Noted scholars Judith Butler and Rashid Khalidi jointly wrote a statement, signed by about 150 other academics and artists, condemning the intimidation and censorship of individuals who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
In the wake of the American Studies Association’s December vote to boycott Israeli institutions, lawmakers have introduced legislation in three states (Illinois, Maryland, and New York) and the U.S. Congress that would restrict funding for universities or associations that support the boycott.
“Whether one is for or against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a means to change the current situation in Palestine-Israel, it is important to recognize that boycotts are internationally affirmed and constitutionally protected forms of political expression,” the Butler-Khalidi statement reads. “As non-violent instruments to effect political change, boycotts cannot be outlawed without trampling on a constitutionally protected right to political speech. Those who support boycotts ought not to become subject to retaliation, surveillance, or censorship when they choose to express their political viewpoint, no matter how offensive that may be to those who disagree.”
The statement continues: “We are now witnessing accelerating efforts to curtail speech, to exercise censorship, and to carry out retaliatory action against individuals on the basis of their political views or associations, notably support for BDS. We ask cultural and educational institutions to have the courage and the principle to stand for, and safeguard, the very principles of free expression and the free exchange of ideas that make those institutions possible. This means refusing to accede to bullying, intimidation, and threats aimed at silencing speakers because of their actual or perceived political views. It also means refusing to impose a political litmus test on speakers and artists when they are invited to speak or show their work. We ask that educational and cultural institutions recommit themselves to upholding principles of open debate, and to remain venues for staging expressions of an array of views, including controversial ones. Only by refusing to become vehicles for censorship and slander, and rejecting blacklisting, intimidation, and discrimination against certain viewpoints, can these institutions live up to their purpose as centers of learning and culture.”
In February, Butler, who is the Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Visiting Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University, withdrew from a planned talk at the Jewish Museum in New York City amid criticism of her pro-BDS views (the talk was to have been on the subject of Franz Kafka).
Earlier this year, critics of the academic boycott against Israel, including the former president of the American Association of University Professors, Cary Nelson, issued a petition expressing concerns about the various ways in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is being used to undermine academic freedom: "Partisans on all sides of this conflict seem increasingly willing to sacrifice the principles of academic freedom and, more generally, of the free expression and exchange of ideas,” that petition states.