I was aware of this situation of faculty supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement getting an Israeli filmmaker removed from a campus conference at Syracuse University, but had to wait for The Atlantic to report on it.

It’s one of the most outrageous examples I have seen of how the BDS movement has poisoned academia. It also proves that BDS is lying when it says it only boycotts institutions not individuals. It also reflects the so-called “silent boycott” where Israelis face discrimination below the radar even when contrary to university policy.

It involved Israeli filmmaker Shimon Dotan, who was going to screen his film “The Settlers,” which had been shown at the Sundance Festival, at a joint U. Nebraska – Syracuse University conference next March, “The Place of Religion in Film” (pdf.) Dotan also teaches at NY University.

The Place of Religion In Film Call for Papers

The film itself is critical of Israeli “settlers.” So this is not even a case where there was a problem with the filmmaker himself or his viewpoint which would fit in nicely on most campuses. A review at The Forward notes, Documentary About ‘The Settlers’ Shows Them as Israeli Left Wants To See Them.

Unfortunately, The Atlantic article by Conor Freidersdorf turns this into a moral equivalence play, in which some vague notion of campus politics is to blame. In fact, this is pure anti-Israel hatred playing itself out under the radar as another sign of the “silent boycott” of Israelis, from which even leftist Israelis are not safe.

Here is the letter rescinding the offer, highlights added. Read it. This was BDS pressure to kick an Israeli off campus.

Dear Professor Dotan,

I know you have been in contact with my Omaha colleague, Bill Blizek, about screening The Settlers and serving as plenary speaker at a religion and film conference in Syracuse in March, 2017. I am the convener of that conference and I found Bill’s description of your work, and the reviews I read of it exciting.

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.

Clearly I am politically naive. I also feel tremendous shame in reneging on a half-offered invitation.

I do want to stress that my colleague who Chairs our SU Jewish Studies program, Zak Braiterman, was fully willing to strongly support your coming, even though he too has not yet screened your film.

Obviously, my decision here has nothing to do with you or your work, and nothing to do with Bill, who contacted you in good faith. I feel caught in an ideological matrix and by my own egoic needs to sustain certain institutional affiliations.

I sign off in hopes that I do have the chance to engage your work one day, and in prayer that you’ll forgive me. My sincere apology and best wishes,

M. Gail Hamner
Religion Department
Affiliated Faculty in Women and Gender Studies
Affiliated Faculty in Film and Screen Studies
Syracuse University

This BDS action violates Syracuse University’s stated opposition to the academic boycott of Israel.

Syracuse administrators need a thorough investigation and discipline against those faculty who violated university policy.

I have requested comment from Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud.

UPDATE 9-2-2016: 

Syracuse U begins whitewash of BDS-driven disinvite of Israeli filmmaker

I have not received comment from the Chancellor, but the University Vice Chanellor and Provost Michelle Wheatley issued a mass email statement. The statement, along with a simultaneous statement by Prof. Hammer, appear to minimize the BDS aspect of the incident, chalk it up to a misunderstanding, and poor judgment. That hardly is viable in light of the plain language of the disinvite email quoted above. Here is the Provost’s email statement:

Friday, Sept. 2, 2016

Dear Syracuse University Community Members,

Every day, the members of our community engage with a variety of scholarly concepts, ideas, opinions, and theories. Do we agree with everything we hear? Of course not. Do we strive to foster an environment in which the dialogue, discussion, and debate on a variety of topics is encouraged and embraced? Absolutely.

In light of a recent media report regarding an upcoming Syracuse-hosted conference focused on religion and film, I feel it necessary to reaffirm our commitment to intellectual and respectful debate on controversial issues. It has been reported that a Syracuse professor was reluctant to invite to campus a faculty member from another school to screen his documentary at the conference because it might provoke anti-Israeli criticism.

Whether or not such criticism would have actually been expressed, the decision in this matter is inconsistent with our policies, ideals, and practices. In fact, more than 2½ years ago, the University made clear its position that we support and encourage discussion and debate around important and complex issues concerning peace, security, and justice for all individuals in the Middle East and that we do not support any boycott of Israeli academic institutions or faculty as it runs counter to the open exchange of knowledge, ideas, and perspectives.

The Syracuse professor who made the initial decision has since publicly stated that she regrets having done so. Chancellor Syverud and I will be working with the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences to extend an invitation to the professor/filmmaker to visit and screen his film at Syracuse University at a future date.

The kind of exchange and respectful discourse we anticipate is intrinsic to the Syracuse University experience—from a teaching and learning perspective, both inside and outside the classroom.

Here is Prof. Hamner’s statement:

Statement from M. Gail Hamner, Professor of Religion

I deeply regret the embarrassment the decision I made and my poor choice of words have caused my department, my colleagues and my fellow faculty.

Overly concerned about how others would react, my email to Shimon Dotan stressed my fears of sparking activism on campus over a highly complex and emotional Middle East issue, settlements on the West Bank. That email triggered media coverage that questioned my own and my university’s commitment to academic freedom, and also led me to overstate concerns expressed by some of my colleagues. I was equally concerned at the time that I had not viewed Professor Dotan’s film yet, which I realize now is standard protocol. These mistakes were the result of bad judgement and my inexperience planning conferences.

I allowed my own fear of controversy to rule over good judgment and good teaching. This was a valuable learning moment for me – both professionally and personally.


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