H.A.W. Pro-Academic Freedom in Palestine Resolution Defeated at A.H.A.

The courageous effort on the part of the Historians Against the War to support, through an American Historical Association adopted resolution, academic freedom in the Occupied Territories was defeated January 9, 2016: 51 in favour, 111 against. Howard Zinn had the microphone ripped from him in 1969 by “distinguished” Asian scholar and A.H.A. president John K. Fairbanks, during the Vietnam War, when he tried to achieve a similar objective to advance international human rights and justice:

The American Historical Association, in recognition of the atrocities committed at home and abroad, which are directly attributable to the Southeast Asian war, hereby calls for an immediate withdrawal of all the United States troops and material aid.

H.A.W. stands on the shoulders of Howard Zinn in its pursuit of justice and international freedoms. Critical thinking is not merely for our students; it is for us as well, and our right to pursue through any venue in the United States.

Organisations need to realise we live in a community of scholars. It is not enough to emphasise “scholarship” for ourselves and ignore the many challenges to higher-educational freedoms in the Middle East and elsewhere. Note the H.A.W. resolution did not address the B.D.S. movement, which is increasingly galvanising national-disciplinary organisations; it addressed the right to learn, to engage international scholarly visits, and the right for students and their professors to move freely between Gaza and the West Bank to pursue higher-educational needs.

I wonder if more organisations that profess to be protectors of academic freedom will begin to address the absence of such freedoms in other countries and occupied lands.

Howard Zinn would frequently quote Miguel de Unamuno: “Sometimes to be silent is to lie.”

13 thoughts on “H.A.W. Pro-Academic Freedom in Palestine Resolution Defeated at A.H.A.

  1. HAW is an activist organization and as such is entitled to whatever political policy they want to hold.

    The AHA is an academic organization and should be participating in making political policy though of course should be actively studying it.

    HAW people using their positions in the AHA to advance a HAW agenda is an abuse of power.


    Besides the abuse of power like most BDS stuff this was biased and dishonest.

    Israel routinely refuses to allow students from Gaza to travel Nonsense. Israel lacks both the means and the intent to do that. They do however routinely refuse to allow students in Gaza to travel out of Gaza because the government of Gaza refuses to coordinate on border security with Israel. The same way there wasn’t a lot of travel between France and Germany for academics during WWI. To ignore the context of a blockade in an academic freedom resolution is ridiculous.

    military routinely invades campuses in Jerusalem Jerusalem has been annexed by Israel. Israel can no more invade campuses in Jerusalem than the USA government can invade Brigham Young University. If one wants to argue that Jerusalem is a foreign country (something that historians with their knowledge of how countries formed and what they are should know is nonsense) than it is up to the government of Palestine to provide academic freedom not Israel. The USA is not responsible for academic freedom in Mexico.

    Israel restricts the right to lecture or teach at Palestinian universities by denying entry to select foreign nationals Since when is there a right of entry for scholars to foreign countries or a right to lecture or teach in countries? Every state which can controls its borders and the flow of people. That’s part of what it means to be an effectual state. An academic involved in anti-American activities, say an active member of Al Qaeda would be denied entry to the USA even if the got invited to a USA campus. That’s just the law.

    • 2nd line should be The AHA is an academic organization and should not be participating in making political policy though of course they should be actively studying it.

      • Most of us reject the divide you posit, CD-Host, between participating and studying. And with good reason. We all participate in policy as members of society–and we all should study it. Participation in one does not–and cannot and should not–preclude the other. By pretending that one can study something concerning public policy without participating, one becomes a de facto supporter of the dominant position.

  2. @Aaron how does being neutral / apolitical in study induce support of the dominant position.

    Let’s take an example Ann is a historian writing a history of construction of men’s slacks over the last 300 years. She does an accurate assessment she does several chapters on the flips between 1930s, 1940s and 1950s where the bulk of the evolution happens. Her book ends with 2010s construction of more color and slimmer. In other words she does what I would consider good quality history. She presents the evolution, helps to summarize and and evaluate original sources but she is totally indifferent in her work to what men wear.

    How is Ann causing 2010s fashion to last longer or sell more? What could she do differently to cause it to last shorter or sell less?

    The reason I’m picking pants is because that’s far easier to overthrow and likely to encounter far less resistance than say an economic system or views on how military power is deployed.

    Moreover even if it were true, I’m still not sure how that is relevant. A historian in their role as a historian should be indifferent participant in the current choice being made of sticking with the dominant paradigm or choosing some alternative paradigm for society. Their goal should be inform the people as they make that choice nothing more.


    FWIW actual history IMHO is vastly more subversive to the dominant power today than leftist political rants from activists. Actual history forces the reader to come in contact with people’s whose conceptual framework is entirely different from their’s. People whose assumptions about life are entirely different yet at the same time come into a cohesive whole. Travel abroad to foreign lands and old books are probably the only place comparable to how much one encounters a questioning of the dominant paradigm.

    Take for example HAW’s motion. What was subversive about it? It supported the concept of human rights, in a framework well understood by dominant groups in the field like HRW and AI. It supported (badly) the UN system, a major political body. It supported modern views of education and how one acquires education. What was subversive about HAW? It struck me as reinforcing the sort of surface gut politics of any Western leftist towards a government moving away from European / Western values more towards Eastern politics. That strikes me as the opposite of subversive unless by subversive you mean nothing more than the Democratic party as opposed to the Republican party.

    • CD Host, pants have nothing to do with policy. And it is ridiculous to demand that historians be indifferent to anything. That’s just not possible. Like the rest of us, they were made by the past. What you are asking is like asking us to be indifferent to our parents.

      • Of course pants have something to do with policy. They don’t come from a pants trees. A society adopts policies about what kinds of pants they want to produce and as a result those types of pants get produced. It is clear cut and simple example where the the population’s opinions have the maximum effect As opposed to say war where: foreign leaders, financial interests, geographical factors, weather, fertility of foreign peoples….pressure the choices. What that example exposes is that historical analysis which is factual does not support the dominant paradigm anymore than it undermines it. Claiming otherwise is just a cliche by leftists academics to refuse to do their job and instead demand public subsidy for their hobby of political activism.

        TThe emotionalism about the parents is nonsense. All professionals are asked to be objective about things on which they have influence professionally. Police officers don’t get to enforce the laws they like but rather enforce as they exist. Nurses don’t get to practice the medicine they like but rather the medicine they are told to by their employer. Stock brokers don’t get to trade their own opinions but rather their clients opinions. One of the differences between being an amateur and being professional is that as a professional you follow your interests far less, one of the reasons you are paid while amateurs often pay or support themselves.

        Academics are given freedom about what research they do, but not the freedom to decide to replace some other activity with research. Academics are no more free to take the public investment in research and use it for political activism than they are to use it for ski school. If they want to be paid to be political activists they should contact: a lobby, political party or public interest group not a university / college.

      • Your analogies are specious, CD-Host. And obviously you are no professional historian–or journalist, for that matter. Your beliefs are those of the amateur.

        According to the AAUP’s 1915 Declaration, one of the three functions of an academic institution is “to develop experts for various branches of the public service.” This can’t be done without opinion expressed, explored, defended and even changed. Pretending that one can step outside of the spectrum of opinion damages both the profession and the public debate.

        If you are interesting in learning about academic freedom, go here: http://www.aaup.org/our-programs/academic-freedom/resources-academic-freedom.

  3. Does CD Host have a name? Interesting. In any event, the fear of “politicising” the A.H.A. was not evident in 2007, when there was an overwhelming vote (1550-498) to condemn the Iraq War, its “enhanced interrogation” techniques, and urged its members “to bring the Iraq war to a speedy conclusion.”

    It is easier for American historians to express collectively ethical and moral outrage over US foreign policy than a foreign nation’s actions such as Israel. Emerson wrote: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” In this case, greater consistency in defending the defenseless and opposing unbridled power would be appropriate.

    • I didn’t know about that, but would have been equally opposed in 2007. AHA should be institutionally indifferent to issues of torture. They should not be advocating for something nearly as broad as “To do whatever they can to bring the Iraq war to a speedy conclusion.” The 2007 list of items intermixes stuff that the AHA can rightly complain about, “re-classifying previously unclassified government documents” with things that the AHA should have no position on, “using interrogation techniques at Guantanamo, Abu-Ghraib, Bagram, and other locations incompatible with respect for the dignity of all persons required by a civilized society“.

      So I agree with you regarding 2007 being similar to 2016. And I think both of them were an abuse. I certainly don’t agree that because the AHA abused their power in 2007 that they should then feel obligated to compound it by doing it again in 2016. The other key difference is the 2007 resolution is excluding the comment about foreign scholars factually correct while the 2016 resolution is mostly like the foreign scholars comment full of 1/2 truths.

      • “AHA should be …”

        Actually, what should happen is the American and Israeli governments should obey the laws and rules of conduct. Until then citizens around the world can protest this situation in venues such as the A.H.A.

  4. @Aaron

    Your analogies are specious, CD-Host. And obviously you are no professional historian–or journalist, for that matter. Your beliefs are those of the amateur.

    Yes. That’s what I’ve said previously. X-academic in Mathematics. Been an a corporate executive for two decades. Never did anything with history. I’ve also never been a police officer, that doesn’t mean I can’t state that summary execution is an abuse of office for law enforcement.

    According to the AAUP’s 1915 Declaration, one of the three functions of an academic institution is “to develop experts for various branches of the public service.” This can’t be done without opinion expressed, explored, defended and even changed.

    Nonsense. There is no reason that expertise requires strong opinions on matters of public service. I trained up many thousands of engineers without expressing opinions on the various projects they would work on in the future.

    • CH-Host, you can say you are President Grant… you can say anything. Why don’t you stop hiding your identity? You set yourself up as an authority, but never prove it.

      And, again, your analogies are foolish, at best. Training of engineers has nothing to do with education for public debate. Also, your argument could be reduced to one most of us find rather offputting: “I was just following orders.”

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