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March 3, 2014 10:03 am

NYU Conference: An Academic Lynching Behind Closed Doors

avatar by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin and Leila Beckwith /


A Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) protest against Israel. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.orgNew York University (NYU) professor and president-elect of the American Studies (ASA) Association Lisa Duggan recently wrote on her Facebook regarding the Feb. 28-March 1 “Circuits of Influence: U.S., Israel, and Palestine” conference she helped organize, “PLEASE DO NOT post or circulate the flyer. We are trying to avoid press, protestors and public attention.”

Why didn’t Duggan want people to know about the conference at NYU? Why was she trying to hold the event behind closed doors? Is it because more than 200 academic leaders disagree with her (and the ASA) on academic boycotts of Israel? Is it because she knows her conference was antithetical to the mission of an academic institution? Is it because she knows NYU students, parents, alumni, and donors would be up in arms? Is it because she knows the conference was anti-Semitic?

According to the conference flyer Duggan did not want circulated, the conference, organized by NYU’s American Studies Program, came “in response to the America Studies Association’s recent endorsement of a boycott of Israeli academic institutions,” and was co-sponsored by four NYU departments: the Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, the Native Studies Forum, the Department of Social & Cultural Analysis, and the Gender & Sexuality Studies Program.

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Although touted by NYU administrators as an “academic conference,” it was likely anything but that. Like most of the other “scholars” participating in the conference, Lisa Duggan has no scholarly expertise in political science, the Middle East, Israel, or Zionism. Indeed, her field of study is the history of gender and sexuality. Nevertheless, like all of the other “scholars” invited to participate in this “academic” conference, Duggan is an anti-Israel activist who has endorsed and promoted academic, cultural, and economic boycotts of Israel. For instance, she is signatory on a letter to then president-elect Obama urging that economic sanctions be imposed on Israel and arguing for an elimination of the Jewish state. She signed a letter calling on all members of LGBT activist community to embrace the boycott of Israel. She endorsed the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and as a member of the ASA’s National Council and the organization’s president-elect, she was an organizer and vocal supporter of the ASA’s resolution for the academic boycott of Israel.

In addition to the fact that all of the conference’s participants are anti-Israel and pro-boycott activists, the conference schedule included activist workshops on how to boycott Israel, run by representatives of virulently anti-Zionist organizations such as Adalah-NY, Students for Justice in Palestine, and Jewish Voice for Peace. Far from the “academic conference” it was touted to be, “Circuits of Influence” was likely nothing more than a platform for 21 anti-Israel activists to spew their hatred of the Jewish state and promote a boycott intended to hasten its elimination.

No wonder Professor Duggan wanted to hide the event from public scrutiny.

Duggan and her faculty colleagues in NYU’s American Studies Program and the other four sponsoring departments bear the primary responsibility for this unscholarly, anti-Semitic, and politically motivated and directed conference. Wrapping themselves in the mantle of “academic freedom,” but instead abusing that scholarly privilege, these faculty members are brazenly using their academic credentials and university funding to advance their purely activist agenda.

But the university administration also bears considerable blame for allowing anti-Israel activist professors like Duggan to exploit NYU’s resources and reputation for such an academic travesty. And while NYU President John Sexton is to be commended for joining more than 200 university presidents in opposing the ASA’s academic boycott of Israel, his refusal to revoke NYU’s institutional membership in the ASA, and his condemnation of state legislators for attempting to ensure that taxpayer resources will not be used to promote a boycott of Israel, have undoubtedly encouraged anti-Israel activists like Duggan and her colleagues to hijack NYU for advancing their anti-Semitic agenda.

Earlier this month, U.S. Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL) introduced a bipartisan bill, the Protect Academic Freedom Act, “to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund bigoted attacks against Israel that undermine the fundamental principles of academic freedom.” ASA president-elect Duggan and her anti-Israel academic cronies at NYU, and on campuses across the country, underscore the vital need for such federal legislation.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin and Leila Beckwith are faculty at the University of California and co-founders of AMCHA Initiative, an organization dedicated to monitoring and combatting campus anti-Semitism.

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