The academic boycott of Israel, part of the broader Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, has been endorsed by approximately 1400 university and college faculty members in the U.S. alone.

So far, the only major academic association to endorse the academic boycott was the American Studies Association (December 2013), though there have been failed attempts at the American Anthropological Association, the Modern Language Association, the American Historical Association and other major organizations.

The effort never ceases, and you can expect a new round of attempts this coming fall and winter during annual meetings. There also have been attempts to get student governments to adopt the boycott.

The BDS academic boycott is sweeping in scope and reach, affecting both institutions and individuals. It not only violates the academic freedom of students and faculty, it also is a means of silencing speech on campus. You can read the details here.

The boycott also is anti-Semitic, both historically (being declared at the anti-Semitic 2001 Durban Conference), and because it uniquely targets Israel because it is majority Jewish. There is no movement to boycott majority Muslim countries that have far worse records on academic freedom and human rights, such as Turkey. As Alan Dershowitz accurately put it, the boycott of Israel is not the starting point, it is the starting and ending point.

The AAA adoption of the academic boycott was rejected by over 250 university presidents and numerous major university associations.

Among the groups rejecting the academic boycott was the American Association of University Professors (AAUP):

The AAUP today released a statement on the vote announced this morning by the membership of the American Studies Association (ASA) to endorse an academic boycott of Israel. While the AAUP takes no position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we have opposed all academic boycotts in principle since 2005 when we published our report On Academic Boycotts.

In an Open Letter to AAA members, AAUP argued that the academic boycott was a violation of academic freedom, and provided in part:

1.In view of the Association’s long-standing commitment to the free exchange of
ideas, we oppose academic boycotts.
2. On the same grounds, we recommend that other academic associations oppose
academic boycotts. We urge that they seek alternative means, less inimical to the
principle of academic freedom, to pursue their concerns.
3. We especially oppose selective academic boycotts that entail an ideological litmus
test. We understand that such selective boycotts may be intended to preserve
academic exchange with those more open to the views of boycott proponents, but
we cannot endorse the use of political or religious views as a test of eligibility for
participation in the academic community. ***

Israel has taken steps against the boycotters, as have some American states. There are court challenges to some of the state measures, but I expect them to survive in some form (just as the anti-boycott legislation of the 1970s directed at the Arab League boycott of Israel survives to this day.)

AAUP is trying to stake out a consistent principled position. While I don’t agree with its verbiage, AAUP issued today a Statement On Anti-BDS Legislation and Universities, which reads in part:

The American Association of University Professors does not endorse BDS. We take no position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict nor on calls for divestment or economic sanctions. But we oppose all academic boycotts, including an academic boycott of Israel, on the grounds that such boycotts violate the principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas for which our organization has stood for over one- hundred years. We believe that academic freedom ought not to be subordinated to political exigency; there will always be compelling political causes that will challenge the ideal of free and open scholarly exchange.

It is precisely for this reason that our opposition to BDS is matched as resolutely by our opposition to these pledges, which are nothing short of an attempt to limit freedom of speech and belief. Indeed, they conjure the specter of loyalty and disclaimer oaths, mainstays of McCarthyism. The right of individuals to engage in political boycotts, and to come together collectively to support a boycott, has a long and storied history in American civil protests. At colleges and universities especially, where reasoned disagreement and debate should be the order of the day, demands that faculty and students forswear support for a peaceful protest are repugnant.

The problem with this is that AAUP upholds the right to boycott, but only on one side. Substantively it opposes both the boycott and counter-boycott, but procedurally it upholds only the right of the boycotters.

AAUP also sent a letter to Israel regarding Israel’s denial of entry to Columbia Law Professor Katherine Franke, an academic boycott supporter.

Additionally, AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure sent a letter to the Israeli government in regard to the interrogation, subsequent expulsion, and apparent banning from Israel of Columbia Law School Professor Katherine Franke over her supporter of the “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (BDS) movement in April. The letter urges the government of Israel to “reconsider your immigration officer’s decision and to revoke any further ban on Professor Franke’s entry for purposes of collaborative academic and scholarly work in Israel.”

The letter to the Israeli government can be downloaded here.

Again, AAUP upholds Professor Franke’s right to boycott Israel and Israelis, but does not uphold the reverse. It does not matter that it is the Israeli government boycotting Professor Franke, since the BDS movement regularly seeks to impose government boycotts of Israel. So governmental power is used by both sides.

By turning academia into war by other means, the anti-Israel academic boycotters invited relatiatory boycotts. By affirming the rights of the boycotters to boycott Israel, but rejecting the right of Israel and supporters of Israel to counter-boycott, AAUP is not consistent or principled.

Henry Reichman, professor emeritus of history at California State University, East Bay, and chair of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, argues that AAUP is consistent and principled:

This position has frequently led advocates on both sides of the BDS dispute to condemn our stance as “confused” at best. So, for instance, soon after I reported to the AAUP’s annual meeting in June that today’s statement and letter were in preparation, one pro-Israel group denounced our position as “contradictory” and “confusing.” Previously, advocates of BDS had also lambasted the AAUP for its lack of “coherence” and “consistency.” That they did so in an issue of the AAUP’s own Journal of Academic Freedom, much of which was devoted to articles calling on us to abandon our opposition to academic boycotts and advocating such a boycott of Israel, only points to our commitment to providing an open forum for debate and discussion.

But nothing is confusing or inconsistent about taking a stance in opposition to some viewpoint while simultaneously defending the right of others to advocate that viewpoint. Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the AAUP do this all the time. As the old adage, widely misattributed to Voltaire but in fact written in a book about him, puts it, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Four years ago I predicted that “efforts to promote the academic boycott of Israel will continue and perhaps even intensify, but at the same time, I also think that attempts to restrict the academic freedom of pro-boycott advocates and other advocates of the Palestinian side, whether they advocate a boycott or not, will also increase. I’m not happy about either development.” Sadly, elements on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict too often invoke the protections of academic freedom when it benefits them and violate these when it doesn’t….

I would have preferred there were no systematic academic boycotts. I believe strongly that academic exchanges and interactions are important, and I would oppose academic boycotts of Palestinian universities, not just Israeli universities.

But it matters who started it. And if you uphold the right to boycott academically, you necessarily need to uphold the right to counter-boycott academically.

In addressing the academic boycott dozens of times over the years, I’ve made the point that BDS will destroy academia long before it destroys Israel. And so it is coming to pass, slowly but perceivably.

[Featured Image: Boycott Israel Protest at U. Michigan]


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