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March 12, 2017 8:00 am

Jewish Student Umbrella Lauds New Anti-BDS Report Recommending How to Combat ‘One of the Greatest Threats to Academic Freedom’ on Campus

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A BDS protest. Photo: Takver via Wikimedia Commons.

A BDS protest. Photo: Takver via Wikimedia Commons.

The world’s largest Jewish campus organization welcomed a US higher education-reform group’s new recommendations for countering boycott and divestment efforts at universities, The Algemeiner has learned.

Hillel International president and CEO Eric Fingerhut expressed gratitude to the American Council for Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) for its “Campus Free Speech, Academic Freedom and the Problem of the BDS Movement” report, which details how the global push “to end economic and cultural exchange with Israel is undermining” freedom of expression.

“This report highlights the struggle Jewish students and other supporters of Israel are facing on campus each day just to have their voices heard,” Fingerhut said in a statement. “We have seen too many instances of speakers shouted down and intimidated, programs interrupted and Jewish and pro-Israel students’ safety threatened by those who refuse to respect the campus culture of civility and academic freedom.”

ACTA’s report, released Thursday, describes BDS as “one of the greatest threats to academic freedom in the United States today,” and called out anti-Israel activists who engage in outright antisemitic behavior and rhetoric, and even, at times, advocate or use violence.

To curb the impact of BDS, ACTA recommended boards “establish clear First Amendment policies”; “look to national best practices concerning free expression”; and “review your institution’s anti-discrimination policies.” These steps should include incorporating specific principles of freedom of expression into orientation materials and codes of conduct, as well as clearly “defining the boundaries between protest and disruption” of events or speakers. It is suggested that “severe sanctions” be established for those who violate these directives.

ACTA also positioned itself as “firmly neutral” on all foreign policy issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and advised trustee boards to do the same.

Fingerhut said Hillel “will use [ACTA’s] recommendations as we continue our important conversations with campus leaders.”

According to Insider HigherEdleading anti-BDS scholar Cary Nelson — professor emeritus of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — criticized ACTA’s encouragement of boards to press “departments and centers that address Middle Eastern affairs to ensure intellectually diverse views across a range of scholarly opinion.”

Though a BDS opponent, Nelson said such directives “cross the line in themselves threatening academic freedom,” as faculty should be allowed to teach from a particular perspective if they wish. Anything goes in academia, “so long as [professors and departments] welcome dissenting student opinion,” and administrations actively work to offer a diverse array of views.

As The Algemeiner has extensively reported, BDS and those associated with it have been accused of crossing the line into antisemitism.

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