Academic instructors who back the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel are significantly more likely to assign course readings authored by fellow BDS adherents, suggesting that their classes "promote a politically-motivated, anti-Israel perspective," according to a study published on Wednesday.
The survey was carried out by the AMCHA Initiative, a campus antisemitism watchdog, to determine the extent that proponents of BDS — which rejects "the normalization of Israel in the global academy" — abide by the campaign in the classroom, including through their selection of readings that students will be exposed to.
It examined syllabi from 50 courses focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian or Arab-Israeli conflict, which were offered at 40 colleges and universities between 2008 to 2019. Fifteen of the syllabi were put together by instructors who have publicly expressed support for boycotts of Israel, while 35 were by instructors who did not publicly share such a sentiment.
The study determined only whether course readings were authored by BDS advocates, and did not evaluate the content of those readings.
"Academic BDS-supporting instructors had an average of 78% of their course readings authored by BDS supporters, whereas non-BDS-supporting instructors had an average of 17% of their course readings authored by BDS supporters," wrote the study's lead researchers, both of whom are co-founders of the AMCHA Initiative.
All of the syllabi shared by pro-BDS instructors had a majority of readings authored by fellow BDS backers. In contrast, only two of the 35 syllabi of non-BDS-supporting instructors displayed such a majority, while some syllabi included no readings authored by BDS backers. Among pro-BDS instructors, at least 54 percent of all syllabi readings were authored by BDS supporters.
The results suggest that faculty BDS supporters are bolstering the campaign in their classrooms "by exposing students to an overwhelming preponderance of authors and readings likely to portray Israel as an illegitimate country unworthy of normalization," while "severely limiting or completely excluding readings that would provide a more balanced picture of Israel," the report's authors wrote.
While faculty members have the right to support BDS under the First Amendment, and may independently develop courses according to the principles of academic freedom, "it is important to point out the harmful consequences of politically-motivated faculty weaponizing their course curricula to ensure that Israel is not 'normalized' in the academy," they added.
Such behavior can "erode public trust" in the university and grant "academic legitimacy to a wholly one-sided, anti-Israel perspective," thereby engendering among students "hostility not only towards Israel, but towards Israel's on campus supporters, sentiments that can easily lead to acts targeting Jewish and pro-Israel students for harm," the report's authors argued.
The study builds up on previous research by AMCHA, including a survey of campus activity in 2016 that found incidents "involving the targeting of Jewish students and staff for harm were significantly more likely to occur on campuses where there was one or more faculty boycotters than where there was none, with there being more than eight times the likelihood of encountering targeting at schools with at least one faculty boycotter."
In a 2017 study, the group found that Middle East, ethnic, and gender studies departments with one or more faculty boycotters were five to 12 times more likely to sponsor events on Israel-related topics with pro-BDS speakers, while an AMCHA report released in September found a "[d]ramatic increase in faculty participation in academic BDS promotion and implementation and Israel-related antisemitic expression from 2017 to 2018."