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Boycott Calls Against Israel
The AAUP Responds to IAM


Editorial Note

The IAM post "Confusion of the AAUP Committee on Academic Freedom: Rejecting and Endorsing BDS," of June 27, criticized committee A of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) for holding conflicting views; claiming it opposes all kinds of academic boycotts, yet, it endorses the right of scholars to call for the boycott of Israel. 

A response arrived from Henry Reichman, the chair of the AAUP Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, professor emeritus of history at California State University, East Bay, and first vice president of the AAUP.

Reichman's main argument is that with respect to free speech, AAUP can both oppose BDS, on the one hand, while accepting the right of BDS activists to promote it, on the other hand, just as the saying goes, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."  While this principle was true to the time it was said, however, in our days, speech such as defamation, anti-Semitism, hate speech and Holocaust denial, among other things, are not permitted on or off campus and can not be defended under the category of free speech. So much so, that in some cases offenders even have been sent to prison for espousing such speech.

To make his case, Reichman provided an example to how he personally defended the freedom of speech on his own campus of a person whose politics he disagrees with. However, Reichman has defamed the person's speech as repulsive "blatherings of the moronic bigot." Reichman, in fact, blurs the lines between acceptable and unacceptable speech. Defamation is unacceptable and should not be tolerated in an academic exchange.  It would have been suffice had he stated he disagreed with this person on numerous issues, as an academic discussion should be respectful. 


Reichman whitewashes Prof. Katherine Frank involvement with BDS, by claiming she was denied entry to Israel on the basis of "reports on blacklisting websites of her political views on BDS." IAM produced enough evidence to show her support of BDS. In 2016 she defended BDS in a panel conversation on "The Case for Academic Boycott" at Barnard College. In 2012 she boycotted Philadelphia's University of the Arts Equality Forum which advances LGBT civil rights, due to the "Israeli government's manipulation of gay rights organizations in the U.S., such as the Equality Forum, to 'pinkwash' its troubled human rights record." She detailed her argument in a video recording which in 2014 Palestinian  activists used in a petition to pressure participants to withdraw from the following Equality Forum.

Reichman also defends his choice of relying on Roger Cohen's NYT article detailing Franke's airport incident, by stating "Whatever Cohen's views may be they are totally irrelevant to the AAUP's position or to Committee A’s.“ IAM pointed out that Reichman could have picked other articles to link to the Franke incident, the fact he picked a highly controversial columnist speaks volumes about his own agenda. One does not need to be a student in public relations to realize that  Reichman used an old trick in the field, picking someone who does not like Israel so that unwitting readers would get the least balanced view on why Franke was refused entry at Ben Gurion Airport.

Reichman also claims that Franke, "by seeking to visit Israel one could say that she was already violating the very boycott she was accused of advocating." Reichman is right that BDS activists often violate BDS restrictions. Omar Barghouti, for example, the co-founder of the BDS movement was studying in Tel Aviv University while co-founding BDS and has been residing in Israel for years, making use of its benefits. 

There is a possible explanation to why Israel is blocking entry to BDS activists that Reichman and Franke should be aware of. It serves as deterrence and is twofold: BDS advocates should know they would be refused entry, and likewise, visitors to Israel should make sure they were not involved in BDS.

Reading Reichman's comment further, his explanation to why the AAUP defends the right of scholars to support BDS comes as an analogy to a defense attorney who defends his client's rights but not always his actions. This example does Reichman ill service because even in the most severe legal cases such as murder, a defense lawyer is hired. It doesn't mean that the right to murder should be protected by the AAUP.   As an academic association, the AAUP should not protect the right for inappropriate conduct such as boycotting speakers based on their nationality. 

All this puts the AAUP in an awkward position. 

-------- Original Message --------

Subject: Re: Confusion of the AAUP Committee on Academic Freedom: Rejecting and Endorsing BDS
Date: Thu, 28 Jun 2018 14:57:47 -0700
From: Hank Reichman
To: IAM e-mail <e-mail@israel-academia-monitor.com>, 


The "editorial note" published online and sent to the AAUP (see below) by Israel-Academia-Monitor.com (IAM) claims that AAUP Committee A's opposition to academic boycotts and its defense of the right to advocate such a boycott is "confusing."  But it is IAM that is apparently confused about two important concepts: freedom of speech, which is critical to democracy, and citation of sources, which is critical to scholarship.

With respect to free speech, it seems that IAM is unaware of the famous saying, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," widely misattributed to Voltaire. There is nothing confusing or inconsistent about taking a stance in opposition to some viewpoint while simultaneously defending the right of others to advocate that viewpoint.  For example, I find the blatherings of the moronic bigot XXXX XXXXXXXX repulsive, but I defended his right to speak at a public university.  In fact, the AAUP regularly defends the rights of individuals to make statements with which we may disagree.  For an explanation of why we do so, analogizing our position to that of a defense attorney who defends the rights but not always the actions of a client, see this short piece I published in our magazine Academe in 2016: https://www.aaup.org/article/state-profession-defending-our-principles#.WzVOOYonZAg.  

In short, the position of the AAUP is clear.  We have since 2005 opposed academic boycotts, including the academic boycott of Israel, and have on multiple occasions urged other scholars and scholarly organizations to join that opposition.  Where appropriate we will continue to do so.  As for divestment and strictly economic sanctions or boycotts, however, we remain neutral.  But we also cannot help but recognize that advocates of such boycotts have repeatedly had their rights violated.  The right of individuals to engage in political boycotts, and to come together collectively to support a boycott, has a long and storied history in American civil protests, and any attempt to limit that right is clearly unconstitutional under the Supreme Court decision of NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co, 458 U.S. 886 (1982).   No one is obligated to support a boycott, but opposition to a boycott does not justify silencing of its advocates.  At colleges and universities especially, where reasoned disagreement and debate should be the order of the day, demands that faculty members be punished for peaceful advocacy is abhorrent.

As for citation, IAM claims that we "justify" our defense of Professor Franke by an op-ed piece in the New York Times by Roger Cohen, who, the group claims, "can hardly be described as a neutral observer."  Apparently IAM believes that by including a hyperlink to Cohen's piece when the Committee A report to the AAUP annual meeting was posted to the Academe blog (https://academeblog.org/2018/06/20/committee-a-report-to-the-2018-annual-meeting/), the Association somehow endorsed not only every statement in Cohen's op-ed but his entire history as well.

This is silly.  First of all, when the report was delivered orally at the annual meeting such a link was, needless to say, not included.  Neither will it appear in the official print version to be published later this summer in the AAUP Bulletin.  I added it only as a convenient mechanism to alert online readers to publicly available coverage of the incident.  In other words, this was equivalent to a footnote or similar citation.  Citations, as every scholar knows, do not imply endorsement of all the views offered in the source cited nor are they necessarily commendations of the cited author.  Whatever Cohen's views may be they are totally irrelevant to the AAUP's position or to Committee A's report.  What justifies our position is not Cohen's op-ed, but the facts of the incident themselves, which exist independently of any account of them.  Franke was denied entry to Israel on the basis of reports on blacklisting websites of her political views on BDS.  However, she was visiting Israel in her capacity as a scholar and civil rights leader, not as a supporter of BDS.  (Actually, by seeking to visit Israel one could say that she was already violating the very boycott she was accused of advocating.)  Her plans included meeting with two graduate students whose dissertations she is supervising, meeting with a former Columbia fellow to discuss plans for a possible joint master's program in human rights, and meeting with colleagues at an Israeli NGO to make plans for Columbia's Palestine and Law program for the next academic year.  In other words, in the name of opposing an academic boycott the Israeli state -- or at least the immigration officer dealing with Franke -- in effect imposed its own academic boycott.  

Far from being "confusing," the stance taken by the AAUP's Committee A in the Franke case and with respect to academic boycotts in general and the academic boycott of Israel in particular is clear and consistent.  

Henry Reichman, Chair, AAUP Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure

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