“No Palestinian Exception to the First Amendment and Academic Freedom!”
(Inspired by the words of USACBI organizing collective member Steven Salaita, September 2014)
USACBI’s Academic Defense Committee is committed to the defense of scholars, students, staff members, and campus groups who face censorship and backlash for their solidarity with Palestine and engagement with BDS activism, particularly when it takes the form of advocacy for the academic and cultural boycott.
Given our focus on the academic and cultural boycott of Israel (ACBI), we aim to support those under attack for promoting or mobilizing around ACBI. We are also part of a National Academic Defense Coalition that includes other groups, such as JVP’s Academic Advisory Council, Palestine Legal, IJAN, and the Open University Project . Members of our Committee and USACBI’s Organizing Collective also belong to the California Scholars for Academic Freedom network and the National Lawyers Guild and work with media organizations such as IMEU. These groups can provide other kinds of support and resources that we refer to, below.
In addition to legal resources and defense, scholars, students, and activists under attack or facing harassment and defamation need and deserve solidarity and support. This Committee emerged in part from the historic campaign for academic boycott in the American Studies Association (ASA), led by several USACBI organizers. The subsequent attacks on the ASA and its members, as well as on other associations who have endorsed the boycott, made clear that a more organized structure and solidarity network was necessary to counter anti-BDS backlash and anti-boycott campaigns.
Going Beyond a Defensive Framework:
We are committed not just to taking a defensive position in the face of ongoing repression of our right to organize for an end to occupation and apartheid. We also aim to reframe debates about BDS, in order to make clear that the anti-BDS campaign legitimizes racism, militarism, and settler colonialism. Thus, we recommend that faculty, staff, students and campus groups facing censorship or stigmatization use academic defense to affirm that their commitment to BDS and Palestine solidarity work is an expression of antiracist activism. To stand for BDS is to stand in in support of human rights for all, and for academic freedom in addition to human freedom.
As became clear in the campaign in solidarity with Steven Salaita-- who is a member of USACBI’s Organizing Collective, and whose writing and research has been invaluable for our analysis--the attacks by Zionist groups on academic freedom are also an attack on the core principles of democratic faculty governance and the autonomy of the university. Zionist campaigns that intervene in academic employment and that make more precarious the already limited rights of academic workers (faculty and graduate students as well as staff) thus play a role in the neoliberal restructuring of the university. Some of the most dramatic instances of academic precarity in recent years have been in the context of teaching and speech related to Israel, Palestine, and Zionism. We therefore need to link the question of academic freedom in the case of Palestine to issues of academic labor, the transformation of the academy, and the attack on the left at large. In this context, another affirmative strategy to counter the backlash is to launch a Faculty for Justice in Palestine (FJP) chapter on your campus. FJPs can provide a local structure for Palestine solidarity organizing, collaboration with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters, and an organized basis to respond to administrative or off-campus interference.
While we cannot provide legal advice or counsel, please do not hesitate to let us know your experiences of censorship, repression, harassment, or defamation related to academic boycott advocacy. We can provide solidarity, guidance, and referrals. Below is a list of resources and contacts that may be helpful. You may contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jewish Voice for Peace’s Academic Advisory Council: https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/campus-organizing/academic-advisory-council/
Open University Project: http://web.law.columbia.edu/open-university-project
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network: http://www.ijan.org/
Frequently Asked Legal Questions about Boycott and Divestment: http://static1.squarespace.com/static/548748b1e4b083fc03ebf70e/t/55a006a3e4b01f5eb3cfd32e/1436550819443/Legal+FAQ+BDS+March+2015.pdf
American Studies Association’s FAQs about the academic boycott:http://www.theasa.net/images/uploads/ASA_Boycott_FAQs.pdf
IJAN’s report - The Business of Backlash: http://www.ijan.org/resources/business-of-backlash/
Open University Project Curricula on Israel-Palestine: http://web.law.columbia.edu/open-university-project/curricula
USACBI Template Letter to defend students under assault: Click here to download
NLG Letter in defense of David Klein: http://www.csun.edu/%7Evcmth00m/nlgOct2013.pdf
USACBI Open Letter in defense of David Shorter: http://www.usacbi.org/2012/05/in-defense-of-ucla-professor-david-shorter-and-all-scholars-who-support-the-academic-and-cultural-boycott-of-israel/
USACBI: Defend Dr. David Klein: http://www.usacbi.org/2012/01/usacbi-resisting-attacks-on-supporters-of-boycott-defend-dr-david-klein/
In addition to reporting cases of violations of academic freedom or worker rights to legal organizations, it is important that we compile an archive of testimonials of academic repression. This documentation of the attacks, harassment, and censorship of Palestine solidarity activism in the academy is vital for demonstrating the extent and impact of this repression. If you have a story that you would like to share, please click here to contact us.
You may also find these publications that include analysis and autobiographical accounts related to these issues helpful:
The Imperial University (eds. Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira)
Against Apartheid: The Case for Boycotting Israeli Universities (eds. Bill Mullen and Ashley Dawson)
Nora Barrows-Friedman’s In Our Power: U.S. Students Organize for Justice in Palestine
Ali Abunimah’s The Battle for Justice in Palestine
Steven Salaita’s Israel’s Dead Soul and Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom