The initiative came as a backlash to the May vote by the University and College Union of the United Kingdom, which represents more than 120,000 educators, to sever ties with Israeli academics and schools.
So far, no action to that end has been taken.
The spark behind the American petition proved to be a statement back in June by Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University in New York City, that acknowledged solidarity with Israel's colleges and professors.
"If the British UCU is intent on pursuing its deeply misguided policy, then it should add Columbia to its boycott list, for we do intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish. Boycott us then," said Bollinger.
A Swath of Support
Shortly afterward, eight university presidents — including Jehuda Reinharz of Brandeis University and Graham B. Spanier of Pennsylvania State University — decided to turn Bollinger's statement into a broad-based petition representing a large swath of American colleges.
The university leaders enlisted the help of the American Jewish Committee. Staff at the New York office circulated the petition via e-mail to the administrative offices of as many as several thousand institutions, according to Kenneth Bandler, a spokesman for AJC.
"We all know from our own work places that e-mail is not the perfect way to get somebody," said Bandler.
Still, by early August, AJC had collected 286 signatures.
The group paid for a full-page advertisement in The New York Times, which listed the colleges that had signed on, including local ones like the University of Pennsylvania, Gratz, Muhlenberg, Lafayette and Franklin & Marshall colleges.
Since then, more than 60 educational institutions have signed on, including Temple University, Haverford College, Bryn Mawr College, as well as the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
"I was distressed to learn that Temple was not included in the AJC advertisement," Ann Weaver Hart, Temple's president, said in an early August press release. "Temple University stands in full support of President Bollinger's statement, and will strenuously defend the academic freedom and participation rights of our Israeli colleagues in the worldwide academic community."
Last week, Drexel University and its president, Constantine Papadakis, were added to the list after the school's communications office received an inquiry from the Jewish Exponent.
Bandler said that plans are in the works to run another advertisement in the Times some time in September.
Nationally, some of the most notable holdouts include Harvard, Brown and Yale universities. According to Bandler, Harvard administrators maintained that the school does not lend its name to petitions.
Other Pennsylvania notable schools, like Lehigh University and Swarthmore College, have thus far declined to participate.
"In lieu of signing a petition, [Lehigh President Alice P. Gast] sent a letter to the British University and College Union and posted an open letter on Lehigh's Web site denouncing the … proposal to boycott Israeli faculty and academic institutions," wrote Dina Silver Pokedoff, a Lehigh spokeswoman, in an e-mail.
Swarthmore president Alfred H. Bloom said in a statement that "any boycott of academic institutions on the basis of national identity would reflect dangerous and unacceptable discriminatory bias.
"However, given the college's commitment to participatory decision-making, anchored in its Quaker tradition, it is incumbent upon us to pursue appropriate consultation in our community before endorsing any public-policy stance," he said. "As the fall semester gets under way, it is now possible to undertake such consultation."