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Sunday, December 3, 2023

Opposing the Opposition to the Boycott

Dear Editor,

We have written to express our profound disagreement with the Chancellor’s and Provost’s published opposition to the American Studies Association’s endorsement of the boycotting of Israeli universities as part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign for justice in Palestine.

We acknowledge that, in comparison with some of the rhetoric coming from college leaders on this issue, their statement is measured and moderate. It is not, for example, routine to see even a mention of the Palestinians by critics of ASA’s resolution. We also agree that the principle of academic freedom should, as they say, “guarantee free access to students and faculty at all Israeli and Palestinian universities.” And we agree too that violations of academic freedom should be protested wherever and whenever they occur; indeed, faculty at some universities have recently called into question their institutional affiliations with other countries (Wellesley has debated its relation to China; others are under pressure to explain their satellites in the Gulf). But in its occupation of Palestinian lands, Israel not only violates academic freedom in higher education; it also erodes the functioning of the entire educational system in the occupied territories. Unlike other countries that may be cited for similar violations, Israel receives massive subsidy from the U.S. government and private institutions alike.

While Jewish-Israeli students and academics in Israeli institutions enjoy free access to and from most places and full rights deemed normative by democracies, comparable opportunities do not exist for Palestinians in the occupied territories or even for many Palestinian citizens of Israel. Their academic freedom, like their basic legal and economic rights, is often compromised by the Israeli state and its security apparatus. For a compelling account of the indignities and injustices governing the daily lives of the Palestinians, Saree Makdisi (UCLA’s) book Palestine Inside Out may be recommended.

Thus it seems to some of us that, paradoxically, a commitment to academic freedom for all in fact demands support of the boycott, not its condemnation.

Entry to Israel itself is difficult for various categories of people, like the student of non-Jewish Middle-Eastern descent who applied to UCD’s summer abroad program some time ago. Her acceptance required the program director to make a cap-in-hand visit to the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco, which surely violates all our principles of non-discrimination in the pursuit of normal academic activities. Movement in and out of the occupied territories (which students on the program were not permitted to enter at all) is even more heavily policed. Stories of refused entry and massively inhibiting border protocols are legion, and have been well documented, including by the U.S. State Department. Recent published statements by Professors Robin Kelley (UCLA) and Judith Butler (UCB) offer eloquent evidence of the current situation leading both foreigners and Israeli supporters of the boycott to speak out. Butler points out that not one Israeli university has expressed opposition to these protocols; those of us who support the boycott hope that we can stimulate worldwide awareness and also support those courageous Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and non-Jews, who are calling for an international response.

The boycott is not aimed at individuals, and does not seek restrictions on anyone’s movement in and out of Israel, although it cannot be denied that some individuals might be impacted. Nor does it hold individuals responsible for their governments; the ASA resolution specifically “supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine.” Instead, the boycott is aimed only at Israeli institutions and at other institutions that engage in collaboration with them. Universities should perhaps in the best of all worlds be regarded differently, but the complex web of military industry and other contracts fully implicates universities in activities from which they often otherwise seek to distance themselves. To pretend otherwise is simply to ignore the facts. Many U.S. opinion makers once vigorously opposed the boycott campaign directed at South African apartheid, but it would now be hard to find anyone who would publicly deny that the new South Africa is a better place than the old one.

It is standard rhetoric to defend academic freedom, much harder to agree about just what that is, and where its limits lie. If universities should not take political positions, as is often argued and as our Chancellor and Provost assert in their press release, then it behooves those who speak for them to be very sure about what does and does not constitute a political position. Academic freedom, some of us believe, is a highly political issue, especially in the context of Palestine-Israel. Their press release, while it does not explicitly claim to speak for the University, does not disavow the implication that it does so. The University subsists in its faculty and students (among others) and not only in its chief administrators. Among these groups are some who approve of the ASA resolution and others who, whether or not they are supporters of the boycott or the resolution, might disagree with (and even find coercive) their public denunciation of it. Such disagreement is, after all, one palpable attribute of academic freedom.

As we write, denunciations are appearing of the recent Modern Language Association’s resolution about the “right to enter” and additionally of the mere holding of a panel discussing the academic boycott. College leaders have been among those reproducing the standard objections to anyone critical (or potentially critical, in this case) of the contemporary Israeli state and its continuing expansion of its illegal settlements in the occupied territories. More will surely climb on the bandwagon. We very much hope that our Chancellor and Provost will not be among them. Spurred by denunciations of the ASA resolution and other initiatives, a wave of threats by self-described “pro-Israel” partisans, including a number of politicians, seeks to pressure faculty to dissociate from ASA, to defund it, and even to instigate legal action. These are indeed dangerous attacks on academic freedom, not to mention basic freedom of speech, and we call on our chief administrators to denounce them.

Yours Sincerely,

David Simpson, Distinguished Professor, English

Noha Radwan, Associate Professor, Comparative Literature

Gregory Dobbins, Associate Professor, English

Beth Freeman, Professor, English

Parama Roy, Professor, English

Baki Tezcan, Associate Professor, History

Joshua Clover, Professor, English

Hsuan Hsu, Associate Professor, English

Nathan Brown, Assistant Professor, English

Donald Donham, Professor, Anthropology

Flagg Miller, Associate Professor, Religious Studies

Omnia El Shakry, Associate Professor, History

Elizabeth Miller, Associate Professor, English

Gina Bloom, Associate Professor, English

Evan Watkins, Professor, English

Julia Simon, Professor, French

Sunaina Maira, Professor, Asian American Studies

Jocelyn Sharlet, Associate Professor, Comparative Literature

Susette Min, Associate Professor, Asian American Studies

Jeff Fort, Associate Professor, French

Robyn Magalit Rodriguez, Associate Professor, Asian American Studies

Richard Kim, Associate Professor, Asian American Studies

Kathleen Frederickson, Assistant Professor, English

Neil Larsen, Professor, Comparative Literature


  1. I wonder if any of these self-righteous professors ever spoke out against this?

    The Palestinian expulsion from Kuwait or 1991 Palestinian exodus from Kuwait took place at the end of the Gulf War, when Kuwait expelled almost 450,000 Palestinians.[1] The policy which led to this exodus was a response to the alignment of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the PLO with Saddam Hussein, who had earlier invaded Kuwait. The exodus took place during one week in March 1991, following Kuwait’s liberation from Iraqi occupation. The story received little media attention in the aftermath of the liberation of Kuwait.

    The policy which led to this expulsion was a response to the alignment of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the PLO with Saddam Hussein, who had earlier invaded Kuwait. The expulsion took place during one week in March 1991, following Kuwait’s liberation from Iraqi occupation. On March 14, only 150,000 Palestinians were still residing in Kuwait, out of initial 450,000 – many of them fearful for their fate.[4]

    In total, Kuwait expelled 443,000 Palestinians.[1] Several Palestinians were killed by vigilante groups including some with links to the royal family.[5] With the completion of the exodus only 7,000 Palestinians remained.[1]
    Kuwaitis said that Palestinians leaving the country could move to Jordan, and that most Palestinians held Jordanian passports.[4] No reports of where the Palestinans actually went to after the expulsion have appeared.

  2. Modern Muslims have religious conflict with: Hindus in Kashmir; Christians in Nigeria, Egypt, and Bosnia; atheists in Chechnya; Baha’is in Iran; Animists in Darfur; Buddhists in Thailand; each other in Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen; Jews in Israel; Why is Islam involved in more sectarian and religious conflicts than any other religion today? In fact, why is Islam the only religion in conflict with every single one of today’s major world religions?
    But you think belligerent pugnacious Islam has legitimate grievances in this constant conflict, and that, for example in Palestine, Islam is just defending its own reasonable interests?
    No, not at bottom. At bottom what we have in Islam is a violent, expansionist totalitarianism. That’s why Islam is in conflict all over the world with every other religion.

  3. At the core of SJP’s argument is the notion that Israel is an apartheid state. This is absolutely false: In South Africa, the black population was segregated, banned from voting, and deprived of their citizenship; in Israel, Palestinian citizens of Israel (or Israeli-Arabs) share the same exact facilities as non-Arab citizens, have the right to vote, and hold Israeli citizenship. Though Israel is unfortunately not free of discrimination, there is not a single democracy in the world that is. Whatever forms of discrimination that exist in Israel are essentially no different than those in any other Western democracy.
    A living example of Israel’s freedoms is a Bedouin named Khaldi who was born in a Bedouin tent, voluntarily served in the Israel Defense Forces, and eventually rose to become Israel’s Deputy Consul General in San Francisco. He is the first Muslim diplomat, let alone Bedouin, in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Khaldi considers himself living proof that Israel is not an apartheid state and said, “Israel may be the only country in the Middle East, if not the world, where a Bedouin shepherd can become a high-tech engineer, a scientist, or a diplomat. The sky’s the limit.”
    Arabs hold many other prominent positions in Israel. A few years ago an Israeli Arab Supreme Court Justice, Salim Joubran, sentenced Israel’s former president to prison. In 1999, Rana Raslan became the first Arab Miss Israel. This past year it was an Ethiopian-Israeli. There are many Arabs who hold high ranks in the Israeli military, and the recently appointed director of emergency medicine at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem is also an Israeli-Arab. Furthermore, Arabic is taught in Israeli schools, is on Israeli signs and, as an official language, is provided via subtitles on the state television channel.
    Another major facet of SJP’s argument is that BDS is the solution to fighting Israeli apartheid. Well, we’ve already established that Israel is not an apartheid state—but let’s look at what BDS ultimately does. It would force individuals to boycott Israeli products, musicians, sports teams, companies, and even academics. The BDS movement is nothing but a hypocritical movement aimed at the destruction of the State of Israel. The hypocrisy of BDS begins with its founder Omar Barghouti, who is a graduate student from Tel Aviv University. Since he argues for a full boycott against Israel, including academics, BDS supporters should boycott him as well.
    Boycotting Israeli products is also a challenge when one considers that Israel has made major contributions to many areas of technology, including the cell phone, text messaging, and the Intel chip in the laptop I am using to type this. Even Stephen Hawking’s refusal to fill the role of honored speaker at an event hosted by the Israeli president is hypocritical, as his boycott does not extend to the computer system that gives him the ability to talk. The computer, which is built around an Intel Core i7 Processor, was designed by Israel’s Intel team.
    BDS ultimately hurts Palestinians from an economic standpoint as well. Many of the Palestinians in the region controlled by the Palestinian National Authority commute to Israel for work. The BDS movement attacks Israel’s economy, which could ultimately force Israeli companies to lay off employees—many of whom would be Palestinian. Thus, many Palestinians could suffer severe economic consequences from a boycott aimed at advocating for their well-being.
    Those that support BDS are not “pro-Palestinian.” The movement does not help Palestinians in any significant way; it only hurts them. In all, the BDS movement is nothing but a hypocritical movement that aims to destroy the State of Israel via economic warfare. BDS will not solve the conflict—it will only prevent peace.

  4. “Israelophobia,” on the other hand, is steeped in centuries of anti-Semitic stereotypes, but it has now taken on an intense life of its own, often rich in contemporary fabrications — for example, that historically Jews have never lived in Jerusalem; that IDF soldiers harvest the organs of Palestinians; that the “wall of separation,” built to keep out terrorists, is a form of apartheid — and through these falsehoods gushes forth a hatred for Jews. Israelophobia is a block of hatred crystallized around a piece of land, around an idea. Anti-Zionism today, from Malmö to Qom, arises and multiplies entirely from prejudice against Israel: many of its most vicious critics have never even set foot in the state.
    These attacks on Israel are all too often made up of devastating classical anti-Semitic projections, lies and distortions to delegitimize Israel — the blood libel that Jews kill non-Jewish children to use their blood to bake matzah; bottomless greed; indifference, and savage cruelty toward anyone who is not Jewish. Even legitimate geopolitical decisions — such as the right to self-defense, or not being expected to hold territory in perpetuity until such time as one’s sworn enemies might perhaps decide not to threaten annihilation, with no cost for the delay; or ignoring other countries accused of “occupation,” such as Turkey in Cyprus, Pakistan in Kashmir or China in Tibet, while singling out only Israel for opprobrium. These accusations are often translated not just into judgments against Israel, but then go viral against any Jew.

  5. Globally, the story is the same. Out of the 57 nations which comprise the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, only three rise to the level of flawed democracies, according to the 2010 Democracy Index by The Economist.[7]

    With the exception of communist and former communist countries, Islamic nations impose the highest level of government restrictions on religion.

    Among the predominantly Islamic countries in the middle east and North Africa, 80% have anti-blasphemy laws and 60% of these nations enforce them.[8] Democracy, individual liberty, free speech, toleration, and equality are simply not consistent – or even compatible – with traditional Islamic theology and Shariah law.

    So don’t blame Israel or any other entity for Islam’s inability to lead its people through means other than brute force.

  6. “Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
    who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
    who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter.”

    Isaiah 5:20

  7. It’s my opinion that peoples “frustration” with Israel has everything to do
    with Islam: Islam and its supremacist, hate-filled ideology. How else can one
    explain Islam’s violently aggressive roles in the following regions where the
    Israeli situation is non-existent. The common denominator – the only common denominator – IS Islam.
    * The unrelenting ethnic cleansing of all Hindus from their ancient homelands in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
    * The genocide of black Africans and Animists in Sudan., Mali and elsewhere.
    * The ethnic cleansing of Christians from Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt.
    * The slaughter of 5,000 Buddhists in Thailand in recent years.
    * The violence against Russians and the same against Chinese in recent years.
    * The Sunni and Shi’ite murder of Kurds.
    * The endless violence between Sunnis and Shi’ites with one million (!) killed in the Iraq/Iran war alone.
    * The wholesale murder of all gays in Iran and across the Muslim world.
    * The ethnic cleansing of Bahia in Iran.
    * The endless war crimes in Syria.
    * The ethnic cleansing of Berbers in North Africa.
    * The random and consistent terrorist attacks against all Western embassies and citizens across the globe.
    * The random and consistent killing of international aid volunteers from polio vaccine volunteers to doctors from organizations like Doctors without Borders.
    The only common denominator is Islam. If Israel were eliminated by Ahmadinejad this would not change our dynamics with the Middle East.
    When the Buddhists in Thailand give up their land then, and only then, will Muslims stop killing them and the same is true for the Jews in Israel.

  8. You want apartheid? Try this.

    The top ten countries for persecuting Christians over the last year were ranked: North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran and Yemen, according to Open Doors USA, an organization that monitors and exposes Christian persecution around the globe. Particularly, the “2014 World Watch List”, a rather nuanced report, has highlighted these nations based on deep structures of persecution.

    Take note that nine out of ten of these countries are Islamic.

    Looks like Islam is on par with North Korea.

  9. While I find it highly questionable that “not a single Israeli academic institution has petitioned their government to protect the Palestinian right to education,” perhaps that is because they are too busy giving those students an education (including building the very Palestinian universities that didn’t exist until the start of the dreaded “Occupation”).
    And the accusation that Palestinians students are “forced to remain silent or face persecution” would be news indeed to that Tel Aviv University graduate student Omar Barhouti who has not only benefited from being enrolled in a world class Israeli university (a subject he would rather not discuss or have discussed) but is also free to travel the globe as leader of the BDS “movement” calling for the very school he attends to be shunned.
    This is type of hypocrisy (one which applies to the author of this piece much more than those she criticizes) that is not just personal but institutional within a BDS “movement” which devotes limitless time and energy into demonizing Israelis (including Israeli academics) but cannot seem to find a moment to help those Palestinians they claim to care for so much.
    While flotillas may float to Gaza to provide non-existent humanitarian aid to the segment of Palestinian population most likely to pull a trigger or launch a rocket, has this writer (or any of her BDS allies) sent so much as a single textbook over to the West Bank to support student learning there (or recommended the study of math, science or divinity vs. hatred of the Israeli “other”)?
    The fact that these views are expressed with sincerity does not make the fact that BDS is the propaganda arm of a war movement (rather than the inheritor to Gandhi and King) any less true. For as her studies would attest, most of history’s greatest evils were perpetrated by those who sincerely believed in their own outstanding virtue and the unquestionable justice of the cause they fought (and killed) for.


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