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Wesleyan President’s BDS denunciation fails to meet university’s ideals

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Three weeks after I began my freshman year at Wesleyan University, the Second Palestinian Intifada broke out, and for the next four years our campus saw a flurry of student-led actions and activities highlighting Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights.  We held film screenings, round-table discussions, created mock-checkpoints in front of the student center during lunch, and wrote articles for the school newspaper.  We read the names of Palestinians killed in the Intifada aloud, invited an Israeli refusenik to speak about why he refused to complete his service in the IDF, raised money for Palestinian hospitals, and created installation art pieces related to the Occupation.  In response, not unexpectedly, came organized activities that sought to stymie the burgeoning awareness of Palestinian realities, and re-establish Israel’s security and unquestionable right as the only paradigms around which a discussion could be held about Israel/Palestine.

While the constant back and forth between pro-Palestinian rights student activism and pro-Zionist activism could at times be frustrating and tedious, I was always glad to be in an environment where critical analysis and discussion was encouraged and really did bloom.  This commitment to critical analysis of the world around us, so as to better understand how to create a more fair and just world, is perhaps the value that most drew me to Wesleyan.  It is reflected in the courses faculty offer and the groups students form.  Indeed, Wesleyan’s mission statement asserts that its education is “characterized by boldness, rigor, and practical idealism.”  In my experience there, this proved true.  It also lived up to its goal of building “a diverse, energetic community of students, faculty, and staff who think critically and creatively and who value independence of mind and generosity of spirit.”

Wesleyan President Michael Roth

Wesleyan President Michael Roth

It is exactly because Wesleyan strives to, and often does, fulfill and live up to these ideals and goals, that President Michael Roth’s cursory denunciation of the ASA’s recent resolution supporting the Palestinian BDS call is so shocking and disappointing.  Roth claims that the BDS movement is a “repugnant attack on academic freedom.”  Contrary to Roth’s assertion, the BDS movement and the ASA resolution are not attacks on academic freedom.  Rather, they are efforts to support academic freedom by seeking to support the rights of Palestinian scholars, students, and academics to pursue education and research; they supports scholars’ rights to intellectual freedom without fear of repression, retribution, or violence; they support the right of people everywhere to political dissent; they supports the rights of people everywhere to critically research and publicly speak about Israel-Palestine.  However, going against the mission statement of the university of which he is President, Roth’s response reflects a type of thinking which is intellectually craven, stale, and trite.  His response is not reflective, original, or critical.  Were his arguments presented in a paper at Wesleyan, that paper would, quite frankly, get a C.  President Roth is not obligated to support the BDS movement or the ASA resolution—however, when writing a public response in his capacity as the President of a university which values critical analysis, social justice, and analytical thinking, his response should reflect those values.  His cursory response was dismissive and shallow, as it did not address any point raised in the ASA’s resolution statement.  As one current Wesleyan student put it: “It is like he hadn’t done the proper reading.”

Fortunately, and in the spirit of free debate and critical thinking, Roth’s denunciation has not gone unanswered by the Wesleyan community.  Historian Robin D.G. Kelley (Wesleyan parent ‘12) penned an eloquent, fact-based, intellectually robust, point-by-point response to Roth’s claims.  Outraged Wesleyan alumni wrote a petition criticizing Roth’s response to the ASA resolution, and calling him out on his hypocritical attack on the BDS movement when he was an active supporter of the South African anti-Apartheid boycott movement decades ago.  Over 140 alumni have signed the petition so far (it is an open document, if you are a Wesleyan alumni you may still sign).  As the BDS movement continues to grow stronger, I hope the Wesleyan community will continue to engage in critical thinking about rights, freedom, resistance, and solidarity—with the support of their President in their exercise of intellectual freedom and political dissent.

Shireen Tawil

Shireen Tawil is a public health professional specializing in mental and reproductive health based in Milan.

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14 Responses

  1. pabelmont on February 17, 2014, 3:22 pm

    This business of university presidents issuing “knee-jerk” denunciations of the ASA boycott marks them all is “jerks”. After all, they are not mere politicians but academic politicians, and are supposed to be able to read and to reason and to understand simple argument. (Of course we don’t expect that of ordinary politicians.)

    Columbia U. president Bollinger does not himself approve of the ASA boycott and certainly does not join it, but he has gone on record as opposing the (first?) proposed New York State law to punish it.

    President Lee C. Bollinger Statement on Anti-Boycott Legislation

    February 7, 2014

    I am pleased to see that anti-boycott legislation is no longer being considered by the State Assembly’s Higher Education Committee. I strongly urge that the bill not be reintroduced and hope that this action marks the end of a misguided legislative effort that would have undermined academic freedom.

    Whatever one’s views regarding the various proposed boycotts of Israeli scholars and universities (my own opposition to such boycotts over the years is a matter of record), it is essential that these opinions be expressed through the exercise of First Amendment rights in a public forum, not through enactment of laws infringing free speech. My fellow Columbia faculty members had it precisely right when they argued in their letter to the Assembly that the curbs on free speech contained in the anti-boycott legislation appear to violate the U.S. Constitution, as it has been interpreted for decades, and would degrade the academic freedom long cherished not only at Columbia but across all of American higher education.

  2. Ecru on February 17, 2014, 3:24 pm

    What else can one expect – he’s siding with the ethnos no matter what. Isn’t that what a “good Jew” is supposed to do?

    Long live the “bad Jews” who believe in justice more than they believe in the tribe.

  3. Daniel Rich on February 17, 2014, 8:13 pm

    But we’re full circle now: Israeli Minister Slams Boycotts as ‘New Form of Anti-Semitism’.

    Antisemitism [in its current context] is an Apartheid word, for it embraces only a select few, whilst simultaneously excluding all others.

    • Talkback on February 18, 2014, 9:00 am

      Roth claims that the BDS movement is a “repugnant attack on academic freedom.”

      If that’s the case his critic of the Zionist movement must be absolutely devastating. But something tells me that he’s just another Zionist bigot.

  4. Bumblebye on February 18, 2014, 9:09 am

    And Bibi’s spitting on his bib and coming out to tell the world that BDS is the new anti-semitism all by hisself:

    “Binyamin Netanyahu has launched a swingeing attack on supporters of a boycott of Israel, accusing them of practising “antisemitism in a new garb”, and urged the country’s friends to “expose and outflank” them by emphasising its high-tech achievements and global economic appeal.

    Addressing a conference of US Jewish organisations in Jerusalem, the Israeli prime minister said the international boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) movement was intended to lead to “the end of the Jewish state”.”

    Clearly deciding to ignore the fact that BDS is not a foreign led movement, but is Palestinian. Guess that makes it easier to malign.

    • seafoid on February 18, 2014, 10:33 am

      BDS as the new anti-Semitism is not going to fly. BDS is pro justice and justice is not anti-Semitic.

      Said, ‘Hey little boy you can’t go
      Where the others go
      Cause you don’t look like those Jews’
      Said, ‘Hey, old man how can you stand
      To think that way
      Did you really think about it
      Before you made the rules?

    • Sumud on February 18, 2014, 10:49 am

      Addressing a conference of US Jewish organisations in Jerusalem, the Israeli prime minister said the international boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) movement was intended to lead to “the end of the Jewish state”.”

      Netanyahu is the anti-semite for suggesting that the ugly little spartan state is a product of judaism.

      Abbas should announce he’ll agree to recognise Israel as The Zionist State but not under any circumstance The Jewish State, as Israel is an insult to jews (and all people) of conscience.

      • seafoid on February 18, 2014, 10:53 am

        Abbas should put Bibi back in his box by saying Zionism is not Judaism

      • American on February 18, 2014, 12:30 pm

        Naw, let Bibi keep talking, he’s doing wonders for BDS with his wild psycho demands and denouncements of e.v.e.r.y.o.n.e in the universe.

        Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu lashed out at European and Western advocates of a boycott against Israel.

        The premier accused them of being “classical anti-Semites in modern garb.”

        “It’s an absolute disgrace that there are people in Europe calling for a boycott of Jews,” the prime minister said.

        Speaking to a gathering of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem on Monday, the prime minister accused the West of allowing Iran to “give practically nothing” while “receiving a great deal.”

        He said that “the goal isn’t to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons, but to deny it the capability to manufacture nuclear weapons.”

        “If they claim to want it for civilian purposes, they don’t need enrichment of uranium,” Netanyahu said of Iran. “They don’t need a heavy water reactor or ICBMs. But these are precisely the elements that Iran insists on and they need to be denied. In the interim deal, they’ve been allowed to maintain these things.”

        Netanyahu scoffed at the notion that the Iranian government has taken a more moderate tack, as evidenced by its human rights record as well as its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

        “Iran’s moderation is a myth,” he said. “As we speak, inside Iran, people are being executed in horrific ways. Innocent people are being hoisted up and executed by this regime.”

        “This regime continues to foster terrorist around the world, participates in massive slaughter in Syria. That would not be possible without Iran. The Assad regime does not exist without Iran’s money, weapons, commanders on the site who tell what is left of the Syrian army what to do.”

        Netanyahu said he was appreciative of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s “ceaseless” efforts to forge an agreement.

        The Palestinian refusal to renounce the right of return and agree to an end to the conflict “raises serious questions” about Ramallah’s sincerity in reaching a genuine peace, Netanyahu said.

        “The root of the conflict is the Palestinian refusal in recognizing Israel as a Jewish state,” the prime minister said.

        Netanyahu said the Palestinians must institute “a culture of change” and end incitement against Israel as a necessary condition for peace.

        Israel will also insist on “solid security arrangements” that are needed to “keep the peace,” the premier said.

      • seafoid on February 18, 2014, 2:15 pm

        Is Zionism rational or psycho ?

        Well, it doesn’t appear to be rational

  5. seafoid on February 18, 2014, 10:39 am

    Israel boycott movement is antisemitic, says Binyamin Netanyahu

    PM says founders of international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement want to see end of Jewish state

    Ian Black in Jerusalem, Tuesday 18 February 2014 14.53 GMT

    Binyamin Netanyahu has launched a swingeing attack on supporters of a boycott of Israel, accusing them of practising “antisemitism in a new garb”, and urged the country’s friends to “expose and outflank” them by emphasising its high-tech achievements and global economic appeal.
    Addressing a conference of US Jewish organisations in Jerusalem, the Israeli prime minister said the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement was intended to lead to “the end of the Jewish state”.

    “Some supporters of the movement see it as a way to put pressure on Israel to end illegal settlements in the territories occupied in the 1967 war; others favour the creation of a single state that would dismantle Israel.
    “I think the most eerie thing, the most disgraceful thing is to have people on the soil of Europe talking about the boycott of Jews,” Netanyahu said. “In the past, antisemites boycotted Jewish businesses and today they call for the boycott of the Jewish state. And by the way, only the Jewish state.
    “The founders of the BDS movement make their goals perfectly clear. They want to see the end of the Jewish state. They’re quite explicit about it. And I think it’s important that the boycotters must be exposed for what they are. They’re classical antisemites in modern garb. And I think we have to fight them. It’s time to delegitimise the delegitimisers.”
    Netanyahu’s remarks reflect anger and anxiety in Jerusalem about BDS, which claims to have made a significant advance during the recent row involving Scarlett Johansson’s sponsorship of a factory in a West Bank settlement and her leaving her role as a goodwill ambassador for Oxfam.
    Pressure on Israel is mounting, especially from Europe, where NGOs, trade unions, churches and others are forcing their governments to take action. Last year the EU blocked grants and funding for any Israeli entity operating beyond the pre-1967 borders, building on earlier decisions to require the labelling of goods produced in settlements. Two weeks ago the US secretary of state, John Kerry, warned that Israel would face more calls for boycotts if the current peace talks with the Palestinians collapsed.

    But Israel was far from being shunned, Netanyahu insisted: “Israel is being sought after.. Founders and leaders of big companies and some small companies and medium-sized companies … are all coming to Israel. They all want the same three things: Israeli technology, Israeli technology and Israeli technology. They know that Israel is the repository of great genius, great creativity, entrepreneurship, innovation, scientific capability, out-of-the-box thinking.”

    On Tuesday the BDS movement hailed news that Germany’s largest bank, Deutsche Bank, had listed Israel’s Bank Hapoalim as an unethical investment, and that two European port operators had dropped plans to build new ports in Israel over fears about a boycott.
    “More international corporations are ending their business and shying away from bids in Israel,” said Rafeef Ziadah, from the Palestinian BDS national committee. “This trend is due to continue until Israel abides by international law and ends its system of colonialism, apartheid and occupation. The BDS movement is steadily making ‘Brand Israel’ a toxic one.””

    Is BDS Rafeef the poetry Rafeef ?

  6. seafoid on February 18, 2014, 10:52 am

    The Economist warns Israel of growing strength of BDS

    ONCE derided as the scheming of crackpots, the campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, widely known as BDS, is turning mainstream. That, at any rate, is the fear of a growing number of Israelis. Some European pension funds have withdrawn investments; some large corporations have cancelled contracts; and the American secretary of state, John Kerry, rarely misses a chance to warn Israel that efforts to “delegitimise” and boycott it will increase if its government spurns his efforts to conclude a two-state settlement of its conflict with the Palestinians. Israel, says Yair Lapid, Israel’s finance minister, is approaching the same “tipping point” where South Africa found itself in opposition to the rest of the world in the dying days of apartheid. “Let’s not kid ourselves,” he told a conference of security boffins recently in Tel Aviv. “The world listens to us less and less.” BDS has begun to grab the attention of some of the world’s largest financial institutions. PGGM, a big Dutch pension fund, has liquidated its holdings in five Israeli banks (though the Netherlands’ largest has affirmed its investments). Norway’s finance ministry has announced that it is excluding Africa Israel Investments and its subsidiary, Danya Cebus, a big building firm, from a government pension fund. The campaign is drawing support from beyond northern Europe. Romania has forbidden its citizens from working for companies in the West Bank. More churches are backing BDS. An American academic association is boycotting Israeli lecturers. The debate turned viral after Scarlett Johansson, a Hollywood actor, quit her role as ambassador for Oxfam, a charity based in Britain, in order to keep her advertising contract with SodaStream, an Israeli drinks firm with a plant on the West Bank. Mr Lapid, who favours a two-state solution, reels out figures to show how sanctions could hit every Israeli pocket. “If negotiations with the Palestinians stall or blow up and we enter the reality of a European boycott, even a very partial one,” he warned, 10,000 Israelis would “immediately” lose their jobs. Trade with the European Union, a third of Israel’s total, would slump—he calculates—by $5.7 billion. Anxious to hold on to their markets, Israel’s businessmen are increasingly backing the peace camp. The names on a recent advertising campaign in its favour included such luminaries as the head of Google in Israel. Hitherto they had usually preferred to stay out of politics. Israel’s government is divided over how to react to the BDS campaign. The finance ministry has temporarily shelved a report it said it would publish on the possible consequences of BDS. But Israel’s press and ministerial addresses are increasingly full of worried references to it. Some Israelis argue that this publicity merely feeds the BDS campaign, others that isolation has benefits. Israel’s position as a hotbed of hi-tech start-ups is due in part to decades of circumventing Arab boycotts. A French arms ban in the 1960s sparked the development of its weapons industry, helping to catapult Israel into fourth place in the world’s league of arms exporters. And if the West turns its back on Israel, there is, they say, the east. Relations with India have warmed of late, and those with China are getting closer. The economy minister, Naftali Bennett, a sceptic of the peace process, recently toured the Far East, saying he was bringing a “light to the gentiles” by way of Israeli business. But Mr Bennett is in a minority on BDS: his colleagues are a lot less sanguine. –

  7. American on February 18, 2014, 12:34 pm


    Court rules key powers can be taken from Netanyahu
    02/17/2014 12:08
    Select Language​▼
    Deputy Defense Minister Danon can now convene Likud central c’tee for votes on key issues PM opposes, including opposing territorial concessions.

    Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s political future suffered a major blow Monday when the Tel Aviv District Court ruled that the Likud’s institutions can vote to take key powers away from him.
    The Likud’s law committee had ruled that the power to convene the party’s central committee could be taken away from the party leader and given to the head of the central committee, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon.
    Danon takes Netanyahu to court
    When an internal Likud court overruled the law committee, Danon took Netanyahu to the external court.
    Judge Dafna Avnieli ruled in Danon’s favor and forced Netanyahu’s lawyers, who work for the party, to pay Danon NIS 40,000 in legal bills. In her ruling, she criticized Netanyahu for trying to paralyze the party’s institutions.
    The significance of the ruling is that Danon will be able to convene the central committee next month for votes on key issues Netanyahu opposes, including opposing territorial concessions and preventing a merger with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party”

  8. Boomer on February 18, 2014, 2:07 pm

    Though I am a Methodist, I only recently learned of the “United Methodist Kairos Response,” which to me seems more consistent with Methodist values than Mr. Roth’s statement: I am pleased to know about it, and to support it. Of course, Wesleyan, like many other colleges and universities founded by the Methodists, is independent of the church and free to do as it likes . . . as is Mr. Roth.

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