New York, NY, July 31, 2014
CONTACT: Professor Cary Nelson
212 366-1194 (After hours 347-583-7277)
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 concerning the rebuke by Bar-Ilan University administration officials of a faculty member for expressing concern over the welfare of both Israelis and Palestinians during the current conflict.
Amid the tragic loss of life in the current Israel-Hamas conflict, the AAC is troubled to learn of an incident that appears to amount to a regrettable infringement of academic freedom.
When Professor Hanoch Sheinman of Bar-Ilan University prefaced an email to his students about their exam date by saying he hopes they are “in a safe place, and that you, your families and those dear to you are not among the hundreds of people that were killed, the thousands wounded, or the tens of thousands whose homes were destroyed or were forced to leave their homes during, or as a direct result of, the violent confrontation in the Gaza Strip and its environs,” the dean of the Faculty of Law publicly rebuked him, taking it upon himself to apologize for Prof. Sheinman and telling the professor that “the matter will be handled with the appropriate seriousness.” Such a statement implies the possibility of punishment.
As scholars and academics, we believe that Prof. Sheinman’s statement falls squarely under the bounds of speech protected by the universal principle of academic freedom. As such, we strongly urge the dean of the Faculty of Law to refrain from any punitive actions. Although we share the concern that faculty should not gratuitously politicize routine academic communications, the burden of the professor’s words was plainly to express compassion. Even if we disagreed with Prof. Sheinman’s political opinions or sentiments, moreover, they would still be protected by academic freedom.
In this case, we also happen to note with favor that the kind of universal compassion Sheinman extended to both citizens of his own country and to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip undergirds the second principle of our organization: the reversal of decades of mutual Israeli-Palestinian dehumanization and the furtherance of negotiations leading to a hoped-for permanent peace.
The Third Narrative’s Academic Advisory Council (AAC) is comprised currently 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.