The American Association of University Professors on Friday reiterated its opposition to academic boycotts, such as the push by some pro-Palestinian academics to have their colleagues stay away from Israel or Israeli institutions.
"In view of the association’s longstanding commitment to the free exchange of ideas, we oppose academic boycotts," said a new statement from the association, summarizing the group's past positions. "On the same grounds, we recommend that other academic associations oppose academic boycotts. We urge that they seek alternative means, less inimical to the principle of academic freedom, to pursue their concerns."
And while some supporters of boycotting Israel have said that they would favor exceptions for Israeli academics who are critics of the government (as many Israel academics are), the AAUP said that such boycotts are also problematic. "We especially oppose selective academic boycotts that entail an ideological litmus test. We understand that such selective boycotts may be intended to preserve academic exchange with those more open to the views of boycott proponents, but we cannot endorse the use of political or religious views as a test of eligibility for participation in the academic community," said the AAUP statement.
The AAUP said it was releasing the statement in light of two recent events that were seen as significant victories for the movement to boycott Israeli academe.
Last week, Stephen Hawking, the noted scientist at the University of Cambridge, announced that he would not attend a major conference in Israel next month, citing his backing for the boycott. Israeli officials said that a scholar of Hawking's prominence had never before accepted an invitation and then pulled out due to the boycott. In April, the Association for Asian American Studies approved a resolution endorsing the boycott of Israeli universities. The resolution marked the first endorsement of the boycott by an American scholarly association. (The boycott movement has attracted more support from British and other European academic groups.)
Supporters of the Israel boycott have argued that connections between Israeli society (including academe) and the rest of the world enable the government to continue its policies toward the Palestinians. Only by cutting off Israel, they argue, can people promote real change there.
Critics of academic boycotts -- including people who don't agree with Israel's policies -- say that academic boycotts are inherently flawed. That's because, they say, academics don't necessarily agree with their governments, so boycotts judge them unfairly. Further, in many countries, academics in fact share the views of boycott supporters -- in Israel, for instance, academics are among the leading critics of Israel's policies toward the Palestinians. Further, they note that the tradition of academic freedom is that scholars are judged on the basis of their ideas and work, without anyone being automatically excluded for political views or nationality.
The new AAUP statement notes that individual faculty members have the right to decide for themselves which events they want to attend, and which collaborations they want to join. So while the AAUP says that it opposes boycotts, it also believes that "[n]o scholar should be required to participate in any academic activity that violates his or her own principles."
That would appear to give an out to Hawking (though not those who created the boycott for him to honor), but the statement is directly critical of the Association for Asian American Studies. "[W]e are disappointed by the resolution of the Asian-American Studies Association and would instead urge that organization and its members to find other means to register their opposition to Israeli policies."
The spokeswoman designated by the Asian-American studies group to answer questions on the boycott did not respond to e-mail messages seeking comment. Nor did officials of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. That group's website does feature an FAQ in which it offers a defense of academic boycotts.