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A university is supposed to be a safe space for ideas…

Brad DeLong, professor of economics | January 10, 2016

I read: Victoria Bernal, Karen Brodkin, Marisol de la Cadena, Donald Donham, Christine Gailey, David Goldberg, Akhil Gupta, Sandra Hale, Christine Hastorf, Suad Joseph, Saba Mahmoud Purina Mankekar, Stefania Gandolfo, Thomas Patterson, Lisa Rofel, Danilyn Rutherford, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, and Anna Tsing: On boycotts of Israeli academic institutions: a reply: “As anthropologists based in the University of California system…

…we object to Professor Robert Birgeneau’s and Professor George Breslauer’s attempt to interfere in the American Anthropological Association’s ongoing deliberation over the boycott of Israeli academic institutions…. We find it unacceptable that a former chancellor (Birgeneau) and former executive vice chancellor and provost (Breslauer) would lend their voices to the organized intimidation of critics of Israeli state policy, and we particularly worry about the effect of such intimidation on our junior and more vulnerable colleagues…

And then I go read:

George Breslauer and Robert Birgeneau: On boycotts of Israeli academic institutions: “The American Anthropology Association… resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions…

…will be put to a ballot vote of the entire membership of the association…. We urge UC Berkeley’s anthropologists to campaign against this resolution and to resist the idea of an academic boycott. We have two main reasons for this call: (1) the double standard implicit in the resolution; and (2) the impact of such boycotts on the purposes and credibility of academia. First, the double standard: We find such an institutional initiative against Israel disturbing, when extensive slaughters are taking place elsewhere in the Middle East, causing deaths and casualties literally thousands of times greater than the casualties among Palestinians at the hands of Israelis. Surely, all Muslim lives matter. Second, we consider academic boycotts by universities or their departments, as instruments of political pressure on foreign-policy issues, to be inappropriate and potentially damaging to the academic enterprise…

A university is at its core a safe space for ideas: a place where ideas can be expressed, set out, discussed, critiqued, developed, and evaluated. A university is at its core a safe space for people — particularly young people — to listen to, try out, absorb, develop, and reject ideas as they attempt their own intellectual development.

Breslauer and Birgeneau have the idea that boycotting Israeli and only Israeli academic institutions would be a mistake — that it would in all likelihood move us a little bit further away from justice in Palestine and in the Middle East; and that it would do a little bit of damage to the university’s functioning as a safe space for ideas and for developing scholars and students.

I know Breslauer well enough to know that his ideas are always worth considering. Dick Schmalensee and others who know Birgeneau better than I assure me that his ideas are always worth considering. Their piece is polite. They set out reasons they think as they do.

And what is the response of Bernal through Tsing — the “UC Anthropology Collective,” which appears to be an astroturf organization, with no existence anywhere except in the particular weblog post “On boycotts of Israeli academic institutions: a reply”?

The response of Tsing through Bernal is: Breslauer and Birgeneau need to shut up. They find Breslauer and Birgeneau’s speaking “unacceptable.” They “object.” They claim that, by the very act of their speaking, and by virtue of their status as ex-administrators, Breslauer and Birgeneau “interfere” with something that is no business of theirs. And they claim that Breslauer and Birgeneau’s speech is “organized intimidation.”

Bernal through Tsing have no patience with anything like “I disagree with what you say, but I support your right to say it.” In their eyes, it is unacceptable to even express the idea that a boycott of Israeli academic institutions might be counterproductive.

And I think: Bernal through Tsing really do not get it, do they?

Comments to “A university is supposed to be a safe space for ideas…

  1. The illegal Zionist state should be abolished and the people who habitate the lands illegally can be placed under the merciful law of the Quaran. If they are legitimate people of the Book they can allowed to live as dhimmis as long as they are peaceful and submit to the will of the prophet (PBUH) and the holy men who administer his will..

  2. The real tragedy for the human race is that the United Nations and our universities have totally failed to produce long-term solutions to end worldwide violence that never ends.

    The human brain is the best on earth, but we have failed to use it to produce Peace On Earth, and global warming is destroying our options while we continue to fail. See this article, “Global warming: Can we adapt in time?.”

  3. The boycott of Israel is the one chance we have of a decent solution to the problem that Zionism represents. Think of Goliath and in this context that is Israel and then think of David and that is the Palestinian people. The boycott is the sling.

    polite regards

    Gary MacLennan

    • I assume the implication of your David and Goliath analogy is that the State of Israel needs to be abolished. Where do you expect Israel’s six million Jews to go? To Europe, where antisemitism is at levels not seen since the Third Reich? Should they all emigrate to the United States?

      Or perhaps you were just being hyperbolic and didn’t mean any of what you said. That seems to be a common case in anti-Israel circles.

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