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December 17, 2021 3:52 pm
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Law Professors Condemn NYU Legal Journal’s Israel Boycott, Warning of ‘Political Censorship’

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

The New York University campus. Photo: Cincin12, via Wiki Commons.

A growing group of legal scholars from around the country have signed onto a statement expressing  “deep concerns” about the recent endorsement by a New York University School of Law journal of the boycott movement against Israel.

In a Nov. 18 statement, the student-run N.Y.U. Review of Law & Social Change (RLSC) charged NYU of being “complicit” in “Israeli apartheid,” and announced it would make a “firm commitment to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.”

The journal said it would boycott “events, activities, agreements, or projects involving Israeli academic institutions or that otherwise promote the
normalization of Israel in the global academy,” including activities “based on the false premise of symmetry/parity between the oppressors and the oppressed or that claim that both colonizers and colonized are equally responsible for the ‘conflict.'”

The statement prompted a response from the university days later, saying it “rejects, as it has for many years, calls for academic boycotts of Israel, and the University likewise rejects calls to close its NYU Tel Aviv Program, to which it remains fully committed.”

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A response published this week, now joined by 25 scholars, said the move “presents an unprecedented and dangerous development — a decision by the Board and Staff Directors of an academic law journal to apply political censorship to their activities.”

“As scholars who teach and train students who will enter the legal profession and the professoriate, we are disheartened and dismayed that the student-led RLSC has embraced and adopted policies that are antithetical to the principles of open inquiry, academic freedom, and the free and unfettered intellectual exchange of ideas,” the statement said.

The reply was spearheaded by members of the Section for Faculty in Law in the Academic Engagement Network, a nonprofit opposing academic efforts to delegitimize Israel, including Lisa Bernstein of the University of Chicago Law School, Oren Gross of University of Minnesota Law School, Perry Dane of Rutgers Law School, and Steven H. Resnicoff of DePaul College of Law.

The statement urged NYU and the NYU School of Law to “disassociate” from the journal, arguing that the move would inevitably target individuals despite the review’s claims otherwise.

“The assertion that the ‘academic boycott targets complicit institutions, not individuals’ has been shown to be false,” they continued. “The boycott of Israel university cannot be meaningfully separated from the faculty and students who work, teach, and study in them. The BDS/[Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott] of Israeli academic institutions is therefore more aptly described as a blacklist which punishes and discriminates against individual academics on the basis of their nationality, political views, and the policies and actions of their employers and their government.”

“Implementing an academic boycott of Israel in accordance with PCACB Guidelines would include working to shut down study abroad programs; refusing to write letters of recommendation for students who wish to study in Israel; and ‘resisting’ all educational activities involving collaboration with Israel’s universities, such as those that promote coexistence and which bring Israeli and Palestinian scholars together on joint projects.”

The N.Y.U. Review of Law & Social Change did not respond to The Algemeiner’s request for comment.

Miriam Elman, Executive Director of the Academic Engagement Network, told The Algemeiner that professors are signing the faculty statement “at a fast clip.”

Since its publication Monday, the statement has been joined by faculty including George Mason University’s Ilya Somin, Steven Davidoff Solomon of the UC Berkeley School of Law, and Jesse Fried of Harvard Law School.

“It shows how concerned is the community of legal scholars about an academic law journal imposing and enforcing litmus tests and that this not become a trend in the field,” she said.

“What’s so disappointing is how little the editorial board and staff at the RLSC know about Israel’s universities. Their statement paints a picture of a monolithic Israeli academy that’s malevolently hostile toward Palestinians, when in fact Jewish-Arab coexistence is modeled on Israeli campuses,” Elman continued. “Instead of being ‘complicit’ in the oppression of Palestinians, as RLSC alleged, Israel’s universities are leading the way in bringing diverse communities together.”

Oren Gross, an initial signatory of the Faculty in Law statement, told The Algemeiner that the review had taken a decision to “apply political censorship to the activities of the journal and decisions about what papers to publish and, more significantly, what not to publish based not on the academic merit of the relevant scholarship but on rank political ideology.”

“The logical endpoint of that reasoning leads directly to banning lectures, talks, and classes based on rank ideology,” he told The Algemeiner.

“This undermines the very foundation of academic freedom,” he continued. “Furthermore, the demand for homogeneity of thought is reminiscent of the methods of authoritarian regimes that demanded oaths of loyalty.”

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