Academic Boycott of Israel Will Not Bring Peace
In 1915, John Dewey of Columbia University and Arthur Lovejoy of Johns Hopkins University came together with other educators to establish the American Association of University Professors, an organization designed to preserve academic freedom and professional values.
The association’s 1915 Declaration of Principles set the guidelines for the foundation of what academic freedom should be stating that, “the freedom of the academic teacher entail[s] certain correlative obligations … . The university teacher … should, if he is fit for his position, be a person of a fair and judicial mind; he should, in dealing with such subjects, set forth justly, without suppression or innuendo, the divergent opinions of other investigators … and he should, above all, remember that his business is not to provide his students with ready-made conclusions, but to train them to think for themselves.”
Today, however, academic freedom is incorrectly equated with unrestricted faculty free speech and the “correlative obligations” or presenting “divergent opinions” have been swept away. As the late Gary Tobin put it, “Academic freedom has evolved from protection against political influence to job security — an employment contract rather than an intellectual contract.”
Nowhere is this more true than in the case of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel and Israeli academics.
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.
The latest edition of the Journal of Academic Freedom — the AAUP’s flagship journal — edited by Ashley Dawson, who takes this to fairly Orwellian new heights with an entire issue devoted to the BDS campaign against Israel. This is hardly mitigated by a passing statement from the journal’s editor that, “in view of the association’s longstanding commitment to the free exchange of ideas, we oppose academic boycotts.”
Dawson is no stranger to such overt pronouncements as someone who personally endorsed the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. All in all, Dawson gives space to six pro-BDS pieces out of the nine pieces for the sake of “balance.” Dawson includes one meek piece defending the AAUP’s position among the seven essays.
The icing on this cake is the contribution of BDS movement founder Omar Barghouti, an individual who has built his entire career on demonization of Israel.
For years, Barghouti has called for Israeli universities and academics to be boycotted but hypocritically claims his studies at an Israeli university are a “personal matter.”
But for someone who holds degrees from Israeli universities, Barghouti’s condemnation of them, and Israeli society as a whole, is total. His argument: “Unlike the South African academic boycott, the Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel is institutional in nature; it specifically targets Israeli academic institutions because of their complicity, to varying degrees, in planning, implementing, justifying, or whitewashing Israel’s occupation, racial discrimination, and denial of refugee rights. This collusion takes various forms, from systematically providing the military-intelligence establishment with indispensable research — on demography, geography, hydrology, and psychology, among other disciplines — that directly benefits the occupation apparatus to tolerating and often rewarding racist speech, theories and “scientific” research; institutionalizing discrimination against Palestinian Arab citizens; suppressing Israeli academic research on the Nakba, the catastrophe of dispossession and ethnic cleansing of more than 750,000 Palestinians, and the destruction of more than 400 villages during the creation of Israel; and directly committing acts that contravene international law, such as the construction of campuses or dormitories in the occupied Palestinian territory, as Hebrew University has done, for instance.”
This is vilification at its most total, which is undone by a calm examination of how higher education works in every country. His tone also reflects fairly unhinged hatred; Barghouti is unwilling to list a single attribute of Israel that is tolerable, even his own university education. Anything except total agreement with him about the Arab-Palestinian conflict is automatically whitewash, a denial, institutionalized discrimination and so on.
He ignores the fact — evident from any Israeli newspaper much less a passing acquaintance with Israeli universities — that the issues he raises, such as discrimination and “occupation,” are constantly discussed. These are among the voices he wishes to be shut out.
The stated aims of the BDS movement are nothing short than the dissolution of Israel and its replacement with a bi-national, majority Palestinian, entity.
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.
The AAUP should stand up against such polemists; instead it legitimizes them by offering them 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.
Such calls would have been rightly condemned as utterly intolerant, overly broad and sweeping, and completely in opposition to a peaceful settlement of disputes.
In the case of Israel, however, such characterizations are acceptable, as are calls for its destruction.
Boycotts don’t engender peace, especially not in the Middle East. They act as a vehicle to deflect from the real obstacles to peace and the real opportunities, many of which are provided precisely by academia. The AAUP should focus on promoting balanced scholarship regarding the Middle East and not extremist views.
This article was originally published by UPI.