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July 22, 2019 4:38 pm

Opposition Grows to Pro-BDS Resolution Set to Be Voted on by Major Academic Association

avatar by David Gerstman

A pro-BDS demonstration. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Academics are circulating a letter expressing opposition to a resolution supporting the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign at a major academic association’s annual meeting next month, The Algemeiner has learned.

The letter, which was initiated by Chad Alan Goldberg, is being circulated by former Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP) officers, editors and award-winners. The letter objects to a resolution that is to be submitted for approval in August, stating, “We oppose all academic boycotts, including the proposal for an SSSP-imposed boycott against Israeli academic institutions.”

Goldberg — a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — won the SSSP’s Outstanding Book Award in 2010 for his Citizens and Paupers: Relief, Rights, and Race, from the Freedmen’s Bureau to Workfare.

The letter says further that adoption of the resolution would mean that the association would be “sponsoring an inequitable and discriminatory policy” that violates SSSP’s by-laws.

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It also asserts that “a blacklist of Israeli academic institutions harms all SSSP members by restricting their academic freedom to work with scholars from other institutions around the world.”

The boycott would restrict the freedom that is “essential” to association members, without which they “cannot fulfill their professional responsibilities,” it adds.

In addition, the letter observes, it is Israeli academics who are “instrumental thought leaders in the movement for a just peace.”

The letter concludes, “To deny these freedoms to one group of scholars on the grounds that others are deprived of them is logically inconsistent and morally indefensible. We believe these fundamental principles must be upheld for scholars of every nationality, at every academic institution, everywhere in the world.”

The pro-BDS resolution was co-authored by Melissa Weiner, an associate professor of sociology at the College of Holy Cross, and Johnny E. Williams, a professor of sociology at Trinity College.

The resolution calls on the SSSP to endorse “the call for a boycott of complicit Israeli academic institutions articulated by our Palestinian colleagues until they end all forms of complicity in Israel’s grave human rights violations and publicly distance themselves from these violations.”

In an email to The Algemeiner, Weiner and Williams explained, “Our resolutions address the ongoing lack of Academic Freedom for Palestinians, as imposed by the Israeli government. As you can see in these resolutions, we are not targeting individual Israeli faculty, only Israeli academic institutions as representatives of the Israeli state. Therefore, we are not limiting Israeli academic freedom in any way. Instead, we are calling attention to the lack of academic freedom experienced by Palestinians.”

Weiner and Williams also asserted that since the call for boycotts of Israel originated in 2004, “the US are already late in responding to this civil, non-violent campaign for justice.” They also expressed their hope that just as boycotts led to the end of apartheid in South Africa, “we believe this will be true for Palestine as well.”

SSSP Vice President William Cabin told The Algemeiner that since the resolution had only been proposed, the association “has not taken a position on it.”

Miriam F. Elman, executive director of the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), commented, “If the two SSSP members who proposed the ‘Resolution on BDS’ really cared about the academic rights of Palestinians then they would be focusing not on Israel, but on how the Palestinian Authority and Hamas routinely silence open inquiry and punish those who oppose them. The Resolution’s 19 endnotes are top-heavy with the propaganda of virulently anti-Israel NGOs and non-scholarly websites. With these sources providing the ‘data,’ it’s really not very surprising that it fails to mention a single threat to freedom of speech coming from Palestinian authorities themselves.”

In addition, Elman noted that implementing a boycott of Israel would indeed compromise academic freedom, pointing out that “by shutting down study abroad programs, for example,” those supporting the boycott “would punish their own students.”

In addressing the phenomenon of academic associations proposing boycotts of Israel, Asaf Romirowsky — executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), which represents 40,000 academics around the world who are combating the boycott movement — told The Algemeiner, “The majority of academic associations have a disconnect between what they claim and the reality on the ground.”

He argued that BDS “actually works against normalization between Israelis and Palestinians.”

“It’s the extension of the Palestinization of the academy,” Romirowsky said of the BDS campaign, explaining that this “has been going on for years with Arab money buying chairs and departments and where propaganda has replaced scholarship.”

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin — cofounder and director the AMCHA Initiative — told The Algemeiner, “The very nature of an academic boycott, if carried out, harms not only its intended target — in this case the academic institutions and scholars of Israel — it also directly and substantially harms students on US campuses. This past year, for example, numerous faculty attempted to shut down their universities’ study abroad programs in Israel, and some faculty refused to write letters of recommendations for students wishing to study in Israel. These academic BDS-compliant actions trample the educational rights of any student wanting to travel to or study about Israel.”

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