Since AEN's official launch in December 2015, we have built a growing national membership of more than 400 faculty members on more than 160 campuses nationwide. We are actively supporting AEN faculty members effectively to address BDS while affirming and defending freedom of expression and free speech on campuses. We highlight several of AEN's successful efforts to date here:
At the University of Minnesota, we supported AEN faculty who circulated a thoughtful letter against a BDS-linked divestment resolution in student government. The faculty letter garnered 110 signatures, including six University Regents professors. On Tuesday, March 8, 2016, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler issued a strong statement opposing divestment and BDS. On April 12, pro-Israel students defeated a BDS resolution in the Minnesota Student Association. The MSA instead adopted an amended resolution stripped of all BDS language that calls for socially responsible investment by the university.
At Columbia University, we supported AEN faculty in drafting and circulating a petition opposing an active BDS divestment campaign at Columbia and Barnard. The petition has garnered more than 150 signatures – almost three times the number who signed on to a pro-BDS faculty petition. Ken Waltzer wrote about the Columbia divestment campaign and counter-divestment efforts here.
At Vassar College, AEN Advisory Board Chair Mark Yudof and Executive Director Ken Waltzer wrote an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal commenting on recent events there. The article stirred robust debate about the extent of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment at the liberal arts college. On March 3, President Catharine Bond Hill stated publicly that Vassar does not support the BDS movement nor the use of college resources to boycott Israeli goods or American companies dealing with Israel and denied to students use of college funds in implementing any student-voted divestment resolution.
At the University of Texas-Austin, AEN worked behind the scenes to support Professor Ami Pedahzur, head of the Israel Institute at UT, whose November 13, 2015 seminar with an invited speaker Gil-Li Vardi, Stanford University, was disrupted by members of pro-BDS student group called the Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC). On March 9, President Gregory Fenves issued a public statement supporting Professor Pedahzur and affirming the principle that the "expression of free speech is not a license to drown out the speech of others, or to shout down ideas one disagrees with."
On March 24, the University of California Board of Regents adopted a set of Principles Against Intolerance condemning "[a]nti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination...." Prior to the report being adopted, AEN praised the Board of Regents' task force for its efforts, opining that the report as a whole is “one of the most thoughtful statements on intolerance, including anti-Semitism, to appear from any university leaders.” AEN later and in collaboration with other major Jewish organizations issued a joint statement of support for the Principles as adopted, which can be read here.
AEN supported a successful effort to defeat two BDS resolutions at the University of Michigan Dearborn. Upon learning that the Faculty Senate planned to take up BDS the following Monday, AEN convened a call with campus partners within hours and spent the weekend coordinating with faculty and campus allies and working on strategy. On Monday, April 11, 2016, the Faculty Senate voted to reject an academic boycott resolution 6-31 and also voted overwhelmingly to reject a resolution asking the university to create an “advisory committee” whose purpose would have been to “enquire about potential divestment from corporations doing business with Israel.”
At CUNY, in April, AEN provided guidance to graduate students in the Doctoral Students Council in opposition to a BDS resolution which called for a boycott by CUNY of Israeli academic institutions and scholars. AEN’s Ken Waltzer published an op-ed urging DSC students to reject the proposed boycott. Unfortunately, on April 15 members of the DSC voted to adopt the resolution.
On June 6 the American Anthropology Association announced that its members voted to reject a resolution calling on the organization to boycott Israeli academic institutions by a vote of 2,423 to 2,384. AEN supported efforts to achieve this important victory by, among other things, activating Network members to engage with anthropology colleagues on their respective campuses and to speak out against the boycott resolution. AEN also issued a press release calling on AAA members to reject the resolution, and amplified and distributed messages and videos from groups opposed to the boycott campaign, including Anthropologists for Dialogue on Israel/Palestine and Anthropologists for Academic Freedom.
In November 2016, at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ken Waltzer worked closely with the local Hillel director, faculty (including AEN member Victor Lieberman), and students in crafting talking points and arguments against a student BDS divestment motion. The motion was voted down overwhelmingly.
AEN privately and publicly backed the University of California Board of Regents in its adoption, in March 2016, of a Statement of Principles Against Intolerance, the first such statement recognizing antisemitism as a matter of grave concern on campuses, and has publicly and privately defended the Principles in the face of recent attacks. Ken Waltzer continues to be involved on this subject, offering advice to leadership at the University of California, Irvine on integrating the Principles into university operations and meeting with leading administrators at UCLA and UC-Riverside.