In the years since our founding, Legal Insurrection has covered anti-Israel activism on our nation’s campuses. Though expressions of anti-Zionism on campus are often the work of radical student groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), behind many such groups and their anti-Israel messaging stands faculty support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
For a recent example, see the latest attempt by a small minority of faculty to pass a BDS resolution at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting in American Historical Association Rejects Anti-Israel Resolution for the 4th Time.

Of particular concern are university faculty who use their classrooms as platforms for spreading anti-Israel propaganda.
Now, a new report released January 8th by the Santa Cruz-based AMCHA Initiative “provides the first-ever empirical evidence suggesting that faculty who support the academic BDS movement against Israel are actively promoting that political agenda directly to students in their classrooms.”
https://amchainitiative.org/
Founded by University of California academics Leila Beckwith and Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, the AMCHA Initiative monitors and combats anti-Jewish activity on hundreds of college campuses across the United States. The organization does excellent work; most recently, Legal Insurrection Foundation signed on to an AMCHA-authored letter expertly analysing and opposing a proposed anti-Israel public school curriculum in California (Legal Insurrection Foundation opposes proposed anti-Israel public school curriculum in California).
AMCHA’s newest report builds on the group’s prior studies, which we have covered in the following posts:
The study, which examined 50 syllabi at 40 public and private American colleges and universities, was undertaken by AMCHA founders Professor Beckwith (Professor Emeritus at UCLA, renowned scientist, researcher, and statistician with a background in psychology and child development) and Professor Rossman-Benjamin (expert on antisemitism and former faculty member in Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of California).
You can read the full study here (pdf) or below:

The study’s conclusions are disturbing; it found that:
  • Academic BDS-supporting instructors had an average of 78% of their course readings authored by BDS supporters, whereas non-BDS-supporting instructors had an average of 17% of their course readings authored by BDS supporters.
  • The two groups of instructors showed themselves to be qualitatively distinct from one another with respect to the selection of course readings, with almost no overlap of the groups: all of the academic BDS-supporting instructors had a majority of their readings authored by BDS supporters, whereas only 2 of the 35 syllabi of non-BDS-supporting instructors had a majority of their course readings authored by BDS supporters, and none more than 60%. These data demonstrate that the large quantitative difference between the groups is not just the result of a few outliers, but represents a qualitative difference between these two groups of instructors in terms of how they select course readings.

The stark differences between the average percentage of course readings with pro-BDS authors within the two groups leaves little doubt that instructors who support academic BDS make a calculated choice to heavily weight their course materials with readings authored by BDS supporters. These results, in turn, imply that not only are academic boycotting instructors actively including pro-BDS readings, they are also severely limiting or completely excluding readings that would provide a more balanced picture of Israel.AMCHA Initiative fully acknowledges that freedom of speech protects faculty’s right to sign petitions and make extramural statements in support of academic BDS and academic freedom generally protects their right to develop and teach courses as they see fit. However, the report notes the serious and harmful consequences of faculty bringing their support for academic BDS into the classroom.

Distorting and blocking the flow of knowledge is a violation of the norms and standards of scholarly inquiry and undermines the university’s academic mission. Furthermore, faculty who use their classrooms to give academic legitimacy to a wholly one-sided, anti-Israel perspective, in compliance with the guidelines of academic BDS, can engender among their students hostility not only towards Israel, but towards Israel’s on-campus supporters. Such sentiments can easily lead to acts targeting Jewish and pro-Israel students for harm, as AMCHA’s previous research has shown.

But there are ways universities can combat professor-propaganda if they so choose; helpfully, AMCHA’s report includes concrete action items for university leaders to pursue in order to address these problems:

  • Release public statement on the harm of academic BDS to U.S. students and faculty: University leaders should publicly acknowledge that while an academic boycott of Israel may ostensibly target Israeli universities and scholars, its implementation directly and substantively hurts students and faculty on their own campus, not only subverting their scholarly and educational opportunities and curtailing their academic freedom, but corrupting the entire academic mission of the university. Recently, chancellors and presidents at the University of California, University of Michigan, University of Massachusetts Amherst and Pitzer College issued strong statements acknowledging the harms of academic BDS for students and faculty, and condemning its implementation on their own campuses.

  • Establish policies against using the classroom for political advocacy: Universities should establish and publicly affirm policies that prohibit faculty from using their classrooms for political rather than pedagogical purposes.

  • Urge faculty to establish and enforce safeguards against classroom abuse: Faculty should be urged by university administrators to establish their own safeguards against the politicization of the academy. For example, following the refusal of a faculty member to write a letter of recommendation for a student wishing to study in Israel, a University of Michigan panel, appointed by the president, issued a report and recommendations emphasizing that faculty members must make judgments and act based solely on educational and professional reasons, not political motivations.

Ultimately, AMCHA’s report concludes that
…it is up to academic departments and faculty senates to determine whether the promotion of one-sided, highly politicized course content is deemed a legitimate use of academic freedom, or an abuse of it. However, given the clear and present harm that such politicization can cause to our schools, our students and society, it is time for tuition and taxpayers, as well as state and federal legislators, to demand that faculty address this question forthrightly, and to hold them accountable for their answer.

 
 
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