Why I Continue to Support the AAUP Policy in Opposition to Academic Boycotts: A Response to the AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom, Volume 4

By Ernst Benjamin

Joan Scott, with whom I worked on the AAUP policy on academic boycotts and co-edited the special issue of Academe, reports that she has changed her mind and now supports an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions. I respect and largely share her critique of Israeli policy. Nonetheless I continue to support the AAUP recommendations against academic boycotts and, therefore, oppose the current academic boycott proposal as well as any other academic boycotts. My basic arguments are stated in my “Reflections” essay in the original Boycott issue of Academe (SeptOct 2006, pp. 80-83) and I’ll try not to repeat them but to focus on why I have not changed my mind and urge that AAUP not change our policy.

AAUP’s official policies, as distinct from occasional topical resolutions, pertain only to academic matters and not to general matters of world affairs. AAUP opposition to academic boycotts is not in any way founded on support of Israel but on its support of academic freedom. So I did not support the anti-boycott statement, as Joan suggests she did (Scott, “Changing,” p. 2), in support of “Israeli academic freedom” but in support of every academic’s academic freedom regardless of nationality, gender, race, sexual orientation, or political views.

Omar Barghouti and others argue that the AAUP, by asserting this universality of the right to academic freedom privileges academic freedom above other principles including basic human rights. It does not. The AAUP is not itself a human rights organization but nothing in the AAUP commitment to academic freedom precludes a commitment to human rights in general. Indeed one way to further human rights is through the free exchange of ideas protected by the principles of academic freedom. What AAUP argues is simply that proponents of human rights should do so through the exercise of academic freedom as well as other political means but not through the denial of academic freedom even to those who may be implicated in the denial of academic freedom to others. 

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