23 September 2014

Over 600 scholars sign letter against BDS

From The Washington Post, 22 September 2014, by Eugene Kontorovich*:

Over 600 academics thus far have signed a new letter opposing an academic boycott of Israel. The signatories include at least one Nobel Prize winner, law school deans, and leading scholars in several fields (that is just based on the some of the signatories I personally know; I have not looked over the whole list). 

The statement takes no position on the Israeli-Arab conflict, and tries to be as neutral as possible about everything other than BDS itself. The key parts of the letter are below; it is open for signature by any college or university faculty or academic staff, including librarians, researchers, post doctorates, etc.
We, the undersigned … oppose faculty or student boycotts of Israel’s academic institutions, scholars and students.
Our opposition is rooted in the following core principles.
 
1. Academic freedom: The BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement discriminates against Israeli institutions, professors, and students for no other reason than their nationality and the policies of their government. Thus BDS violates the very principle of academic freedom. Academic boycotts such as those promoted by BDS activists “are antithetical to the fundamental principles of the academy, where we will not hold intellectual exchange hostage to the political disagreements of the moment,” according to a statement signed by 300 university presidents in 2007, and additional statements written by over 250 university presidents last year in response to the ASA boycott of Israel. The American Association of University Professors, other academic organizations, and more than forty Nobel Laureates have opposed all academic boycotts for this reason.

2. Truth: The factual record does not support the accusations and narratives of the BDS movement. Many are based on overstatements, cherry picked evidence, outright falsehood, or on disputed or highly biased data.

3. Peace: The two-state solution – which guarantees to both parties mutual recognition – enjoys the endorsement of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and the Arab League. By demonizing and seeking to isolate one of the two parties to the peace process, the anti-Israel BDS movement sets itself apart from the global consensus for peace.
I have signed the letter, and would do so for any such statement about academic boycotts of any country, including those whose policies I particularly detest. I would not want an Iranian leader speaking at my campus, but cannot imagine extending that objection to an Iranian professor. While government control and intimidation in authoritarian countries may make scholarship less reliable or interesting, I cannot see a justification for any non-merit-based boycott. Indeed, I have had some useful correspondence on maritime piracy with Iranian academics.

*Eugene Kontorovich is a professor at Northwestern University School of Law, and an expert on constitutional and international law. He also writes and lectures frequently about the Arab-Israel conflict.