New York, NY – October 6, 2014
Professor Chad Goldberg
212 366-1194 (After hours 347-583-7277)
This fall the AMCHA Initiative, an organization concerned with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activity on college campuses, published a list of more than 200 academics who have publicly signed a petition calling for a boycott of Israel, suggesting that students “may want to check which faculty members from their university are signatories before registering” for their classes. “How can professors who are so biased against the Jewish state accurately or fairly teach students about Israel or the Arab-Israel conflict?” AMCHA asked.
Our group, the Academic Advisory Council to The Third Narrative, supports respectful discourse and academic freedom around the Israel-Palestine debate and believes that unchallenged expressions of bigotry (whether anti-Israel or anti-Palestinian) chill open debate. We also share the concern that in some quarters the field of Middle East Studies has become politicized and unscholarly, with the propagation of dogma replacing the cultivation of free discussion about difficult issues. As an organization we have already denounced the boycott petition whose signatories AMCHA now targets, describing it as inimical to academic freedom and imbalanced in its exclusive focus on Israel’s role in Middle East hostilities.
We staunchly oppose the boycott of Israel, which we believe amounts to a blacklist. But we are concerned that AMCHA’s list will be used as something like a blacklist, too, for it questions the ability of these signatories to teach, simply based on their assumed political positions. We believe that boycott supporters should be presumed to be capable of putting aside their political opinions and conducting themselves as responsible scholars and teachers.
Professors who fail to create a classroom environment in which students can say and argue what they think without penalty, irrespective of the professor’s politics, are failing as academics and should be castigated for that. Students who believe that a given course falls short of the scholarly standards they expect from their universities have every right to make their grievances known to department chairs or other curricular authorities, who can assess whether such complaints are widespread and legitimate. But to publicly tar all signatories of a petition as automatically worthy of suspicion creates a presumption of guilt that is unfair and harmful.