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October 5, 2014 10:12 pm

Academic Boycott Making Resurgence on Campus

avatar by Alex Margolin

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A Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) protest against Israel in Melbourne, Australia, on June 5, 2010. Photo: Mohamed Ouda via Wikimedia Commons.

When the American Studies Association approved an academic boycott against Israel late last year, the academic world spoke out against the move loudly and clearly.

Presidents of 250 academic institutions signed a letter of opposition. Brandeis University and other prestigious institutions formally withdrew from the association. “We can no longer support an organization that has rejected two of the core principles of American culture – freedom of association and expression,” Brandeis said in a statement.

The severe backlash discredited academic boycotting as a tactic, and prevented any new motions throughout the school year.

But a new year heralds a new beginning, and anti-Israel academic boycotts are once again ascendant at American universities, as if the tactic magically stopped serving as an assault on academic freedom or discrimination against Israeli academics.

The Doctoral Students’ Council at City University of New York (CUNY) already held a discussion on “the boycott of Israeli academic institutions and the divestment from Israeli companies,” which drew media attention because of the timing of the scheduled vote – on Friday night after the onset of the Jewish sabbath – not because of the content of the proposal.

Next up is the American Anthropological Association (AAA), which is preparing to debate the issue in December. Longtime AAA member David Rosen told  Haaretz this week that the process is strongly skewed towards the pro-boycott position.

The planned BDS panels “are already like the boycott, because no Israeli anthropologist is included,” says Rosen. “Even long-term Israeli members of the AAA have been completely marginalized in this discussion. From my point of view, it’s totally rigged.”

Undergirding the new moves are updated guidelines from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) designed to address many of the complaints from the previous year:

Anchored in precepts of international law and universal human rights, the BDS movement, including PACBI, rejects on principle boycotts of individuals based on their identity (such as citizenship, race, gender, or religion) or opinion.  If, however, an individual is representing the state of Israel or a complicit Israeli institution (such as a dean, rector, or president), or is commissioned/recruited to participate in Israel’s efforts to “rebrand” itself, then her/his activities are subject to the institutional boycott the BDS movement is calling for.

Despite the carefully worded statement, Fathon Journal noted that PACBI “prescribes one specific practice after another practice which leaves academic freedom in tatters,” including the reference to the rebranding issue:

Any effort to focus attention on Israel’s scientific and cultural achievements is castigated as a ‘rebranding’ project, an effort to ‘whitewash’ the country’s suppression of Palestinian rights. Individuals and institutions guilty of ‘rebranding’ – an activity demonstrable by referencing or promoting a science, social science, or humanities project without also condemning Israeli policy in other areas – therefore deserve to be boycotted and blacklisted. Boycotting the activities of so-called complicit individuals means blacklisting them. This will have particularly serious consequences for students and junior faculty.

The renewed focus on academic boycotts means that Israel’s defenders on campuses across the country will face a greater challenge than they did last year. Students will be faced with numerous divestment motions and staff and faculty will face an upsurge in academic boycott efforts.

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This article was originally published by HonestReporting.

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