University of California must allow faculty to boycott Israel in academia

(Image: Chi Park)
“Academic freedom” is being twisted for inappropriate purposes.

By Michael Burawoy, Paul Fine, and others | The Daily Californian | Feb 19, 2019

We know a number of faculty members who support this very letter but feared to put their name to it. What does that say about the already existing chilled climate for speech that the chancellors’ letter has exacerbated?

On Dec 13, the ten UC chancellors took the unusual step of signing a collective statement that opposed the “academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions and/or individual scholars” as being a “direct and serious” threat to academic freedom. When some faculty members expressed concerns that such a high-level collective statement would have a chilling effect on campus speech and discourage faculty members from taking public positions on an issue that is well within the purview of their academic freedom, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ responded by defending her own academic freedom to speak out on important issues. We would not want to deny her that right, but we do have some unanswered questions about the collective statement:

How does Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS — the movement to boycott, divest and sanction the Israeli state for its occupation of Palestine — pose a “direct and serious threat to academic freedom”? Like the South African anti-apartheid boycott and divestment movement of the 1980s, BDS targets state-funded Israeli institutions and Israeli commercial activities. It does not try to prevent anyone from saying anything or attempt to sanction or thwart individuals for their political positions.

Why did the 10 chancellors make a statement against BDS and BDS alone? Why no mention of the attacks on students and professors by such organizations as the Canary Mission and the David Horowitz Freedom Center? These organizations have targeted and continue to target and often defame UC scholars and students for advocating for justice in Palestine or offering courses that submit Israeli policy to critical analysis. These blacklists, in effect, thwart academic careers, not only academic speech. According to one report, in the last year, there were 289 known incidents of suppression of US-based Palestinian advocacy.

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