Commentary Magazine


Topic: academic freedom

Why Shouldn’t We Defund the Boycotters?

When the American Studies Association joined the ranks of those supporting boycotts of the state of Israel, it probably never occurred to members of the group that someone might turn the tables on them. But they underestimated the ingenuity of pro-Israel activists and their friends in various state legislatures who decided that if the academic group wanted to play the boycott game, they ought to see how felt being on the other side of the table. Thus, legislators in New York, Maryland as well as some members of the U.S. House of Representatives have presented bills that would cut off or reduce funds for institutions of higher learning that used the money they get from the state to finance attendance at conferences sponsored by boycotters like the ASA or participated directly in boycott efforts.

But an interesting thing has happened on the way to passage of these common sense bills. As JTA reports, Jewish groups that are leaders in the effort to fight against the BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement against Israel are opposing them. Both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee say such bills are a potential violation of academic freedom. Others, like the New York State United Teachers Union go further and make the argument that using the state money that goes to colleges to penalize institutions that are, albeit indirectly, supporting boycotters is an attack on freedom of speech. These protests led the New York legislature to shelve the original version of the bill and replace it with one that would essentially give schools a pass for subsidizing the ASA since it would allow them to use non-state money to support the boycott-related activity.

 I don’t doubt the commitment of either ADL or the AJC to the fight against BDS and I understand their reluctance to associate themselves with any measure that would potentially limit the ability of academics to express themselves or to penalize schools for the activities of what might only be a few radicals on their faculties. But I believe they’re wrong to have weighed in on this issue this manner. The problem is not just that the opposition of the ADL and the AJC to these bills makes their passage extremely unlikely. But they are also wrong on the merits. Defunding those who aid boycotts is both legal and morally correct.

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When the American Studies Association joined the ranks of those supporting boycotts of the state of Israel, it probably never occurred to members of the group that someone might turn the tables on them. But they underestimated the ingenuity of pro-Israel activists and their friends in various state legislatures who decided that if the academic group wanted to play the boycott game, they ought to see how felt being on the other side of the table. Thus, legislators in New York, Maryland as well as some members of the U.S. House of Representatives have presented bills that would cut off or reduce funds for institutions of higher learning that used the money they get from the state to finance attendance at conferences sponsored by boycotters like the ASA or participated directly in boycott efforts.

But an interesting thing has happened on the way to passage of these common sense bills. As JTA reports, Jewish groups that are leaders in the effort to fight against the BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement against Israel are opposing them. Both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee say such bills are a potential violation of academic freedom. Others, like the New York State United Teachers Union go further and make the argument that using the state money that goes to colleges to penalize institutions that are, albeit indirectly, supporting boycotters is an attack on freedom of speech. These protests led the New York legislature to shelve the original version of the bill and replace it with one that would essentially give schools a pass for subsidizing the ASA since it would allow them to use non-state money to support the boycott-related activity.

 I don’t doubt the commitment of either ADL or the AJC to the fight against BDS and I understand their reluctance to associate themselves with any measure that would potentially limit the ability of academics to express themselves or to penalize schools for the activities of what might only be a few radicals on their faculties. But I believe they’re wrong to have weighed in on this issue this manner. The problem is not just that the opposition of the ADL and the AJC to these bills makes their passage extremely unlikely. But they are also wrong on the merits. Defunding those who aid boycotts is both legal and morally correct.

Both the federal government and states routinely put all sorts of conditions on any entity that takes their money. Some of those terms involve bureaucratic or legal obligations. But some are rooted in the basic concept that the state is under no obligation to fund activities that are immoral or discriminatory. Aiding BDS groups and those, like the ASA, who endorse and actively support Israel boycotts, fall into that latter category. Simply put, it is outrageous for schools or any institution to expect the taxpayers to stand by and let them use their hard-earned dollars to support activities that are inherently discriminatory.

Is this is a violation of academic freedom?

If the state were to mandate penalties for schools that taught courses that were deemed insufficiently supportive of Israel or requiring them to fire professors that were anti-Zionists, that would constitute unethical interference in academic activity. But no one is proposing that anti-Zionists be fired or that curricula be vetted for hostility to Israel in order for a school to be eligible for state money. What is at stake here is the question of whether schools will use their budgets to subsidize outside groups that support BDS or sponsor such activities on their own. Doing so would not restrict academic freedom but it would prevent the haters from being funded on backs of the taxpayers.

At the heart of this question is some confusion about the nature of the BDS movement. Reasonable people can differ on many issues including many of the elements of the Middle East conflict including borders, settlements and refugees. But the question of whether the one Jewish state in the world should be singled out for discriminatory treatment and marked for extinction is not just one more academic debate. It’s a matter of life and death as well as whether Jew-hatred should be treated as a matter of opinion.

Just as no one would question whether state funds should be used, even indirectly, to subsidize the Ku Klux Klan or any other racist group, neither should federal or state dollars go to institutions that are willing to underwrite the BDS movement and those that officially support its discriminatory policies.

Jewish groups like the ADL and the AJC are right to be cautious about bills that could be represented as unconscionable state interference with higher education or the freedom of academics to express their theories and beliefs. Part of being in a democracy means the obligation to tolerate opposing and even obnoxious or hateful views. But toleration of haters is not the same thing as a stance that deems such groups to be entitled as a matter of right to state money no matter what they do. Colleges and universities are forced to jump through innumerable hoops in order to get research grants or aid money of any kind. Asking them not to use their budgets to support a hate campaign against Israel is neither onerous nor a threat to academic freedom. Defunding the boycotters is not only legal and moral. It’s the right thing to do.

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Academic Boycotters Talk Academic Freedom

Last February, Brooklyn College’s political science department was under attack for co-sponsoring a panel in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. In the heat of the controversy, Brooklyn College President Karen Gould issued a statement defending the political science department.

Among other things, she said this: “as an institution of higher education, it is incumbent upon us to uphold the tenets of academic freedom and allow our students and faculty to engage in dialogue and debate on topics they may choose, even those with which members of our campus and broader community may vehemently disagree.”

For this statement, President Gould became a heroine in the BDS crowd. Corey Robin, a member of Brooklyn College’s political science department and a boycott supporter, said, “in my more than twenty years as a graduate student and professor, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a leader of an educational institution take a more principled and courageous stand than this.” Joan Scott also commended her “courageous statement.” Pro-boycott journalist Glenn Greenwald declared, once the controversy was resolved in the political science department’s favor, that President Gould had shown that “principled leadership” works.

In other words, one year ago boycott defenders thought that when it came to fundamental principles of academic freedom, a college president can, and indeed must, speak for the college.

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Last February, Brooklyn College’s political science department was under attack for co-sponsoring a panel in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. In the heat of the controversy, Brooklyn College President Karen Gould issued a statement defending the political science department.

Among other things, she said this: “as an institution of higher education, it is incumbent upon us to uphold the tenets of academic freedom and allow our students and faculty to engage in dialogue and debate on topics they may choose, even those with which members of our campus and broader community may vehemently disagree.”

For this statement, President Gould became a heroine in the BDS crowd. Corey Robin, a member of Brooklyn College’s political science department and a boycott supporter, said, “in my more than twenty years as a graduate student and professor, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a leader of an educational institution take a more principled and courageous stand than this.” Joan Scott also commended her “courageous statement.” Pro-boycott journalist Glenn Greenwald declared, once the controversy was resolved in the political science department’s favor, that President Gould had shown that “principled leadership” works.

In other words, one year ago boycott defenders thought that when it came to fundamental principles of academic freedom, a college president can, and indeed must, speak for the college.

Fast forward about a year. More than two hundred college presidents have publicly rejected the American Studies Association’s recent vote to boycott Israel. Time to change tactics. On Thursday, Ashley Dawson, a professor of English a the City University of New York’s Graduate Center (more about him here), took to the pages of InsideHigherEd to reveal the new BDS wisdom: college presidents must not make statements in the name of their colleges. If you think that no one would make such a claim, read Dawson’s own words: “when university leaders … speak not based on their own personal opinions but in the name of the institution, they abrogate the academic freedom of their faculty members.”  

This statement is rich on more than one level. It’s rich because the boycotters would no doubt gladly accept the support of any college president who offered to defend them. It’s rich because, although they deny it, boycott proponents have lent their support to a movement that actively encourages American scholars to shun Israeli scholars. Now they complain that college presidents violate academic freedom when they speak for the institutions they lead, often in statements explicitly reaffirming “the right of academicians to voice their viewpoints.” It’s rich because they loved presidential leadership when President Gould exercised it. Can they really blame a college president for thinking it an uncontroversial corollary of any college’s mission that “efforts to curtail dialogue and academic exchange are wrongheaded and troubling”?

But I forgot to say whom I was quoting there. That was former BDS heroine, President Karen Gould, denouncing the American Studies Association boycott.

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Israel Boycotts and the Lure of Notoriety

Here on the blog, Jonathan Marks has been covering the ongoing saga of the American Studies Association’s academic boycott of Israel, leaving off last week with a note about the possible next target for academics’ anti-Israel zealotry. He wrote that the upcoming conference of the Modern Language Association, which has a larger membership than the ASA, will host a roundtable on the topic stacked with pro-boycott voices. The “playbook,” he comments, would normally have this year’s conference used as the backdrop for a boycott resolution at next year’s conference.

The trend does indeed usually go in one direction. But perhaps there is reason to hope this trend will slow dramatically at this point. The pushback against the boycott from American academia has been swift. On Sunday night, William Jacobson posted at Legal Insurrection the latest tally of schools that had rejected the boycott and/or terminated their membership in the ASA. There were over thirty schools and counting to reject the boycott, and Yair Rosenberg has been noting the additional schools to come out against the boycott over the last couple of days, including Smith College and the University of Cincinnati.

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Here on the blog, Jonathan Marks has been covering the ongoing saga of the American Studies Association’s academic boycott of Israel, leaving off last week with a note about the possible next target for academics’ anti-Israel zealotry. He wrote that the upcoming conference of the Modern Language Association, which has a larger membership than the ASA, will host a roundtable on the topic stacked with pro-boycott voices. The “playbook,” he comments, would normally have this year’s conference used as the backdrop for a boycott resolution at next year’s conference.

The trend does indeed usually go in one direction. But perhaps there is reason to hope this trend will slow dramatically at this point. The pushback against the boycott from American academia has been swift. On Sunday night, William Jacobson posted at Legal Insurrection the latest tally of schools that had rejected the boycott and/or terminated their membership in the ASA. There were over thirty schools and counting to reject the boycott, and Yair Rosenberg has been noting the additional schools to come out against the boycott over the last couple of days, including Smith College and the University of Cincinnati.

At first glance, it might seem obvious to reject such a boycott: it flies in the face of the principles of academic engagement. The pro-boycott voices have taken a stand against the free flow of ideas and in favor of ethnic discrimination, a strange position for a university to take up–or, at least, it should be. But anti-Israel activists have been known not for their intellectual pursuit but for their extremism. Even Mahmoud Abbas opposes the boycott, making these activists and academics more extremely anti-Israel than Yasser Arafat’s successor.

And so the condemnation of these fanatic purveyors of hate came not only from the right but even from the left, which has become increasingly uncomfortable with Israel but which has not gone so far as to surpass the Palestinian Authority in its opposition to the current Israeli government, unlike the ASA. Today the Washington Post reported on the universities’ attempts to distance themselves from the ASA’s extremism:

Schools including Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Princeton and Boston universities and the Universities of Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Texas at Austin  and others have slammed the boycott, issuing statements similar to one by Harvard President Drew Faust that said that academic boycotts “subvert the academic freedoms and values necessary to the free flow of ideas, which is the lifeblood of the worldwide community of scholars.”

Penn State University at Harrisburg and Brandeis University have said they are withdrawing their memberships from the American Studies Association, and other schools are considering doing the same thing. In addition, two major associations of institutions of higher education, the Association of American Universities and the Association of American University Professors, have issued statements rejecting the boycott.

The Post includes some of the university presidents’ statements supporting dialogue over exclusion, such as from the University of Connecticut’s Susan Herbst:

Academic leaders at UConn will continue to visit Israel and Arab nations, invite Israeli and Arab scholars to our campuses, encourage our students and faculty to study in these nations, and pursue research collaboration with the many outstanding Israeli universities. We do this with pride and a productive focus on social justice, to forge the very critical dialogues that will someday lead to the peace we all seek.

That is the true essence of a university — to foster dialogue and develop solutions to problems without regard to political, racial, and cultural differences.

You can sense a kind of exasperation in some of these statements, as though the presidents of major American universities can’t quite believe they have to explain the basic principles of academic engagement and the rank senselessness of boycotting the Jewish state–and only the Jewish state, as opposed to non-democracies, unfree societies, etc.

Will it matter? How will this response factor into the decisions of groups like the MLA, who will be considering whether to codify their commitment to ethnic discrimination? There are two possibilities.

The first is that they will read the statements from presidents of dozens of universities expressing the embarrassment these boycotts bring to the good name of American academia and take the ASA’s experiment as a cautionary tale in letting their organizations be hijacked by anti-Israel extremists. Rather than choose sides, they will choose academic open-mindedness.

The second option is to embrace the opprobrium as confirmation of their wacky ideas about Zionist conspiracies. That would be the Walt-Mearsheimer path. When the two academics first proposed their silly ideas about the Israel lobby as a magazine piece, it was obviously wrongheaded but taken as an interesting conversation starter. When they expanded it into book form, it was dismaying to the pro-Israel community at first, because the authors had realized how lucrative it is in this day and age to peddle conspiracy theories about Jews.

When the book came out, however, there was much relief: the book could be easily criticized without consideration of the authors’ motives because it was of such shoddy scholarship as to be self-discrediting. The authors had their facts wrong, and clearly didn’t understand even the basics of Middle Eastern politics. From an academic perspective, the book was a complete failure, an embarrassment to the very idea of serious scholarship.

But that didn’t matter: anti-Zionism sells. Of course the facts weren’t on the authors’ side, but it soon became clear that was never a consideration. You can go from being an academic to a sought-after household name by dedicating your career to catering to the conspiracy-theorist fringe. Thus academic groups similar to the ASA may come to their senses and remember their mission is to educate. Or they may anticipate the notoriety that comes with abandoning that mission and embrace it for the sake of fame and intellectual martyrdom. The blowback against the ASA may be the end of this nonsense, in other words, or it may only be the beginning.

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Even in Academia, Boycotting Israel Is a Hard Sell

The weekend before Thanksgiving the American Studies Association, at its annual meeting, considered an academic boycott of Israel. As of Thanksgiving, the ASA’s National Council had not taken action, though the proposed resolution had wide support at the meeting. I have written on ASA and the Boycott Israel resolution here and here. But it’s worth focusing on just one false yet revealing claim.

Supporters of the resolution say that the ASA meeting should be considered “historic,” whether the resolution passes or not. It is very “controversial to talk about Palestinian solidarity activism, in most American settings, especially an academic one” (my emphasis). So the mere fact that ASA members were “talking about things like Israel’s various apartheid systems” was an event of national, if not world-historic, significance. At last, the ASA has shown that it is possible “to speak and to hear others speak publicly about an issue that has for so long been the third rail not only of US politics, but of academic discourse.”

Because anti-Israel activists so regularly trot out this storyline, that criticisms of Israel and especially calls for a boycott have been stifled in academia, let’s put it to rest. While I don’t expect leading boycott propagandists to stop making the claim, perhaps others will be reluctant to repeat it when they learn that it is demonstrably false.

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The weekend before Thanksgiving the American Studies Association, at its annual meeting, considered an academic boycott of Israel. As of Thanksgiving, the ASA’s National Council had not taken action, though the proposed resolution had wide support at the meeting. I have written on ASA and the Boycott Israel resolution here and here. But it’s worth focusing on just one false yet revealing claim.

Supporters of the resolution say that the ASA meeting should be considered “historic,” whether the resolution passes or not. It is very “controversial to talk about Palestinian solidarity activism, in most American settings, especially an academic one” (my emphasis). So the mere fact that ASA members were “talking about things like Israel’s various apartheid systems” was an event of national, if not world-historic, significance. At last, the ASA has shown that it is possible “to speak and to hear others speak publicly about an issue that has for so long been the third rail not only of US politics, but of academic discourse.”

Because anti-Israel activists so regularly trot out this storyline, that criticisms of Israel and especially calls for a boycott have been stifled in academia, let’s put it to rest. While I don’t expect leading boycott propagandists to stop making the claim, perhaps others will be reluctant to repeat it when they learn that it is demonstrably false.

It is demonstrably false because Israel’s critics and boycott proponents are mainstays of the academic lecture circuit. Almost three years before the “historic” ASA meeting, Max Blumenthal was invited to debate BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) at Princeton. More than two years before the “historic” meeting, Omar Bhargouti, a founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), spoke at NYU, Columbia, Princeton, Rutgers, Brandeis, Harvard, and Brown. And remember the controversy over a BDS event at Brooklyn College back in February? Students have since been graced with Ben White on “Israel: Apartheid, not Democracy,” and Josh Ruebner, national advocacy director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, who observed that “the Israel lobby sets the agenda in Washington” and argued in favor of a boycott.

In short, when Israel’s critics complain about being suppressed on college campuses they complain into microphones provided by America’s most prestigious colleges.

Although I am aware of no recent polls that ask faculty members what they think of Israel, a 2012 survey by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute indicates that more faculty members put themselves on the “far left” than put themselves in the far right and conservative categories combined. Overall 62.6 percent of respondents called themselves far left or liberal, while 11.9 percent called themselves conservative or far right. Sympathy for the Palestinian side in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians runs much higher among liberals than among conservatives, and academics are much more liberal than the general population. In this context, the assertion that “Palestinian solidarity activism” is more controversial in an academic setting than elsewhere, or that the Palestinian cause cannot get a hearing, is delusional. Is there any academic who thinks that it would be more controversial to offer a BDS resolution at a faculty meeting than it would be to offer a resolution expressing support for Israel?

Still, the constant complaints of boycott supporters that they are being suppressed are revealing. Why do proponents of a boycott feel compelled to put forward such a transparently false assertion? Perhaps they are reaching for an explanation for why academic organizations have been reluctant to take up the “Boycott Israel” call. If the American Studies Association adopts the resolution, it will be just the second notable U.S. academic organization to do so, the other being the Association for Asian American Studies. By claiming that there are powerful forces working to silence them, boycott opponents can divert attention from the extent to which joining their movement entails opposing academic freedom, adopting odious comparisons of Zionism and Nazism, and plumping for a one-state solution that would put an end to the Jewish state. Thankfully, even in academia, that position remains a hard sell.

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Academics and BDS: An Update

Last week, I criticized the most recent issue of the Journal of Academic Freedom (JAF), a journal of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Mainly activists in and sympathizers with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement author that issue of the publication. I thought that the AAUP, which opposes academic boycotts, should be troubled that Ashley Dawson has used the journal he edits to promote his politics. I hoped that AAUP leaders would speak up.

But Cary Nelson, past president of the AAUP, and Ernst Benjamin, former AAUP general secretary, were already preparing fine responses, which the JAF has published here and here. Nelson rejects the argument that academics should boycott Israel because it does not respect academic freedom. There “is more academic freedom in Israel than in other nations in the Middle East.” Boycotting Israel’s universities because of the policies of its government is “hypocritical and a fundamental betrayal” of the mission of academics. While Nelson personally supports a boycott targeting Israeli goods produced in the West Bank, he acknowledges that supporters of  “any economic boycott,” risk being “harnessed to more radical agendas like the abolition of the Israeli state. Some in the boycott movement have exactly that goal.”

I am unlikely to agree with Benjamin and Nelson about Israel and will protest if they seem to conflate legitimate concerns about campus anti-Semitism with the desire to censor anti-Israeli speech. But AAUP is the only organization not formed to combat anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic activity that criticized the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) when it embraced the BDS movement. Nelson and Benjamin’s responses to the essays in the JAF, which have, apart from the efforts of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, escaped criticism, are another sign of the importance of AAUP principles. If AAUP’s 45,000 members heeded its call to defend the unique place of colleges and universities in American life from those who would use them as a base of propaganda operations, I would be very optimistic about the future of higher education.

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Last week, I criticized the most recent issue of the Journal of Academic Freedom (JAF), a journal of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Mainly activists in and sympathizers with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement author that issue of the publication. I thought that the AAUP, which opposes academic boycotts, should be troubled that Ashley Dawson has used the journal he edits to promote his politics. I hoped that AAUP leaders would speak up.

But Cary Nelson, past president of the AAUP, and Ernst Benjamin, former AAUP general secretary, were already preparing fine responses, which the JAF has published here and here. Nelson rejects the argument that academics should boycott Israel because it does not respect academic freedom. There “is more academic freedom in Israel than in other nations in the Middle East.” Boycotting Israel’s universities because of the policies of its government is “hypocritical and a fundamental betrayal” of the mission of academics. While Nelson personally supports a boycott targeting Israeli goods produced in the West Bank, he acknowledges that supporters of  “any economic boycott,” risk being “harnessed to more radical agendas like the abolition of the Israeli state. Some in the boycott movement have exactly that goal.”

I am unlikely to agree with Benjamin and Nelson about Israel and will protest if they seem to conflate legitimate concerns about campus anti-Semitism with the desire to censor anti-Israeli speech. But AAUP is the only organization not formed to combat anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic activity that criticized the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) when it embraced the BDS movement. Nelson and Benjamin’s responses to the essays in the JAF, which have, apart from the efforts of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, escaped criticism, are another sign of the importance of AAUP principles. If AAUP’s 45,000 members heeded its call to defend the unique place of colleges and universities in American life from those who would use them as a base of propaganda operations, I would be very optimistic about the future of higher education.

But I wish that AAUP leaders and members were more attentive to AAUP’s own 1940 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure. Its argument for academic freedom assumes that the “common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.” While the AAUP should resist attacks on academic freedom, it should also insist that “membership in the academic profession carries with it special responsibilities,” including the responsibility to uphold the “free search for truth and its exposition.” The AAUP, which dismisses criticisms of the university that it regards as political, shows little concern, apart from its stance on academic boycotts, for the responsibility of academics to put the search for truth before activism.

The 1915 Declaration of Principles of Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure claims that the “liberty of the scholar . . . to set forth his conclusions” is “conditioned by their being conclusions gained by a scholar’s method and held in a scholar’s spirit.” While scholars, like other citizens, have freedom of speech, academic freedom merits special protection because the inquiry after truth serves the common good. But if the academy fails to “prevent the freedom which it claims in the name of science from being used . . . for uncritical and intemperate partisanship, it is certain that the task will be performed by others.”

Organizations like the AAAS are objectionable not only because they support academic boycotts but also because they choose advocacy over inquiry. Although the AAAS, in the resolution its membership unanimously supported, mentions academic freedom, it also affirms “a critique of U.S. empire, opposing U.S. military occupation in the Arab world and U.S. support for occupation and racist practices by the Israeli state.” This is no isolated conclusion but, according to the resolution, a goal the AAAS, as a professional academic organization, pursues. The case for academic freedom is weakened when academic organizations consider the advancement of a political agenda their very reason for being.

The “free search for truth and its free exposition” sometimes entails advocacy, as when an economist concludes, on the basis of scholarly work, that a policy is misguided and says so. Defenders of academic freedom are properly wary of attacks on advocacy. But they must also be wary of academics that, by making advocacy the purpose of scholarship, undermine the case for academic freedom. They should remind their colleagues that, to quote the 1915 statement, “the university teaching profession is corrupted” to “the degree that professional scholars, in the formation and promulgation of their opinions, are, or . . . appear to be, subject to any motive other than their own scientific conscience.” If we fail to hold our colleagues accountable, “this task will be performed by others.”

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George Orwell Call Your Office

Not long ago, The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) underscored its longstanding commitment to the free exchange of ideas by chiding the Association for Asian American Studies, which voted last year to support an academic boycott against Israel. Apparently, this rebuke did not sit well with Ashley Dawson, the editor of the Journal of Academic Freedom, which AAUP publishes. Dawson has devoted almost the whole of the current issue to the Boycott Israel movement.

The story Dawson tells about how the issue came about is revealing. The journal issued a call for papers on these questions: “How … is the expansion of US higher education around the world and the increasing international integration of academia affecting academic freedom? In what ways conversely, is the globalization of higher education transforming academia within the United States, shifting and impinging upon traditional notions of academic freedom.” The call for papers identified five topics that “might be germane” to the discussion, including the AAUP’s rejection of the Boycott Israel campaign: “Can a case be made for endorsing the campaign without infringing academic freedom?”

It turns out the answer is yes. No one should be surprised. Dawson, as he unbelievably fails to disclose in the introduction to the issue, has endorsed the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USCABI) and edited a 2012 volume entitled Why Boycott Israel?: A Dossier on Palestine Today. Similarly, no one will be surprised that seven of the nine articles in this issue on globalization and academic freedom are devoted to the Boycott Israel movement. 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.

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Not long ago, The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) underscored its longstanding commitment to the free exchange of ideas by chiding the Association for Asian American Studies, which voted last year to support an academic boycott against Israel. Apparently, this rebuke did not sit well with Ashley Dawson, the editor of the Journal of Academic Freedom, which AAUP publishes. Dawson has devoted almost the whole of the current issue to the Boycott Israel movement.

The story Dawson tells about how the issue came about is revealing. The journal issued a call for papers on these questions: “How … is the expansion of US higher education around the world and the increasing international integration of academia affecting academic freedom? In what ways conversely, is the globalization of higher education transforming academia within the United States, shifting and impinging upon traditional notions of academic freedom.” The call for papers identified five topics that “might be germane” to the discussion, including the AAUP’s rejection of the Boycott Israel campaign: “Can a case be made for endorsing the campaign without infringing academic freedom?”

It turns out the answer is yes. No one should be surprised. Dawson, as he unbelievably fails to disclose in the introduction to the issue, has endorsed the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USCABI) and edited a 2012 volume entitled Why Boycott Israel?: A Dossier on Palestine Today. Similarly, no one will be surprised that seven of the nine articles in this issue on globalization and academic freedom are devoted to the Boycott Israel movement. 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.

Or perhaps, I should say 6/9, since Dawson admirably includes one mild defense of the AAUP’s position among the 7 essays. The remainder were penned by, and I am not kidding: a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel; a founding committee member of USCABI, an advisory board member of USCABI; an endorser of that same campaign who also signed the Association for Asian American Studies boycott resolution; a signatory of a 2009 letter to then President-Elect Obama, gently urging him to view Israel as the perpetrator of “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times”; a former contributor to the Electronic Intifada, and another Electronic Intifada contributor who wrote “Answering Critics of the Boycott Movement.”

Of course, the authors repeat the same old canards. The pro-BDS position is suppressed, they freely say in the journal of an organization that opposes their position. Israel itself does not honor academic freedom, they say, though Freedom House, an organization not at all shy about criticizing Israel, calls Israel’s universities “centers of dissent.”

But it is not my intention to rejoin the debate between Israel and its radical critics. Instead, I want to draw attention to the remarkable self-caricature over which Ashley Dawson has presided, an issue purportedly devoted to “sparking a broad conversation” about “academic freedom and faculty rights beyond U.S. borders” that focuses almost entirely on Israel and consists mainly of essays written by declared supporters of and leading activists within the BDS movement. 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. Dawson at least makes it clear that the publication of this issue “does not necessarily indicate any change in AAUP policy or even an intention to directly consider such change.” But one does wish that individual members of the board would rouse themselves, not to make the case for Israel, but to make the case against devoting a journal purportedly devoted to “scholarship” to a barely disguised hit job.

CORRECTION: Although the book, Why Boycott Israel? A Dossier on Palestine Today, appeared on two current versions of Ashley Dawson’s c.v. at the time of posting, Dawson denies having edited such a book and knowledge of how it got on to his c.v. The book apparently does not exist. I apologize for the error.

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