On May 5, 2014, I gave a lecture at Vassar College against the academic boycott of Israel. Originally I had challenged the 39 professors who signed a letter defending the academic boycott of Israel to debate, but none accepted the challenge.

During the Q&A, I learned for the first time from student organizer Luka Ladan that one of the professors had called for a boycott of my lecture.

The full video is here. The two anti-Israel speakers I referenced were Max Blumenthal and Ali Abunimah, who appeared in an event sponsored by several academic departments, the week before. Those same academic departments were asked to sponsor my appearance, but none did.

I had not made a big deal about it, although it troubled me that a professor would call for a boycott of a lecture simply because of a difference of opinion.

When I saw a Wall Street Journal column posted late this afternoon, I remembered that statement about boycotting me. Ruth Wisse, professor at Harvard, writes, The Closing of the Collegiate Mind:

There was a time when people looking for intellectual debate turned away from politics to the university. Political backrooms bred slogans and bagmen; universities fostered educated discussion. But when students in the 1960s began occupying university property like the thugs of regimes America was fighting abroad, the venues gradually reversed. Open debate is now protected only in the polity: In universities, muggers prevail….

In 1995 I participated in a campus debate on affirmative action that drew so much student interest it had to be rerouted to Harvard’s largest auditorium. This year I was asked by a student group to participate in a debate on modern feminism. Though I am not hotly engaged in the subject, I agreed and waited for confirmation, thinking it might be fun to consider a women’s movement that has never graduated from sisterhood to motherhood. There followed several emails apologizing for the delay and finally a message acknowledging that no one could be found to take the pro-feminist side. Evidently, one of those asked had responded: “What is there to debate?” No wonder those who admit no legitimate opposition to their ideas feel duty-bound to shut down unwelcome speakers.

Here’s the email, which I obtained after my appearance, sent to the 38 other professors and one of the student organizers of my appearance, Luka Ladan:

Dear colleagues (and Mr Ladan):

Since Prof Jacobson so stubbornly and willfully insists on misunderstanding the nature and content of our letter and has offered a tantrum-like meet-me-in-the-back-of-the-school-after-class challenge I propose that we boycott his appearance at the College.

Lisa Paravisini

Once upon a time, the reaction would be to appear on stage with me and enlighten me and the audience as to how I allegedly misunderstood the letter defending the anti-Israel academic boycott.

If the case that I was wrong could have been made, it should have been. If it couldn’t be made, and if I didn’t misconstrue the letter, then I guess a group boycott was the only option.


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