Defending Academic Freedom and Supporting Two State Solution

Categories: Letters from the Leadership

Last summer Ameinu undertook The Third Narrative initiative as a response to what we saw as the often unfair and inaccurate attacks on Israel from the far left. At the same time, we wanted to create both resources and a forum for those on the left –Jewish and non-Jewish— who identify with a third narrative, one that neither reflexively attacks nor reflexively justifies Israeli policies and actions. We felt that due to our nuanced approach to these issues, we were well-positioned to take on this challenge.

We have been very gratified by the response thus far, particularly the requests for our bookletProgressive Answers to the Far Left’s Critiques of Israel” that have come from 22 countries and numerous leading Jewish communal bodies, church activists, Rabbis, students and Israeli government offices. We have been asked to speak in a variety of forums on this topic, including on panels with those who don’t support the notion of two states for two peoples. We feel that it is vital that our progressive Zionist voice be heard in those settings in particular.

Last week, in the wake of recent academic boycott efforts (American Studies Association and Modern Languages Association) aimed at Israelis and their institutions, we extended this initiative with the establishment of an Academic Advisory Council (AAC). More than 50 leading academics, spread across a wide range of disciplines and from throughout North America, initiated this effort “to combat academic boycotts and defend freedom of expression, while challenging the false choice presented to the academic community that it must either undermine the legitimacy of Israel or accept violations of the rights and dignity of Palestinians.”

I am very excited about this development for a number of reasons. First of all, it is further proof of the value of the philosophy behind The Third Narrative.  We can provide an organizational home for progressive academics who want to explore ideas around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the spirit of a “third way” that takes into account the narratives of both peoples. Secondly, the Council can use this platform to engage around the issue of academic freedom that is so central to the North American campus ethos. We also hope that this network of concerned academics will provide support for like-minded students on their campuses. We will facilitate those connections, where appropriate and desired, and are already in touch with leading campus groups in that regard.

Some have already asked whether there is a natural connection between defending academic freedom and an active commitment to a two state solution. One of the founders, Professor Susannah Heschel of Dartmouth University, stated in the AAC press release last week that “I am pleased to be part of this effort to defend academic freedom. Attempts to institute boycotts of Israeli academic institutions, wrong in their own right, also create an atmosphere which suggests that the only truly progressive position is a complete repudiation of Israel’s right to exist; anything more nuanced is viewed as right-wing. I reject that notion and I believe the Council will address a constructive, third way of looking at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Associate Professor Mira Suchorov of Carleton University, both a founder of the AAC and an Ameinu national board member, discussed this point in her recent Ha’aretz column. “As I see it, there is a fundamental ethical link between guarding academic freedom and promoting the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Though the first is about speech and the second is about political arrangements, both sets of precepts hew to similar guiding principles: mutual respect and a commitment to absorbing the truth of human experience.”

The next step for the AAC is inviting other academics to join them in this initiative. If you are an academic, please read the full statement and consider membership. I ask the rest of you to share this blog post with your friends in academia so they can consider joining as well. Finally, to properly launch this initiative we are actively seeking financial support. If you would like to donate to this project, it would be most appreciated.

About Kenneth Bob, National President

Kenneth Bob is the National President of Ameinu. He is a member of the Jewish Agency for Israel Board of Governors,  the treasurer of Board of Directors of J Street and a board member of the Forward Association. Ken is a past chair of the Habonim Dror Foundation, the national alumni association of the Labor Zionist youth movement, providing financial support for their educational programming throughout North America. In his professional life, Ken is an experienced entrepreneur and currently provides management consulting for small and merging companies.
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