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American Association of University Professors: Don’t boycott the anti-Israel academic boycotters

American Association of University Professors: Don’t boycott the anti-Israel academic boycotters

But if you uphold the right to boycott, you necessarily need to uphold the right to counter-boycott.

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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What a sifty looking bunch of riffraff. Those “professors” look like they would be better off “working the crowd” around bus stations or public health clinics.

    fscarn in reply to NotKennedy. | August 8, 2018 at 10:33 pm

    The sign on the left – “Boycott Isreal” – indicates deep academic thinking. Probably holds a PhD in some “studies” program.

      Freddy Hill in reply to fscarn. | August 9, 2018 at 12:42 am

      Perhaps she’s trying to say that the boycott “is real”

      Milhouse in reply to fscarn. | August 9, 2018 at 1:49 am

      For some reason “Isreal” is a very common misspelling, as is “antisemetic”.

      What’s even more surprising is that generally misspellings only have a chance to become common if they don’t change the pronunciation, but in both these cases the misspelling is contradicted by the pronunciation.

        Tom Servo in reply to Milhouse. | August 9, 2018 at 11:17 pm

        I believe the misspelling comes about because a whole lot of American english speakers pronounce Israel as “Izz-ree-ul” (the u should really be a schwa, but I can’t make that in this post) It’s wrong, of course, but people still say nuk-u-lar, too.

          Milhouse in reply to Tom Servo. | August 10, 2018 at 2:49 am

          I thought the mispronunciation comes from the misspelling, not the other way around.

          “Nukyular”, I’ve been told, is the standard pronunciation in Southern USA English.

    Firewatch in reply to NotKennedy. | August 9, 2018 at 7:33 am

    I’m shocked that they would dare to be outside without their pussyhats.

    JusticeDelivered in reply to NotKennedy. | August 9, 2018 at 9:48 am

    They kind of remind me so someone who used to do odd jobs on my farm. Mike was scruffy like the guys in the picture, and often smelly. He lived in an old farmhouse, with no electricity or running water. He did not drive. I would pick him up in the morning, and he would bring 2-3 old milk cans to fill with water.

    He was really something with a pick and shovel, digging 50′ trench four foot deep in clay in a day.

    But if you wanted the job finished, you could not pay him until it was done, because he would be drunk until the money was gone. His MO was to work four days and be drunk 3 days.

has been endorsed by approximately 1400 university and college faculty members in the U.S. alone

That’s not a whole helluva lot in a country with four to five thousand colleges. An average of about a third of a boycott fan per school.

not taking a position is still staking a position. the thing about being in the middle of the road is that you can wind up getting run over from both directions.

IMHO, though, not taking a stand against blatant Jew Hate like these antisemitic BDS scum are pushing is tacit support there of.

if you whine and claim there is no “right or wrong” on the issue, you’re wrong, plain and simple.

go over there and sit with the terrorists.

Once a society condones a target group to be self righteously hated and vilified to the advantage of some,

then it unfolds,

to determine who will be next to be the targeted group?

I like the scare quotes around the word Israel. Like it’s not a thing. And if it’s not, what’s there to boycott?

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.

Sorry, Prof J, I think your reasoning here is confused. Your argument would only be correct if they were calling for counter-boycotters to be punished in some way, while insisting that boycotters not be. But they aren’t. Their position upholds the right of counter-boycotters to exactly the same extent as it does those of boycotters. In both cases it condemns them but opposes punishing them for it.

Again, AAUP upholds Professor Franke’s right to boycott Israel and Israelis, but does not uphold the reverse.

Sure it does. It says she shouldn’t boycott Israel but has the right to do so, and Israel shouldn’t boycott her but has the right to do so. You would be correct only if it called for some action against Israel without calling for the same action against Franke; but it didn’t do that.

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.

Again, in what way does it affirm the former and reject the latter? It seems to me that it affirms and rejects both to the same extent: It says both are wrong but neither should be punished. As Prof Reichman says, this is like Voltaire defending people’s right to advocate anything, including censorship. Or it’s like allowing communists or other opponents of democracy to compete in elections.

To me it seems the AAUP is like those who oppose capital punishment, saying it’s wrong to kill anyone, including murderers. That’s a position I (and I assume you) strongly disagree with, but it’s a respectable and consistent position. Or think of the schools with “zero tolerance” for fighting, including in self-defense. Again a position I think is wrong, but consistent.

I find neutrality on the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” to be almost as morally offensive as supporting the Arabs, since it’s essentially saying “We take no position on whether Jews have the right to live”. It’s like declaring neutrality on whether black people should be enslaved, or on whether women should be raped. But it is what it is and I don’t see the point in calling it what it isn’t.

    paracelsus in reply to Milhouse. | August 9, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    While I don’t always agree with you, I think that those who down-voted your comment didn’t read it carefully.

LukeHandCool | August 9, 2018 at 4:20 am

Splitting the difference gives you two equal halves …

Splitting the sequence blows up the whole illusion.

How we let these cockroaches infest our educational system is a failure of boehner-like proportions.

Time to spray. Take back the money.

JusticeDelivered | August 9, 2018 at 9:26 am

How about a campaign to deny Arabs use of all Jewish inventions and discoveries? Embargo all from them, starting with Palestine. That would fix their wagons. This would save them from ongoing hypocrisy.

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