Open letter criticizes anti-boycott bills as threat to public debate

Image via WaronWant.org

Image via WaronWant.org

Corey Robin and Henry Farrell are two scholars who have opposing views on the academic boycott of Israel.  But when it comes to the anti-boycott bills being debated in the New York legislature, which would cut off state aid to academic groups that support the boycott, they’re united in opposition.

Robin, a political science professor at Brooklyn College, and Farrell, a political science professor at George Washington University, have issued an open letter criticizing the New York bill–and its counterpart in Maryland–as threatening “the ability of scholars and scholarly associations to say controversial things in public debate.”  The letter was published on the Crooked Timber blog.

The two academics are encouraging other professors to sign their open letter at the comments section on their post here.

Here’s an excerpt:

We write as two academics who disagree on the question of the ASA boycott. One of us is a firm supporter of the boycott who believes that, as part of the larger BDS movement, it has put the Israel-Palestine conflict back on the front burner, offering much needed strategic leverage to those who want to see the conflict justly settled. The other is highly skeptical that the ASA boycott is meaningful or effective, and views it as a tactically foolish and entirely symbolic gesture of questionable strategic and moral value.

This disagreement is real, but is not the issue that faces us today. The fundamental question we confront is whether legislatures should punish academic organizations for taking politically unpopular stands. The answer is no. The rights of academics to partake of and participate in public debate are well established. Boycotts are a long recognized and legally protected mode of political speech. The purpose of these bills, as some of their drafters admit, is to prevent organizations like the ASA from engaging in this kind of speech and to punish those organizations if they do—merely because the state disapproves of the content of that speech. For these and other reasons, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the New York Civil Liberties Union have declared their opposition to these bills.

Read the whole thing here.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is an assistant editor for Mondoweiss and the World editor for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.
Posted in Activism, BDS, US Politics

{ 8 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Daniel Rich says:

    Is it just me or is there some cancerous virus in the air [waves] eating away at our freedom?

    1) “In Europe, promoting BDS can be illegal. This week, Soda Stream, which has recently signed actress Scarlett Johansson as its promoter, won a case in a French court against a French organization seeking a boycott.

    The court ruled that “the origin of the product” does not justify the call to boycott. Soda Stream is produced in a factory in Mishor Adumim, with some 500 Palestinian workers, as well as Israelis, in a post-67 area. Johansson came under intense pressure to drop the Soda Stream gig, but instead resigned as an ambassador for Oxfam, an organization that fights poverty around the world.

    The issue is very complicated,” a senior Israeli foreign ministry official told The Media Line. “The suit by Soda Stream would not even be accepted in a US court. What they did is totally forbidden under French law and totally acceptable under American law.” – LINK.

    Dieudonné has been banned from Britain..

    What’s next? Book burning?

    I, for one, am sick and tired of seeing/hearing the word ‘antisemitism’ every time there is disagreement. It’s like dragging a very dead corpse around and blame blow flies for the stench.

  2. Lucas says:

    Re: A.8392 (An Act Prohibiting the Use of State Aid by Colleges and Universities for Certain Academic Institutions) – Strongly Opposed to A.8392

    My family and I are disappointed that the Assembly of the State of New York would even consider a bizarre bill such as A.8392. On dubious grounds, A.8292 punishes the political speech and association of scholars of our state. A.8292 is injurious to the reputation, citizens and academic institutions of the State of New York. My family and I strongly oppose A.8392 and we request that you vote against A.8392.

    Thank you for your service to our community.

  3. lobewyper says:

    I don’t know how you folks at Mondoweiss make all the great finds that you do, but I appreciate them very much. Thanks for this article, Alex. Loved that the two profs were on opposite sides of BDS but united in their defense of free speech. Pieces like this help sustain my hope that we Americans haven’t totally lost our moral bearings and valuing of principled conduct.

  4. Sycamores says:

    this open letter sends a strong message to New York legislators who are trying to past these bills. professors with opposing views on the academic boycott of Israel united together to save academic freedoms in the US.
    really impressive, i hope more professors will take heed to this call ASAP!

  5. American says:

    Does the NYT think its friends have gone too far? …Zionist and I-First attacking Free Speech in America?

    A Chill on Speech
    By THE EDITORIAL BOARD FEB. 3, 2014

    link to nytimes.com

    The New York Legislature is moving to pass a bill that would bar state financing for academic groups that have taken official action to boycott higher-education institutions in Israel. The initiative, which last week passed the State Senate, is now pending before the Assembly. It should be voted down by lawmakers, or, if they prove feckless, Gov. Andrew Cuomo should veto it.
    The bill was introduced after the American Studies Association, an organization of scholars, in December adopted a resolution supporting a call by Palestinians to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The group said it would refuse formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions or with scholars who represent those institutions or the Israeli government until “Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law.” The boycott does not apply to individual Israeli scholars engaged in ordinary exchanges.
    The resolution has caused waves because it reflects a growing support for the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement as Palestinian and Israelis approach a critical point in American-mediated peace efforts. The United States is expected to soon reveal a framework for a peace deal that has been under negotiation for months.
    The New York bill is an ill-considered response to the American Studies Association resolution and would trample on academic freedoms and chill free speech and dissent. Academics are rightly concerned that it will impose a political test on faculty members seeking university support for research meetings and travel. According to the American Association of University Professors, which opposes the association boycott and the retaliatory legislation, there is already a backlash, including in Georgia where a Jewish group compiled a “political blacklist” of professors and graduate students who supported the boycott. …………

  6. Citizen says:

    Is there an organization that tracks free speech in countries around the world? Seems to me the world is going backward in this matter. Same with privacy.

    Wikipedia covers the state of free speech by country; I haven’t read it yet: link to en.wikipedia.org

  7. Citizen says:

    Looks like USA stands alone in the West because it does not ban “hate speech.”
    link to nytimes.com

  8. bilal a says:

    Catholic Opposition to Zionist ethno- nationalism and its associated gender policies, at home and abroad, is at the heart of a ‘virulent anti- semitism’ which should be met with a Left-French Republic energy, corpses on the street ? (Jewish Daily Forward).

    While many Catholics had come to terms with the Republic by the interwar period, yet others still viewed it as the satanic spawn of modernity. Casting themselves as defenders not just of faith, but also of the family and traditional values…last week’s demonstration did not end with an assault against the National Assembly, much less corpses in the street..To his dismay, Badinter noted there were no republican demonstrations to counter “this fascist provocation.the alliance of parties on the political center and left formed to combat the leagues. Though it was hardly a success as a government, the Popular Front at least succeeded in breaking the leagues. Yet the French Left today seems hardly capable of such generosity, imagination or energy. This time, the crisis seems to be the winner.”
    Why All of France Should Shiver When Demonstrators Shout: ‘Jews Out’
    Echoes of 1934 as Quenelle Takes Over Streets of Paris

    link to forward.com