To show their support for global academic freedom President Richard Brodhead has joined in opposition to a boycott of Israeli universities.
In December, two-thirds of 1,252 members of the American Studies Association voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions because of Israel’s treatment of Palestine and its impact on students and scholars. Brodhead was one of 11 university presidents and chancellors who signed a statement Dec. 20 in opposition to the boycott—meaning they believe universities should continue to work with higher education institutions in Israel—because stopping this type of collaboration is a violation of academic freedom.
A statement from the American Studies Association—an organization dedicated to the study of American culture and history—explained that the movement is to promote solidarity among scholars and students who have been “deprived of their academic freedom.” Additionally, it argues that Israeli universities are party to state policies violating human rights, international law and United Nations resolutions.
The opposing statement from the Association of American Universities—of which Brodhead is an executive committee member—explained that academic freedom is a main principle of AAU members, so they cannot support the boycott.
“Efforts to address political issues, or to address restrictions on academic freedom, should not themselves infringe upon academic freedom,” the statement read. “The boycott of Israeli academic institutions therefore clearly violates the academic freedom not only of Israeli scholars but also of American scholars who might be pressured to comply with it.”
Brodhead, who has been traveling and unavailable for interviews, noted in an email Friday that he provided input to the AAU statement and considers it representative of his comment on the issue.
“The statement makes a strong, cogent case and I support it wholeheartedly,” Brodhead said.
The boycott is the most recent in a line of academic-related protests against Israel starting in 2002, from a variety of countries across the globe.
“Israel is feeling the pressure internationally from countries or, it sounds like, institutions, who are making statements about what they want to see moving forward,” said U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki.
Members of the Duke community have since responded both to the boycott and the opposition to it in a still-developing debate over the issue.
Fred Moten, a former English professor at Duke and current professor at the University of California at Riverside, endorsed the boycott in a statement, explaining that intellectuals have a responsibility to not only exercise academic freedom, but also promote it and work to make it universally available. He wrote that academic freedom should mean unrestricted exchange of speech for all members of the academic community, including Israelis and Palestinians alike. He hopes the boycott will revitalize people’s capacity to think, speak and act against exclusion.
“ASA’s endorsement of the call for boycott and sanctions of Israeli academic institutions complicit in the administration of the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands is a significant advance in our assertion and protection of [academic freedom],” he wrote.
Natasha Kirtchuk, a senior and member of the Duke Friends of Israel who has worked for the Israeli President Shimon Peres for the past year, noted that many Duke students and faculty work and study in Israel, and that the damage of a boycott could reach Duke-connected people as well. She said she hopes the American Studies Association will rescind the boycott, and she supports Duke’s stand for academic freedom.
“Universities are intended to foster and encourage constructive dialogue,” Kirtchuk said. “It’s not acceptable to cut off Israeli academic institutions [because of] political issues…. Is it right for politics to outweigh academic freedom?”
The boycott is called for because it represents an issue larger than just academic freedom, said senior Anastasia Karklina, a member of Duke Students for Justice in Palestine.
“Palestinian people live under occupation that strips them of not only academic freedom but equal access to resources, freedom of movement and basic human rights,” Karklina said.
She also noted that the boycott is a non-violent protest.
Sarey Hamarneh, a sophomore and DSJP member, said he doubts that Duke’s decision to protest the boycott was solely for reasons of academic freedom.
“I do believe theres some kind of pressure or other behind-the-scenes reasons for supporting it,” Hamarneh said.
Hamarneh added that the AAU’s stance is not necessarily representative of all Duke faculty opinions on the matter, and historically DSJP has not had a fair amount of recognition within the Duke community.
“The Palestinian movement here has been brushed under the carpet,” he said, noting an incident in 2012 where a member of the Jewish Student Union disrupted a DSJP event by flipping a table and tearing down a display. “No one tried to investigate anything, no one had talked about it after a day or two.”
Kirtchuk said she believes the Duke administration has been well-rounded when involved in Israel-Palestine issues, and though Duke Friends of Israel has not had issues with the administration, pro-Palestine groups on campus have been “openly hostile.” She said she believes that Duke students are not well informed on the issue, and perspectives are often formed by personal upbringing or biased media.
“It’s difficult to have a well-rounded understanding of the conflict on campus,” she said. “Students are often very much influenced by who they interact with on campus.”