Over the past few months we have been discussing with a group of academics an appropriate way to address the current state of affairs regarding academic freedom. The result is the formation of The Third Narrative’s Academic Advisory Council described in the press release below. Watch this space for more developments soon.
New York, NY, March 18, 2014
CONTACT: Gideon Aronoff
A new progressive initiative was launched today to combat academic boycotts and defend freedom of expression, while challenging the false choice presented to the academic community that it must either undermine the legitimacy of Israel or accept violations of the rights and dignity of Palestinians. More than 50 leading academics, spread across a wide range of disciplines and from throughout North America, announced today the formation of The Third Narrative’s Academic Advisory Council. The founding statement declares that:
“We are progressive scholars and academics who reject the notion that one has to be either pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. We believe that empathy for the suffering and aspirations of both peoples, and respect for their national narratives, is essential if there is to be a peaceful solution. Scholars and academics should play a positive role in asking difficult questions, and promoting critical thinking, about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. To achieve this goal we insist on the importance of academic freedom and open intellectual exchange, and so reject calls for academic boycotts and blacklists, as well as efforts to punish academics for their political speech, including even those who support the academic boycotts that we oppose.”
One of the founders, Professor Susannah Heschel of Dartmouth University, stated, “I am pleased to be part of this effort to defend academic freedom. Attempts to institute boycotts of Israeli academic institutions, wrong in their own right, also create an atmosphere which suggests that the only truly progressive position is a complete repudiation of Israel’s right to exist; anything more nuanced is viewed as right-wing. I reject that notion and I believe the Council will address a constructive, third way of looking at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Following on this theme, Professor Todd Gitlin of Columbia University added, “Wrongs committed by a state, like Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, are not legitimate reasons to dismantle the state or to impose collective punishment. In the Middle East, riddled with conflict between right and right, justice requires reconciliation, not hatred.”
In addition to issuing a Statement of Principles, the Council is creating an organizing space for progressive academics to address boycott activity, create materials on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and academic freedom, and take other actions around these critical issues.
Professor Michael Walzer of the Institute for Advanced Studies stressed the urgency of this effort. “There is only one way to avoid ongoing violence and to open the way for national self-expression for both Jews and Palestinians, and that is to divide the land and establish two states. Rejectionists on both sides who advocate a single state, who want the whole thing, are not only wrongheaded; they are radically unrealistic. This Council will provide a forum for an exchange of ideas about what is really possible and about what is best for the two peoples.”
(The full statement and list of founding academics and scholars can be found here.)