Hanlon: Israeli Academics Boycott Wrong
Hanover — Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon this weekend came out against a boycott of Israeli academic institutions that was recently approved by a group of U.S. scholars, saying it restricts “the free exchange of ideas.”
Hanlon’s Saturday email to the Dartmouth community puts him in step with several other college presidents nationwide who denounced the boycott after the American Studies Association, the scholarly organization, endorsed it in mid-December.
“I believe that academic boycotts restrict the free exchange of ideas that are at the heart of Dartmouth’s dual mission to educate citizen-leaders and advance the frontiers of knowledge,” Hanlon wrote in his message.
By disagreeing with the boycott, Hanlon aligned himself with the presidents of schools such as Harvard and Wesleyan universities, which both said the boycott hurts academic freedom.
“The recent resolution of the ASA proposing to boycott Israeli universities represents a direct threat to these ideals, ideals which universities and scholarly associations should be dedicated to defend,” Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust said in a statement.
At least four colleges and universities, including Brandeis University and Indiana University, said they would leave the American Studies Association due to the boycott. Other scholarly organizations, such as the Association of American Universities and the American Association of University Professors, also opposed the boycott.
The American Studies Association approved the boycott by a 66 percent vote in December, with about a third of its 3,800 members voting. In a statement accompanying the decision, the ASA said it opposed the United States’ “significant role in aiding and abetting Israel’s violations of human rights against Palestinians.”
With its boycott of Israeli academic institutions, the ASA joined The Association for Asian American Studies, which endorsed a boycott in April, and the Indigenous Studies Association, which endorsed one in May, according to The New York Times.
Hanlon’s response to the debate, much like the debate itself, led to differing reactions among Dartmouth professors.
Lewis Glinert, professor of Hebraic Studies and Linguistics, sent the ASA an email earlier this month that criticized its boycott. In the message, he called the decision a “sinister assault on academic liberties,” and said the 66 percent of ASA members who voted for it “are ugly heirs of the German and Austrian academics who lent mass support to the rising Nazi party.”
He was heartened by Hanlon’s response to the issue.
“I applaud his robust defense of academic freedoms and I’m sure all Dartmouth faculty share his alarm,” Glinert wrote in an email on Sunday.
Similarly, Professor of Anthropology and Native American Studies Sergei Kan was on board with the swell of denouncements made by Hanlon and his contemporaries. He said the initial boycott singled Israel out when there was no strong reason to do so, which made it seem to him that there was a bias against the country.
“It treats Israel differently from numerous regimes that have violated rights of its minorities in a horrendous way,” Kan said of the boycott.
On the other side of the issue, Russell Rickford, an assistant professor of history at Dartmouth, called Hanlon’s statement “disingenuous.”
“It’s predicated on an assertion of equivalency between Israel and Palestine that is utterly false,” Rickford wrote in an email. “It’s absurd to suggest that in the absence of boycotts, an open forum for free exchange about Israel and Palestine exists in the academy or in our society.”
Rickford supports the boycott, which he considers a challenge to the “massive bias toward Israel” held by wealthy and powerful people.
“Scholars have a responsibility to speak truth to power, and to expose the suffering of the oppressed and the colonized at the hands of world powers,” he wrote.
At the Modern Language Association’s annual January meeting in Chicago, the organization will discuss academic boycotts and will bring up a resolution condemning Israel for restricting its professors from visiting Palestinian universities, the Times reported.
Jon Wolper can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3242.