Last Thursday, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) issued a report on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. As our readers may recall, ACTA is a nonprofit organization committed to academic freedom and achievement at America’s colleges. Two ACTA staffers, William Gonch and Avi Snyder, appeared as guests on the Brandeis Blog in 2013. Gonch and Snyder wrote about violations of academic freedom, academic boycotts, and the duty of faculty at universities.
The recent ACTA report maintains that the BDS movement threatens academic freedom on college campuses. The campaign has employed “aggressive, antidemocratic tactics galvanizing deep inter-group suspicions,” according to the report. ACTA urges university administrations and faculty to take greater efforts to address BDS and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The report cites multiple disruptions of university events by BDS supporters nationwide. ACTA brings attention to the 2015 shouting-down of Moshe Habertal, an Israeli professor at the University of Minnesota; the disturbance of Professor Ami Pedahzur’s event at the University of Texas that same year; and the disruption of a presentation by Israeli diplomat George Deek last year at the University of California, Davis; among other incidents. These interferences with Jewish events are probably unprotected by the First Amendment and in violation of the Civil Rights Act, the report states.
The BDS campaign also pushes for university divestment of Israeli businesses and academic institutions. During the 2014-2015 school year, there were 19 resolutions pressuring college administrations to divest from Israeli companies. The BDS movement also attempts to politicize professional academic associations, such as the Association of Asian American Studies and the American Studies Association. BDS supporters urge such associations to boycott Israeli academic institutions, even though “these associations have had little or nothing to say about egregious and well-documented violations of human rights and academic freedom in Egypt, Venezuela, Turkey, China, and elsewhere.” Boycotts of Israeli scholars would undoubtedly thwart academic interactions and deprive many fields of cutting-edge research. Such measures would “wrongly [limit] the ability of American and Israeli academic institutions and their faculty members to exchange ideas and collaborate on critical projects that advance humanity, develop new technologies, and improve health and well-being across the globe.”
ACTA identifies Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) as a leading advocate of the BDS movement and criticizes the organization’s willingness to “violate the liberties of faculty and their fellow students to advance their own political agenda.” Through campus disruptions, SJP chapters desecrate the academic freedom upon which American higher education was founded. SJP is also affiliated with American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), a group whose leadership was formerly associated with the Holy Land Foundation, which allegedly provided funds to Hamas. As organizations like SJP and AMP promote anti-Israel BDS activity at colleges nationwide, on-campus anti-Semitism continues to rise and endanger the rights of Jewish students to free and equal education.
The President of ACTA, Michael B. Poliakoff, states that “the tactics employed by the BDS movement clearly conflict with the principles of academic freedom that enable students and educators alike to engage in open discourse, inquiry, and learning.” Poliakoff calls upon higher education leaders and trustees to “reinforce their commitment to free expression and institutional neutrality.”
The full report is available here.