January 9, 2011 for The Associated Press
by Josh Lederman

JERUSALEM – At least 165 Israeli professors have declared a boycott against a contentious Israeli college in the West Bank, organizers said Sunday, deepening an internal rift in Israel over the expansion of West Bank settlements.

The academics signed a petition stating they are unwilling to partake in any activities at Ariel University Center. They said Ariel is an “illegal settlement” intended to prevent Palestinians from establishing an independent state.

Ariel, a settlement of 19,000 people, lies deep inside the West Bank. Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, which Israel seized in 1967, as part of a future independent state.

“Ariel is not part of the sovereign territory of Israel, and we therefore cannot be required to go there,” the petition reads.

The continued growth of Jewish settlements is at the heart of the current impasse in Mideast peace efforts.

The latest round of peace talks broke down in late September after an Israeli freeze on most settlement construction expired. Palestinians refuse to negotiate while Israel builds homes for Israelis on captured territories the Palestinians claim for a future independent state. Some 300,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, in addition to 200,000 Israelis living in east Jerusalem.

Professor Nir Gov of the Weizmann Institute of Science, who organized the boycott, said the goal is not to punish the college’s student body — which includes many Arabs — but to hasten the end of the occupation.

“I have two young daughters and I want them to grow up in a democratic, free Israel,” Gov said. “The occupation of millions of Palestinians without any human rights is really destroying it.”

Gov added that others have declined to add their names to the petition for fear of retribution by Israel’s right wing.

The move was opposed by an umbrella group of Israeli university presidents and the hawkish political party Yisrael Beitenu. Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman told Israeli radio that the more academics boycott, the more he will build up the settlement.

Israeli academics themselves have been subject to boycott calls from colleagues in Britain and Spain. Israeli officials have angrily said such efforts are counterproductive and go against the ideals of academic freedom.

In 2010, more than 150 Israeli artists boycotted a new performing arts center in Ariel. Also, hundreds of professors signed a petition opposing the college’s upgrade to university status.