Don't Let Israel/Palestine Politics Undermine Academic Freedom
- Academic Associations; The Chronicle of Higher Education
- United States of America
We urge our colleagues in the United States and across the world not to use the politics of the Israel/Palestine conflict to undermine academic freedom. We call for academic freedom to be defended across the board, by and for people on all sides of the Israel/Palestine conflict.
For further information on the petition, see http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/01/27/new-statement-seeks-reframe-academic-debate-about-israel-boycott and http://forward.com/articles/191848/academic-freedom-not-boycotts-should-be-focus/.
We also encourage all signatories to give their names - NOT to use the "anonymous" option.
We are dismayed by the international campaign calling for a boycott of Israeli universities, manifested recently in the boycott resolution passed by the American Studies Association.
We do not agree that there is a meaningful distinction between boycotting universities and blacklisting individual scholars, nor do we think that universities should be held responsible for government policies.
Academic freedom means that the pursuit of knowledge is based on the merit of ideas, not on the nationality of scholars or their institutional homes, and not on the zealousness of political beliefs, no matter how fervently held. When academics themselves take the initiative to attack or undermine these principles, the results can be especially corrosive.
Academic boycotts are not the only danger to academic freedom linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the threats come from both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel constituencies.
We are opposed to attempts to intervene in tenure cases on political grounds, whether with public fanfare, such as campaigns by pro-Israel groups to block the tenure of pro-Palestinian academics at Barnard College in New York and De Paul University of Chicago, or by the sometimes quieter, but no less pernicious, practices of discrimination in some departments by pro-Palestinian academics against scholars who support Israel.
The irony is that some who decry the attempt to boycott Israeli academic institutions are themselves undermining academic freedom. The Israel Ministry of Education did so when it attempted in 2012 to close a department at Ben Gurion University on patently political grounds. Some pro-Israel groups in the United States do so when they threaten or take legal action against American universities for anti-Israel political speech.
Partisans on all sides of this conflict seem increasingly willing to sacrifice the principles of academic freedom and, more generally, of the free expression and exchange of ideas. We call on our colleagues to resist this tendency, whatever their views of the conflict itself. Boycotts, blacklists, politically motivated interventions in tenure, and attempts to stifle speech do not belong in the university. They set an ominous precedent that can be used by intolerant and repressive movements of all sorts in the future. Everyone who values freedom should stand up against them.