Viral faculty statement supporting campus free speech ignores co-author’s support for suppressing Israeli speech
Over 1000 academics have signed a joint statement co-authored by BDS supporter Cornel West, but count me out.
A series of high profile attacks on conservative speakers on campus has created great controversy, even among many academics on the left.
The scenes of physical assaults, incendiary projectiles fired at the student center, and bonfires lit at UC-Berkeley to stop an appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos’ gained media attention and raised questions about free speech on campuses. When a mob shouted down Charles Murray at Middlebury, physically assaulted his faculty host, and then jumped on and blockaded their getaway car, there was a howl of condemnation.
The Middlebury incident in particular sparked much soul-searching in academia.
The scenes at UC-Berkeley and Middlebury may have been shocking to many people, but not to those of us who support Israel. We have seen this movie many times before.
Before there were shout-downs, disruptions and violence against conservative speakers on campuses, there were shout-downs, disruptions and violence against Israeli and pro-Israel speakers on campuses, as we discussed recently in With campus shout downs, first they came for the Jews and Israel:
Finally, there is widespread condemnation even from the left, particularly after Middlebury.
Yet we have been covering shout-downs and violence directed at speakers on campus for several years, but for the most part these events never gained national media attention much less condemnation from the left. Because the speakers who were disrupted were mostly Jewish Israelis and supporters of Israel. Not all those shouted down or attacked were Jewish, but all were deemed supportive of Zionism, the recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jews.
The perpetrators frequently acted under the banner of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and Students for Justice in Palestine, or similar anti-Israel groups.
One of the responses to the Middlebury incident was a joint statement from two Princeton University academics, one on the right and one on the left, in support of free speech and free expression on campus.
On the right was Prof. Robert George. I’ve never met him, but many people over the years have told me I really need to meet him, that we would have a lot in common.
On the left was Prof. Cornel West. I’ve also never met him, but we have written about him a number of times over the years, particularly his support for the BDS movement. Most recently, he was in the news as a Bernie Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention Platform Committee, where he again proclaimed his support for BDS during debate over provisions related to the Israeli-Arab dispute.
The statement Profs. George and West co-authored now has been signed by over 1000 academics. It is titled Statement on Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression and was released on March 14, 2017. The statement has been highlighted in many publications, including The Atlantic:
Another visible reaction came from Robert George, a conservative professor from Princeton, and Cornel West, the liberal professor at Harvard, who issued a joint statement championing free speech. The statement, which received thousands of signatures from fellow educators, reads as a direct response to the Middlebury incident. “All of us should seek respectfully to engage with people who challenge our views,” the authors write. “And we should oppose efforts to silence those with whom we disagree—especially on college and university campuses.”
You should read the full statement. Here is an excerpt:
The pursuit of knowledge and the maintenance of a free and democratic society require the cultivation and practice of the virtues of intellectual humility, openness of mind, and, above all, love of truth. These virtues will manifest themselves and be strengthened by one’s willingness to listen attentively and respectfully to intelligent people who challenge one’s beliefs and who represent causes one disagrees with and points of view one does not share.
That’s why all of us should seek respectfully to engage with people who challenge our views. And we should oppose efforts to silence those with whom we disagree—especially on college and university campuses….
So someone who has not fallen into the idolatry of worshiping his or her own opinions and loving them above truth itself will want to listen to people who see things differently in order to learn what considerations—evidence, reasons, arguments—led them to a place different from where one happens, at least for now, to find oneself.
All of us should be willing—even eager—to engage with anyone who is prepared to do business in the currency of truth-seeking discourse by offering reasons, marshaling evidence, and making arguments. The more important the subject under discussion, the more willing we should be to listen and engage….
It is all-too-common these days for people to try to immunize from criticism opinions that happen to be dominant in their particular communities. Sometimes this is done by questioning the motives and thus stigmatizing those who dissent from prevailing opinions; or by disrupting their presentations; or by demanding that they be excluded from campus or, if they have already been invited, disinvited….
I have no problem with the substance of the statement. Under other circumstances I might even sign in support.
But I cannot do that considering that one of the co-authors — Cornel West — violates the very principles set forth in the statement through his support for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.
As longtime readers know, I have long fought against academic boycotts. I’m against the academic boycott of Israel, and I would be against an academic boycott of Palestinian universities.
Such systematic boycotts, the American Association of University Professors has held, are a threat both to academic freedom and free expression:
The Association recognizes the right of individual faculty members or groups of academics not to cooperate with other individual faculty members or academic institutions with whom or with which they disagree. We believe, however, that when such noncooperation takes the form of a systematic academic boycott, it threatens the principles of free expression and communication on which we collectively depend.
It is for that reason that over 250 university presidents and numerous university and higher ed associations have condemned the academic boycott of Israel.
You need look no further than the guidelines for the academic boycott published by the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) to understand how stifling that boycott is to free speech and free expression on campuses.
Here are just some of the interactions and appearances that are forbidden to Israeli Universities or their faculty representatives as to interaction with or on U.S. campuses:
Specifically, the following events, activities, or situations are in violation of the Palestinian academic boycott:
- Academic events (such as conferences, symposia, workshops, book and museum exhibits) convened or co-sponsored by Israel, complicit Israeli institutions or their support and lobby groups in various countries. All such academic events, whether held in Israel or abroad, deserve to be boycotted on institutional grounds. These boycottable activities include panels and other activities sponsored or organized by Israeli academic bodies or associations at international conferences outside Israel. Importantly, they also include the convening in Israel of meetings of international bodies and associations….
- Research and development activities that fall into these broad categories:
(a) Among academic institutions – Institutional cooperation agreements with Israeli universities or research institutes. These agreements, concluded between international and Israeli academic institutions, typically involve the exchange of faculty and students and, more importantly, the conduct of joint research. Many of these schemes are sponsored and funded by the European Union (in the case of Europe), and independent and government foundations elsewhere.
(b) Among the Israeli government and other governments or foundations/institutions.Researchers in such projects could be based at U.S., European or other universities.
(c) Among corporations and academic institutions – Research and development activities on behalf of international corporations involving contracts or other institutional agreements with departments or centers at Israeli universities….
- Funding from Israel or its lobby groups to academic activities/projects. All academic projects and activities funded, partially or fully, by Israel or any of its lobby groups are boycottable. Any international academic forum/project that accepts funding from Israel, its lobby groups or complicit institutions is conflicting with the Palestinian academic boycott of Israel….
- Addresses and talks at international venues by Israeli state officials or official representatives of Israeli academic institutions such as presidents, rectors or deans.
- Study abroad schemes in Israel for international students. ….
- Special academic honors or recognition granted to Israeli officials, representatives of Israeli academic institutions (such as the bestowal of honorary degrees and other awards) or to Israeli academic or research institutions….
- Normalization Projects. Academic activities and projects involving Palestinians and/or other Arabs on one side and Israelis on the other (whether bi- or multi- lateral) that are based on the false premise of symmetry/parity between the oppressors and the oppressed or that claim that both colonizers and colonized are equally responsible for the “conflict” are intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible forms of normalization that ought to be boycotted . Far from challenging the unjust status quo, such projects contribute to its endurance. Examples include events, projects, or publications that are designed explicitly to bring together Palestinians/Arabs and Israelis so they can present their respective narratives or perspectives, or to work toward reconciliation without addressing the root causes of injustice and the requirements of justice. Other factors that PACBI takes into consideration in evaluating such activities and projects are the sources of funding, the design of the project or event, the objectives of the sponsoring organization(s), the participants, and similar relevant factors….
- Institutional membership of Israeli associations in world bodies. …
- Publishing in or refereeing articles for academic journals based at Israeli universities or published in collaboration with Israeli institutions, or granting permission to reprint material published elsewhere in such Israel-based journals. …
- Serving as external reviewers for dissertations, writing recommendations or other forms of refereeing such as advising on hiring, promotion, tenure, and grant-making decisions at Israeli universities ….
- International students enrolling in or international faculty teaching or conducting research at degree or non-degree programs at an Israeli institution. …
- All academic visits or fact-finding missions that receive funding from Israel, its complicit institutions or its international lobby groups. Israeli government funding or funding by Israeli lobby groups should be boycotted. On the other hand, balanced, independent fact-finding missions, even those that include meetings with complicit Israeli academic institutions, are not boycottable, provided that no institutional link (e.g., seminars, workshops, exhibits, etc.) of any sort is established with Israeli institutions.
As you can see, the academic boycott seeks a complete exclusion of Israeli universities and faculty representatives from expressing their speech on U.S. campuses. The claim that BDS does not boycott individuals is ludicrous – if you are so thoroughly refusing to interact with a university, you are by definition refusing to interact with its employees, faculty and staff.
The guidelines for the cultural boycott similarly are onerous.
Given this program of shutting out Israelis and Israeli speech from U.S. campuses, it is no wonder that BDS protesters so regularly and vigorously seek to shout down and shut down Israeli and pro-Israeli speakers.
Because BDS stands against everything the statement on freedom of expression purports to stand for, and because one of the co-authors supports and is a leader of BDS, I will not sign it.
To do so would support an Israeli Exception to free speech and free expression, one in which there is free speech and expression for all on campus, except Israelis.
Emails to Profs. George and Cornel seeking comment have not been returned.