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.
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.