Boycott Response

I am proud to lend my name to this letter, a response to the response of our college’s president to the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions. While I feel very passionate about academic freedom and the principles of intellectual exchange, I also feel as passionate about other freedoms, in this case, ones that rise to the level of fundamental human rights.

I share our letter here, with additions for clarity:

Dear Colleagues:

Many of you may have heard of the American Studies Association’s recent resolution in favor of a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and the widespread reaction to that call.  David [Oxtoby, President of Pomona College] has joined with over a hundred other college and university presidents by issuing a statement opposing the boycott.  While we disagree with his position, we nonetheless appreciate the temperate nature of his statement about the issue when compared to some of the inflammatory charges about the boycott and the ASA made by others on this issue.  Nonetheless, we disagree that the boycott is, as David writes, “an affront to the principles of academic freedom.” Indeed, we believe the ASA boycott resolution actually will promote the academic freedom of Palestinian and dissident Israeli scholars.

The wording of the boycott resolution (the main section of which we quote below) makes clear that it is a boycott of institutions that in no way obstructs conversation and collaboration with Israeli intellectuals and professors; indeed some of us supported the resolution at the urging of our Israeli colleagues, family and friends, who are themselves legally constrained from participating in boycotts, what they see as an institutional limiting of their freedom of speech. We believe, further, that the misleading public conversation about freedom of academic expression works to conceal the other forms of freedom at stake: the freedom for Palestinian students and teachers to attend and participate in university life; freedom for critics of Israel to speak freely, a freedom we choose to exercise now; and finally, and more basically, freedom of movement, access to water, medical care, safe housing and play spaces for Palestinian women, men and children.

We urge our [Pomona College] colleagues to learn more about this controversy. To that end we thought that it would be helpful to share some of the more thoughtful interventions in this debate:

The ASA resolution itself: “It is resolved that the American Studies Association (ASA) endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. It is also resolved that the ASA supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine and in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.”

The ASA National Council and members responses

The Journal of Academic Freedom (published by AAUP) special issue on the topic

President David Oxtoby’s statement

Michael Roth (President of Wesleyan and former CGU Prof ) Op-Ed in the LA times

Robin DG Kelley, Professor at UCLA, response to Roth

Judith Butler, Professor at UC Berkeley, response to debate

Signed (in alphabetical order),

Ray Buriel
Phyllis Jackson
Sidney Lemelle
Pardis Mahdavi
April Mayes
Frances Pohl
Erin Runions
Victor Silverman
Darryl A. Smith
Tomás Summers Sandoval
Valorie Thomas
Miguel Tinker Salas
Kyla Wazana Tompkins

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