Academic BDS is anathema to academic freedom and the responsibilities of a Dean of Faculty
There is a mini-firestorm that has erupted slowly over the appointment of Professor N. Bruce Duthu to be Dean of the Faculty at Dartmouth College.
The first flames appeared in late March 2017 at the Dartblog, run by Dartmouth alums. After noting Duthu’s alleged lack of academic and professional qualifications for such a position, Joseph Asch ’79 wrote:
Finally, and of greatest concern, is the man’s politics. He signed the American Studies Association petition urging the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) directed at Israeli universities….
Additionally he is listed as an author of the Declaration of Support for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions by the Council of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association….
Duthu was one of only three Dartmouth professors to endorse the ASA boycott of Israel.
Legal Insurrection covered the ASA boycott more extensively than anyone, including compiling the list of 252 statements from university and college presidents, and dozens of other major university and academic entities, condemning the ASA boycott, among other reasons, as a violation of the academic freedom of others.
One of those statements opposing academic BDS was from the then and current President of Dartmouth, Philip Hanlon:
Recently several academic associations, including the American Studies Association, have proposed or endorsed a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. I believe that academic boycotts restrict the free exchange of ideas that are at the heart of Dartmouth’s dual mission to educate citizen-leaders and advance the frontiers of knowledge. Collaboration, especially across significant points of tension and difference, is essential to fostering mutual understanding and solving the world’s most complex problems. As president, I am committed to ensuring that all members of the Dartmouth community have the opportunity to engage in scholarly work across the globe, including with academic institutions of Israel.
I respect the right of faculty, students, and staff to express their personal opinions. While I do not support this boycott, I hope that together we can work to expand, rather than limit, engagement with our colleagues.
One of the entities condemning the ASA boycott was the American Association of University Professors, which deems such boycotts harmful to academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas:
A letter opposing Duthu’s appointment from Dartmouth Economics Professor Al Gustman was quite scathing, it provides in part:
In advocating the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, BDS is anti-Semitic. The chant of the BDS movement, from the river to the sea, is anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and profoundly anti- Jewish. It refers to sweeping the Jews out of Israel. Where else do we find movements advocating action against the academic institutions in any country but Israel, including many truly bad actors in the world? BDS is singling out Israel – the one country in the world that has a majority Jewish population. Indeed, this movement has become a cover for many anti-Semites who like nothing better than to once again be free to exercise their prejudices. It also is important to understand, especially when evaluating the significance of appointing a BDS advocate as the Dean of the Faculty, that BDS is not just a statement of beliefs or a philosophical movement: it is a statement of action.
Given my concerns about this matter I wrote letters to President Hanlon, to Professor Duthu, and individually to members of Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees. President Hanlon responded that he would never accept anti-Semitism at Dartmouth and reminded me of a letter he circulated to the Dartmouth campus against any boycott advocated by the BDS movement. Professor Duthu also states that he is not anti-Semitic and would not permit anti-Semitic acts at Dartmouth. Some of his friends, including those from the Jewish Studies Program, also argue that he is not anti-Semitic. In personal correspondence he cites a portion of the resolution as a defense of his position: “The NAISA statement, which you can find on the organization’s website
, explicitly champions and defends intellectual and academic freedom with a recognition that “collaboration with individuals and organizations in Israel/Palestine can make an important contribution to the cause of justice.” Note that this statement does not support academic freedom in general. It supports Professor Duthu’s notion of justice. No member of the Board of Trustees responded to my email.
The Free Beacon reports on how the controversy has gained momentum:
Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon is facing criticism following his recent decision to appoint Native American studies Professor Bruce Duthu—a leading supporter of the anti-Israel Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment movement, or BDS—as Dartmouth’s dean of faculty….
While pro-Israel faculty members spent weeks petitioning Dartmouth’s leadership about Duthu’s support for the BDS movement—which included co-authoring a leading BDS document backing the boycott of Israeli academic institutions—President Hanlon moved forward with the decision, prompting some to go public with their concerns.
Dartmouth economics professor Alan Gustman sent a faculty-wide email last week expressing his concern over Duthu’s anti-Israel activism and the college leadership’s apathetic response to these fears.
Dartmouth’s top faculty member should not be an individual who is opposed to working with Israeli academics based on their national origin, Gustman argues.
Although I have followed the academic boycott movement closely, I’ve never heard of Duthu. He was in a leadership position, including being Treasurer, of NAISA when it and he endorsed the academic boycott. But he has not been one of the more visible academic BDS leaders.
Apparently he is considering issuing some sort of statement, and in the estimation of Professor Kenneth Walzer, who opposes BDS, Duthu is not a true BDS believer:
I want to comment on the budding controversy at Dartmouth connected with appointment of Bruce Duthu as Dean of the Faculty after having had a serious conversation with Susannah Heschel of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth. The story is considerably more complicated than Stephen Smith wrote or that an economist at Dartmouth Alan Gustafson has alleged.
Susannah says (and I can cite her) that Bruce Duthu is a good and reasonable guy, whom most faculty like and appreciate, that he has been Associate Dean for International Affairs and Interdisciplinary Programs at Dartmouth meaning he has been the lead administrator over Jewish Studies, and he has acted fairly and supportively in that capacity, assisting in bringing in Israeli scholars, and that he himself has been invited to lecture at Hebrew University in fall 2017, which he plans to do.
Duthu did author a pro BDS initiative in his Native Am Studies Assn at the height of the Gaza incursion events, which I still believe he should disown or contextualize; but he is not a true believer or a hard BDS person. He is considering making a statement, we’ll see, and Susannah Heschel and others are strong in support for him. Heschel just made a very effective video for the battle ongoing in the MLA, opposing boycott. Heschel’s views mean a lot to me. At Dartmouth, there are students doing Native American Studies and Jewish Studies together. In this case, the real picture seems to be more multicolored than the black/white depictions thus far out there. Susannah Heschel said she would have preferred he hadn’t embraced BDS as he did, but attests he is a fair-minded supportive colleague and helpful administrator and she supports his appointment….
In assessing whether endorsing academic BDS should be a disqualifier, it’s worth considering just what academic BDS consists of. I’ve written extensively about this, including in my January 2014 whistleblower challenge to the ASA’s tax exempt status (of which I’ve heard nothing from the IRS).
Here are what the academic boycott guidelines issued by the central BDS organization and endorsed by Duthu consisted of at the time of the ASA and NAISA boycott resolutions (the guidelines now are even worse).
Academic Boycott Guidelines
Inspired by the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa as well as the long tradition of civil resistance against settler-colonialism in Palestine, the PACBI Call  urges academics and cultural workers to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid, by applying the following:
1. Refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions;
2. Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;
3. Promote divestment and disinvestment from Israel by international academic institutions;
4. Work toward the condemnation of Israeli policies by pressing for resolutions to be adopted by academic, professional and cultural associations and organizations;
5. Support Palestinian academic and cultural institutions directly without requiring them to partner with Israeli counterparts as an explicit or implicit condition for such support.”
* * *
….PACBI urges academics, academics’ associations/unions and academic institutions around the world, where possible and as relevant, to boycott and/or work towards the cancellation or annulment of events, activities, agreements, or projects that promote the normalization of Israel in the global academy, whitewash Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinians rights, or violate the boycott. Specifically, the Palestinian academic boycott against Israel applies to the following events, activities, or situations:
1. Academic events (such as conferences, symposia, workshops, book and museum exhibits) convened or co-sponsored by Israeli institutions. All academic events, whether held in Israel or abroad, and convened or co-sponsored by Israeli academic institutions or their departments and institutes, 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.
2. Institutional cooperation agreements with Israeli universities or research institutes. These agreements, concluded between international and Israeli universities, 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. For example, the five-year EU Framework programs, in which Israel has been the only non-European participant, have been crucial to the development of research at Israeli universities. European academic activists have been campaigning for the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement since 2002; under this Agreement, Israeli and European universities exchange academic staff and students and engage in other activities, mainly through the Erasmus Mundus and Tempus schemes . It should be noted that Israel is in violation of the terms of this Agreement, particularly of the second article .
3. Study abroad schemes in Israel for international students. These programs are usually housed at Israeli universities and are part of the Israeli propaganda effort, designed to give international students a “positive experience” of Israel. Publicity and recruitment for these schemes are organized through students’ affairs offices or academic departments (such as Middle East and international studies centers) at universities abroad.
4. Addresses and talks at international venues by official representatives of Israeli academic institutions such as presidents and rectors.
5. Special honors or recognition granted to official representatives of Israeli academic institutions (such as the bestowal of honorary degrees and other awards) or to Israeli academic or research institutions. Such institutions and their official representatives are complicit and as such should be denied this recognition.
6. Palestinian/Arab-Israeli collaborative research projects or events, especially those funded by the various EU and international grant-giving bodies. It is widely known that the easiest route to securing a research grant for a Palestinian academic is to apply with an Israeli partner…
7. Research and development activities in the framework of agreements or contracts between the Israeli government and other governments or institutions. Researchers in such projects are based at American, European or other universities. Examples include the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF), an institution established by the US and Israeli governments in 1972 to sponsor research by Israelis and Americans, and the “Eureka Initiative,” a European inter-governmental initiative set up in 1985 that includes Israel as the only non-European member.
8. Research and development activities on behalf of international corporations involving contracts or other institutional agreements with departments or centers at Israeli universities.
9. Institutional membership of Israeli associations in world bodies. While challenging such membership is not easy, targeted and selective campaigns demanding the suspension of Israeli membership in international forums contribute towards pressuring the state until it respects international law. Just as South Africa’s membership was suspended in world academic–among other–bodies during apartheid, so must Israel’s.
10. Publishing in or refereeing articles for academic journals based at Israeli universities. These journals include those published by international associations but housed at Israeli universities. Efforts should be made to re-locate the editorial offices of these journals to universities outside Israel.
11. Advising on hiring or promotion decisions at Israeli universities through refereeing the work of candidates , or refereeing research proposals for Israeli funding institutions. Such services, routinely provided by academics to their profession, must be withheld from complicit institutions. [footnotes omitted]
As you can see, the academic boycott guidelines are sweeping in their effect and implications. If you have an hour, you can listen to my presentation The Case for Academic Freedom and Israel, in which I address how damaging the academic boycott is not just to Israelis, but to Americans and the academic system.
Should endorsement of the academic boycott by Prof. Duthu in and of itself disqualify him from leading the faculty at Dartmouth?
Stephen Smith, Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation, argues that it is a disqualifier:
The declaration is a standard-issue boycott, which does not befit a professional scholars association. Its aim is to punish Israeli academic institutions because of their assumed support for Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. The document declares that the association is a “champion of intellectual and academic freedom,” but by calling for “members to boycott Israeli academic institutions because they are implicated with the Israeli state,” it does just the opposite.
Institutions of higher education and academic scholarship cannot be separated. If you sanction academic institutions, you sanction scholars. And for scholars to sanction scholars is against every principle of academic respect and freedom. By signing the document, Duthu ventured far away from scholarship and into the world of political struggle, targeting his own peers.
The problem with Duthu’s position isn’t his position on the Middle East conflict; he’s entitled to his opinions. But to wrap it in an academic veneer and to single out Israeli scholarship for punishment is fraudulent. Those who call for singling out Israel for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction will deny they are anti-Semitic, but the result is clear: when you exclude a colleague by association to their affiliation with an Israeli institution of higher education, you are not targeting the State, you are targeting the individual…..
I note that Dartmouth has a visitor program in mathematics that has attracted several prominent professors from Israel. If he were to hold fast to the principles outlined in the BDS document he coauthored, Duthu would terminate the relationship with these scholars – not for any lack of mathematical competence, but for the simple fact that they represent Israeli academic institutions. Will he do that? He should if he is a principled and honest man. He should not if he is Dean of Faculty of an Ivy League school. It seems he cannot have it both ways.
It’s hard to see how, if Duthu believed and believes what he was endorsing when he signed onto the academic boycott of Israel, he can fulfill the responsibilities of the position.
Academic BDS is anathema to the core values and responsibilities of a Dean of Faculty.
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