Martin Kramer claims that I am a supporter of a boycott of Israeli scholars and academic institutions [Opinion, April 1, 2004], which is completely untrue. I do not advocate such a boycott, and the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, which I direct at New York University, neither endorses nor practices such a boycott. In fact, the center regularly hosts Israelis as visiting scholars, professors, and speakers.
Mr. Kramer bases his allegation on the fact that I, along with several hundred American, European, Israeli and other academics, recently signed an open letter addressed to a group of Israeli academics who have organized to oppose such a boycott on the grounds that it constitutes an assault on academic freedom.
The open letter simply reminds those Israeli academics that they also have a responsibility to speak up about the effects of their own government's policies on Palestinian education and academic freedom.
In just the same way, I would expect Chinese scholars who criticize America for infringing academic freedom or human rights, or Arab scholars who criticize Israel for such practices, to also hold their own governments accountable and thereby avoid double standards.
The open letter never calls for or endorses a boycott.To label me as a supporter of a boycott of Israeli scholars and academic institutions, Mr. Kramer therefore has to seize on a single phrase in the letter — "we the undersigned, defenders of Palestinian academic freedom and supporters of the academic boycott" — and twist it into the false allegation that I endorse such a boycott.
I am in fact a defender of Palestinian academic freedom (and of everyone else's academic freedom, including Israelis') but not a supporter of an academic boycott, and I signed this letter based on the understanding that it is possible to be one but not the other.
Had he (or The New York Sun) bothered to inquire, they could easily have verified that I do not advocate a boycott and that the center does not enforce one.
By Martin Kramer
April 9, 2004
Professor Lockman now writes a letter to the New York Sun, which ran the above Sandstorm entry on April 1. He reaffirms that he does not support a boycott of Israeli academics (NYU's provost, in a letter to the newspaper, says the same), but Lockman then makes this claim:
The open letter never calls for or endorses a boycott. To label me as a supporter of a boycott of Israeli scholars and academic institutions, Mr. Kramer therefore has to seize on a single phrase in the letter—"we the undersigned, defenders of Palestinian academic freedom and supporters of the academic boycott"—and twist it into the false allegation that I endorse such a boycott. I am in fact a defender of Palestinian academic freedom (and of everyone else's academic freedom, including Israelis') but not a supporter of an academic boycott, and I signed this letter based on the understanding that it is possible to be one but not the other.
It certainly is possible to be one but not the other, but that's not the point of the letter Lockman signed. I remind him again that the website that published the open letter is at www.academicboycott.org, and the webpage is entitled "Boycott Israeli Academic and Research Institutions: Open Letter." The letter also takes the form of a challenge to Israeli academics who have organized against the boycott, and ends thus: "We are prepared to join you and other parties in public debate of the academic boycott of your institutions at any time and in any neutral venue." What's the point of signing such a challenge to opponents of the boycott, if your own position is also opposed to the boycott?
In fact, the drafters and promotors of the open letter are Lawrence Davidson and Mona Baker, the leading advocates of the academic boycott in the United States and the United Kingdom. When the London Guardian ran a story on the open letter on March 25, it had no doubt as to its meaning. Under the headline "Academic boycott of Israel gathers momentum," its correspondent wrote: "Leading advocates of an academic boycott of Israel have stepped up their campaign calling for an 'outing' of Israeli universities which support their government's policy on the occupied territories." Professor Lockman's failure to see the obvious difference between the position he now professes and that of the open letter, even after it has been pointed out to him, leaves his judgment in question.
But beyond the test of common sense, it's fairly simple to determine whether I am twisting the letter's intent, or Professor Lockman is twisting it. If Professor Lockman is right, then among his 450 fellow signatories, there must be others who oppose the boycott. I call upon them to come forward. If there aren't at least a few dozen signatories who read the letter as Professor Lockman did, then it would seem that he's the one with the problem of reading comprehension—one shared neither by me nor by the hundreds of his co-signatories who understood exactly what they were signing.