Open letter to President Eric Kaler: boycott on Israeli institutions

by Sylvia Schwarz- University alumna

The undersigned are individuals and organizations from Minnesota and beyond who are dismayed with your statement from Dec. 27, 2013, opposing the American Studies Association resolution to boycott Israeli institutions.

Your statement quotes extensively from the statement put out by the Association of American Universities, making the unsubstantiated and inaccurate claim that such a boycott violates academic freedom. The AAU’s quote has no relevance to the ASA resolution or any of the written debate or conversations beginning in 2007 that led up to the overwhelming vote in favor of the boycott. These writings are available for anyone to study, and we encourage you to read them in The Journal of Academic Freedom. Contrary to your statement, the ASA resolution does not call for a boycott against any individual. The boycott is only against Israeli institutions. The ASA’s resolution is a response to the call of the overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society organizations. It is carefully structured to focus on Israeli institutions that have been complicit and often active participants in Israel’s well-documented violations of international law and universal principles of human rights.

Colleges and universities have sought to be places where discussion and debate can freely take place.

This is not the case in Israel, where institutions of higher education are complicit in the oppression of Palestinians and the repression of their speech. For example, some Palestinian Israeli citizens who attend Israeli universities are not allowed to organize or demonstrate on campus, and the commemoration of the expulsion of approximately 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948 is illegal. Israeli universities are built on land that was expropriated from Palestinians, and the research done in those institutions contributes to oppression of Palestinians. Quoting from the ASA resolution: “… there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation, and Israeli institutions of higher learning are a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students …”

Additionally, the ASA resolution does not single out any ethnic group for boycott. The resolution is not anti-Semitic or racist in any way; on the contrary, its statement says: “… the American Studies Association is committed to the pursuit of social justice, to the struggle against all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, discrimination and xenophobia …”

We believe that those who are genuinely concerned with academic freedom should deplore the lack of academic freedom that Palestinians experience due to Israeli institutional constraints on their movement. During the first Intifada, Palestinian schools in the West Bank and Gaza were closed. Now, Palestinian children and young adults face overwhelming difficulties in getting to classes because of the restrictions on their movements in the occupied territories.

Few students are allowed out of the territory to study, even those with scholarships to study at Western schools and universities. Many Palestinian students from Gaza are denied the right to study in the West Bank.

This is a clear violation of academic freedom.

The undersigned believe that your statement does not advance the cause of academic freedom but will actually have the effect of repressing debate and discussion on campus. We support free speech and the freedom to act in constitutionally protected ways to express political beliefs.

We encourage you to allow a free debate at the University of Minnesota on academic and cultural boycotts, and thus demonstrate that the University is an institution that supports open discussion and academic freedom.