Letter of Dissent regarding the CAFMENA statement dated May 13, 2005, condemning the AUT boycott of two Israeli Universities.
We, the undersigned (former) members of the Committee for Academic Freedoms (CAFMENA) of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), would like to publicly announce our disagreement with a statement issued by our committee on May 13, 2005, condemning the Association of University Teachers, UK (AUT) preliminary resolution to boycott Bar Ilan and Haifa universities. As a voluntary appointed committee of MESA dedicated to defending academic freedoms in the Middle East CAFMENA operates by consensus. The Committee did reach an initial consensus on this letter. However, following the publication of the statement, a number of objections regarding the content of the letter and its accuracy were raised and an internal debate continued in a frank manner. Having failed to convince the committee to rescind its initial statement, or to accept the democratic right of a minority of the committee to have their disagreement posted wherever the initial CAFMENA statement had been published, we had no option but to resign from the committee and to make our dissent public.
On May 26, the general assembly of AUT rejected the motion for the boycott. But the issue remains that CAFMENA did take a public stance regarding AUT's initial motion to boycott that the undersigned (former) members of CAFMENA strongly disagree with on the following grounds:
1] The CAFMENA letter faulted AUT's initial resolution of April 22 for "blacklisting" the faculty of Haifa and Bar Ilan universities, and maintains that the call for boycott by AUT "represents [a] form of collective punishment against individual academics who find themselves in [these] universities". We find these statements by CAFMENA to be inaccurate regarding the facts of the case. While any form of collective punishment is abhorrent to us, the AUT statement did not call for blacklisting faculty, or imposing collective punishment. In fact, the AUT statement was entirely vague as to what specific form the boycott should take. The only reference to the form of boycott is to the statement of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, itself a general and vague statement which does not suggest the use of any sanctions, penalties, or punitive measures to ensure compliance with the call for boycott. In addition, prominent members of the Palestinian Campaign have stated publicly, on several occasions, that they are boycotting Israeli institutions and not individuals, and that they are not endorsing any blacklisting or blanket boycott of all Israeli academics.
Furthermore, the AUT resolution of April 22 was a very narrowly passed vote by the gathering of AUT delegates present at the city of Eastborn. In the days following this gathering it was made clear that the matter had not been settled within the AUT. Various announcements by AUT members and leaders made clear that the call for boycott was voluntary, non-binding, and that in addition the AUT members should refrain from any further action regarding the boycott until the full membership of the Association had a chance to debate and vote on the resolution on May 26. Our opinion is that CAFMENA should have shown the same caution and waited for the final clarification of the AUT position, to carefully weigh and see if the violations of academic freedom and human rights decried in its letter to AUT were actually in danger of occurring. In the absence of such certainty we consider these accusations as based on circumstantial evidence, and not hard facts.
2] The CAFMENA letter also inaccurately stated that the AUT was calling its members to "refrain from any and all scholarly interaction with the entire professional staff of two universities because of the policies of the state in which they are situated". The AUT's resolution made no such call. Instead it made reference to the Palestinian Campaign's request to boycott all Israeli institutions, while making exception of those Israeli academics who took a public position against the occupation. Furthermore, the AUT statement diverged from the Palestinian Campaign's call of total boycott of all Israeli institutions by focusing on two specific institutions. Most important regarding the accuracy of the CAFMENA statement, the AUT statement did not call for a boycott of these institutions "because of the policies of the State in which they are situated", but quite specifically because of the policies these two academic institutions themselves were following.
3] CAFMENA's mandate states explicitly that the committee should compile all appropriate information before making a decision. In addition, the Committee has a range of options to act. It may write a letter of inquiry to appropriate authorities, in order to express concern and demand clarification. Moreover, given the limited time and resources of the committee, "only the most egregious cases of human rights violations can be considered". We believe that our committee erred first, by not compiling all the appropriate evidence and information before taking a public position and, second, by misjudging the gravity of the situation, and by basing its decision on what amounted to circumstantial evidence.
Failing to convince the Committee to rescind its initial statement against the AUT, the initial draft of this letter of dissent was circulated to the Committee at large on June 1st. Unfortunately we have been unable to reach an agreement to have this letter of dissent posted on the CAFMENA website, as well as the MESA newsletter, where the initial CAFMENA statement appeared. Considering this to be an obvious democratic right of dissent we have found no option but to resign from CAFMENA with immediate effect, and to make this letter public. As former members of CAFMENA we strongly believed that the Committee's interventions should not be politicized, nor formulated as a response to external pressures of the moment. The Committee's interventions also should be based on the most careful study of all the evidence at hand. These two factors are what give the work of this Committee its credibility. The fact that we dissent from the consensus of the Committee in this instance should not be seen as a rejection of the Committee's dedication to human rights, and sincerity regarding its mandate. Rather we are expressing our view that in this instance CAFMENA overstepped its mandate, and that we disagree with CAFMENA's statement on the grounds of content, procedure, and principle.
Editors Note: On September 21, 2005 we received the following communication regarding this letter:
To whom it concerns:
You have published a "Letter of Dissent regarding the CAFMENA statement dated May 13, 2005, condemning the AUT boycott of two Israeli Universities by Ahmad Dallal, Kaveh Ehsani, Eve Troutt-Powell", as is your right. However, you have included the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign among those supporting this "Letter of Dissent" for the simple reason that you appear to have culled the letter from the IPSC website, which - democratically, and unlike your website - frequently publishes material with which we disagree.
Whether you did this inadvertently or maliciously, I hope you will give equal prominence to our assertion that we fully support the boycott of Israeli universities as part of a comprehensive boycott of the state of Israel, and that we completely reject the arguments made in the "Letter of Dissent" in question.
Chair: Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Thank you for the clarification. The IPSC is listed only as the publication venue and it was not our intention to represent you as a supporter. If you can provide another venue I will be pleased to change the listing. In the interim I will modify the entry with the addition of your email so as to clarify your position.
See also the comment on this exchange at http://www.campus-watch.org/weblog/id/18