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ERODING ACADEMIC FREEDOM

By Alliance for Academic Freedom

This is a statement of the executive committee of the Alliance for Academic Freedom protesting BDS decisions at Pitzer College in Claremont, California, and Stellenbosch University in South Africa:  

The movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel on college campuses has on the whole seen relatively little success in the past two years. Colleges and universities have generally remained strong in defense of protecting the academic freedom of students and faculty who wish to work or study in Israel, collaborate with Israeli scholars, or otherwise interact freely with the rich academic resources that Israel has to offer.

This fall, however, has seen a growing effort to deprive American students of their freedom to study in Israel. At the University of Michigan, a professor and a graduate student both wrongly refused to write recommendation letters for students seeking to study in Israel—actions that the university president rightly condemned. Now, at Pitzer College in California, a faculty body has voted to suspend its study-abroad program at the University of Haifa. Although the university has not done so, the faculty vote nonetheless represents an unjustifiable and discriminatory attempt to restrict the opportunities afforded to its students. The faculty did not articulate general principles that might also affect study-abroad programs in countries such as China, Cuba, Singapore, Turkey and Vietnam—all countries to which Pitzer sends students, according to a university webpage. Rather, it singled out Israel for punishment, despite its comparably superior record on human rights and academic freedom. One justification for this targeting of Israel was its own refusal to admit a number of prominent BDS advocates. The AAF has previously criticized those actions on the part of the Israeli government, but they in no way can justify an action that punishes Pitzer’s own students as much as it punishes the University of Haifa. In any case, the University of Haifa is not responsible for the policies of the Israeli government.

It is common for BDS supporters to deny that innocent students or scholars are harmed by its actions. This claim was once again given the lie this week when the organizers of an academic conference at Stellenbosch University in South Africa to disinvite seven Israeli participants who were scheduled to attend. Among the victims were not only Jewish Israeli professors and graduate students but also Prof. Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, a Palestinian political scientist formerly at Al-Quds University who has promoted dialogue with Israel. Here, too, the boycotters sought to justify their action with reference to Israeli policies but it formulated no general rules about boycotting that might also apply to other countries—suggesting that the motive was not a commitment to humanitarian principles but a specific targeting of the Jewish State.

The Alliance for Academic Freedom, devoted to upholding academic freedom for participants on all sides of Israeli-Palestinian debates, strongly condemns both the Pitzer College faculty vote and the Stellenbosch University conference’s disinvitations. We believe that progress in the Middle East will result only when adversaries engage with one another and that boycotts are not only discriminatory but counterproductive and even destructive of the chances for peaceful coexistence. 

P.S. This links to a Faculty Lounge blog post by Prof. Steven Lubet, which includes in full, Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver’s caustic condemnation of the faculty vote. 

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