by Ari Y. Kelman
I’m a member of the American Studies Association whose Academic Council recently voted (unanimously) to endorse a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions.
Then, I woke up the other morning to find this news story about the Hillel at Swarthmore College, whose student board voted (unanimously) to
defy guidelines restricting who it may host for programs on Israel and condemned the ground rules, imposed by Hillel International, for repressing free speech on Israel for Jewish students on campus.
In the example of the ASA, we have a professional academic organization voting to boycott its peer institutions. Though the ASA boycott focuses on institutions, not individuals, it effectively recommends to its members who they can and cannot talk to. In the example of Hillel International, we have approximately the same thing: one organization telling its affiliates who it can and cannot speak with.
The irony of the situation is something only someone like Kafka could invent. It won’t be hard to find Jewish organizations who support Hillel International’s guidelines have come out strongly against the ASA resolution. Similarly, those who have come out in support of the ASA resolution will probably welcome the decision of the Swarthmore Hillel students.
I call shenanigans on all of you.
To support the free and open exchange of information and intellectual work, and to encourage the vibrant (albeit sometimes difficult) educational atmospheres of our universities means opening avenues for conversation, not foreclosing them. To criticize Hillel International and then turn around and support the ASA resolution is absurd. To condemn the ASA and support Hillel International’s guidelines is similarly as ridiculous.
I know that the stakes are high and that prospects are low with respect to the creation of an ongoing, sustainable, just peace between Israel and Palestine, but the way to foster a public who is informed about the complexities of these issues is not to constrict lines of communication, but to open them.
Professor Ari Y. Kelman is the Jim Joseph Chair in Education and Jewish Studies at Stanford University.