Aca­demic free­dom un­der threat in US

A boy­cott of Is­raeli aca­demics and in­sti­tu­tions is con­trary to the core prin­ci­ples of aca­demic free­dom and is an­ti­thet­i­cal to a free ex­change of ideas.

The Sunday Guardian - - & Comment Analysis - RAPHAEL CO­HEN-ALMAGOR & JAGDISH N. SINGH HULL, UK/NEW DELHI

Re­cently, the Amer­i­can An­thro­po­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion (AAA) be­gan on­line vot­ing on whether to adopt a “Boy­cott, Di­vest­ment and Sanc­tions” (BDS) res­o­lu­tion that calls on the or­gan­i­sa­tion to boy­cott Is­raeli in­sti­tu­tions and en­dorses dis­crim­i­na­tion by in­di­vid­ual mem­bers against Is­raelis.

A BDS res­o­lu­tion was adopted by stu­dent or­gan­i­sa­tions at sev­eral in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing the Univer­sity of Chicago, New York Univer­sity, Univer­sity of Mas­sachusetts-Amherst, and City Univer­sity of New York (CUNY).

The at­mos­phere cre­ated by the BDS res­o­lu­tion led to some ugly in­ci­dents. At San Fran­cisco State Univer­sity (SFSU), BDS sup­port­ers dis­rupted a speech by Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat. In an­other in­ci­dent, a BDS sup­porter pub­licly in­sulted former Is­raeli For­eign Min­is­ter Tzipi Livni and Amer­i­can diplo­mat Den­nis Ross at Har­vard Law School.

There is no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for a pro­fes­sional as­so­ci­a­tion to ban Is­rael. Any such de­ci­sion would be un­just, un­fair and counter-pro­duc­tive. Un­just, be­cause any sweep­ing de­ci­sion, by its very na­ture, can­not do jus­tice. It is one thing to of­fer a ra­tio­nale to boy­cott a cer­tain in­sti­tu­tion or in­di­vid­ual for good rea­sons. It is quite an­other thing to sim­ply boy­cott ev­ery­one. Gen­eral boy­cotts in prin­ci­ple must be op­posed.

Such a de­ci­sion is un­fair be­cause it is likely to be based on a rel­a­tively small, com­mit­ted and vo­cal group of as- so­ci­a­tion mem­bers, who are mak­ing boy­cotting of Is­rael their life’s mis­sion. They ex­ploit the si­lence, in­dif­fer­ence and in­ac­tiv­ity of the ma­jor­ity of as­so­ci­a­tion mem­bers to pass their un­just res­o­lu­tion, which does not rep­re­sent the views of many, pos­si­bly most mem­bers. And such a de­ci­sion would be counter-pro­duc­tive be­cause it un­der­mines the ob­jec­tives that the com­mit­ted group of mem­bers wishes to reach. Boy­cotting Is­raeli aca­demics weak­ens the peace camp in Is­rael, strength­ens the rightwing po­si­tion that prefers land over peace and the pro­mo­tion of hu­man rights, and hard­ens the hard­lin­ers.

Those who have known Is­rael from a close quar­ter know that Is­raeli academia tends to be lib­eral. Many of its mem­bers be­long to the peace camp. Many aca­demics are hu­man rights ac­tivists. Many op­pose the il­le­gal set­tle­ments. Many sup­port a two-state so­lu­tion, a just set­tle­ment of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, the split­ting of Jerusalem, re­turn to the 1967 Green Line, and find­ing a just so­lu­tion to the Pales­tinian refugee prob­lem.

Boy­cotting academia works against the peace­ful, con­struc­tive and lib­eral el­e­ments in Is­raeli so­ci­ety and plays into the hands of politi­cians who are try­ing to down­play the im­por­tance of Is­raeli academia.

Those who wish to boy­cott Is­rael say that Is­raeli academia is spon­sored by the gov­ern­ment. They de­duce aca­demics are im­plicit col­lab­o­ra­tors of dis­crim­i­na­tory poli­cies against Pales­tini­ans. This claim is as true as the claim that Amer­i­can aca­demics are im­plicit col­lab­o­ra­tors in the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions to wage war in Viet­nam, Iraq, Afghanista­n and many other parts of the world. This claim will be as true as say­ing In­dian aca­demics are im­plicit col­lab­o­ra­tors in the In­dian gov­ern­ment’s for­eign af­fairs de­ci­sions.

Those who wish to boy­cott Is­rael blame aca­demics for not be­ing able to in­flu­ence gov­ern­men­tal de­ci­sions for the bet­ter. They ought to know that Is­raeli aca­dem- ics do not have the power they might wish to have. But boy­cotting de­ci­sions against Is­rael will make them even more pow­er­less. Is­raeli aca­demics tend to be in­volved in leftist, peace-seek­ing pol­i­tics more than aca­demics in Bri­tain, Canada, the US and In­dia. The Is­raeli gov­ern­ment pays at­ten­tion to its aca­demics to a sim­i­lar de­gree that the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment or any other demo­cratic one in the world pays at­ten­tion to its own aca­demics.

Those who wish to boy­cott Is­rael un­der­cut aca­demic free­dom and be­tray values we all hold dear: free­dom of ex­pres­sion, tol­er­ance, equal­ity, jus­tice and peace. A boy­cott of Is­raeli aca­demics and in­sti­tu­tions is con­trary to the core prin­ci­ples of aca­demic free­dom and is an­ti­thet­i­cal to a free ex­change of ideas.

One fails to un­der­stand why Is­rael has been sin­gled out time and again. Un­for­tu­nately, we live in a world where there is no short­age of in­jus­tices and where se­vere hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions ex­ist. How come that of all coun­tries in the world it is Is­rael that pre­oc­cu­pies the minds of some vo­cal per­sons who have lit­tle un­der­stand­ing of the sit­u­a­tion in Is­rael?

It is time the larger Amer­i­can so­ci­ety pre­vailed over those who ride the BDS band­wagon that yields an aca­demic cul­ture de­void of free­dom of ra­tio­nal and con­struc­tive think­ing. Let’s all pur­sue the free ex­change of ideas and con­struc­tively cre­ate bridges in­stead of putting more ob­sta­cles to peace. Ban­ning ideas and peo­ple only in­creases rifts and hos­til­ity. The only way to peace is through en­gage­ment and con­ver­sa­tion. We should fight those who wish to dic­tate the agenda by bans, ex­clu­sion and an­i­mos­ity.

It is heart­en­ing that some univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tions and fac­ul­ties have op­posed the BDS. The pres­i­dents of the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, New York Univer­sity, Univer­sity of Chicago, and ten cam­puses of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, have ex­plic­itly op­posed BDS.

The fac­ulty se­nate at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan at Dear­born voted down two BDS res­o­lu­tions. One hopes more and more in­sti­tu­tions would come for­ward to say a big “no” to BDS. Raphael Co­hen-Almagor is Pro­fes­sor at the School of Pol­i­tics, Phi­los­o­phy and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, The Univer­sity of Hull in the UK; he was the Found­ing Di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Demo­cratic Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Haifa (2003-2007). Jagdish N. Singh is a se­nior jour­nal­ist and former Vis­it­ing Fel­low at the Moshe Dayan Cen­ter, Tel Aviv Univer­sity

A Boy­cott Di­vest Sanc­tion(BDS) protest in Aus­tralia fol­low­ing the Gaza Block­ade, in 2010.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.