Tomorrow and Thursday there will be committee hearings on the proposed Maryland legislation forbidding the use of state money for institutional membership in, and travel to conferences sponsored by, academic associations that have passed boycott resolutions against Israel.
The presidents of the state universities have written a strong letter against the legislation. That will probably kill it, especially since the letter condemns the boycott itself. But I was also asked to submit testimony, and so here it is.
Testimony in Opposition to SB 647 and HB 998
Public Higher Education — Use of Funds — Prohibition
TO: Hon. June Carter Conway, Chair, and members of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee
Hon. Chair Norman Conway and members of the House Appropriations Committee
FROM: Charles H. Manekin, Director of the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies and Professor of Philosophy, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
DATE: March 5, 2014
I oppose SB 647/HB 998 because I believe it constitutes an infringement of academic freedom. But I also oppose SB 647/HB 998 because calling for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against those who violate fundamental human rights is a long enshrined American practice, and this bill, while not formally outlawing such calls, is clearly intended to curtail them. That is the expressed intention of the initiators who are reacting to boycott resolutions passed against Israeli academic institutions.
This bill is important to me not only as the director of a center that has extensive ties with Israeli academic institutions but as a native of Baltimore, an alumnus of the Gilman School, and the Baltimore Hebrew College, a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, whose four children are also veterans, and whose children and grandchildren live in Israel. It may seem surprising to members of the committee that I, who do not engage in any boycotts of Israel within its democratic borders, not only endorse the right to call for such boycotts but express solidarity with the global BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement of Palestinian civil society
And yet it is not surprising. My father was an early supporter of the civil rights movement, which included the Montgomery Bus boycott. In high school I marched with my classmates from the Baltimore Hebrew College in support of Soviet Jews whose human rights were being violated. I supported the 1974 Jackson-Vanick amendment that restricted trade with the Soviet Union, just as I supported the divestment movement against the treatment of blacks under South African apartheid.
Whenever there is a boycott to promote human rights, critics of the boycott question the motives of the boycotters. The Soviet Union argued that the boycotters were hardline anti-Soviets who sought the destruction of the USSR. The South African government accused the divestment movement of hypocrisy, claiming that there were worse human rights violators. Some Israel advocates claim that the global BDS movement seeks to destroy the Jewish state and accuse their detractors of anti-Semitism.
The global BDS movement calls upon the State of Israel to recognize and protect the human rights of the Palestinians in accordance with international resolutions and human rights standards. Reasonable people may disagree over whether boycotts, divestments, and sanctions of Israel are effective tactics, or whether academic associations should become involved in the fight for human rights, or even whether the case of Israel warrants these tactics. These are questions not to be decided in state legislatures but to be debated and discussed in the public sphere.