The threat to academic freedom remains: “BDS faction on campus will make matters very unpleasant”
The academic boycott movement against Israel has achieved very little so far, though it has poisoned the campus atmosphere with its anti-academic freedom message.
There is no university or college in that United State that I’m aware of even considering the academic boycott of Israel. The academic boycott resolutions at faculty organizations have had limited success, limited to the humanities and social sciences, and even there the only significant sized group to adopt the boycott was the American Studies Association in December 2013.
The move to hijack faculty groups continues, and we can expect more boycott resolutions this annual meeting season in the fall and winter. The information spread against Israel by these faculty members is consistently false and misleading, and always one-sided. It is a critical part of the international effort to delegitimize and dehumanize Israeli Jews, and needs to be fought for that reason regardless of the relative lack of success.
Lacking institutional success, the BDS war on campus has devolved into trench warfare at a very personal level.
Above the surface, we see repeated disruptions of Israeli and pro-Israel speakers by anti-Israel students, under the banner of Students for Justice in Palestine or similar campus groups. We have covered dozens of such instances.
At the faculty level, the relative lack of organizational support for the academic boycott has caused pro-boycott professors to take matters into their own hands.
There have been numerous reports of an emerging “silent” boycott movement. That is, actions taken in private by pro-BDS faculty to shut the doors of academia to Israelis by refusing to interact with Israelis. It’s also no secret in the humanities and social sciences that the best way not to get hired is to be openly pro-Israel. One of our writers is a grad student who feels compelled to write under a pseudonym for fear of retaliation by pro-BDS professors.
We have a prime example of how the silent boycott works.
It took place at Syracuse University recently, where Israeli filmmaker and NYU professor Shimon Dotan was disinvited from showing his film at a planned 2017 conference. His film, “The Settlers,” was widely reviewed as a devastatingly negative portrayal of Israelis living in the West Bank.
The film was shown at the Sundance Festival, and was to be shown at the conference at the invitation of the co-sponsor, the University of Nebraska.
Yet the showing of the film was nixed. The details of the disinvite and initial university response are set forth in my prior posts:
- Israeli filmmaker disinvited at Syracuse U: “BDS faction on campus will make matters very unpleasant”
- Syracuse University begins whitewash of BDS-driven disinvite of Israeli filmmaker
The short version of the story is that Syracuse professor Gail Hamner said in an email to Dotan that she was warned by colleagues that if Dotan participated in the conference the “BDS faction” on campus would make his life and hers “very unpleasant.” The email, available in full in my prior post, read in part (emphasis added):
I now am embarrassed to share that my SU colleagues, on hearing about my attempt to secure your presentation, have warned me that the BDS faction on campus will make matters very unpleasant for you and for me if you come. In particular my film colleague in English who granted me affiliated faculty in the film and screen studies program and who supported my proposal to the Humanities Council for this conference told me point blank that if I have not myself seen your film and cannot myself vouch for it to the Council, I will lose credibility with a number of film and Women/Gender studies colleagues. Sadly, I have not had the chance to see your film and can only vouch for it through my friend and through published reviews.
The response at the university has centered on portraying this as an error in judgment, and promising to have Dotan show his film on campus through some other mechanism and group. There has been no public focus by the university, so far, on the role that BDS faculty play in creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation such that the mere invitation of an Israel to show a film on campus is problematic.
And make no mistake, Dotan being Israeli must have been a critical factor, as I explained in my prior post:
The disinvitation, by the plain terms of the disinvitation, had nothing to do with the content of the film.
In fact, the content of the film portrays Israeli “settlers” in a negative light, and is consistent with anti-Israel BDS sentiment among the “BDS faction on campus,” the term used by Hamner in the email. This is not, contrary to the narrative presented by Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic, about political correctness. The Dotan film is as politically correct as it comes.
Neither Dotan nor the film could be viewed as politically incorrect on campuses, unless the objection was to the fact that Dotan is Israeli.
Rather, by the plain language of the disinvitation, the complaint by Hamner’s “SU colleagues” was specific to Dotan, and Hamner was “warned [by her colleagues] … that the BDS faction on campus would make matters very unpleasant” for Dotan and Hamner. Those colleagues who issued this warning have not been identified. There are several Syracuse University professors who have formally endorsed the academic boycott of Israel, though it’s not known if any of them were among the “colleagues” warning against the invitation to Dotan.
A full and transparent investigation is needed because this is the tip of the silent boycott iceberg.
If not for Hamner’s honesty and frankness in telling the filmmaker why he was being shut out, this would never have come to light. That the filmmaker went public will likely ensure that others will not be honest and frank in revealing the pressure that BDS faculty put on them to violate university policy and anti-discrimination laws in pursuit of the academic boycott.
It’s not enough to treat this as a one-off error of judgment.
The silent boycott is just as vicious as the open boycott, and more insidious because it rarely is exposed to the light.
Prospective students, current students, faculty and staff, alumni, parents and the community at large are entitled to know what is going on at Syracuse University that would put such fear into a tenured professor that she would disinvite a prominent Israeli filmmaker without even seeing the film based upon warnings about how the “BDS faction” on campus would make her life “unpleasant.” The cause of that fear continues to exist on campus even if the film is shown and Dotan now welcomed to campus.DONATE
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.