Thursday, July 12, 2007

Israel Academic Boycott: Principles versus political reactions

In "Israel Academic Boycott threatens Academic Freedom," John Furedy takes issue with Israel academic boycott protesters who try to reverse boycotts based on Israel's presumed lack of innocence. That is not the point, he writes. The boycotts threaten everyone's academic freedom. Anyone should have the right to speak up as they wish on any topic.

That is his opinion, but do we really want to leave ourselves defenseless against professors who teach linkage between race and intelligence based on bad data, against Holocaust deniers and other miscreants? How about even less acceptable doctrines? Does a university have the right to fire a professor who teaches the flat earth theory? Does a theology journal have the right to reject an article that insists that Molokh is the real god, and human sacrifice is the only good form of worship?

You be the judge.

Ami Isseroff

Israel Academic Boycott threatens Academic Freedom

Radically principled vs. compromisingly political reactions
to the academic anti-Israeli boycott: "Welcome to the fight".

At end of the classic film, "Casablanca", when Rick finally decides to abandon his neutrality with regard to the Nazi and Vichy regimes, the resistance fighter Victor Laszlo says, "Welcome to the fight." Victor's words seem apt as the academic anti-Israeli boycott, that abuse of academic freedom, continues. Anti-Semitism and other dark impulses may likely motivate the boycott. Whatever the motives for the boycott may be, however, the boycott threatens the central mission of any genuine university. That mission is the search for truth through the conflict of ideas. For academics, then, a phrase from the theme song of Casablanca is also relevant: "The fundamental things apply."

Opposition to the boycott, indeed, is incumbent on all who value a free society, in which freedom of speech is a central tenet. This tenet was recently formulated by Nathan Sharansky, who distinguished between free and "fear" or totalitarian societies. He noted that in a free society, even the most outrageous opinions can be publicly stated without fear of criminal punishment.

For those who believe in a free society, then, academic freedom on campus and freedom of speech off campus should be closely related. In particular, non- academics should not make the mistake of treating academic freedom as merely an "ivory tower" issue. Another mistake is to minimize the boycott on the grounds that it merely places Israeli professors in a sort of academic Coventry. The essence of academic freedom is, as I have argued, the right of all members of the academic community (students and faculty) to be evaluated solely on their academic performance, and not at all on their politics, religion, or citizenship. The boycott denies this right, and is therefore properly labeled an abuse of academic freedom. Those who are not direct victims of this abuse (in this instance those who do not hold Israeli citizenship or are not Jews) should not treat the boycott with indifference, or worse still, join, even in a partial way, those who threaten academic freedom. Like justice, freedom is indivisible.

Read the rest at  Israel Academic Boycott threatens Academic Freedom

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