REPORT: BDS among 'greatest threats to academic freedom' today

“One of the greatest threats to academic freedom in the United States today is the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement,” an exhaustive new report concludes.

Released March 7 by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), the report on “Campus Free Speech, Academic Freedom, and the Problem of the BDS Movement” asserts that BDS activists have not only engaged in “overt politicization of academic programs to support an anti-Israel agenda,” but have also repeatedly been caught “engaging in anti-Semitic behaviors on campus.”

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The BDS movement seeks to put pressure on the State of Israel by undermining international goodwill toward the country and, to a lesser extent, hobbling its economy by promoting divestment from companies that do business with Israel, but ACTA claims that its real intentions are far more hostile.

According to the report, BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti wrote a paper for Electronic Intifada in which he expressed support for “euthanasia” of Israelis, while other BDS proponents have repeatedly crossed the line from anti-Zionism into anti-Semitism.

The report highlights several recent examples of anti-Israel students disrupting, and in some cases successfully preventing, speeches from academic experts and Israeli elected officials, but clarifies that “such incidents are hardly isolated,” having become increasingly common thanks to the efforts of “a small number of groups, such as the Students for Justice in Palestine, that are willing to violate the liberties of faculty and their fellow students to advance their own political agenda.”

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In addition, ACTA asserts that BDS activists are purposefully engaged in efforts to exercise influence over national academic organizations, including the American Anthropological Association, the National Women’s Studies Association, and the Association for Asian American Studies, all three of which have passed resolutions calling for academic boycotts against Israel.

Many other academic organizations, such as the Association of American Universities and the American Association of University Professors, have responded to similar proposals quite differently, issuing condemnations of the BDS movement and rejecting its calls for a boycott.

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While ACTA readily acknowledges that even anti-Semitic speech is protected by the First Amendment, it points out that “academic freedom is not a license for acts of discrimination,” and claims that “actions by proponents of the BDS movement have frequently crossed boundaries of appropriate protest and demonstration into unacceptable acts of anti-Semitism.”

In one such case recounted in the report, a University of California, Los Angeles student who was running for student council was challenged by sitting council members merely for being Jewish, which they suggested would compromise her ability to “maintain an unbiased view.”

Threats of physical violence directed against Jewish students by BDS activists are also quite common, according to ACTA, which adds that in some instances the threats were even carried out.

The report concludes with a list of five suggestions that Trustees can take to counter anti-Semitism on their campuses, starting with establishing “clear First Amendment policies” to prevent disruptive acts while still allowing robust freedom of expression and assembly, for which it recommends the University of Chicago as a role model.

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ACTA also advises Trustees to remain constantly vigilant about their institution’s political neutrality, revise their anti-discrimination policies to include anti-Semitism, and exercise close oversight of Middle Eastern Studies departments to ensure that they present “intellectually-diverse views across a range of scholarly opinion.”

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