New York, NY, May 27, 2014
CONTACT: Gideon Aronoff
Today, the Executive Committee of The Third Narrative’s Academic Advisory Council (AAC), a North American network of liberal and progressive scholars and academics, released a statement addressing the campaign at UCLA to blacklist students who participate in certain Israel travel programs from serving in student government. The AAC statement declares:
As an organization of liberal and progressive North American scholars and academics, we are deeply disturbed by reports that candidates for UCLA’s undergraduate student government are being pressured to refrain from participating in trips sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, or Hasbara Fellowships but not sponsored trips by any other group. The pledge to refrain from such trips has misleadingly been named the Joint Statement on Undergraduate Students Association Council Ethics.
Proponents of the Joint Statement argue that it is necessary to prevent a conflict of interest, but this rationale is belied by the fact that it targets only organizations perceived to be pro-Israel. Having failed last February to persuade the student government to endorse a resolution to divest from Israel, the drafters of the statement now seek to impose a political litmus test on candidates and to blacklist those who fail the test. The statement is intended to restrict student government officers’ freedom of association and travel, which serve an important educational purpose, or to single out, delegitimize, and thereby exclude from student government those candidates unwilling to accept such restrictions. The latter are targeted because they are believed to hold undesirable political convictions that the statement’s drafters infer (not necessarily correctly) from the candidates’ willingness to participate in such trips.
The AAC believes that such exclusionary tactics set a dangerous precedent, especially on university campuses that are dedicated to the open exchange of ideas. If the exchange of ideas is to be truly open, then it must necessarily include ideas to which one may object. UCLA has explicitly and repeatedly committed itself to defending this principle. The university’s mission statement declares that it is “committed to academic freedom in its fullest terms: We value open access to information, free and lively debate conducted with mutual respect for individuals, and freedom from intolerance.” In addition, UCLA’s Statement on the Principles of Scholarly Research and Public Records Requests reaffirms the university’s commitment to “robust, frequent, and frank intellectual exchange” and specifically warns against politically motivated intimidation on controversial issues.
Regardless of where students may stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the AAC believes that all should agree that the university be a place of open intellectual exchange. In accordance with this core principle, we applaud UCLA’s undergraduate judicial board’s decision that student government officials may take sponsored trips to Israel without it constituting a conflict of interest. We, furthermore, strongly urge UCLA students and students across campuses to reject all attempts to introduce political litmus tests and blacklists into student government
The Third Narrative’s Academic Advisory Council (AAC) is comprised currently of nearly 100 leading progressive scholars and academics who reject the notion that one has to be either pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. The AAC believes 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 the AAC insists on the importance of academic freedom and open intellectual exchange, and so rejects 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.