As the debate over Israel’s policies rages, so, too, does the tone with which the debate plays out. And as pro-Palestinian advocates sound their opinions, the response varies, but some of the worst vitriol is leveled against those who associate themselves with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
That would include the American Studies Association, which began its academic boycott of Israel in December to protest its treatment of Palestinians, and the Association for Asian American Studies, which started its own boycott in April.
The two groups drew swift waves of negative responses, much of it laced with cruel accusations of anti-semitism. Now another group of scholars who support the BDS movement is condemning the intimidation, saying, “it is important to recognize that boycotts are internationally affirmed and constitutionally protected forms of political expression.”
“Those who support boycotts ought not to become subject to retaliation, surveillance, or censorship when they choose to express their political viewpoint, no matter how offensive that may be to those who disagree,” professors Judith Butler and Rashid Khalidi wrote in a petition published by Jewish Voice for Peace. “We are now witnessing accelerating efforts to curtail speech, to exercise censorship, and to carry out retaliatory action against individuals on the basis of their political views or associations, notably support for BDS.”
Butler teaches comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley, while Khalidi teaches modern Arab studies at Columbia University.
A Washington Post Editorial Board op-ed on Saturday opined that a move by the Maryland Legislature to enact legislation that would prevent public universities from funding academic organizations that support boycotts of Israel should be stopped.
“As misguided as the boycott is — impeding the free flow of ideas should be antithetical to halls of learning — it is an expression of a belief and those who support it should not be subject to government coercion,” the Post’s editorial board said.
The Post further explained that under the legislation, public four-year colleges and universities would not be allowed to associate themselves with membership dues to groups that support the boycott. The bill also provides that expenses to attend conferences by such groups would also be cut. Violations would result in the loss of at least some state funding.
“This bill is ill-advised and should be killed,” wrote the Post, and advised Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley to veto it if it is approved by the General Assembly.
New York and Illinois lawmakers are considering similar bills, the Post reported.
The New York version, which was passed by the statehouse in January, also bars colleges from using state funds to support academic organizations boycotting Israel and provides that “universities that violated the ban would lose all state funding,” the Jewish Daily Forward reported last month.
The petition by the Jewish Voice for Peace contains 150 signatories, most of whom are noted academics, including writer and corporate globalization critic Naomi Klein, Haaretz reported last week.