MEDIA ADVISORY, For Immediate Release
New York, NY – September 16, 2014
CONTACT: Professor Cary Nelson
212 366-1194 (After hours 347-583-7277)
On Friday night, September 12, the Doctoral Students Council (DSC) of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) decided to temporarily table a resolution endorsing a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The AAC welcomes the decision to delay the vote until a time when observant Jews who cannot attend a Sabbath meeting can have a voice in the discussion. But we also know the debate is not over. Before long, this first academic boycott resolution of the new academic year will have a further hearing, and the AAC is troubled by many of its provisions.
Fundamental to many campus boycott proposals is a confident claim that they will target institutions, not individuals. Yet the history of such resolutions, beginning in Britain a decade ago, demonstrates that their main effect is exactly the opposite. They create multiple and conflicting standards for blacklisting faculty members and students, especially Israelis, who are to be treated differently from any other academics on the globe, because of their nationality. Obviously when you boycott a collaborative research or teaching project that involves American and Israeli faculty and students you are also discriminating against the people involved. When you boycott an Israeli journal, you cannot help but target its editors and the people who publish there. When you boycott speakers who represent Israeli universities and conferences or events sponsored by Israeli institutions you deprive both speakers and their audiences of opportunities for dialogue.
The resolution’s attack on CUNY’s new Baruch College/Rishon LeZion joint MBA program would have exactly such effects. It is an unacceptable effort to close down an academic program purely for political, not academic reasons, and must be opposed as a violation of the most fundamental principles of the academy.
The resolution condemns US legislative efforts to establish political litmus tests for people or institutions receiving state funds, but the very organizations in the US that oppose academic boycotts fought those bills and helped defeat them. In any case, why would one punish Israeli universities because of unacceptable legislation in New York, Maryland, or elsewhere?
The resolution accuses university presidents who condemn academic boycotts of stifling free speech, but no one proposes sanctioning boycott advocates or preventing them from expressing their views. University presidents are simply endorsing a basic principle of academic freedom—that academic freedom and academic boycotts cannot co-exist—one long endorsed by the AAUP.
The resolution condemns the “Zionist” policies of the Israeli state, but Zionism itself means nothing more than the right of Jews to self-determination in their historic homeland. Like the AAC itself, many Zionists both here and in Israel support the rights of both Palestinians and Israelis to have a recognized state of their own. “Zionism” should not be used as a derogatory epithet to criticize policies many Zionists do not endorse or to suggest that Jews, alone among the peoples of the world, do not enjoy a right to national self-determination.
The AAC strongly supports the quest for two states, living in peace and prosperity, based on a just resolution of the conflict. This goal can only be achieved if there is more, not less, interaction with both Israeli and Palestinian faculty and students. Indeed this boycott proposal would directly harm all those currently engaged in such collaborative relationships with US institutions, including those Arab citizens of Israel who attend or teach at Israeli universities. Israeli universities include some of the country’s most vocal and articulate critics of state policies. We want to keep the lines of communication with them open. But we also want the chance to talk with those who disagree with us. A modest step toward that international goal would be to make certain the rescheduled local date for considering the resolution does not occur on the Sabbath or a Jewish holiday.
The AAC believes respect for and empathy with both Israelis and Palestinians is essential to any process with a chance of finding a solution that grants them both real hope for the future. We believe academic boycotts contribute nothing toward that goal and indeed undermine them.
The AAC was grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in the evening’s discussion. Eric Alterman, CUNY Distinguished Professor of English and Journalism at Brooklyn College and a founding member of AAC, was invited to attend and given an opportunity to speak. Our members at campuses throughout the country stand ready to help others make the case that academic boycotts violate academic freedom, and harm the prospects for peace.