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I'm considering doing a PhD in the social sciences at an Israeli university. My research will not be conflict-focused, and I'm not sure yet whether it will have a local component. I would likely do research that appeals to more left-wing academics (economically and socially), perhaps those who would be inclined to adopt a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) stance.

My question is: If I chose to obtain a PhD in Israel, will the boycott movement significantly affect my academic career? If so, how?

I've asked a few local scholars and have received mixed responses.

  • As far as I'm aware, BDS is mainly about withdrawing investments from Israel. I don't think it would affect the value of your degree (as straight-up antisemitism will), but it might make it harder to apply for some funding sources. I'm not in the humanities so I can't tell you how much your project will depend on external funding, but you should be able to gauge that during the application process... – nengel Jan 28 '18 at 10:37
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    As far as I’m aware, BDS is mainly about withdrawing investments from Israel. That is incorrect, @nengel. citation – Dan Romik Jan 28 '18 at 17:46
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If there is going to be a problem, then it will occur when searching collaborating institutions outside Israel. I know there has been talk about stopping such collaborations. However, how much that has been implemented is another question. In my field (quantitative sociology) that has not been the case. The argument being that you are not going to help solve a conflict by closing down channels of communication. This is not the place to discuss the merits of that argument, but you can imagine that such an argument is popular in academia. So I suspect that it should be possible to find a collaborating institution if you needed one.

I don't think you have to worry about the value of your PhD. That should be recognised outside Israel without problems.

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tl;dr: It probably won't affect your career.

You would be in clear violation the academic boycott

Please read the guidelines document of the Palestinian academic boycott, which is the (most/single) relevant aspect of the BDS movement to your question.

In the document, you will note the position that:

Academic institutions are a key part of the ideological and institutional scaffolding of Israel’s regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid against the Palestinian people.

and consequently

Specifically, the following events, activities, or situations are in violation of the Palestinian academic boycott:

...

  1. International students enrolling in or international faculty teaching or conducting research at degree or non-degree programs at an Israeli institution.

I'm assuming you are not Palestinian, nor an Israeli whose enrollment in Israeli institutions is obviously exempted and not considered a violation.

It does not matter:

  • What the contents of your research is
  • What your political position is
  • What the political position of your research supervisor/advisor is

You would be considered as benefiting at the Palestinians' expense and legitimizing their predicament

Millions of Palestinians are not able to travel to Palestine (especially the areas considered part of sovereign Israel), live there, study and work there, and particularly, undertake Ph.D. programs. You, however, will do so; and the symbolism is pretty powerful. This will be perceived by many as benefiting from the dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Moreover, it is the Israeli state at whose will you may enter, and they - the Palestinians - may not; and your availing yourself of that possibility will be perceived as legitimizing this control, this power, Israel has.

Whoever becomes your advisor would be abetting your violation

An academic at an Israeli university who respects the boycott cannot be your Ph.D. supervisor/advisor.

"... but will this all affect my career?"

Only a minority of academics support the boycott - not because most academic oppose it (which they may or may not), but more because most academics have never given it much thought, and have at most heard about it in the media. I'm not basing this on statistics though, but rather on my impression and limited personal knowledge.

In addition, only a minority of those who support the boycott - again, in my belief and to my impression - would actively penalize, or distance themselves from, people who violate the boycott. And that is particularly true for a Ph.D. candidate, who can claim "I just went there, I don't accept Israel's policies nor the collaboration between the universities and the military etc."

However, if you are interested in academic activity in subfields or in institutions in which this minority is more common (e.g. in Arab countries; Middle-Eastern/Palestinian Studies; etc.) - then the chances are somewhat higher. Since I'm not in that situation (nor have I violated the boycott), I can't be more specific.

Even then, institutions in most countries will not condone discrimination against you based on your violation of the boycott, so the space for actions against you would be limited. In fact, in some places - it is people who endorse the boycott, or that are critical of Israel and US and European support for it, that are ostracized and penalized. The US almost passed a law making support for BDS illegal, and one of the states actually went ahead with it (although that state law was struck down as unconstitutional).

So your career will probably be unaffected. It will mostly be a matter of conscience you have to decide.

(Of course it will affect your career by your being immersed in the academic and social environment of an Israeli university, which will affect how you develop as a person and your perspective as a researcher. But that's not quite what you were asking.)

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    I think some statements may need citations (e.g., "Millions of Palestinians are not able to travel to Palestine", "Only a minority of academics support the boycott"). – Orion Feb 6 '18 at 10:29
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    @einpoklum What is the “common knowledge” you’re referring to? Do you mean the 2M refugees in Jordan? Or do you mean the people who live in the West Bank who can’t travel to Tel Aviv? That’s a really big difference, and your claim is quite unclear. – Stella Biderman Feb 6 '18 at 16:16
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    @einpoklum You haven’t actually answered my or Orion’s questions and request for clarification. Saying that something is common knowledge doesn’t actually provide support for a claim in the face of someone who disputes it. And you haven’t described any kind of “situation.” – Stella Biderman Feb 6 '18 at 16:37
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    OP knows that they “would be in clear violation of the academic boycott”, so I don’t see the point of that section of your answer (other than to insert your unsolicited political views into the discussion). I also doubt the accuracy of some of your claims. Why are Israeli students “obviously exempted”? What do you mean when you say you haven’t “violated the boycott”? What is your basis for claiming that most supporters of the boycott would not penalize OP? (That sounds self-contradictory - someone who supports the boycott by definition wants to boycott people associated with Israeli academia). – Dan Romik Feb 6 '18 at 17:15
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    @DanRomik: 1. You are misinformed about the nature of the boycott; it is directed at institutions, not individuals; do read the document I linked to, or at least skim it. .2. OP's question is worded in a way which sounds like an explanation of mitigating circumstances - research not conflict focused, left-oriented etc. 3. The guidelines explains why Israeli students are obviously exempted. Basically, people are not expected to boycott all institutions (of a certain kind) where they live and to go abroad to get educated. – einpoklum Feb 6 '18 at 17:58

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