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Gender studies is hotbed for anti-Israel BDS activism among faculty: report

Two-thirds of anti-Jewish actions at institutions where BDS supporter was invited

The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has a stronghold in Middle East Studies departments in American colleges and universities, but its impact is actually the greatest in a surprising academic discipline.

Gender Studies departments were 12 times more likely to sponsor anti-Israel BDS events if one or more faculty members supported BDS, the most of any field examined in a new study by the AMCHA Initiative, which fights antisemitism in higher education.

The more BDS supporters in a Gender Studies department, “the greater the likelihood of BDS-supporting speaker-events,” said the report, which detailed how BDS initiatives on college campuses create a culture of hostility toward Jewish students.

It did not provide data on how a department chair’s support for BDS affected the likelihood of departmental sponsorship for BDS events.

The next most impactful academic discipline for BDS is also not Middle East Studies, but rather Ethnic Studies, where departments are “10 times more likely to sponsor events with BDS-supporting speakers than units with no faculty boycotters,” the study said.

Here, it provided data on how a department chair’s BDS support affects its activities, and the effect was less strong: only five times more likely to sponsor BDS-supporting events.

While the AMCHA Initiative found that ethnic, gender and Middle East studies faculty make up the majority of pro-BDS college professors, Middle East Studies departments were somewhat surprisingly the least impacted by faculty BDS activism.

They were five times more likely to sponsor BDS events if one or more faculty member supported BDS, and four times more likely if the department head supported it.

AMCHA reviewed 557 academic units in the three academic disciplines at 100 schools, finding that 137 of those units at 52 school sponsors 324 “Israel related events” in 2015 and 2016. Nearly two-thirds of the events (208) included “BDS-supporting speakers.”

The report detailed numerous instances of faculty members boycotting school initiatives in support of Israel, the most common of which was petitions demanding the shutdown of study-abroad programs in Israel.

In 2009, 130 faculty members at the University of California signed a letter petitioning the school to shut down the UC Education Abroad Program in Israel. Similarly, in the California State system, 85 faculty members signed a letter asking CSU to shut down its Israel study-abroad program.

The Middle East Studies departments at several Ivy League schools hosted the most events with a pro-BDS speaker. Topping the list was Columbia University, whose Center for Palestinian Studies hosted 41 BDS-supporting speakers and its Middle East Institute, another eight in 2015 and 2016.

No other Ivy League school had more than 17. Brown University’s department hosted 14 speakers, Yale hosted 7, and Harvard 6.

The report said 98 percent of “acts that targeted Jewish students for harm” in 2015 and 2016 occurred at schools where there had been “one or more incidents of students’ anti-Zionist expression.” Sixty-eight percent occurred at institutions where a BDS-supporting speaker had been hosted.

“There is a very strong association of BDS supporting speaker-events with students’ anti-Zionist expression, which in turn is very strongly associated with acts of anti-Jewish hostility,” the report said.

Thus, BDS activism by American faculty “harms not only its intended target” of Israel’s academic institutions and scholars, but “also directly and substantively harms students and faculty on U.S. campuses by violating their own academic freedom.”

The report was clear to point out that it’s not advocating for pro-BDS events to be banned, which would violate academic freedom. But it voiced concern that certain academic disciplines were becoming “politically corrupted, controlled by, and dedicated to anti-Zionist and anti-Israel beliefs.”

Advocacy for an Israel boycott “as part of” departmental sponsorship of a pro-BDS event “is significantly associated with acts that target Jewish students for harm, including assault, harassment, destruction of property, and suppression of speech,” the report said.

The “inevitable consequence” of such advocacy is to “actively suppress individuals, including Jewish students, who would express views or engage in actions sympathetic to Israel on campus.”

IMAGES: paintings/Shutterstock, Khairul_Effendi/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Jeremiah Poff -- Franciscan University of Steubenville