The American Association of University Professors, which boasts some 47,000 members from around the nation’s campuses, is facing criticism from advocates of Israel after it devoted almost the entire current issue of its online journal to the subject of boycotting Israeli universities and professors.
Of the nine essays included in the 2013 Journal of Academic Freedom, published last month, seven address whether the association should adopt an official position promoting an academic boycott of Israel. Six of the seven articles were penned by strong supporters of the boycott who use words such as “apartheid,” “colonialism,” “ethnic cleansing” and “intellectual terror” to frame the debate against Israel. Currently, the professional association opposes a boycott.
Journal editor Ashley Dawson of the City University of New York – who made news in 2011 after supporting the Occupy Wall Street call for students default on their loans – said the solicitation for essay submissions focused on “the globalization of higher education and its impact on academic freedom.”
In a Commentary magazine article, “George Orwell Call Your Office,” writer Jonathan Marks slammed the journal’s editorial choice, saying, “Evidently Israel is responsible not only for the problems of the entire Middle East but also for at least 7/9 of the problems posed for academics by globalization.”
That the publication comes out only once a year suggests how key an issue boycotting voices from Israel is to the journal’s editors.
“An attempt to impose a boycott on Israel is just a new manifestation of a bid to destabilize the world’s only Jewish country. After failing to overcome Israel by traditional means, or through terrorism, Palestinian leaders are promoting boycotts,” Michael Dickson, Israel director for the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, told TheBlaze.
“Omar Barghouti (an essay author and leading boycott proponent) and his followers don’t want peace and do not want a Palestinian state living next to Israel. They want the destruction of Israel,” Dickson said. “Supporting one-sided boycotts, suppressing debate, cooperation and partnership are all anti-peace moves. There should be no platform for this kind of inherent racism on American campuses and certainly no support for this kind of suppression by unions or faculty or in publications representing them.”
Middle East analyst Asaf Romirowsky criticized the decision to use a publication whose title suggests a commitment to academic freedom to stifle only one select voice.
“Here academics have taken the lead in attempting to condemn and restrict access to an entire country through vilification, through lies and exaggeration, and by efforts to restrict the free speech of others,” he wrote.
The website Electronic Intifada, whose contributors promote an economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel, said that editors at first weren’t planning to include articles in support of Israel, but caved after facing pressure to include articles by boycott opponents.
It quoted a letter signed by organizers of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, who wrote, “Unfortunately, others among the AAUP leadership are not prepared to grant JAF (the Journal of Academic Freedom) editorial independence and are insisting that the journal revise the contents of Volume 4 to include more anti-boycott articles in the interest of ostensible balance.”
One member of the journal’s editorial board, Matthew W. Finkin, a professor of law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, resigned in protest of the editor’s decision to publish six articles in favor of the boycott and only one mildly against it, according to the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.
The organization said editor Dawson “has been criticized for failing to disclose that, before taking that position, he endorsed the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.”
Commentary Magazine wrote, “I do not think it would be fruitful for AAUP’s editorial board to condemn the mockery that has here been made of AAUP’s devotion to ‘the free search for truth’ by an editor with no qualms about turning its flagship publication into a vehicle for his personal anti-Israel activism.”
Excerpts From the Essays
Authors of the articles include founding members of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Purdue University Professor Bill V. Mullen, a member of the advisory board for the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, began his piece: “The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 on land home to generations of Arab Palestinians is the contemporary world’s most egregious instance of settler colonialism. This ethnic cleansing, which included the displacement of 750,000 people in what Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe, has engendered one of the longest-standing campaigns of resistance by an occupied people to permanent political and economic subordination by another nation.”
He used terms like “intellectual” terror and framed academic freedom as a type of fetish to support his position, writing in part that “the casual fetishization of academic freedom as part of a liberal hegemony that provides ideological cover for brutal acts of intellectual and political terror by Israel.”
Omar Barghouti, a founding member of both the Palestinian academic boycott campaign and the BDS movement, said that even without an official boycott, there is a “silent boycott” in which many academics worldwide already boycott Israeli institutions and scholars.
To him, “all Israeli academic and cultural institutions are deeply complicit in maintaining the system of occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights and are therefore just as worthy of the boycott. Not to recognize this would be to miss the forest for the trees.”
He did not mention in his article that he is himself a graduate of the Israeli government-funded university system.
David Lloyd of the University of California and Malini Johar Schueller of the University of Florida called boycotting Israel a “nonviolent means to pursue the end of a regime of occupation, siege, dispossession and discrimination that Israel has imposed with almost complete impunity for decades.”
They made several erroneous or misleading claims, such as writing that Ariel University in the West Bank is open only to Jewish students. This is false. Upon writing that the Islamic University of Gaza was bombed in 2008, they failed to note that the Israel Defense Forces said Hamas was storing weapons on campus, including Qassam rockets being used to target Israeli communities. It has also been reported that university laboratories were involved in developing technologies to improve the range and potency of the rockets.
Sami Hermez of the University of Pittsburgh and Mayssoun Soukarieh of the American University of Cairo invoked terms like “apartheid” and “institutionalized discrimination” to describe Israeli policies toward Palestinians.
They described how the boycott movement considers any normalization of relations with Israel to be “a ‘colonization of the mind,’ whereby the oppressed subject comes to believe that the oppressor’s reality is the only ‘normal’ reality that must be subscribed to, and that the oppression is a fact of life that must be coped with.”
Joan W. Scott of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton wrote that she changed her mind about the boycott, from first opposing it to now embracing it, positing that the aim is to save Israel from itself.
“Such a boycott refuses to accept the facade of democracy Israel wants to present to the world. The boycott is a strategic way of exposing the unprincipled and undemocratic behavior of Israeli state institutions; its aim might be characterized as “saving Israel from itself,” Scott wrote.
The lone voice opposing the academic boycott was from Marjorie Heins of New York University.
She wrote, “boycotts can also threaten the free speech of others. Particularly when they are aimed at colleges and universities, boycotts will, to the extent that they succeed, deprive these institutions of needed resources and undermine the ability of the scholars who work there to study, teach and exchange ideas with colleagues internationally.”
“The fact that politically inspired boycotts – including academic boycotts — are protected by the First Amendment does not mean they are necessarily a good idea,” she wrote. “Particularly when boycotts are aimed at free-speech activity — the resources needed for professors to teach, research and write, as well as their ability to publish, attend international conferences, and be invited as visitors or lecturers on campuses abroad — the predictable effect is to shrink academic freedom both at the targeted institutions and throughout the world.”
Asaf Romirowsky, who penned the blog post criticizing the journal wrote that “the BDS movement and its supporters, now tacitly endorsed by the AAUP, have been given a platform to single out Israel as absolutely the worst society on Earth is distressing and is nothing less than a ‘ready-made conclusion’ of the most extreme sort.”
He accused the AAUP of providing a platform to promote racism.
“We can only imagine the response had the organization published articles calling for Palestinians to be boycotted on the basis of their racist, homophobic and misogynist society, or Syria, because of its murderous totalitarianism, or Turkey for its century-long repression of Kurds and unacknowledged extermination of Armenians,” he wrote.