Statement by Professors of Jewish Studies in North America Regarding the AMCHA Initiative

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Statement by Professors of Jewish Studies in North America Regarding the AMCHA Initiative

We the undersigned are professors of Jewish studies at North American universities. Several of us have also headed programs and centers in Jewish studies. Many of us have worked hard to nurture serious, sustained study of Israeli politics and culture on our home campuses and elsewhere . It is in this latter regard that we call attention to the activities of an organization called the AMCHA Initiative whose mission is “investigating, educating about, and combatting antisemitism at institutions of higher learning in America.” Most recently , AMCHA has undertaken to monitor centers for Middle Eastern studies on American campuses including producing a lengthy report on UCLA’s in which that center is accused of antisemitism. AMCHA has also circulated a list of more than 200 Middle Eastern stud ies faculty whom it urges Jewish students and others to avoid because, it asserts, they espouse anti -­‐ Zionist and even antisemitic viewpoints in their classrooms. It goes without saying that we, as students of antisemitism, are unequivocally opposed to any and all traces of this scourge. That said, we find the actions of AMCHA deplorable. Its technique of monitoring lectures, symposia and conferences strains the basic principle of academic freedom on which the American university is built.

Moreover, it s definition of antisemitism is so undiscriminating as to be meaningless. Instead of encouraging openness through its efforts, AMCHA’s approach closes off a ll but the most narrow intellectual directions and has a chilling effect on research and teaching. AMCHA’s methods lend little support to Israel, whose very survival depends on free, open, and vigorous debate about its future. Universities and colleges are designed to provide opportunities to students to consider the world around them from a wide r ange of perspectives. The institutions where we teach, as well as many others we know well ( including those appearing on AMCHA’s list ) , offer a broad array of courses dealing with Israel and Palestinian affairs. None of these, whether supportive or critical of Israeli policy, ought to be monitored for content or political orientation.

We find it regrettable that AMCHA, so intent on combatting the boycott of Israel, has launched a boycott initiative of its own. This further degrades the currency of academic freedom. AMCHA’s tactics are designed to stifle debate on issues debated in Israel and around the world, and the presumption that students must be protected from their own universities is misguided and destructive. Efforts such as these do not promo te academic integrity, but rather serve to deaden the kind of spirited academic exchange that is the lifeblood of the university.

Robert Alter, University of California, Berkeley
David Biale, University of California, Davis
Matti Bunzl, University of Illinois, Champagne
Urbana Hasia R. Diner, New York University
Nathaniel Deutsch, University of California, Santa Cruz
John M. Efron, University of California, Berkeley
Yael Feldman, New York University
Charlotte Fonrobert, Stanford
Susannah Heschel, Dartmouth
Hannan Hever, Yale University
Marion Kaplan, New York University
Ari Y. Kelman, Stanford
Shaul Magid, Indiana University
Frances Malino, Wellesley College
Barbara E. Mann, Jewish Theological Seminary
Deborah Dash Moore, University of Michigan
David N. Myers, University of California, Los Angeles
Anita Norich, University of Michigan
Derek Penslar, University of Toronto/University of Oxford
Riv-Ellen Prell, University of Minnesota
Aron Rodrigue, Stanford
Marsha Rozenblit, University of Maryland
Naomi Seidman, Graduate Theological Union
Jeffrey Shandler, Rutgers
Eugene Sheppard, Brandeis
Sarah Abrevaya Stein, University of California, Los Angeles
Jeffrey Veidlinger, University of Michigan
Sam Wineburg, Stanford
Diane Wolf, University of California, Davis
Steven J. Zipperstein, Stanford

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

TheRealNews: “Chris Hedges on “Israel’s War on American Universities” Full Event”

One response

  1. It is refreshing to see academics speak out. We need to hear from all professionals who have a duty to use their standing in the community to further honest discussion of important issues.

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