Today, contentious debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict roils dozens of campuses. Student governments annually face resolutions to endorse various forms of BDS. Israel studies scholars and Israeli speakers are targeted by organized protest and by efforts to disrupt their appearances. Meanwhile invited campus lecturers make outrageous and undocumented claims against the Jewish state without challenge. Jewish students wishing to serve in student government positions sometimes confront suspicions from their peers of dual loyalty. Orwellian and illogical arguments assert a connection between Israel and Zionism and a multitude of grievances, from police shootings in Ferguson and elsewhere, privatized prisons, and overexploited fossil fuels to sexual assault on campus – even to rising tuition rates. Given regular invocation of Israel as the enemy of all that is progressive, many Jewish students unsurprisingly feel pressured to conceal their personal sympathies and to refrain from expressing nuanced, let alone sympathetic, views.
The Academic Engagement Network aims to promote more productive ways of addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In place of one-sided sloganeering reinforcing simple binaries, we advocate open, robust, and thoughtful debate acknowledging complexity. In place of aggressive, antidemocratic tactics galvanizing deep inter-group suspicions, we advocate respectful exchanges of ideas. We believe in human rights for all in the region. We also insist that the heckler’s veto has no place in the academy -- there is no free speech right that permits blocking free speech by others. We are committed to exposing the undertow of anti-Semitic discourse running beneath the boycott movement directed against Israel.
Network members serve as resources for reasoned discussion about Israel on campuses. We advise campus presidents, provosts, deans and other administrators on Israel, BDS, anti-Semitism, and related issues; organize faculty forums and public education programs; mentor students in their efforts to support Israel; encourage universities to forge and enhance U.S.-Israel academic ties, including student and faculty exchanges and research collaborations; and speak, write, participate in discussions, submit essays, and publish op eds. Helping shape the campus conversation is the primary mission of the Academic Engagement Network.