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Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions threatens UC Berkeley’s right to hear alternative views

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MARCH 19, 2019

On Feb. 19, The Daily Californian featured an op-ed by several UC Berkeley faculty members advocating for the right to boycott Israel in academia, called “University of California faculty should have the right to boycott Israel in academia.” It comes in response to the Dec. 13 collective statement by all 10 UC chancellors that opposed a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or individual scholars. The op-ed goes on to pose some “unanswered questions about the collective statement.” We want to address some of these questions.

The article asks how Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions — the movement to boycott, divest and sanction the Israeli state for its occupation of Palestinian territories — poses a “direct and serious threat to academic freedom,” as the chancellors’ statement claims. The authors claim that “BDS targets state-funded Israeli institutions and Israeli commercial activities. It does not prevent anyone from saying anything or attempt to sanction or thwart individuals for their political positions.” This is simply untrue.

Official guidelines from a Palestinian organization associated with the movement say faculty members should refuse to write letters for students seeking to study in Israel. Similar sources say BDS seeks to close down study abroad programs in Israel. We believe that BDS supporters also seek to prevent Israeli scholars, politicians and others from coming to the University of California based solely on their country of origin. For years BDS supporters have disrupted campus events featuring individuals who espouse views they oppose, and they have thus deprived University of California students, faculty and staff of their right to hear alternative viewpoints. The goals of BDS and its supporters’ actions therefore do pose a clear and direct threat to academic freedom and, in our view, are also discriminatory.

The op-ed asks why the chancellors chose to make a statement on a boycott of Israel and Israel alone. Why not, the authors ask, condemn various other off-campus provocateurs who attack students and professors who advocate for justice for Palestinians? The authors speculate on possible “direct or indirect pressure” from private donors. They single out “101 organizations of the Academic Engagement Network defending Israeli policy” as a possible source of pressure because of a thank-you letter the organizations wrote to the chancellors. The Academic Engagement Network is only one of the 101 organizations that signed the letter. Contrary to the article’s claim, its mission is to support academic freedom and discussion on Israel, not to defend Israeli policy.

Further, the authors wonder why the chancellors’ statement did not speak out against Canary Mission, an organization that profiles individuals and organizations that support BDS. All we know is that the UC Berkeley administration previously spoke out against Canary Mission in the Daily Cal.

Neither the authors nor we are in a position to know the reason for the chancellors’ statement, though it should be said that it is merely a restatement of principles they have previously enunciated.

We do think there is a less conspiratorial explanation for restating these principles: repeated attempts by campus activists advocating an Israel boycott to disrupt Israel-related events and rally student governments and other campus bodies to their cause. BDS supporters have disrupted events at UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Irvine, UC Riverside and UC Davis. So the chancellors’ restatement is, in fact, much-needed. It bears noting that well over 200 university leaders in the country have rejected BDS, so the UC chancellors do not stand out in their opinions. We are not aware of any university leader that has affirmed support for the boycott.

The authors of the previous op-ed claim the chancellors’ statement will have a chilling effect on pro-Palestinian activism, but it didn’t prevent these professors from expressing their views in the Daily Cal. Would the chancellors issue a similar statement if there were calls to boycott human rights violators in other parts of the world? We don’t know because campus activists have focused mostly on Israel.

If the signatories of the previous op-ed and others who support their views want nothing to do with Israel, that is their prerogative. But there is no reason why the University of California should permit them to foist their politics and discriminatory attitudes on the rest of the university.

Kenneth Bamberger is the faculty director at the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies. Eugene Bardach is a professor emeritus at the Goldman School of Public Policy. Joan Bieder is a professor emerita at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Michael Botchan is the dean of biological sciences and a professor of biochemistry, biophysics and structural biology at UC Berkeley. George Breslauer is a professor of political science at UC Berkeley. Ben Brinner is the Helen Diller Family Faculty Director at the Center for Jewish Studies and a professor of music at UC Berkeley. Jack Citrin is a professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School Department of Political Science. John Efron is the Koret Professor of Jewish History at UC Berkeley. Malcolm Feeley is the Claire Sanders Clements Dean’s Professor of Law, emeritus. Claude Fischer is a professor of sociology at UC Berkeley. Ron Hassner is the faculty director at the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies and an associate professor of political science at UC Berkeley. Ronald Hendel is the Norma and Sam Dabby Professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at UC Berkeley. Shachar Kariv is the Benjamin N. Ward Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley. Thomas W. Laqueur is the Helen Fawcett Distinguished Professor of History, emeritus at UC Berkeley. Steven Davidoff Solomon is the chair of the Chancellor’s Committee on Jewish Life, the acting faculty director at the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies and a professor of law at UC Berkeley. Steve Tadelis is the James J. and Maryanne B. Lowrey Chair in Business and a professor of economics, business and public policy at UC Berkeley. Jason Wittenberg is the acting faculty director at the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies and an associate professor of political science at UC Berkeley.

MARCH 19, 2019