|"Freedom of Speech and Higher Education: The Case of the Academic Boycott of Israel" in Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
IAM reported in April on Ronit Lentin, a retired professor of sociology at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) who is one of the organizers of the conference "Freedom of Speech and Higher Education: the Case of the Academic Boycott of Israel" that took place in 11-12 September 2017. She is the chairperson of "Academics for Palestine," a group which has been set up to promote the academic boycott of Israel. The call for papers stated that "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." Lentin published a letter in support of the academic boycott of Israel in the Irish Times in January.
Steven Salaita, profiled by the IAM's posts was one of the featured speakers at the conference. After an introduction by Lentin, he spoke about the circumstances under which he lost his offer of a position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The university argued that his tweets were egregiously anti-Semitic, but Salaita chose to present a different narrative. In his speech posted on YouTube he claimed that many people have lost their jobs for being anti-Zionists. He added that when it comes to Palestine, there is no freedom of speech, because of threats and that "Zionists tell bullshit lies about this world;" (33:15) that "Israel commits ethnic cleansing" (36:27). Salaita actually apologized in his lecture for being so angry in the summer of 2014 and tweeting the tweets against Israel (39:18).
Contrary to the conference assertions about promoting freedom of speech, it was Ze’ev Boker, the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, who was prevented from speaking at the TCD earlier this year by the group Students for Justice in Palestine. TCD provost Patrick Prendergast condemned this incident and said it represented “the antithesis of what Trinity stands for”. Equally important, a number of proposals for alternative views for the conference where turned down although the University issued a statement that "There will be speakers who have opinions both for and against the academic boycott of Israel in attendance and speaking during the event.” Lentin and her cohorts use such events as a propaganda platform against Israel.
The conference attracted little public attention not least because in the international environment is full of real and grave problems. Huge natural disasters, threats of atomic weapons from North Korea, the violence of ISIS, the still active civil war in Syria, the plight of the Rohingyas in Myanmar, to name just a few.
But to the radical academics, the suffering of millions and millions of people means little because of their singular obsession with Israel. This type of academy cannot regain its moral authority without addressing its moral blindness.
Mon, 11 Sep 2017, 15:30 – Tue, 12 Sep 2017, 18:30 IST
Freedom of Speech and Higher Education: The case of the academic boycott of Israel
Synge Lecture Theatre; Emmet Lecture Theatre Arts Building Trinity College Dublin Ireland
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.
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. Kathleen will speak on “Academic Freedom: New and old challenges”
The conference will take place from 11-12 September 2017 in the JM Synge and the Robert Emmet Lecture Theatres, Arts Building, Trinity College Dublin.
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. It will include sessions on the neoliberal university, lawfare and free speech on campus, with particular reference to the academic boycott
The conference will be interdisciplinary, situated between law, the arts, social sciences and humanities and includes academics from Ireland and abroad with practical experiences of the issues surrounding academic freedom in higher education.
Registration is €30 for waged and €15 for unwaged. Teas, coffees and sandwiches will be provided for attendees.
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.
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. It is these questions which the conference addresses.
Trinity to hold conference on freedom of speech on the academic boycott of Israel
Professor Steven Salaita, who was denied a professorship over his views on Israel is due to speak at the event
By Sarah Meehan on Sunday, September 10, 2017 ·
Trinity College will hold a conference on the Freedom of Speech and Higher Education: The case of the Academic boycott of Israel this Monday and Tuesday. The conference will take place in the Synge and Robert Emmet lecture theatres.
The conference will be interdisciplinary, and will include law, the arts, social science and humanities. It will involve academics from Ireland and abroad with practical experience of the issues around freedom in higher education.
Speaking to Trinity News, Dr Conor McCarty, a lecture in English at the University of Maynooth and co-organiser of the event said: “The conference is about the problems surrounding the idea and practice of academic freedom in our era, an era where all Irish universities, including TCD, are run increasingly on corporate lines and with commercial or economic imperatives driving academic activity. The question we want to ask is this: how does the principle of academic freedom survive in such conditions? How does academic freedom survive a situation where increasing numbers of young scholars and academics are hired on temporary or precarious contracts?”.
McCarty also added: “What we hope to come from the conference would be a clear and bold airing of the questions hedging and surrounding dissenting activity of any kind on modern university campuses, whether that activity involves students, researchers or lecturers and professors”. “If we can show how far our universities have departed from the great models of Newman and Humboldt, then we will be pleased.”
Steven Salaita is due to speak at the conference on the “Freedom to boycott: BDS and the modern University”. Salaita was denied a professorship in University of Illinois due to his views on Israel/Palestine. Salaita’s offer of professorship was withdrawn after a series of tweets send by Prof Salaita which included “If you’re defending #Israel right now you’re an awful human being”.
Kathleen Lynch, Chair of Equality Studies at University College Dublin, will also speak at the conference on “Academic Freedom: New and old challenges.”
In a statement by Trinity College, the organisers said that the role of the public university in fostering academic freedom will be the dominant theme of the conference.
Earlier this year the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, Ze’ev Boker, was prevented from speaking in the university by a group called Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Trinity Provost Patrick Prendergast condemned the incident.
SEP 11, 2017
At Trinity Conference, Academic Freedom Fiercely Defended
Steven Salaita, known for his high-profile dismissal after he condemned the Israeli government on Twitter, was the conference’s keynote speaker.
blank Dominic McGrath for The University Times
Funny, polite and fiercely unapologetic, Steven Salaita raged in defence of academic freedom and against the actions of Israel in Palestine in a much-hyped talk in Trinity this evening.
The talk, which discussed the topic “Freedom to Boycott: Boycott, Divest, Sanctions and the Modern University”, centered around issues of freedom of speech in academia through the lense of Salaita’s experiences.
The conference drew a crowd of academics, students and activists, many audibly engaged by the talk from a man who has become one of the best-known proponents of academic freedom in the US.
Salaita became well known among the academic community worldwide in 2014 when his tweets condemning the Israeli government for its military actions in Gaza lost him the offer of a job in the University of Illinois. He went on to sue the university, arguing that his right to academic freedom was infringed. Since the case, he has been unable to secure permanent academic employment.
Speaking candidly about the tweeting controversy he told the audience that he was “angry in the summer of 2014”. Salaita has no regrets speaking up on social media: “I will condemn Israel as harshly today, I will condemn Israel as harshly tomorrow.”
The fallout from the controversy saw the university’s chancellor resign and Salaita become one of the most public academic martyrs for academic freedom and the boycott, divest and sanctions campaign more widely, with a stream of academics joining calls for his reinstatement in the university.
Academic freedom, a theme Salaita returned to time after time in his talk, is not simply about protecting controversial ideas but it means that “professors, students, and anyone associated with the university can publish a comment that may anger a powerful party without risk of incrimination”, he said.
Trinity was dragged into the debate when the visit of Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, His Eminence Ze’ev Boker, was organised and subsequently cancelled in February. Invited by the Society for International Affairs (SOFIA), Provost Patrick Prendergast condemned the protests which led to the cancellation of the event. In a statement, he described the protests as “the antithesis of what Trinity stands for” and an “unacceptable attack on free speech”.
Israel loomed over the talk. In a divided America, Salaita said, Palestine is one of the topics that is “always going to get you in trouble”. Racism, capitalism and the military, he said, are all taboo topics that are too often declared untouchable. During the talk, Salaita turned his ire on everything from university management to corporate donors.
Salaita opened up about how he came to terms with his dismissal and the media attention that he said characterised his as “a monster” followed: “I finally got to the point… where I quit apologising for the kinds of reactions I was having against stark, horrid injustice, that in fact it was OK to be angry. That anger was the most human emotion that a person could express in 2014.”
Salaita, interviewed today by Pat Kenny on Newstalk, seemed surprised by the stereotypes he says are often imposed on him. Kenny, he said, seemed “taken aback that I didn’t come in crawling on my belly screaming obscenities”.
The two-day conference is being hosted by the MPhil in race, ethnicity and conflict in Trinity’s Department of Sociology. It will see talks of academic boycotts, freedom of speech, islamophobia and anti-semitism.
Former director of the MPhil in race, ethnicity and conflict and the current chair of Academics for Palestine, Ronit Lentin, chaired the discussion. Speaking to The University Times, Lentin said that she thought that they were “very clever in getting Steven Salaita to be the keynote speaker as he shared his thoughts and analysis very generously”. She commended his open speaking style, hoping it would open “good conversations and dialogue on this very important issue of academic freedom”. She echoed Salaita’s point that “if academic freedom cannot protect our emotions then there is no academic freedom”.
Kathleen McNamee contributed reporting to this piece.
TCD to host conference on academic boycott of Israel
Prof Steven Salaita, who lost out on academic post over tweets against Israel, to speak at event
An academic who had an offer of a post withdrawn after a series of tweets protesting at the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2014 is to speak at a conference in Trinity College Dublin next week.
Prof Steven Salaita was due to take up a position as an associate professor in the University of Illinois’s American Indian Studies Programme in August 2014.
The offer was withdrawn following a review of tweets sent by Prof Salaita which included “If you’re defending #Israel right now you’re an awful human being” and “If Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?”
It followed the Israeli invasion of Gaza in July 2014 known as Operation Protective Edge which had the stated mission of preventing rockets being launched into Israel. The UNHCR estimates that more than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, including 1,462 civilians, during seven weeks of conflict.
Prof Salaita sued and became a cause célèbre for academic freedom in the United States. The case contributed to the resignation of the chancellor of the university, Phyllis Wise, in August 2015.
Prof Salaita will be the keynote speaker at the Freedom of Speech and Higher Education: the Case of the Academic Boycott of Israel conference, which takes place in the university on Monday and Tuesday.
Conference co-organiser Dr Conor McCarthy, a lecturer in English at the University of Maynooth, said its purpose is wider than the issue of an academic boycott of Israel and will address the wider issue of academic freedom.
He maintained there is a worldwide trend towards increased “corporatisation and managerialism” in universities which is threatening what academics can and cannot say.
“We want to examine how a test case of dissent works or fails to work in the university system. In Ireland, Britain and America, I don’t think you have to be a flaming ‘leftie’ to say that universities are becoming more and more like corporations.”
He said the conference speakers will provide a range of views including those of Prof Kathleen Lynch, who teaches equality studies in UCD and is not connected with the Palestinian conflict.
In a statement, TCD said it had been advised by the organisers that the role of the public university in fostering academic freedom will be the dominant theme of the conference.
For and against
The university added: “There will be speakers who have opinions both for and against the academic boycott of Israel in attendance and speaking during the event.”
Earlier this year the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, Ze’ev Boker, was prevented from speaking in the university by a group called Students for Justice in Palestine.
TCD provost Patrick Prendergast condemned the incident and said it represented “ the antithesis of what Trinity stands for”.
He stated Trinity will remain a “home for debate and we will do everything possible to make sure that efforts to suppress the free exchange of ideas do not succeed”.
In response to next week’s academic conference, the Israeli embassy said: “Academic freedom is a universal value as long as it’s not a pretext for hate and discrimination.”
Conference on academic boycott of Israel
Sat, Sep 9, 2017, 00:06
A chara, – I note that Trinity College Dublin is to host a conference on the academic boycott of Israel (News, September 7th). I can only assume that it will be following this with a series of conferences on similar boycotts of China, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and the other hundred-odd countries whose human rights violations exceed those in Israel. While many of the actions of the Israeli government and its military have ranged from confusing to downright despicable, we must remember that Israel is a democracy, with the rule of law and independence of judiciary and press. Would it not be better to aim the considerable intellectual talent available to the conference at trying to understand how two noble peoples, such as the Palestinians and Israelis, struggle to find a way to live in harmony? – Yours, etc,
Manhattan, New York.
TCD conference on boycott of Israel
Tue, Sep 12, 2017, 00:09
Sir, – In reference to the Trinity College conference on the academic boycott of Israel, Jeremy O’Friel asks whether “it will be following this with a series of conferences on similar boycotts of China, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and the other hundred-odd countries whose human rights violations exceed those in Israel” (September 9th).
Leaving aside the latter very questionable assumption (by what calculus does Mr O’Friel measure relative degrees of inhumanity?), the answer is simple: with the possible but doubtful exception of China, none of these countries exploit culture for propaganda purposes to the degree that Israel does, a country the foreign ministry of which explicitly stated in 2005 that it “sees no difference between propaganda and culture”.
As for “trying to understand how two noble peoples, such as the Palestinians and Israelis, struggle to find a way to live in harmony”, Mr O’Friel would be better off trying to understand how such harmonious cohabitation can come about without an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, and the de facto support for that occupation from western governments. – Yours, etc,
Three dissenting academics were barred from participating in a two-day conference dealing with academic boycotts of Israel held in Dublin's Trinity College this week.
The conference, titled "Freedom of speech and higher education: the case of the academic boycott of Israel," features lectures on such topics as "Neoliberalism, the colonial university, and Palestinian liberation," "Perspectives on academic boycott of Israel in Poland" and others.
The conference's organizers, some of them prominent figures in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, all support the academic boycotting of Israel and its institutions.
One of the conference's keynote speakers is Dr. Steven Salaita, who has had harsh words for Israel in the past, going so far as to tweet "The Israeli flag is a horrifying symbol of aggression and oppression", "I wish all West Bank settlers would disappear" and "If you're defending Israel right now, you're an awful human being." Following these remarks, Salaita was dismissed from his University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign position.
News of the conference recently reached Israel's Association of University Heads, and they called on researchers to send in lecture abstracts to the conference, requesting to speak there and counter the claim of those supporting a boycott of Israel.
Two Israeli researchers and a senior researcher from the United Kingdom, who has written about the academic boycott in the past, heeded the call and sent in their abstracts to the organizers. They were all summarily rejected without any explanation, said the Association of University Heads.
In response to the conference and the rejection of the proposed speakers, chairman of the Association of University Heads and the President of Tel Aviv University Prof. Joseph Klafter sent a strongly-worded letter to the president of Trinity College, demanding his college clarify the rules and principles of a worthy academic institution.
"Conferences are an integral and inseparable part of academic life and are the space where different, sometimes even polarized, opinions may be expressed. They are a time for an exchange of ideas brought on by meaningful discussions leading to a better understanding of the issues in question," wrote Klafter.
"If only the conference organizers followed regular protocol allowing expressing both sides of the issue, this event would have been a welcome addition to public discourse. Unfortunately, in this instance a great wrong was committed against the academic community and freedom of speech at the university you head. We expect Trinity College to see fit to reclarify the rules and principles conference organizers should adhere to, and ensure no discrimination takes place and a wide range of opinions are allowed to be expressed in order to continue being a proper society maintaining a free public discourse," the missive concluded.
"It's important for us at the Association of University Heads to contact university heads and members of academia in the world (and ask them) to join those combating academic boycotts and preventing any activities whose sole purpose is to promote (such a boycott)," Prof. Klafter told Ynet. "Research, the pursuit of knowledge and its creation are a way of widening horizons and breaking barriers, and not exclusion and putting up barriers."
"It's completely obvious there is a systematic attempt to remove anyone objecting to the academic boycott of Israel from the conference. Most of its speakers are staunch supporters of BDS," said Prof. Michael Yudkin, a senior fellow at Oxford University whose abstract was rejected by the conference.
"Moreover, the abstracts and articles submitted to the conference and protesting the academic boycott were summarily rejected. This is nothing more than a political assembly in the pretext of an academic conference. It's within our power to expose this conference as the clear attempt at subverting opinion and academic openness, so in the future universities are not fooled by BDS supporters' tactics," Yudkin added.
"We came to the realization the conference organizers were unwilling to confront positions going against their outlook on the legitimacy of an academic boycott and are not willing to allow the expression of differing opinions and the showing of academic openness," said Prof. Zvi Ziegler, head of the inter-university forum to counter academic boycotts against Israel—created by the Association of University Heads.
"A conference where such cherry-picking takes place, preventing discussions between researchers of varied positions, isn't worthy of being called an academic conference. Our guiding principle in combating the boycott—a struggle involving important international organizations—is that researchers must not be discriminated against on the basis of religion, race, gender, nationality, ethnicity or political stance," Ziegler said.
About six months ago, a talk by Israel's ambassador to Ireland at the very same college was canceled after students blocked the entrance to the hall where it was supposed to take place and sang anti-Israeli songs.