In This Issue

  • Campus Developments
  • AEN Updates
  • Member Writings and Interviews
  • A Conversation with Stephen Trachtenberg
  • Upcoming Initiatives


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April 2017 Newsletter

We hope everyone had a good Passover or a happy Easter.

AEN now has 447 members on 175 campuses across the country. In March, we recruited 5 new faculty members on 4 campuses.

Campus Developments

The spring semester usually sees heightened pro-BDS activity on campuses, and this year is turning out to be no different.

BDS Defeats
Four BDS campaigns have been rejected in the past month, due to effective, coordinated efforts on the part of students, faculty, and community partners.
On March 29, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) voted narrowly, 13-12-1, to table indefinitely a resolution calling for divestment from 20 companies doing business in Israel. The motion to table indefinitely means that the resolution cannot be brought up again for the remainder of the academic year, and is thus a clear defeat for pro-BDS activists and an important victory for the students, faculty, and staff at UW-Madison who mobilized and worked together effectively on a short time frame to successfully oppose the BDS campaign. Upon learning of the resolution and the scheduled vote, AEN apprised its faculty members at UW-Madison who acted quickly to offer their support to students and Hillel staff mobilizing opposition to the resolution. Several AEN faculty members attended an emergency meeting with students and the UW Hillel Director to offer guidance and suggestions on strategy, while other AEN faculty contributed talking points and were in touch with students, members of the Jewish community, and the Hillel director to offer their support and advice. AEN member Chad Goldberg spoke at the hearing itself, focusing on the practical consequences that would result from the resolution for multiple communities, including students and faculty at UW, Jewish and Arab Israelis, Palestinians in the West Bank, and union workers in the US employed by the targeted companies.

On April 2, at Columbia University, the undergraduate student council prevented a divestment referendum from reaching the general ballot by a vote of 29 opposed, 3 in favor, and 2 abstentions. Many thanks to AEN members at Columbia for reaching out to and offering resources to pro-Israel students.

Also on April 2, at Scripps College, the student government rejected a BDS resolution with a final vote of 15 against, 0 in favor, and 4 abstentions, in part due to the effective messaging of pro-Israel students.

On April 3, at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, an expected BDS resolution ultimately was not raised at a meeting of the Faculty Congress. AEN member Jamie Wraight prepared extensively for the meeting in consultation with the AEN national office, developing talking points and engaging in multiple strategy calls with AEN and community organizations.

BDS Successes
BDS resolutions were adopted by student government votes at Tufts University and Pitzer College. Both votes were scheduled on short notice and were held during or just before the Passover holiday, when many Jewish students were away from the campus visiting family.

On April 9, at Tufts University, a surprise anti-Israel divestment resolution passed by a vote of 17 in favor, 6 opposed, and 8 abstentions. The vote was held one day before the start of Passover, leading multiple organizations to condemn both the content and timing of the vote. AEN sent a letter to the President of Tufts urging a repudiation of the vote - he eventually released a timely statement highlighting his opposition to anti-Israel boycotts and expressing concern about the timing of the vote.

On April 16, the student government at Pitzer College voted to adopt an amendment to the student activities budget which would preclude student activities funds from being used to purchase goods or services from “any corporation or organization associated with the unethical occupation of Palestinian territories.” This vote also took place during Passover and on Easter Sunday, and only 25 out of 39 student senators actually showed up for the meeting. 

Potential BDS Campaigns
AEN is closely monitoring and, together with AEN faculty on the affected campuses, preparing to respond appropriately to active BDS campaigns at California State University - Long Beach, George Washington University, Montclair State University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Maryland. Many thanks to AEN members at those institutions for their interest and willingness to act.

Life Science and Healthcare Academics Against BDS
More than 100 prominent life science and healthcare academics in Greater Boston have signed a statement initiated by AJC New England opposing academic boycotts, including those directed against Israeli universities and academics by the BDS movement. Signers of the document include AEN Advisory Board member and renounced Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, as well as a Nobel Prize recipient, 17 members of the National Academy of Sciences, medical school deans, hospital CEOs, former university Presidents, recipients of the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, recipients of the Breakthrough Prize in the Life Sciences, Howard Hughes Medical Investigators and many of the world’s leading researchers and life science and healthcare leaders.

AEN Updates

Mark Yudof at AIPAC
On March 27, AEN Advisory Board Chair Mark Yudof spoke on a panel at the AIPAC Policy Conference entitled "Israel on Campus: A Historic Perspective." Yudof emphasized the need to balance both proactive tactics to improve Israel education on campus and reactive responses to anti-Israel activity and campaigns.

AEN in the News
AEN Executive Director Ken Waltzer was quoted in a McClatchy piece on the current manifestations of antisemitism on campus. 

In Ha'aretz, Mark and Ken published an op-ed which condemned BDS while also taking a stance against the tactic of blacklisting its proponents. While some organizations defending Israel and opposing BDS favor such blacklisting, AEN, which stands for academic freedom, does not.

We wish to extend congratulations to AEN member Laurie Zoloth, who was recently appointed Dean of the University of Chicago's Divinity School.

Microgrant Events
On April 2-3, Martin Shichtman, Professor of English and Director of Jewish Studies at Eastern Michigan University, hosted Dr. Galeet Dardashti, an anthropologist and musicologist who examines Israeli music, media and identity, Mizrahi cultural politics, and Arab/Jewish artistic “coexistence.” Dardashti first gave a public lecture, attended by over 80 people, entitled "Sacred Music Hits the Israeli Pop Charts: Money, Music and Mizrahiyut (ethnic identity)" at the Ann Arbor Jewish Community Center. The following day, Dardashti and her band Divahn gave a performance at The Ark in Ann Arbor (one of America’s premier folk music venues). The concert, attended by nearly 300 people, featured lush string arrangements; eclectic Indian, Middle Eastern, and Latin percussion; and vocals spanning Hebrew, Judeo-Spanish, Persian, Arabic, and Aramaic.
On April 6, Amy Elman, Professor of Political Science at Kalamazoo College, hosted renowned Israeli historian Benny Morris for a lecture on Israel's War of Independence. Approximately 70 people from the college and the wider community were in attendance for the lecture, entitled “A New Look at the Israeli-Arab War of 1948.” Many students remarked that Morris talked about matters about which they'd never heard and challenged the existing narratives of the 1948 war from multiple angles. Several were especially appreciative of his explicit acknowledgement of the limitations of what we can know about this event, given the dearth of access to Arab archives.

Member Writings and Interviews

In Commentary, Jonathan Marks highlighted the hypocrisy of Princeton professor Cornel West's support of a statement in favor of free speech, considering West's advocacy on behalf of the BDS movement. "In episodes at the University of Minnesota, New York University, the University of Chicago, and San Francisco State University, BDS supporters certainly acted as if God was on their side as they shouted down or attempted to shout down speakers deemed pro-Israel. Certainly Cornel West has been on their side, or, at least, he has not uttered a mumbling word about this well-known BDS tactic."

For the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute blog, Janet Freedman (along with Ruth Nemzoff), emphasized the compatibility of feminism and Zionism, despite the assertions of some critics. "...[An] advocacy of “anti-normalization,” an end to all interactions with Israel...raises fears that peace is not the real aim of the anti-Zionists within progressive movements. Do they seek to widen divisions to justify the destruction of Israel? Do feminists wish to ally themselves with that goal?"

In the Algemeiner, Susannah Heschel was interviewed about her views on Israel and the current climate on campus. "“We have to teach them that Israel is extraordinary. That it has and is contributing incredible things to humanity, that the country is about so much more than a conflict with the Palestinians"

Also in the Algemeiner, Ruth Wisse condemned the warm welcome received by anti-Israel poet Rami Kenazi on many US campuses, calling it a "a symptom of the culture of destroyers silencing the culture of builders on today’s campuses."

We know that our members have lots to say and share about developments in the US, Israel, and around the world. If you are writing, speaking, blogging, or tweeting, please let us know! 

A Conversation with Stephen Trachtenberg

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, a member of AEN's Advisory Board, was the 15th President of George Washington University, serving from 1988 to 2007. AEN Senior Communications Associate Raeefa Shams spoke to him about his views on free speech on campus (edited for length and content). Photo credit: George Washington University.

What do you see as the key challenges that have emerged for free speech advocates on campus?
​One of the biggest problem for free speech advocates is that they are not sufficiently articulate about the historical development of free speech and why it is imperative if we are to have a functioning society. The decline of free speech takes us in the direction of an authoritarian environment. Universities have for many years been the incubators of free speech​. If you take away free speech, it is harder to have academic freedom and intellectual inquiry​: ​t​he very foundation of universities – the pursuit of knowledge – is undermined. We have been weak in communicating these values to the next generation.
In this time of political tension and polarization, what are the best arguments to make for the importance of free speech? 
The best argument for free speech is that it is quintessentially American. The best claim that can be made for American exceptionalism is America’s ability to be heterogeneous. We’re not all Poles, Hungarians, or Koreans – we’re Americans. We’ve said to the world that it is possible for people with different backgrounds and views to come together. This allows us to consider ourselves as the leader of the free world and an example for other countries. Thus, not to defend free speech is to not understand the most basic foundations of the American republic and the values which undergirded the sacrifices made by fighting men and women throughout the decades.
What are some ways in which faculty, students, alumni, and other campus stakeholders can work together with administrators to promote free speech on campus?
These various stakeholders are enriched by free speech as part of the social contract – in protecting your ability to speak, I am protecting my own. Understanding that what is good for one is good for us all helps us understand the need to defend free speech. These groups should jointly develop a protocol – those who oppose free speech should have to explain why they should benefit from the freedoms that they don't wish others to have. The administration in particular has to be robust in its defense of the meaning of a university and the environment it hopes to nurture. It needs to make clear its values to students, before they come to campus.
What are some ways in which supporters of Israel can effectively push back against BDS campaigns while upholding the principle of free speech?
Many young Jewish students have not been properly educated​ about Judaism or Israel or free speech. Jewish education has been lamentable. ​Young people don’t know enough about Israel and all of the efforts it has made toward peace, so they are easily convinced by arguments against Israel. Israel is not a perfect place – criticism of the Israeli government is perfectly legitimate. But you have to know the history, you need to have a basis of comparison. Free speech is its own reward – there’s no license on the part of pro-Israel advocates to shut anyone up, but they should take it upon themselves to speak up.​​
Do you think antisemitism is a significant issue on US campuses, and if so, how do you recommend combating it? 
Any antisemitism, any racism, any sexism, anything that disadvantages students unfairly, is too much. We have problems with the “other”, and​ to some people​ homogeneity is comforting. I don’t deny America’s shortcomings, but there are significant numbers of people who wish to come to America from their homelands. We ​are ​a richer, stronger, and better country because we have the most imaginative people from around the world coming here. Thus, combating antisemitism requires reaffirming this view of American exceptionalism. ​ We value all as equals: we cannot and will not tolerate the disparaging of one/some over others.

Upcoming Initiatives

AEN National Conference
AEN will hold its second National Conference May 15-17, 2017, in Chicago, IL. We are excited about our conference program, which will include keynote talks by University of Chicago Law School Professor Geof Stone, author and former member of Knesset Einat Wilf, and Brandeis University Professor and founding director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies Ilan Troen. Israel Prize winner Ruth Gavison will appear as a special guest. Panels will address a variety of issues, including free speech controversies, shifts in the political and cultural climate on and off campus, and current and projected trends for BDS campaigns.

Registration for the conference is now officially closed, though we may still accept registrations on a case-by-case basis. If you are interested in attending, please contact AEN Deputy Director Mike Atkins as soon as possible (

As always, we would like to highlight our members' activities. If you would like to share any information about AEN-related work on your campus, please let us know at
Copyright © 2017, Academic Engagement Network, All rights reserved.

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