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Boycott Calls Against Israel
Former Israeli Ronit Lentin Behind Conference on the Case of the Academic Boycott of Israel at Trinity College Dublin
Editorial Note
Ronit Lentin, a retired professor of sociology at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) is behind the conference "Freedom of Speech and Higher Education: the Case of the Academic Boycott of Israel" scheduled for 12 September 2017 in TCD. Interestingly, the call for papers is published only on the blog of "Academics for Palestine," a group which has been set up to build the academic boycott of Israel."

Although the call for papers states: "The conference does not propose to debate the pros and cons of the academic boycott of Israel but rather to make links and draw lessons about the role of the public university in fostering academic freedom, and the freedom to express critical, even if controversial views."  This façade of neutrality, however,  is misleading.  Lentin is the chairperson of "Academics for Palestine" and published a letter in support of the academic boycott of Israel in the Irish Times earlier this year.

The topics of the conference are: Academics as political actors and advocates; Challenges to academic freedom and the freedom to dissent; The practice of academic boycott and academic freedom; The effects of ‘lawfare’ and disciplinary measures on support for the academic boycott of Israel; Comparisons with previous academic boycotts, such as the boycott of Apartheid South Africa.

The keynote speakers include Steven Salaita who will speak on “Freedom to boycott: BDS and the modern University.” As well known, Salaita was denied an appointment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign because of his egregious Facebook posts and tweets against Israel.

Lentin herself has drawn fire in Ireland because of her controversial mixing of academics and activism.   In the summer of 2004 she published an article "From racial state to racist state" on the Irish referendum amending the citizenship law that would deny Irish citizenship to people born in Ireland unless one of their parents was an Irish citizen. Lentin opposed the referendum and urged an inclusion type of citizenship. She proposed a debate on "how the Irish nation can become other than white (Christian and settled),"  and suggested "privileging the voices of the racialised and subverting state immigration." She ended with an appeal "to do all we can to defeat the citizenship referendum."

Since then Irish nationalists react with anger to her. In 2014, a group of nationalists painted graffiti in protest of an art exhibition criticizing European folklore at TCD, because it is "the base of operations for Israeli born Jewess Ronit Lentin, Ireland’s leading architect of spreading multiculturalism and mass immigration." They also called TCD a "Jewniversity" because it is the "base of Israeli born Jewess Ronit Lentin, who is agitating for the destruction of Irish ethnicity." Another blog, run by the Celtic Party, suggested that "the nice Jewish Lady" is guilty of felony, as her call for “subverting state immigration” is understood as breaking the law under "Offences Against the State Act, 1939".

But Lentin has her work cut out for her.  Last week the Trinity College Dublin Student Union voted down a motion that called for a “college wide boycott of the state of Israel”.  The vote comes after Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) were fined for protesting a talk with the Israeli ambassador to Ireland. SJP tried to argue that it was a peaceful protest, but TCD administration argued that it represented an attempt to shut down the event. 

By boasting that the TCD "was an early and important supporter of the academic boycott of Apartheid South Africa" Lentin and her conference co-organizers seem to hope that the boycott of Israel would not leave the TCD agenda.  

IAM will report on further developments.


Trinity College Dublin, 12 September 2017
Conference announcement and call for papers
Academic freedom includes the liberty of individuals to express freely opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to fulfil their functions without discrimination or fear of repression by the state or any other actor, to participate in professional or representative academic bodies, and to enjoy all the internationally recognized human rights applicable to other individuals in the same jurisdiction.  The enjoyment of academic freedom carries with it obligations, such as the duty to respect the academic freedom of others, to ensure the fair discussion of contrary views, and to treat all without discrimination on any of the prohibited grounds (UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “The Right to Education (Art.13),” December 8, 1999)
Questions of freedom of speech have been to the forefront in contemporary academic debate. Historically, universities have always provided space for critical thinking and engaged civil society activism. In recent years there has been much discussion about how neoliberalism in higher education has affected academic freedom and the expression of dissenting and controversial views. The conference examines these effects with particular reference to academic boycotts in general, and in particular the controversies surrounding the academic boycott of Israel.
There have been claims that austerity and the cuts in public funding for the higher education sector have led to universities responding by:
  • Changing university culture to emphasise training for the job market at the possible expense of broader educational goals
  • Hiring increasing numbers of temporary, adjunct and precarious academic staff
  • Placing greater emphasis on research funding from public, EU and private sources, leading to increasing pressure on academics to seek and compete for scarce financial resources
  • A greater reliance on managerialism, cost cutting and bureaucratic measures which put greater administrative pressure on academics
This response may result in stifling critical thinking, dissent and freedom of expression by academics and students and lead to self-censorship and curtailing expression on controversial topics. Today’s public university culture is shifting from one based on ‘the liberal university’ to one focused on a business model, the provision of training and resource management, all of which narrows the space for the exchange of ideas and for freedom of expression.
This has thrown into sharp relief a constant question for academics as to whether their role encompasses or precludes political activism – whether homo academicus should also be homo politicus. With growing global political polarisation, this question has returned to the spotlight with academics under fire for expressing political opinions in Turkey, the US and elsewhere.
The case of the academic boycott of Israel
Rather than examining these issues on either an abstract or an anecdotal level, the conference focuses on the hotly contested issue of academic boycott, as this offers a paradigmatic example of how controversial topics are dealt with by the contemporary university and of the effects of the neoliberalisation of the public university on academic freedom.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was initiated in 2004 to contribute to the struggle for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality. It advocates for a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions for their deep and persistent complicity in Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights – including academic freedom – that are stipulated in international law. Across the world, academics and students have responded to the Palestinian call for boycott by refusing to cooperate with Israeli higher education institutions on grounds of conscience. This stance has inevitably caused controversy in universities globally.
Since the academic boycott is a controversial topic, one would expect those who support the boycott to be challenged. However, the challenge rarely comes from within the world of ideas and is usually offered through a mixture of ‘lawfare’, bureaucratic strictures, threat to employment and disciplinary measures. In other words, the academic boycott of Israel is an arena in which disciplinarity – rather than the ideals of the liberal university – is brought to bear. While this is an unsatisfactory way of dealing with controversial topics, the question remains as to how university administrators and academics can best facilitate the free exchange of ideas in this arena.
Keynote speakers at the conference are Steven Salaita (Author of Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom, Steven was denied a Professorship in University of Illinois due to his views on Israel/Palestine and will speak on “Freedom to boycott:  BDS and the modern University”),  Kathleen Lynch (Chair of Equality Studies, UCD, specialising in neoliberalism and educational policy and theory), and John Reynolds (Department of Law, Maynooth University, specialising in international law and critical legal studies)
Call for papers
The conference does not propose to debate the pros and cons of the academic boycott of Israel but rather to make links and draw lessons about the role of the public university in fostering academic freedom, and the freedom to express critical, even if controversial views. We are inviting proposals for papers by academics at all levels as well as graduate students, university administrators and members of student groups and professional academic associations.
The conference will be interdisciplinary, situated between law, the arts, social sciences and humanities  and will seek to include academics from Ireland and abroad, as well as university administrators and academics with practical experiences of the issues surrounding academic freedom in higher education.

We are inviting proposals for papers on:

  • Academics as political actors and advocates
  • Challenges to academic freedom and the freedom to dissent
  • The practice of academic boycott and academic freedom
  • The effects of ‘lawfare’ and disciplinary measures on support for the academic boycott of Israel
  • Links between academic precarity, managerialism and disciplinarity
  • Comparisons with previous academic boycotts, such as the boycott of Apartheid South Africa
We invite abstracts (up to 250 words) on any of the themes above or addressing related themes you feel deserve consideration. Abstracts should include a title, your email address and institutional affiliation if any (independent scholars are welcome to submit). Please send abstracts to David Landy at gmail.com> by 1 July 2017.

Conference information

Detailed information will be made available in due course, but this will be a one-day conference on 12 September 2017 at Trinity College Dublin, with a public lecture the evening before. The conference is hosted by the MPhil in Race, Ethnicity and Conflict in the Department of Sociology, Trinity College Dublin. Trinity was an early and important supporter of the academic boycott of Apartheid South Africa and remains well known for its liberal stance and openness towards diverse and dissenting voices.
Following the conference, the organisers intend to produce an edited collection of the papers in the form of either an edited book or a journal special issue
Dr David Landy, MPhil in Race, Ethnicity, Conflict, Trinity College Dublin
Dr Ronit Lentin, Associate Professor (retired), Sociology, Trinity College Dublin
Dr Conor McCarthy, School of English, Maynooth University

Academic boycott of Israel
Fri, Jan 20, 2017, 00:08

Sir, – The guidelines for the academic boycott of Israel, contrary to what Paul Williams said in his letter (January 19th), and as proposed by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and the Palestinian Council for Higher Education (CHE), make clear that “mere affiliation of Israeli scholars to an Israeli academic institution is not grounds for applying the boycott”. Indeed, Academics for Palestine often works with Israeli academics.

The academic boycott is rather targeted at Israeli academic institutions who for decades have been complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights, through their silence, actual involvement in justifying, whitewashing or diverting attention from Israel’s violations of international law and human rights, and through their direct collaboration with state agencies in planning and implementing projects that contravene international law and Palestinian rights.

Like PACBI, Academics for Palestine subscribes to the internationally-accepted definition of academic freedom as adopted by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (UNESCR), and we strongly believe that the UCC conference upholds academic freedom and open debate, which is why we are asking UCC to host this important conference. – Yours, etc,

Academics for Palestine,
Dublin 8.


TCDSU Council votes against motion to boycott Israel
The rejected motion also called for a student led solidarity campaign with Palestine, and for affiliation with the BDS movement
By Michael Foley on Tuesday, April 4, 2017 · 2 Comments 

Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) voted tonight against a motion which called for a “college wide boycott of the state of Israel”, to create a “student led Palestinian solidarity campaign” and to lobby for “the divestment of university funds from Israel”.
The motion also called for affiliation with the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and to lobby College to terminate any existing contracts with companies “complicit in the occupation of Palestinian territories and violation of Palestinian human rights more broadly”.
Proposed by Conor Reddy, Science Class Rep, the motion says that “College set a precedent by supporting the boycott of Apartheid South Africa and that the SU acknowledged this precedent by renaming House Six, Mandela House in 2013”.
The motion also mentioned that the Russell Group submitted that Israel were guilty of apartheid in 2011 and 2014, and that Israeli settlements have been condemned by the UN Security Council.
Ciarán O’Rourke, founder of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) said he was “doubly shocked and ashamed” when he discovered Trinity’s links to Israel. He continued: “If you care about academic freedom, many freedoms and human rights of Palestinians are violated on a daily basis.”
TCDSU Welfare Officer Aoibhinn Loughlin, speaking against the motion, described it as a “drastic stance”, saying that “we need to think about the impact of this”.
William Walsh, speaking in favour of the motion said: “Let us not be on the wrong side of history.” Meanwhile, Eoin Dowling described the motion as “an insult to students who voted to be neutral on Irish unity”.
TCDSU Communications and Marketing Officer, Glen Byrne, speaking against the motion, said that “this is a motion which the Students’ Union has negligible impact on”, and added that it would bring negative publicity for the Union, as reflected by the comments on articles published on the issue previously. He argued it would break down trust between the Union and its members.
Before the final vote, the Council also voted down a motion to move the discussion of the motion to the first Council next year, to give class reps time to discuss the issue with their students. Council also voted against a motion to sum up and vote. TCDSU president, Kieran McNulty spoke against the motion, saying that, as the matter was very important for the union, the students who wished to speak should be allowed to do so.
This result also comes after the news that Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) were fined for protesting a talk with the Israeli ambassador to Ireland organised by the Society for International Affairs (SoFIA). SJP argue that it was a peaceful protest, but SoFIA and college administration argue that it represented an attempt to shut down the event.

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