Since AEN’s official launch in December 2015, we have built a growing national membership of more than 600 faculty members on more than 200 campuses nationwide. We have mobilized faculty members to oppose BDS and defend free speech on their campus and conducted outreach to senior administrators on key issues. We highlight some of AEN’s recent efforts below:
In March 2018, at the University of Minnesota, the AEN national office contacted AEN faculty members at Minnesota soon after learning that a pro-BDS referendum question could be placed on the student election ballot. With the support of AEN staff, AEN member Oren Gross, a member of the law faculty who was also active against a failed BDS effort at the University in 2016, wrote an op-ed in Medium, “Say ‘No’ to Antisemitism on Campus,” where he detailed how the referendum question singled out Israel and thus contributed to divisions on campus. Thirteen other University faculty members signed the op-ed, including nine AEN members. Mark and Ken also sent a letter to President Eric Kaler prior to the vote, urging him again to speak out against the BDS referendum as he did in 2016. Before the results of the vote were announced, President Kaler issued a public statement expressing concern about the referendum and invoking his public statement of last year. After the referendum passed by an extremely narrow margin (3,392 to 3,175 votes), President Kaler released an even stronger statement emphasizing his opposition to BDS.
In March 2018, at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, the AEN national office worked closely with AEN members Cary Nelson and Rachel Harris as well as with AEN Senior Consultant Richard Herman (a former Chancellor of UIUC) during a BDS referendum campaign. Ahead of a student government hearing on a resolution to strike the pro-BDS referendum question from the ballot, Harris and Nelson met with pro-Israel students and provided advice about responding to questions and framing arguments. Nelson also spoke during the hearing, countering a pro-BDS faculty member who was invited to speak by students supporting the BDS referendum. Once the referendum was on the ballot, Nelson wrote an op-ed for Medium (later published in the Daily Illini), “Another Acrimonious Debate About Israel?”, that argued for voting “no” on the BDS referendum question and exposed the many flaws in the BDS position. Seventeen additional faculty members at UIUC signed on to the op-ed, including Jeffrey R. Brown, the Dean of UIUC’s Gies College of Business (and now a member of AEN’s advisory board), who had previously written his own letter against the BDS referendum. Although the referendum ultimately failed by a very large margin (3,133 to 1,700 votes), University of Illinois President Tim Killeen still released a strong statement against BDS.
In November 2017, at the University of Maryland, AEN worked closely with its members to help defeat a student divestment resolution there. Nine AEN faculty at the university signed a statement, published in the Diamondback (the main student newspaper), opposing the divestment resolution. A separate faculty petition against the resolution, initiated by UMD Hillel, was signed by over 100 faculty members at the university. Ultimately, the resolution was defeated in a committee vote – AEN member Jeffrey Herf, who had drafted the initial faculty statement and helped mobilize other AEN faculty, also analyzed the campaign and vote in the Times of Israel. AEN was recognized by UMD Hillel for its contributions in defeating the resolution.
In November 2017, at the University of Michigan, AEN activated its members there in response to a student divestment resolution, working closely with the local Hillel throughout the campaign. AEN member Victor Lieberman, along with Ken Waltzer, led two teach-ins for members of the Central Student Government (CSG) and other students ahead of the vote. Ken also published an article in the Times of Israel against the BDS resolution. Unfortunately, after hours of debate, CSG voted to pass the resolution on a secret ballot vote of 23-17-5, though the university administration swiftly rejected the resolution’s demands. Notably, Lieberman, a Professor of History at the University, was prevented by CSG from speaking against the resolution during the hearing. Professor Lieberman would later publish in the Detroit Jewish News an open letter addressed to CSG summarizing his views on what happened, as well as the remarks he had originally prepared to give to CSG. Mark Yudof and Ken Waltzer sent a letter to University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel calling for a repudiation of the resolution. President Schlissel responded by reiterating that the university would not be considering divestment and expressing support for Jewish life on campus.
In November 2017, AEN hosted a convening for LA-area faculty members at UCLA Hillel. The convening consisted of a panel and roundtable discussion with on the topic, “Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism on Campus: Current Trends, Challenges, Solutions,” as well as a discussion among the AEN faculty to explore an action program of activities supported by AEN’s resources in Southern California during winter and spring 2018.
In October and November 2017, Ken Waltzer visited Portland State University. He met with several administrators (including PSU’s Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs, its Dean of Students, and its General Counsel), spoke with faculty, and met with Hillel students. Ken also delivered a keynote talk sponsored by the university entitled, “The Politics of Division and Fear: Finding Common Ground.”
In October 2017, Ken Waltzer visited the University of Houston (in advance of the National Students for Justice in Palestine conference taking place there at the end of October). He met with several AEN faculty at the University of Houston and at Rice, with students at Hillel, and with Kenny Weiss, the Hillel director at Houston.
In May 2017, Ken accepted an invitation by leaders at Portland State University to meet and consult with leaders there about how the university can improve conditions for Jewish students and develop institutional responses to anti-Israel incidents on campus. Waltzer met with PSU’s Dean of Students, General Counsel, and Vice President for Inclusion/Chief Diversity Officer. As a result of the meeting, Hillel was invited to campus and provided with an office, and ongoing consultations between the Jewish Studies Department and the JCRC were encouraged.
In May 2017, Mark Yudof and Tracy Turoff (General Counsel at Hillel International) wrote two strongly worded letters to the president of Pitzer College, Melvin Oliver, urging a response to the Pitzer Student Senate’s decision to adopt a BDS provision in the student budget committee bylaws. The amendment in question would have prohibited student activities funds at Pitzer from being used to pay for goods or services from five specific companies blacklisted by the BDS movement. In June, the Pitzer College Trustees voted to rescind the Student Senate amendment, thereby averting what would have been the first ever case of an American college or university ratifying (in this case, by inaction) a student government BDS divestment measure.
In May 2017, at CSU-Long Beach, AEN leaders worked with faculty members to oppose a divestment resolution in student government. AEN members Jeffrey Blutinger and Suzanne Wechsler advised pro-Israel students and spoke at multiple hearings, emphasizing how BDS would not advance peace in the region. CSU-Long Beach President Jane Conoley also appeared at one of the student government hearings with a letter highlighting the divisive and discriminatory nature of BDS campaigns. President Conoley informed Yudof and Waltzer that she had consulted, and found helpful, AEN’s Guide and Resource Book for University Leaders in connection with preparing her statement. Unfortunately, the divestment resolution ultimately was adopted.
In April and May 2017, at George Washington University, AEN communicated with faculty at GW throughout a month-long BDS campaign. AEN member Daniel Schwartz mentored pro-Israel students while also coordinating with other faculty about ways they could positively influence the debate. In addition, AEN Executive Director Ken Waltzer published an article in Times of Israel which highlighted the resolution’s many flaws. The resolution was ultimately voted down, narrowly, by a 15-14-1 vote.
In April 2017, at Montclair State University, AEN worked closely with faculty member Jaime Grinberg to develop a strong response to a divestment resolution. Grinberg advised and mentored pro-Israel students, and conducted outreach to different constituencies on campus. The resolution was ultimately rejected, 16-1.
In April 2017, following sustained engagement from Mark Yudof, University of Texas Chancellor William H. McRaven released a statement opposing the boycott of Israeli academic institutions and endorsing the American Association of Universities “Statement on Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions.”
In April 2017, after a controversial divestment resolution passed at Tufts University during a rushed and secretive student government meeting that took place on the eve of Passover, Mark Yudof and Ken Waltzer sent a letter to Tufts University President Anthony Monaco calling for a swift repudiation of the resolution. President Monaco released a statement highlighting his opposition to anti-Israel boycotts and expressing concern about the timing of the vote.
In March 2017, a last-minute effort by the student government to pass a BDS resolution at the University of Wisconsin-Madison led to a swift response by concerned members of the UW-Madison community, including AEN faculty. At the student government hearing the next evening, AEN member Chad Goldberg joined with Wisconsin students and spoke effectively against the resolution. After hours of debate, the resolution failed. Unfortunately, a separate resolution including anti-Israel language was adopted by the student government in late April.
In March 2017, AEN held a faculty convening in Cleveland, OH. AEN also participated in other meetings and events in Cleveland, including a meeting with Tracy Turoff (General Legal Counsel of Hillel International), Jared Isaacson (Director of Cleveland Hillel), and President Barbara Snyder of Case Western Reserve University; a meeting with representatives of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland; and the Annual Meeting and Dinner of the Federation’s Community Relations Committee, at which Mark Yudof appeared on a panel addressing free speech on campuses.
In February and March 2017, during a BDS referendum campaign at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), AEN coordinated daily with Richard Herman, an AEN senior consultant and the former chancellor of UIUC. Richard was in frequent communication with senior administrators in his capacity as Senior Counselor of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF). Another AEN member also gave support and advice to pro-Israel student activists. The referendum ultimately failed, by a vote of 3,627 to 2,762.
In February 2017, during a divestment referendum at Ohio State University, Mark Yudof and Ken Waltzer sent a letter to the President of OSU outlining the problematic aspects of the campaign. President Drake responded with an affirmation of his longstanding opposition to BDS campaigns. The referendum ultimately failed by a vote of 4,084 to 3,843.
During a February 2017 visit to Los Angeles, which included a convening with area AEN faculty members, Ken Waltzer met with senior administrators from UC-Irvine and UCLA and with the Chancellor and senior officials of UC-Riverside to provide strategic guidance in implementing the UC Regents’ Principles Against Intolerance, which condemn “anti-Semitism, anti-semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination.” Douglas Haynes, UC-Irvine’s Vice Provost for Academic Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, who has been charged with implementing the Principles at UC-Irvine, spoke at the AEN’s national conference in Chicago in May about his efforts to implement the Principles.
In January 2017, the Delegate Assembly of the Modern Language Association (MLA) voted to reject a proposed boycott of Israeli academic institutions at its annual convention in Philadelphia. In June 2017, members of the MLA voted to “refrain from endorsing the boycott” of Israeli academic institutions. AEN supported efforts to achieve these important victories by activating Network members to engage with MLA colleagues on their campuses and to speak out against the boycott proposal. You can view AEN’s statements on these victories here and here.
In December 2016, at Georgetown University, AEN faculty member Robert Lieber led efforts among fellow faculty members to defeat a proposal submitted to Georgetown’s Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility (CISR) calling for divestment from companies which “knowingly and consistently enable and profit from the violent Israeli occupation of Palestine.” In addition, Ken Waltzer published a piece in the Times of Israel analyzing and critiquing the divestment effort. CISR announced its decision to reject the anti-Israel divestment proposal in March 2017.
In November 2016, at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ken Waltzer worked closely with faculty and students in crafting talking points and arguments against a student BDS divestment motion. The motion was voted down overwhelmingly.
In Fall 2016, AEN was consulted by CUNY administrators after the fact about an independent report that was commissioned in response to allegations of anti-Semitism at several CUNY campuses. CUNY’s press release regarding the report quoted extensively from a letter AEN sent to Chancellor Milliken largely praising the report. Also in Fall 2016, the AEN national office worked closely with faculty members – in particular Azi Genack and Fred Naider – and graduate students at the City University of New York (CUNY) to develop language, mobilize support for, and publicize a statement affirming support for free scholarly exchange and opposing to academic boycotts of Israel, a direct rebuke to the DSC’s resolution.
In June 2016, 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 April 2016, at CUNY, 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, although CUNY Chancellor Milliken and CUNY Graduate Center President Robinson issued statements rejecting the vote.
In April 2016, 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 spent a weekend working on strategy with AEN faculty member Jamie Wraight and campus partners. The Faculty Senate ultimately 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.” In April 2017, AEN worked closely with the same faculty member to prepare for another possible faculty BDS resolution, which was ultimately not introduced. AEN provided updates and talking points, and liaised between Wraight and other organizations working on this issue.
In Spring 2016, at Columbia University, AEN supported faculty members 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. In March and April 2017, when a proposal to present a divestment referendum to the student body was introduced at Columbia, AEN notified and provided regular updates to its members on that campus. The student council ultimately prevented the referendum from reaching the general election ballot.
In Spring 2016, 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 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.
On March 24, 2016, 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.
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, 2016, 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.”
In February 2016, 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 at Vassar College. The article stirred robust debate about the extent of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment at the liberal arts college. President Catharine Bond Hill ultimately 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.