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Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) Commends the NYU Administration for Its Condemnation of a BDS Resolution by the Graduate Student Union

(May 4, 2016) Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) condemns a recent vote by NYU’s Graduate Student Union to institute an academic boycott against Israeli universities as part of the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The graduate student union at New York University, the Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC) at NYU, a part of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2110, voted to approve a motion to support a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolution against Israel, calling for the boycott to remain in place “until Israel complies with international law and ends the military occupation, dismantles the wall, recognizes the rights of Palestinian citizens to full equality, and respects the right of return of Palestinian refugees and exiles.”

The resolution, which was approved by two-thirds of the 600 union members and represents more than 2,000 graduate teaching and research assistants at the university, called on the union and its parent union, the United Auto Workers, to divest from Israeli companies. It also calls on NYU to close its program at Tel Aviv University, which it speciously alleges as being a violation of NYU’s non-discrimination policy.

SPME commends NYU President Andrew Hamilton for taking an immediate and strong stand against the union resolution vote. “A boycott of Israeli academics and institutions is contrary to our core principles of academic freedom, antithetical to the free exchange of ideas, and at odds with the University's position on this matter, as well as the position of GSOC's parent union,” President Hamilton said. “NYU will not be closing its academic program in Tel Aviv, and divestment from Israeli-related investments is not under consideration. And to be clear: whatever 'pledges' union members may or may not have taken does not free them from their responsibilities as employees of NYU, which rejects this boycott.” 

NYU spokesman John Beckman also added that: “NYU has a long-standing position opposing boycotts of Israeli academics and institutions. This vote is at odds with NYU’s policy on this matter, it is at odds with the principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas, and it is even at odds with the position of their own parent union, the UAW.”

SPME questions why NYU’s graduate student union feels compelled to answer the call to boycott Israeli academic institutions, specifically, and not universities in countries where actual suppression of dissent, academic freedom, and scholarly inquiry are prevalent—China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and others, for example.

As part of the resolution, the union also said that “We also give members the opportunity to make a voluntary and non-binding individual commitment to participate in the academic boycott, which targets Israeli government and academic institutions complicit in Israeli violation of Palestinian rights.” Union members who voted for the resolution promised that they would “personally adhere to the academic boycott, by refusing to take part in any research, conferences, events, exchange programs, publications or other activities that are sponsored by or require official affiliation with the Israeli government or Israeli academic institutions. In accordance with BDS guidelines, this academic boycott does not target individuals of any background, but only institutions based on their conduct complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights.”

“SPME is concerned by this disingenuous language which tries to suggest that only institutions, not individuals, will be boycotted, based on their so-called ‘complicity’ with the policies of the Israeli government and the occupation,” said Richard Cravatts, SPME’s president. “Institutions do not engage in ‘research, conferences, events, exchange programs, publications or other activities,’ people do—in this case, Israeli academics, who, not coincidently, are Jewish. The notion that the BDS campaign targets institutions and not individuals is fallacious as it is morally-repugnant, not to mention contrary to what academic institutions represent.”

“We are also troubled by the fact that graduate teaching fellows at NYU will bring their now self-professed anti-Israel bias into classrooms,” said Asaf Romirowsky, Executive Director of SPME. “That means that for those teachers who teach classes related to the Middle East the likelihood is that their animus towards Israel and their affinity for the Palestinian cause will influence coursework, teaching, and in-classroom discussions in a subjective, academically-deficient way.”

Richard Landes, chair of SPME’s Council of Scholars, said that “The world academic community justifiably frowns upon academic boycotts which it regards as antithetical to the fundamental principles of academic freedom. Statements like Randa Wahbe‘s “I voted for Anthroboycott [of Israel] because I believe in academic freedom for all,” constitute oxymorons that should embarrass serious thinkers. Whatever their feelings, academics cannot say they support academic freedom and exchange if they boycott, censor, or otherwise interrupt the exchange of ideas, research and information.”

Therefore, SPME condemns the recent NYU Graduate Student Union’s efforts to use academia to promote boycotts, divestiture, and sanctions against Israel, including the calls for academic boycotts directed towards Israeli institutions, as they represent an abandonment of scholarly principles, a degradation of campus civility, and a violation of the precepts of unbiased, rational academic inquiry

As academics, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East strongly supports the principle of unencumbered scholarly travel. Unfortunately, the NYU union’s pro-BDS resolution engages this topic in a lopsided way, focusing exclusively on Israel.  Critiquing only Israel among all the nations on earth—many countries where academics are denied even the ability to study, attend classes, or travel—is both counter-productive and disingenuous, since Israel guarantees individual and human rights of its own citizens and visitors, including its Arab citizens.

 

About SPME

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) is not-for-profit [501 (C) (3)], grass-roots community of scholars who have united to promote honest, fact-based, and civil discourse, especially in regard to Middle East issues. We believe that ethnic, national, and religious hatreds, including anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, have no place in our institutions, disciplines, and communities. We employ academic means to address these issues.

The peace we seek in the Middle East is consistent both with Israel's right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state within safe and secure borders, and with the rights and legitimate aspirations of her neighbors.

Our mission is to inform, motivate, and encourage faculty to use their academic skills and disciplines on campus, in classrooms, and in academic publications to develop effective responses to the ideological distortions, including anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist slanders, which poison debate and work against peace. SPME welcomes scholars from all disciplines, faiths groups and nationalities who share our desire for peace and our commitment to academic integrity and honest debate.

http://spme.org

 

For further information please contact:
Asaf Romirowsky
Aromirowsky@spme.org 

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Officers

Richard Cravatts, PhD
President

John R. Cohn, MD 
Vice President

Leila Beckwith, PhD 
Treasurer

Ralf R. Schumann, MD, PhD 
Secretary

Staff

Asaf Romirowsky, PhD
Executive Director
SPME Faculty Forum, Editor