Recenty, after being called out by Martin Kramer in an op-ed in the New York Sun for supporting an academic boycott against Israeli academics, NYU Professor and the director of the Hugo Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, Zachary Lockman, claimed that his views had been mischaracterized. In defending himself, Lockman declared that he is "not a supporter of an academic boycott" and charged Martin Kramer with seizing on to "a single phrase" in the petition and twisting it to make it look like he supports the boycott of Israeli scholars.
What phrase did Kramer supposedly seize upon and twist? This one: "we, the undersigned, defenders of Palestinian academic freedom and supporters of the academic boycott against Israel…" Hmmmmm. I don't know how many ways you can interpret those words other than to extrapolate that "the undersigned" are "defenders of Palestinian academic freedom" and "supporters of the academic boycott against Israel." Granted, I do not have a PhD like Professor Lockman, but I am fairly sure that what that means is if you signed a petition with those words you are claiming to support the academic boycott against Israel.
In an absurd face-saving measure, Lockman is trying to argue that when he signed the petition he didn't mean to suggest that he supported the boycott. This despite a petition that explicitly states the undersigned support an academic boycott and the undersigned are willing to debate those who oppose it. If Professor Lockman didn't understand that by signing the petition people were going to rightly presume that he supports a boycott of Israeli academics then he should give his PhD back because there is no way he legitimately earned a doctorate with those analytical skills. The petition is clear as could be.
No, the wording of the petition is not unclear and ambiguous as a Lockman defender has suggested. However, it is outrageous and appalling. Those who signed the petition should be utterly ashamed.
Here at Cornell, we do have one signatory: Government Professor Susan Buck-Morss—or at least so it appears. When asked to justify her signature, Professor Buck-Morss claimed not to have signed the petition. Originally provided the wrong internet address to the online petition in accident by yours truly, she wrote that I "need to be careful in making such charges" since she found no record of signing the petition either online with the internet address I provided her or in her records. She insisted that she does not support an academic boycott and is even having her latest book translated into Hebrew to be sold in Israel.
Immediately after I read her first email explaining how she does not support an academic boycott of Israeli scholars, but is "opposed to Sharon's brutal oppression of the Palestinians," I realized my error and sent her the correct link which indisputably has her name as a signatory to the petition which, among other things, supports a boycott of Israeli academics. Furthermore, I suggested that if her name had been put there without her permission she certainly would have some sort of case against those who started the petition and falsely included her name.
In a reply Professor Buck-Morss indicated she has signed "at least 40 petitions sent around by email in the last few years." She added that she still has no record of signing the petition and maintained that she doesn't support the academic boycott, yet is "surely more in support of anyone who took the liberty to use my name than I am of the policy of Israel of the settlements and the oppression of the Palestinians." Hogwash.
While we will probably never know what exactly occurred, I suspect that Professor Buck-Morss saw an anti-Israel petition and immediately signed it as a reflex without ever reading it carefully or caring what it said. Either that or she signed the petition never thinking anyone would call her out on her signature. Of course, there is the possibility that her name was put there falsely, but her lack of outrage and her propensity to sign many online petitions leads me to believe that this option is quite unlikely.
It seems that with some on the left, it is merely a reflex to sign petitions without caring what they say. When pressed to account for their signature, they back away and claim that in signing the petition they agreed with it in spirit, if not the text. To hold them to what they signed is asking far too much. At least that is what Professor Lockman essentially claimed when taken to task in the New York Sun. In the case of Professor Buck-Morss, she has no recollection of her signature, but isn't so upset about it appearing there even though she doesn't support what the petition calls for. It's like Noam Chomsky who says that he doesn't favor divestment from Israel yet signed the divestment petition at MIT and has been named as one of the intellectual leaders of the movement. It's crazy.
The final sentence of the petition letter that was supposedly signed by Buck-Morss and others states the following: "Finally, to help you do this 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."
I was going to challenge Professor Buck-Morss to a debate on the issue of the academic boycott against Israel as the petition claims that the signatories are prepared to do, but since she isn't sure she signed it and doesn't agree with the academic boycott I suppose that would be useless. However, I stand willing and able to debate anyone who wants to defend this indefensible—that is if I can find someone willing to stand by their signature.