Sunday, February 21, 2016

Against Academic Boycotts

In January, at the MLA conference in Austin, I spoke on a panel discussing the proposed academic boycott of Israel. The Chronicle of Higher Education has published a version of this talk. They chopped a few of my paragraphs off for length (including my line about Levinas!), but the spirit of the piece is intact. It's one of the most important, and polarizing, subjects I've written about. I've had a number of colleagues write to tell me they agree and to thank me for writing the piece, but many of these same colleagues also express reticence to articulate their feelings publicly. It seems that the impulse of BDS and academic boycott supporters is to demonize anyone who expresses a contrary (or more nuanced) view. It is starting to feel like bullying. I was told by more than a couple senior scholars that giving this talk publicly would mean there are many academic jobs I won't be able to get. It turns out that academia cannot always sustain the freedom of thought and respect for nuance that it has traditionally championed. Bullying, indeed.

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