21 July 2010
California Scholars for Academic Freedom (CS4AF) is an organization of scholars devoted to the defense of academic freedom, particularly, but not exclusively, with regard to discussion of Middle East affairs. Over the past few years, CS4AF has spoken out against the intimidation of scholars and institutions, whether on the basis of their open advocacy of unpopular or politically targeted positions or simply on the basis of the fact that their scholarship has been understood to challenge conventionally accepted political perspectives. We are committed to defend the right of scholars to present facts and views that run against the grain of predominant institutional thinking, whether academic or governmental. We have, accordingly, spoken out against various forms of censorship, sanction, or restriction of academic freedom of speech, whether in the form of the denial of tenure, proposals to defund institutes or departments, or restrictions of the freedom of students to engage in non-violent protest.
We therefore note with alarm and concern the Knesset’s recent approval of an initial reading of a bill calling for heavy fines to be imposed on citizens of Israel who initiate or incite boycotts against Israel. We believe that the passage of such a measure would represent a radical and draconian infringement of the rights of free speech and one that would gravely impact the rights of academics in particular to express dissent, to advocate non-violent political practices, and even to engage in debate. No democratic state or community can function fully under the conditions of censorship, and especially censorship that targets particular views, however unpopular the views may be. Accordingly, the passage of this bill would cast further doubt on Israel’s pretensions to be a genuinely democratic state. No democracy can thrive without dissent and the proposed sanctions on the advocacy of boycott are utterly abhorrent to anyone who values and defends the right to freedom of speech and the value of open and vigorous debate.
The members of CS4AF take no collective position on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS]. We note, however, that the express aim of BDS is not the destruction of Israel, but the rectification of specific policies enacted and carried out by the state, including the occupation of the Palestinian territories, the denial of human and civil rights to Palestinians, and the blockade on Gaza. It does not target individuals for their views, but rather institutions and their policies. Proponents of BDS take no one position on the solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but regard the peace process and the state form or forms that emerge from it as a matter for genuine negotiation, with full respect for rights and under conditions that remove the fear of violent coercion from either side. Advocacy of BDS as a means to achieve those ends remains, therefore, well within the bounds of civil discourse and should be protected by the respect for freedom of speech that prevails in all truly democratic polities.
We are saddened to note the repressive response of the Israeli state and its government to internal and external challenges to its policies and practices and to take note of the accelerating shrinkage of the space for critical public discourse in Israel. The bill currently under consideration in the Knesset is an index of that increasingly intolerant climate and of a fatal tendency to resort to coercion and intimidation in the face of criticism and debate. We urge the members of the Knesset to reject this measure as fundamentally contrary to democracy and inconsistent with freedom of speech and dissent.
For more information on California Scholars for Academic Freedom (CS4AF) please contact sonhale[at]ucla.edu or jess.ghannam[at]ucsf.edu