to imprisonment, torture and travel restrictions. Gaza remains under an intense blockade, and last summer, as in 2009, Israel bombed dozens of its schools and universities.

The U.S. government singles Israel out with preferential trade agreements, weapons, U.N. Security Council vetoes in their favor and more than $3.1 billion in annual military aid. Without facing any sort of punishment for its actions, Israel will continue to oppress and massacre Palestinians.

What does this mean for Bowdoin?

Palestinian academics are denied basic academic freedoms under Israeli colonial rule, and Israeli academic institutions are party to the oppressive system that denies them those rights, so Bowdoin College should honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions.

In the coming week, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) will be holding Justice for Palestine Week, which will feature events focusing on Palestinian experiences in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Afterwards, SJP will begin collecting signatures on a petition in hopes of putting a referendum before the student body  asking if Bowdoin should join the academic and cultural boycott of Israel. The boycott has precedent in the boycott of academic and cultural institutions in apartheid South Africa.

The boycott does not target individuals on the basis of their nationality. It asks that ties be severed with institutions complicit in the Israeli occupation. The boycott means a refusal to take part in events, conferences and research that are partially or fully funded by Israeli institutions. In other words, a professor from the University of Tel Aviv is still welcome to speak at Bowdoin as long as she does so as an individual professor, and not expressly as a representative or ambassador of Israeli institutions or of the Israeli government.

Boycotts are a nonviolent way to bring ignored realities to the forefront and to encourage dialogue and action. Not boycotting means placing greater importance on the freedom to maintain partnerships with Israeli institutions than on the basic freedoms and human rights of Palestinians— including freedoms of movement, access to clean water and fair living conditions, which Palestinians are denied.

Given that international state actors are unwilling or have failed to force Israel to comply with international law and end its brutal repression of the Palestinians, the soundest solution for scholars concerned with human rights and academic freedom is to join the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement. This movement aims to nonviolently isolate the state of Israel until it recognizes that it must abandon its commitments to occupation, apartheid, and ethno-religious supremacy. It is a chance for Bowdoin to demonstrate that academia is not just a plaything of the privileged and that education is truly a human right. This spring, the student body should vote to boycott Israel.

Christopher Wedeman is a member of the Class of 2015.