Academic freedom should be free and unrestricted


In late 2013, the American Studies Association, a scholarly organization comprised mainly of American Studies professors across the United States, elected to boycott Israeli universities and academic institutions. The organization argued that an academic boycott of Israel would help ease Palestinian suffering and help lead to a peaceful resolution. The American Studies Association counts a number of Rutgers professors as members.

The academic boycott of Israel is both unethical and unwise. As an organization comprised mainly of professors the ASA should understand the importance of academic freedom. Academia serves to encourage human progress, learning and creativity. Politics should never stand in the way of progress. Moreover, boycotting Israeli academia prevents medical and scientific innovations, the free flow of ideas and information access — all-important factors in any path toward peace. Palestinians participate in Israel’s public health system and only stand to lose if Israel’s medical innovations are impeded.

Furthermore, the Israeli academic community is one of the most receptive to peace in Israel. Sari Nusseibeh, a prominent Palestinian academic has said, “If we are to look at Israeli society, it is within the academic community that we have had the most progressive pro-peace views. … If you want to punish any sector, this is the last one to approach.” Mahmoud Abbas himself, the Palestinian President, stated at Nelson Mandela’s funeral that Palestinians do not support a boycott of Israel. He said, “We don’t ask anyone to boycott Israel itself. We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel.” In addition, boycotting Israeli institutions hurts Jews and Arabs alike. According to the Israeli Council for Higher Education, 11.3 percent of undergraduate students in Israeli institutions are Arabs. There are also Arab faculty members working at Israeli universities. Further, any sort of boycott points all the blame on one side of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Doing so simplifies what is in reality a nuanced and complex issue.

The University should be commended for rejecting the ASA’s academic boycott. A statement that came out in late December declared, “While Rutgers affirms the right of faculty, students and associations to express their own political and intellectual viewpoints, we believe that academic boycotts fundamentally violate the principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of knowledge and ideas. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey … [rejects] the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education.” I am proud to be a student at a university that audaciously rejects efforts to impede academic freedom.

However, I still feel it prudent for any member of the Rutgers faculty that remains a member of the American Studies Association to leave the organization. Remaining part of an organization that supports an unwise policy of hindering academic freedom is frankly not worth our faculty’s time and money.  

Zev Newman is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in history and minoring in art history and Jewish studies.

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