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

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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.

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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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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.

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!

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 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… Read more »