Jewish Studies Scholars Denounce AMCHA Blacklist

Three weeks ago I posted to this blog a piece I titled “And Now There’s a Blacklist?” In that post I reported that an organization called the AMCHA Initiative, which claims it is “dedicated to investigating, documenting, educating about, and combating antisemitism at institutions of higher education in America,” had published what was “perilously close” to a blacklist of 218 faculty members in Middle East studies at U.S. colleges and universities who signed a petition calling for an academic boycott of Israel.  Today a group of forty prominent scholars in Jewish Studies issued a statement deploring the AMCHA list.  The statement declares that AMCHA’s “technique of monitoring lectures, symposia, and conferences strains the basic principle of academic freedom on which the American university is built. Moreover, its definition of anti-Semitism is so undiscriminating as to be meaningless.” 

The following is the full text of the statement and its list of signatories:

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 combating 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 studies 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, its definition of antisemitism is so undiscriminating as to be meaningless. Instead of encouraging openness through its efforts, AMCHA’s approach closes off all 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 range 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 promote 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

Bernard Avishai, Dartmouth College

Carol Bakhos, University of California, Los Angeles

David Biale, University of California, Davis

Ra’anan Boustan, University of California, Los Angeles

Matti Bunzl, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Steven M. Cohen, Hebrew Union College (New York)

Hasia R. Diner, New York University

Nathaniel Deutsch, University of California, Santa Cruz

John M. Efron, University of California, Berkeley

David Engel, New York University

Yael Feldman, New York University

Reuven Firestone, Hebrew Union College (Los Angeles)

Charlotte Fonrobert, Stanford University

Rachel Havrelock, University of Illinois at Chicago

Susannah Heschel, Dartmouth College

Hannan Hever, Yale University

Marion Kaplan, New York University

Ari Y. Kelman, Stanford University

Laura S. Levitt, Temple University

Shaul Magid, Indiana University

Frances Malino, Wellesley College

Barbara E. Mann, Jewish Theological Seminary

Tony Michels, University of Wisconsin, Madison

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 University

Marsha Rozenblit, University of Maryland

Naomi Seidman, Graduate Theological Union

Jeffrey Shandler, Rutgers University

Eugene Sheppard, Brandeis University

Sarah Abrevaya Stein, University of California, Los Angeles

David M. Stern, University of Pennsylvania

Jeffrey Veidlinger, University of Michigan

Sam Wineburg, Stanford University

Diane Wolf, University of California, Davis

Steven J. Zipperstein, Stanford University

 

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