The February 28th “Open letter in defense of academic freedom in Palestine/Israel and in the United States” which was published in the Miscellany News is a remarkable document. It’s signed by thirty-nine VassarCollege professors. Sadly, the letter lays out an argument for academic freedom that thinly veils a more controlling agenda.
The Trigger: On January 2, 2014 President Catharine Bond Hill publically condemned an American Study Association decision to support an Israeli boycott. Then, President Hill followed up with an open letter on February 27th, inviting the Vassar community to stand up for free discussion and mutual respect.
The Response: The thirty-nine professors responded with remarkable – and frightening – candor. These learned people are not promoting liberal conversation; rather, they want the BDS movement to go unchallenged on campus. It’s turning the idea of academic freedom on its head. (If they were more self aware, they’d give themselves a failing mark.)
As a psychiatrist I never fail to be impressed with how seriously bright people can rationalize the worst behaviors. Misinformed and biased intelligence can be a dangerous thing.
A Slip that tells it all: Here’s a quote from the faculty’s letter. “We want on our campuses, including here at Vassar, to have open, honest and principled discussion about the situation in Palestine/Israel, without labeling, targeting, and harassing of faculty, students, administrators and staff who disagree with, or are opposed to Israeli policies towards Palestinians.”
We know what they really want – and its spelled B-D-S. What about extending those rights, privileges and respect to those who see the Israel/Palestinian problem from an Israeli perspective? Are they to be silenced? Guess so. A mob, no matter how nuanced, abhors dissent; so much for the sacredness of academic freedom.
Justice for Israeland Justice for Palestine will involve sacrifices. Demonizing Israel is a radicalized approach to Palestinian (and Israeli) suffering. There are many players in this drama; hostile Arab states, an overly solicitous United Nations, anti-Semitism, Israel’s many mistakes and Palestinian violence and rejectionism.
BDS turns this debate into a cartoon.
What’s needed is free debate without hate language. A debate layered with the nuance these issues truly deserve. There are many sides to this story; can Vassar be a safe place for young people who love Israel as well as those who love the Palestinians?
Let’s not ask these thirty-nine faculty members.
I’m afraid that they’re part of the problem and not part of the solution.
—Mark R. Banschick, MD ’78