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May 23, 2017 1:34 pm

Open Letter to Dartmouth Administrators Following BDS Scandal

avatar by Joshua Kauderer, Jack Hutensky, Zachary Port, Matthew Zubrow and Michelle Knesbach

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Dartmouth College. Photo: Dartmouth website.

Following the controversy over the promotion to Dean of Faculty of a Dartmouth College professor with ties to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, and his subsequent stepping down from his administrative roles, student group Dartmouth Students for Israel wrote this open letter to the college administration.

On May 19, 2017, the Native Americans at Dartmouth (NAD) organization sent out an email to the Dartmouth community “to address statements made against the appointment of N. Bruce Duthu as the Dean of Faculty, and to emphasize [their] full support for his appointment.”

In it, NAD defended Duthu’s support for BDS, a campaign that targets the State of Israel with academic and economic boycotts, advances divestment from Israeli corporations and has a long-term mission of getting international sanctions imposed on the country.

BDS has three goals: (1) to end the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank, (2) to grant the “Right of Return” to all Palestinians, and (3) to give Palestinians equal rights in Israel. The first makes no distinction between disputed holy Jewish areas, such as the Old City of Jerusalem, and other regions in the West Bank. The second supports a policy that would lead to the destruction of the Jewish state qua Jewish state. The third falsely implies that Palestinian-Israelis in Israel do not have equal rights.

BDS unfairly singles out the State of Israel for human rights violations and inaccurately argues that Israel’s “occupation” of the disputed West Bank is illegal. It demonizes Israel and holds the country to a double standard.

Its success necessitates the elimination of Israel. The founder of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, has confirmed as much, declaring: “Definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”

The interpretation of BDS as an antisemitic movement is widely held, and is endorsed by Dartmouth Students for Israel.

However, NAD argued that calling BDS antisemitic “means to promote a propagandizing and anti-intellectual approach to political dissent unworthy of a research institution.” This argument is quite ironic. Duthu’s support for an academic boycott of the State of Israel punishes university professors simply because of their nationality. Duthu’s support for an academic boycott is a violation of academic freedom — a core principle of Dartmouth College and of the academy. Thus, it is NAD and Dean Duthu that seek to promote an “anti-intellectual approach to political dissent” — an approach that silences Israeli professors and universities with a boycott rather than engaging in academic debate.

Moreover, NAD argued that “the Dartmouth community risks being more willing to accommodate extremism than to recognize the silencing of Native voices and belittling of Indigenous people.” It is not an “extremist” view to call BDS antisemitic. BDS is immoral, illegal, undercuts the goal of a two-state solution and is remarkably bad for Palestinians.

But perhaps what is most damning about the BDS movement is that it represents a blatant double standard. One should wonder why Duthu chose to single out Israel for an academic boycott, rather than any of Israel’s neighbors. Duthu did not boycott Saudi Arabia, where violations of human rights law are enshrined in the kingdom’s legal code, including discrimination against women and minorities. Duthu did not boycott Jordan, where Palestinians have encountered discrimination and are regularly stripped of their citizenship. And if Duthu is concerned with “illegal occupations,” one should wonder why he did not boycott Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey or Armenia, even though each of those nations currently illegally occupies a foreign territory. By refusing to apply his principles equitably, Duthu singles out the State of Israel and gives legitimacy to the BDS campaign.

Dartmouth Students for Israel also takes note of Dartmouth College’s unique history with antisemitism. In 1945, Dartmouth’s president said that the mission of the college was the “Christianization of its students.” Jews were referred to as “ghetto types,” and antisemitic remarks frequented college discourse. In 1997, President James Freedman recognized the college’s antisemitic past and declared that “‘no Jewish students or faculty need fear that they will be discriminated against.”

Unfortunately, it seems that Dartmouth’s ugly past is yet again rearing its head. With the appointment of N. Bruce Duthu to Dean of the Faculty, and the recent refusal from the Dartmouth Office of Pluralism and Leadership to co-sponsor an event featuring a disabled Israeli combat veteran, while proudly sponsoring a lecture by a supporter of Sharia law and BDS, President Hanlon and the Dartmouth administration put the college on a dangerous path. If Dartmouth truly “supports the vigorous and open debate of ideas within a community marked by mutual respect,” as its mission statement claims, then Israelis should not be excluded from that debate because they are Israeli.

On May 22, 2017, Duthu released a statement announcing his decision to decline his nomination to dean. Dartmouth Students for Israel applauds Duthu’s decision because such a nomination, in Duthu’s words, “has the great potential to be damaging to the College in the long term, given the higher visibility and engagement with external audiences that come with the dean’s position.” This was no doubt a difficult decision for Duthu, but we believe that it is unequivocally the right decision; Duthu is entitled to his own opinions, but his role as Dean of the Faculty could not be fulfilled if he supports the silencing of Israeli universities and professors.

President Hanlon and Provost Dever have also released a statement, responding to Duthu’s decision, in which they claim that opposition to Duthu’s appointment came “particularly from external audiences.”

Hanlon and Dever write, “In principle, we condemn bias against any group or individual and have complete confidence that Bruce does, as well.”

Although some students might be satisfied with this comment, Dartmouth Students for Israel is not. Although Duthu recently issued a statement distancing himself from academic boycotts, he did not denounce the wider BDS campaign. He did not denounce a campaign that seeks the destruction of the State of Israel, a campaign which is clearly antisemitic. Nor did he strongly denounce the very statements that he had signed and authored. Hanlon and Dever’s argument is similar to that of many students in the Dartmouth community. They claim that Duthu’s actions contradict his original support for BDS, that Duthu has been friendly to Israeli academics and professors throughout his career. But this is about being principled and honest. In the end, Duthu made an honest and principled decision to step down. In the words of Professor Alan Gustman, “If there is anyone who cannot afford to once again take a person’s word that he doesn’t mean what he says, it is any Jewish person with a memory.”

In the wake of these irreconcilable contradictions, Dartmouth Students for Israel firmly believes that Professor Duthu’s decision was honorable. His decision recognized that support for BDS is incompatible with the commitment to academic freedom and integrity required of college administrators.

Dartmouth Students for Israel remains committed to the principles of academic freedom and debate. We implore the Dartmouth administration to ensure that those principles apply to Israelis, too.

Signed by the executive members of Dartmouth Students for Israel: Joshua Kauderer, Jack Hutensky, Zachary Port, Matthew Zubrow, Michelle Knesbach.

Joshua Kauderer, president of DSI, is a CAMERA on Campus fellow.

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