Summer of Defeats for Academic BDS

At the beginning of August, the executive committee of The Third Narrative’s affiliated Alliance for Academic Freedom (AAF) sent an open letter to the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP) against a resolution proposing the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.  On the weekend of August 10-11, allies and members of the AAF were instrumental in defeating this BDS resolution at the SSSP in a close vote, 34 to 37. 

According to an article in the Algemeiner:

Ezra Temko, a sociologist at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville who opposed the BDS resolution at the SSSP meeting, wrote that “The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel is an ugly campaign that stands in opposition to social justice.”

Posting on Facebook, Temko said: “It opposes study abroad programs, Israel’s membership in FIFA, and even dialogue and peace-building efforts that bring Israelis and Palestinians together without preconditions. It stands in opposition to a constructive agenda that moves forward towards peace and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians as well as in opposition to a two-state solution.”

This article further reported on the role of AAF colleague Chad Alan Goldberg, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who organized 17 former SSSP officers, editors and award-winners to issue a letter opposing the BDS resolution, indicating in part that:

. . .  the SSSP would be “sponsoring an inequitable and discriminatory policy” that violates its own by-laws.

The boycott would restrict the freedom that is “essential” to association members, without which they “cannot fulfill their professional responsibilities,” it adds.

[And that] “To deny these freedoms to one group of scholars on the grounds that others are deprived of them is logically inconsistent and morally indefensible. We believe these fundamental principles must be upheld for scholars of every nationality, at every academic institution, everywhere in the world.”

A BDS effort at the Foundations of Political Theory section, one of 49 within the American Political Science Association (APSA), was also derailed. We were informed that there was a packed room with 120 or more conference participants in attendance. People spoke for an hour and a half, with most opposed to bringing the BDS issue before the full APSA. Among those who rose to speak against it were TTN’s Michael Walzer (emeritus professor at the Institute for Advanced Study), Steven Smith of Yale, Ron Hassner of UC Berkeley, and Yuli Tamir (an Israeli political philosopher who was a Labor MK from 2003 to 2010 and a government minister three times). Reportedly, section chairperson Robyn Marasco of Hunter College received 360 emails on the issue, 80 percent opposing the resolution. She concluded the meeting by rejecting the proposed resolution as counter to majority opinion in the section — meaning it was dead in the water. 

Prof. Walzer summed things up as follows:

The story is very simple: we turned out more people than they did. Had there been a vote, we would have had a large majority. Steven Smith and Ron Hassner gave very good talks; Yuli Tamir’s intervention helped a lot.

One nice moment: a BDS speaker claimed that there was no special focus on Israel; he was personally involved in half a dozen movements against settler colonialism. And then a young woman stood up and asked: if there are so many movements, why was there only one resolution?

Some of us addressed the procedural point (the APSA by-laws don’t allow political statements); some spoke about academic freedom; and some, like myself, argued against substantive BDS claims.

BDS suffered an additional setback in California, as reported in The Jewish Journal:

The California State Board of Education (SBE) announced on Aug. 12 that the proposed Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) will be replaced with an entirely new draft.  . . .  Myriad Jewish groups have criticized the drafted ESMC for supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and failing to mention anti-Semitism as an example of bigotry . . .