Syracuse U Professor Slams ‘Hypocritical’ Colleagues for Rescinding Invitation to Israeli Academic/Filmmaker (INTERVIEW)
A Syracuse University professor slammed colleagues on Friday for allowing a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) advocate to speak on campus after rescinding an invitation to an Israeli academic, telling The Algemeiner such actions were “hypocritical.”
Miriam Elman, an associate professor of political science and a member of Syracuse’s Jewish studies program, spoke with The Algemeiner following a decision to withdraw an invitation to Israeli filmmaker and New York University (NYU) faculty member Shimon Dotan, whose new documentary, “The Settlers,” was to be screened at an upcoming Syracuse campus conference.
Due to threats by BDS activists, the screening was canceled by faculty organizers. Soon after, on Thursday, Marc Lamont Hill, an activist who has spoken out against Israel and is an advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement, was received on campus.
“It is the height of irony that on the same day the story of Dotan broke, Hill, a well-known and outspoken critic of Israel, gave a keynote address at a symposium on race, justice, violence and the police in the 21st century,” Elman told The Algemeiner.
According to Elman — who attended Thursday’s symposium and said there were at least 1,000 people in attendance — Hill made several pointedly disparaging remarks about Israel, including referring to the Jewish state as an “occupying” power, a claim which Elman said received huge applause from the audience.
Addressing a fellow panelist, Hill said, “We need to see our struggles as interconnected, as united, blacks with Latinos…I travel to Africa, Haiti, Palestine. I explore state violence in these places.” He went on to reference the virulently anti-Israel group Adalah, which “told me how a Palestinian kid was shot by police and then the police put a weapon in his hand.”
Elman told The Algemeiner that Hill — who in the past has also spoken out in defense of a Palestinian terrorist — turned to the audience and asked, “Can you believe that?” He then reportedly said, “Yeah, I can believe that. I try to help get us all free.”
“Look at what has happened here,” she said. “A group of faculty tried to disinvite an award-winning and prominent Israeli academic, while the campus welcomes an academic BDS leader, who has issued calls for a revolutionary struggle against the Jewish state. There is no move to uninvite him or even conversation about him from the faculty.”
On Thursday, as first reported by The Atlantic, news broke of Syracuse faculty reneging on their invitation to Dotan to screen his film, which takes a critical look at Israelis who live in the West Bank. In an email to Dotan, Syracuse professor M. Gail Hamner wrote:
…I am now embarrassed to share that my SU colleagues, on hearing about my attempt to secure your presentation, have warned me that the BDS faction on campus will make matters very unpleasant for you and for me if you come. In particular my film colleague in English who granted me affiliated faculty in the film and screen studies program and who supported my proposal to the Humanities Council for this conference told me point blank that if I have not myself seen your film and cannot myself vouch for it to the Council, I will lose credibility with a number of film and Women/Gender studies colleagues. Sadly, I have not had the chance to see your film and can only vouch for it through my friend and through published reviews.
Clearly I am politically naive. I also feel tremendous shame in reneging on a half-offered invitation…
I feel caught in an ideological matrix and by my own egoic needs to sustain certain institutional affiliations…
Elman told The Algemeiner that she and many of her colleagues were “absolutely flabbergasted” when they found out Dotan’s invitation was rescinded and heard of the threats made by campus BDS activists, adding that the move should be considered an “infringement and violation of the bedrock principles of academic freedom and free speech.”
“Our university went on record and opposed the BDS academic boycott as a signatory of non-support of the American Studies Association’s academic boycott. This is institutional policy,” she said. “We do not support the boycott of Israelis at our institution. So on top of this sorry state of affairs being a disgraceful, shameful and discourteous action towards Dotan, it is also a violation of university policy.”
The events related to Dotan, Elman said, are part of a series of “silent stealth boycotts by a small, yet determined group of BDS activists.” What makes the BDS presence at Syracuse even more unique, she told The Algemeiner, is that “we do not have a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and all boycott activity is faculty driven.”
In Hamner’s email to Dotan rescinding the invitation, the Syracuse professor made reference to the university’s Women’s Studies Association (WSA). According to Elman, Vivian May, who heads the Humanities Center at Syracuse and is the president of the National WSA, “just signed a few months ago in support of the academic boycott against Israel.” When the university refused to join in the academic boycott two years ago, “Women’s Studies as a unit submitted a letter of protest,” Elman added.
“You can see how deep this anti-Israel hatred goes,” she said.
Elman is now part of an increasing number of Syracuse faculty — who also wrote a “joint letter of apology to Dotan for the university’s lack of courtesy, insult and embarrassment” — calling on the administration to investigate why the filmmaker’s invitation was withdrawn.
“Faculty at Syracuse has crossed a line by boycotting all and any type of Israeli related programming,” Elman told The Algemeiner. “It’s not just about targeting the Zionist Right, but also progressive leftists and those who advocate for coexistence and Israeli-Palestinian engagement. They don’t want Israelis on our campus, period.”
The events as Syracuse, Elman said, “are an important example of where BDS has gone.”
“If the BDS movement says it is against the ‘occupation,’ then why doesn’t it want to host a movie that talks about ending the ‘occupation?’ Dotan is not anti-Israel enough for its members. BDS only supports people who will scream from the rooftop that Israel is an apartheid, genocidal and racist state. This says a lot about what the BDS movement wants students to know,” she said.
“A small group of faculty is depriving us of our rights and we will not tolerate this,” Elman declared.
Following backlash over the Dotan affair, Syracuse announced it is planning to extend an invitation to the filmmaker to screen his documentary at a future time. In an email sent out to the Syracuse community on Friday — and obtained by The Algemeiner — Vice Chancellor and Provost Michelle Wheatley stated:
…In light of a recent media report regarding an upcoming Syracuse-hosted conference focused on religion and film…It has been reported that a Syracuse professor was reluctant to invite to campus a faculty member from another school to screen his documentary at the conference because it might provoke anti-Israeli criticism.
Whether or not such criticism would have actually been expressed, the decision in this matter is inconsistent with our policies, ideals, and practices. In fact, more than 2½ years ago, the University made clear its position that we support and encourage discussion and debate around important and complex issues concerning peace, security, and justice for all individuals in the Middle East and that we do not support any boycott of Israeli academic institutions or faculty as it runs counter to the open exchange of knowledge, ideas, and perspectives.
The Syracuse professor who made the initial decision has since publicly stated that she regrets having done so. Chancellor Syverud and I will be working with the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences to extend an invitation to the professor/filmmaker to visit and screen his film at Syracuse University at a future date…
The events at Syracuse highlight what is becoming a common trend of BDS groups targeting Zionist and Jewish communities across college campuses in the US. In a startling report released by campus watchdog group the AMCHA Initiative, between January and June 2016, the suppression of Jewish students’ freedom of speech and assembly doubled while anti-Israel and anti-Zionist groups on campus “have become significantly more brazen in both their strategy and tactics.”