Tag Archives: BDS

Russell Berman is against one-sided panels…

12 Aug

So the American Anthropological Association is hosting a panel at its annual conference in December titled “BOYCOTTING ISRAELI INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION ABRIDGES ACADEMIC FREEDOM“.

Number of anthropologists on the panel: 0.

Number of pro-boycott voices on the panel: 0.

Number of anti-boycott voices: 5.

Personally, I have no problem with a one-sided panel like this. But you know who should have a problem with a one-sided panel like this? Stanford comp lit scholar and former president of the MLA Russell Berman.

Back in January, Berman told Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed that he objected to the allegedly one-sided nature of a panel at the MLA that was exploring the question of BDS. According to Jaschik:

He [Berman] said that MLA tradition is that “panels are generally organized by members,” so he does not take the views on any panel to reflect those of MLA leaders or the association as a whole. But Berman said he was concerned that “the panel organizers are evidently comfortable with such a narrow range of opinion.” He said that this “speaks volumes about their flawed understanding of academic freedom and open debate.

 

Ordinarily, I’d expect Berman to speak out strongly against the upcoming American Anthropological Association panel. There’s just one problem: He’s on it.

But for the boycott there would be academic freedom

6 Feb

When people say that the ASA boycott violates academic freedom they seem to assume that academic freedom in Israel/Palestine exists. But for the boycott, goes the argument, there would be academic freedom. But as this fact sheet by the Institute for Middle East Understanding suggests, that is not the case for Palestinians.

One of our most minimal definitions of any kind of freedom, academic or otherwise, is the absence of external impediments to the physical movement of our bodies. What Palestinian students and scholars routinely face is the presence of external impediments to the physical movement of their bodies.

Here are some highlights:

Due to Israeli restrictions imposed in cooperation with the government of Egypt, it is extremely difficult for any of Gaza’s 1.7 million Palestinians to travel abroad to study, attend academic conferences, or to leave for other purposes. Entry into Gaza by foreign academics has been similarly limited.

Since 2000, Israel has prevented students in Gaza from traveling to study at universities in the West Bank, some of which offer fields of study and degrees not available in Gaza. According to a report from Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, between 2000 and 2012 Israel let just three Gazans travel to study at universities in the West Bank, all of whom had received US government scholarships.

In 2010, amidst great fanfare during a visit to the region, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched a program to provide scholarships for students from Gaza to study in the West Bank. In 2012, after Israel refused to issue travel permits to the students, the Obama administration quietly canceled the program.

While Israel does not specifically prohibit the importation of books into Gaza as part of its blockade and siege, doing so is extremely difficult, leading to a shortage of books on all subjects. At one point, Israel barred the importation of writing paper, notebooks, and pencils (leading to a shortage of the latter two) into Gaza.

It’s useful to compare these forcible restrictions on the physical movement of Palestinian bodies to the entirely voluntary ASA boycott. Is there any comparison?

Peter Beinart Speaks Truth About BDS

5 Feb

Peter Beinart is a liberal Zionist, a firm believer in the State of Israel, and a staunch critic of BDS.

And this is what he has to say in Haaretz:

But the tactical brilliance of BDS becomes clearer with every passing month.

At a time when their leaders are bitterly divided and their people are geographically fragmented, BDS has united Palestinians like nothing else in recent memory. For the many young Palestinians fed up with both Fatah and Hamas, it offers a form of political action untainted by corruption, theocracy, collaboration and internal repression….And by relying on international activists—not Palestinian politicians—it universalizes the Palestinian struggle…

But there’s one more factor that makes BDS so tactically shrewd: It exploits the mendacity of the “pro-Israel” establishment. Let me explain.

Many BDS activists oppose the existence of a Jewish state within any borders. Some might reluctantly swallow one if a viable Palestinian state were born alongside it. But what unites virtually everyone in the movement is their disgust with an American-led “peace process” in which they believe Palestinians lack the power to achieve their minimal demands. The best way to equalize the scales, they argue, is through economic and cultural pressure.

Were the mainstream Jewish organizations that reject BDS in the name of a negotiated two-state solution actually promoting a negotiated two-state solution, their strategy might have merit. But they’re not.

In truth, establishment American Jewish groups don’t really support the two-state solution. Or, at least, they don’t support it enough to risk a confrontation with the Israeli government. Which is why they are more an obstacle than an asset to the American-led ‘peace process.’ And why they can’t stop BDS.

What unites BDS activists, despite their divisions, is their fervent belief that someone must challenge Israel’s denial of basic Palestinian rights. Were establishment Jewish organizations to pose that challenge—even just rhetorically—their opposition to BDS might carry some weight. But they’re not, and BDS activists know it.

Remember Abba Eban’s famous quip that “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” These days, that’s what Palestinian activists say about us.

Why this NYS bill is so much worse than I thought

4 Feb

John K. Wilson has an excellent analysis of the New York state legislation against the ASA.  He makes an oh-so-obvious-why-didn’t-I-think-of-it point:

It bans not only direct funding by a college of any scholarly group passing a boycott resolution, but also any funding of travel and lodging by someone to attend that group’s events (even when none of the money would go to the organization).

While the bill does prohibit the use of public money to fund the ASA directly, not much public money, at least at CUNY, works that way. That particular provision of the bill would simply ban universities and colleges from taking out institutional memberships with the ASA; few colleges or universities do that, however. That particular provision of the bill would also prevent universities or colleges from using public funds to pay for an individual faculty member’s membership in the ASA. At least at CUNY, faculty have little if any access to those types of funds.

Where the bill would really hurt us at CUNY is the provision that would prohibit colleges and universities from using public money to fund travel to—and lodging at—an ASA conference. And here’s where Wilson’s point becomes very important. None of that public money would go to the ASA; it simply allows faculty to travel to the ASA and participate in its discussions.

This bill, in other words, is not about defunding the ASA so much as it is about stopping individual faculty from participating in the ASA. At a personal level, it’s far more intrusive and coercive than Guiliani’s attempt to defund the Brooklyn Museum or the City Council’s threat to defund CUNY over the Brooklyn College political department’s co-sponsorship of a panel discussion of BDS. Those threats were directed at institutions; this threat focuses directly on, and seeks to directly control, the associational activity of individuals.

In other news, Jesse Walker at the libertarian magazine Reason lays into the NYS bill. And don’t forget to sign onto the Crooked Timber statement.

The NYT Gets It Right — and, Even More Amazing, We Have an Open Letter For You to Sign!

4 Feb

The New York Times is out today with a strong condemnation of the NYS anti-boycott bill:

The New York bill is an ill-considered response to the American Studies Association resolution and would trample on academic freedoms and chill free speech and dissent. Academics are rightly concerned that it will impose a political test on faculty members seeking university support for research meetings and travel. According to the American Association of University Professors, which opposes the association boycott and the retaliatory legislation, there is already a backlash, including in Georgia where a Jewish group compiled a “political blacklist” of professors and graduate students who supported the boycott.

Even more amazing, the Times manages to describe correctly a point of about the ASA boycott that has been particularly contentious:

The group said it would refuse formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions or with scholars who represent those institutions or the Israeli government until “Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law.” The boycott does not apply to individual Israeli scholars engaged in ordinary exchanges.

Thank you, New York Times! We’ve been trying to make this point about the institutional nature of the boycott for months now. At last the mainstream media has acknowledged it.

In other news, as a few outlets have reported, we seem to have stopped the bill from advancing—for now. Yesterday, the chair of the Assembly’s Higher Education committee of the Assembly, Deborah Glick, took the bill off her committee’s agenda, which effectively prevents it from moving forward. She has said, however, that she plans to resubmit it. So it’s not over, not by any stretch. But very good work by all of you who emailed and made phone calls over the weekend.

Henry Farrell and I have written an open letter about these state bills over at Crooked Timber. The purpose of the letter is to serve as a rallying cry for academics and citizens—on both sides of the academic boycott debate—across the country. Because the New York and Maryland bills may only be the first of many, we want to give people a template, with all the relevant links, to oppose this type of legislation wherever it may arise. Again, whether they are pro- or anti-boycott.

Some critical sections of our statement:

We write as two academics who disagree on the question of the ASA boycott. One of us is a firm supporter of the boycott who believes that, as part of the larger BDS movement, it has put the Israel-Palestine conflict back on the front burner, offering much needed strategic leverage to those who want to see the conflict justly settled. The other is highly skeptical that the ASA boycott is meaningful or effective, and views it as a tactically foolish and entirely symbolic gesture of questionable strategic and moral value.

This disagreement is real, but is not the issue that faces us today. The fundamental question we confront is whether legislatures should punish academic organizations for taking politically unpopular stands. The answer is no. The rights of academics to partake of and participate in public debate are well established. Boycotts are a long recognized and legally protected mode of political speech. The purpose of these bills, as some of their drafters admit, is to prevent organizations like the ASA from engaging in this kind of speech and to punish those organizations if they do—merely because the state disapproves of the content of that speech. For these and other reasons, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the New York Civil Liberties Union have declared their opposition to these bills.

Please go to the Crooked Timber site, sign your name in the comments section, and then share the letter on FB, Twitter, and among your friends, family, and colleagues.

Columbia University to NYS Legislature: Back Off!

3 Feb

About 75 Nearly 100 members of the Columbia University faculty have issued a forceful response to the New York State Legislature bill that would make it illegal for universities and colleges to use public money to fund faculty involvement in organizations like the ASA.

Signatories include such noted scholars as Lila Abu-Lughod, Eric Foner, Akeel Bilgrami, Jean Cohen, Victoria de Grazia, Alice Kessler-Harris, Mae Ngai, Todd Gitlin, Judith Butler, and Patricia Williams. Signatories also include prominent opponents of the ASA boycott, who nevertheless understand the threat this bill poses.

Here are some excerpts from their letter:

These bills aim to punish political speech and association of academics generally, and specifically target the viewpoint expressed by that speech and association. Both of these aims violate well-settled law protecting First Amendment rights.

These proposed laws have been cynically misdescribed as protecting academic freedom, when in fact they do just the opposite – if the Anti-Boycott bills become law they will threaten constitutionally protected academic speech and debate by punishing political speech and action by academics on matters of public concern.

A key component of academic life is membership in professional organizations, such as the ASA. Indeed it is the exceptional faculty member who is not a member of one or more professional organization. Membership in professional academic organizations, attendance at annual meetings, and participation in committee work provide important opportunities for professional development, intellectual exchange, and the evolution of knowledge in the field. Columbia University, in keeping with our peers, supports faculty research and professional development by reimbursing faculty for the costs of membership in relevant professional organizations, and covers the reasonable costs of travel to official meetings of those organizations.

Frequently the governing bodies and/or the membership of professional academic organizations take positions on matters of public concern, such as climate change, the military dictatorship in Honduras, apartheid in South Africa, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to deny a visa to Professors Adam Habib and Tariq Ramadan to visit the U.S., the detention of scholars in Iran, President George W. Bush’s administration’s treatment of foreign prisoners – calling such treatment torture – and the Pentagon’s previous Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.

Finally, the proposed anti-boycott bills specifically target a particular form of First Amendment expression, the boycott. About this the Supreme Court has also been clear: boycotts “to bring about political, social and economic change” are unquestionably protected speech under the First Amendment. This form of political action has been used in countless contexts through time and across circumstance, but it has a particularly important history in the United States as a tactic to challenge Jim Crow segregation in the U.S. South, including the famous Montgomery bus boycott led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The 1982 Supreme Court case N.A.A.C.P. v. Claiborne Hardware Co. recounts the civil rights movement’s use of boycotts to challenge racial segregation in Mississippi and cements this political tactic as one clearly protected by the First Amendment.

Some of the signatories to this letter endorse the principles underlying the ASA’s resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions, others do not. Regardless of whether one supports the cause to which this particular boycott is responding, we all firmly believe that academics have a right to express their political views through a wide range of protected speech, including boycotts. A law targeting the boycott of academic institutions in countries such as Israel, Hungary, Lebanon, and the Czech Republic cannot be differentiated from the laws that punished boycotts in the U.S. civil rights movement or those that compelled academics to sign loyalty oaths as a condition of employment. Simply because a cause or political viewpoint may be unpopular with elected officials does not, and cannot, justify a law censoring speech by academics in connection with that cause or viewpoint. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has clearly stated that the purpose of these bills is to cut state aid to academic institutions that fund membership in professional organizations such as the ASA. These bills thus embody exactly the kind of retaliatory action undertaken by public officials who dislike the content or viewpoint of certain speech activities that courts have consistently found unconstitutional.

An Unoriginal Thought About the Israel/Palestine Conflict

2 Feb

We seem to be entering a new phase of the Israel/Palestine conflict, in the US and perhaps elsewhere. As Israel loses increasing control over the debate, its organized and institutional defenders have to resort to ever more desperate and coercive measures to control the debate. As they resort to ever more desperate and coercive measures to control the debate, they lose the hip, politically tolerant, embodiment-of-social-justice aura—the Middle East’s only democracy, the country is one big kibbutz, etc.—that traditionally helped them control the debate. Historically speaking, that’s not a good position for self-described liberal democratic regimes to be in.

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