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‘NYT’ fails to follow the money in reporting attacks on the academic boycott of Israel

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ASA logo tiff (1) copyFund-raising is the most important part of the job for a college or university president in America. Today’s article in the New York Times quotes four different presidents (and one ex-president) who sharply criticize the American Studies Association’s boycott of academic institutions in Israel. But the article, by Tamar Lewin, “Prominent Scholars, Citing Importance of Academic Freedom, Denounce Israeli Boycott,” does not even ask whether financial donors, big or otherwise, are making threats to turn off the money spigot.

This is not to say that the college presidents are only pretending to be concerned about their view of academic freedom. In particular, the president of Harvard, Drew Gilpin Faust, is a sincere and impressive scholar who doubtless believes in everything she said. But she is certainly not unaware of financial pressure, and the public deserves to know about it.

And how hard would it be to find a big donor who says openly that he will stop giving unless his intended beneficiary denounces the Israel boycott? The mega-rich are not shy about making their views public. An article that so piously endorses “academic freedom” ought to point out that it can be threatened from many directions. [When Harvard’s Kennedy School distanced itself from its own professor’s article on the Israel lobby in 2006, donor pressure was cited in news coverage.]

Overall, today’s article continues the NYT’s pattern of lopsided bias. Only one person who favors the boycott is quoted, surrounded by all the hostile voices. Fortunately, he is eloquent:

“I know many Jews are against the occupation but don’t believe in the boycott,” said Colin Dayan, the Robert Penn Warren professor in the humanities at Vanderbilt University. “I have noticed, as a Jew, that the one subject that can never be critiqued is action taken by Israel against Palestinians. What made it clear to me that I needed to speak out – although it puts me in a difficult position vis-a-vis family and friends – is that the situation for Palestinians is deteriorating. It’s worse than I ever would have imagined.”

James North
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5 Responses

  1. just
    December 27, 2013, 11:52 am

    Well said, Colin Dayan.

    I would have preferred that you said ‘as a human instead’ of “I have noticed, as a Jew, that the one subject that can never be critiqued is action taken by Israel against Palestinians.”

    I’ll take it, though. Tiny steps rather than the giant steps that the Palestinians need so very much, but steps all the same.

    One other thing. “I know many Jews are against the occupation but don’t believe in the boycott,”

    This comment is not congruent at all. How can “Jews” be for sanctions against others, yet not for themselves? BDS is all about the Occupation and rampant theft of life, liberty and self determination of the Palestinian people.

  2. ckg
    December 27, 2013, 1:09 pm

    When Orlov and Shcharansky were imprisoned in the Soviet Union there was no lack of support and enthusiasm for an academic boycott then. But the shoe is on the other foot now.

  3. Donald
    December 27, 2013, 1:30 pm

    Dayan’s comments are welcome, but slightly confusing. “Many Jews are against the occupation, but don’t believe in the boycott.” In theory that could be true, if they oppose, say, academic boycotts, but support other boycotts, but if they don’t support some sort of forceful action than they aren’t really against the occupation in any meaningful way. I’m a little leery of the academic boycott on purely tactical grounds–it gives an opening to all sorts of clowns and frauds to posture as champions of freedom. People who don’t say one thing about how the occupation hurts the educational prospects of Palestinian students all of a sudden become heroic defenders of freedom and intellectual inquiry.

  4. Krauss
    December 27, 2013, 5:13 pm

    The NYT shows its deep-seated Zionist bias once more.

    The increasingly inevitable question raises itself once more: did it treat academic boycotts of Apartheid South Africa this way? Of course not. This is the glaring double-standard. The NYT believes that Jews like myself can get away with Apartheid in a way that my gentile white neighbours cannot. Why? Only because of my blood.

  5. Hostage
    December 28, 2013, 4:03 am

    I was very pleasantly surprised to see an article on Opinio Juris about “NYU’s Selective Defence of Academic Freedom” with a hat-tip to Max Blumenthal.

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