Fordham Prof. faced “religious discrimination” charge for calling anti-Israel academic boycott “anti-Semitic”
Prof. Doron Ben-Atar was cleared of religious discrimination charge, but now faces administrative threats regarding his vow to “fight” the boycott.
In December 2013, the American Studies Association passed an academic boycott of Israel, the first group of substantial size to do so. That led to a massive outpouring of outrage and rejection by over 250 university presidents and numerous university associations, not to mention the American Association of University Professors.
The ASA boycott was passed with less than 20% of the membership voting for it, but so few people participated that it was enough. The anti-Israel political activists who dominated the ASA “activism” caucus and national council used their influence to the utmost, something we have detailed here repeatedly.
The opposition to the boycott resulted in the ASA playing victim, claiming that criticism of the boycott and steps by university presidents to reject the boycott somehow was an infringement of the boycotters’ academic freedom. As if academic freedom meant freedom from criticism and the ability to politicize an issue only when pro-boycott.
But it appears that in the trenches, the attacks on those opposing the boycott have been even more vicious.
The email arrived on the last Friday afternoon of the spring term shortly before 5:00 p.m. Anastasia Coleman, Fordham’s Director of Institutional Equity and Compliance, and its Title IX Coordinator, wanted to meet with me. “It has been alleged,” she wrote, “that you may have acted in an inappropriate way and possibly discriminated against another person at the University.” …
“Did it have anything to do with a student?” I shot back anxiously, hoping to get a sense of my predicament before the director left for the weekend. I was lucky. Coleman responded immediately. “This does not involve students and is about your behavior regarding American Studies.”
What a relief. But it was also very odd. The decision of the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli universities in December 2013 had upset me. I wrote emails, circulated articles, and was pleased that my university president quickly declared his opposition to the measure. I joined a national steering committee that set out to fight the boycott and participated in the drafting of a few statements. As an American historian who delivered in 1987 his first paper at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association and served on the executive committee of Fordham’s American Studies program, I wanted Fordham’s program to sever official ties with the national organization until it rescinded the measure. Other programs have taken this courageous symbolic step, and I thought it proper for the Jesuit university of New York to take the moral stand against what most scholars of anti-Semitism consider anti-Semitic bigotry.
It was this stand that led Fordham’s Title IX officer to launch the proceedings….
Prof. Ben-Atar then goes on to describe how his determination to fight the boycott led another professor to charge him with discrimination — that’s right, fighting what he perceived as anti-Semitism led the weight of University to come down on him for religious discrimination. He continues:
The following Monday, Coleman appeared in my office to conduct her investigation. Alas, she refused to explain what I was accused of specifically or how what I supposedly did amounted to a Title IX violation. Remaining vague, she hinted that others, including perhaps Fordham College’s dean, who chaired the fateful meeting, supported the complaint. Who are the others, I asked? Is there anything beyond that supposed one sentence? She would not disclose. I told Coleman that I took the complaint very seriously, but at the advice of my attorney I needed to think things through. Coleman told me she’d be in touch with my attorney, and we parted ways…..
In late July, however, I received Coleman’s report in which she cleared me of the charge of religious discrimination. It was the first time that I learned what I was actually accused of doing, so I’m still not sure how opposing anti-Semitism amounts to religious discrimination. But Coleman was not satisfied to leave things at that. She went on to write that I refused to cooperate in the investigation (even though my attorney informed DeJulio weeks earlier of my willingness to meet her), and concluded that my decision to use an attorney was an indication of guilt. Coleman determined that in declaring I would quit the American Studies program should it not distance itself from anti-Semitism, I violated the university’s code of civility.
Here is the letter, which Prof. Ben-Atar provided to me:
Prof. Ben-Atar vehemently denies that use of the word “fight” in the context of fighting the ASA boycott, was in any way threatening, and no serious person could take it that way. He provided me with the draft minutes from the meeting where this commentary took place, and it’s clear from those minutes that there was no threat (emphasis added):
One colleague said the program must do the ethical thing and denounce bigotry. Understands argument expressed for staying in the ASA. And appreciates the point of view provided in favor of resolution that has been stated eloquently. Prefers that we suspend our ASA membership as other schools have done. ASA allowed only one point of view on its website. Asserts that countervailing (anti-boycott) statements were only allowed 30 seconds to make their concerns know. [Later, when asked to clarify, he corrected this to two minutes.] American Studies Program at Fordham should make a stand: oppose to bigotry, distance itself from the ASA, and if it does not, this colleague said he would withdraw from the American Studies program, and fight the American Studies Program at Fordham in every forum and in every way.
There were two other similar passages in the minutes.
I emailed Fordham for comment but have not heard back, as to its position.
I am not surprised that someone objecting to the anti-Israel boycott as anti-Semitic would have charges made against him of religious discrimination. That is how the boycotters have managed to turn language on its head, so that the destroyers of academic freedom claim to be the victims.
Prof. Ben-Atar concludes his column with this observation about legal bullying by boycott supporters:
Fordham remains my intellectual home. Some colleagues, appalled by the charge and proceedings, turned out to be actual loyal friends who supported me through the ordeal. But I also learned about another part of the university where colleagues resort to legal bullying to settle political scores; where heartfelt utterings at faculty brainstorming become evidence for politically motivated character assassinations; where those charged with protecting women against real abuses engage in a politically motivated witch-hunt; where fighting against the oldest hatred—anti-Semitism—makes one a pariah. The Jesuit University of New York should do better.
Prof. Ben-Atar was right, the destructive anti-Israel academic boycott — which arose out of the openly anti-Semitic 2001 Durban conference — needs to be fought.
Update: The person who made the “civility” charge and accusation of discrimination took a very different view when it came to controversial figure Steven Salaita whose tweets cost him a tenure offer:
— Micki McGee (@mickimcgee) August 16, 2014
— Micki McGee (@mickimcgee) August 17, 2014
Update 10-15-2014: Fordham’s communications office sent along this statement:DONATE
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