AEN’s faculty network, in collaboration with its leadership team, actively responds to campaigns to delegitimize Israel on campuses throughout the U.S. Below is a selection of our recent campus engagements:
One of the projects that AEN is supporting as a part of its Improving the Campus Climate Initiative (ICCI) is the Antisemitism Education Initiative, a pilot program at the University of California, Berkeley, which will bring together multiple campus stakeholders to inform about, discuss, and develop the resources to respond to antisemitism. This innovative program, to which we have provided a $25,000 grant, was initiated by AEN Advisory Board member Steven Davidoff Solomon, Professor of Law, Ethan Katz, Professor of History and Jewish Studies, and Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, Executive Director of Berkeley Hillel, and will feature trainings, expert speakers and panels, and multimedia presentations aimed at students, campus staff, and faculty at UC Berkeley over a two-to-three year period. We hope that the Antisemitism Education Initiative at UC Berkeley will serve as an effective model for other campuses.
AEN announced the grant in a press release, which has since received significant media coverage, including in the Daily Californian (UC Berkeley’s campus newspaper), J. Weekly, the Jewish Journal, and the Algemeiner.
To demonstrate a robust faculty voice in opposition to a pro-BDS referendum (originally scheduled for Spring 2020, and later rescheduled to Fall 2020), AEN organized an online open letter, initially signed by twelve AEN members at Columbia. The petition’s springboard was a strong statement against antisemitism made by President Lee Bollinger in front of a Senate Plenary on March 6 and in opposition to the upcoming referendum: “We, the undersigned Columbia faculty, appreciate President Bollinger’s forceful and unequivocal declaration against bigotry and prejudice, which are intolerable, as he said, when directed against any group, especially within a university. We applaud our president’s condemnation of anti-Semitism in all its many forms. We also support his principled opposition to the rhetoric and activism of the BDS movement, which singles out and applies a double standard to Israel and often manifests itself as an attack on Jewish identity.”
The letter was signed by over 130 current faculty members, representing a wide variety of academic disciplines, including the Humanities and Social Sciences, and all ranks, from endowed chairs to adjunct faculty. It gained media coverage in JNS and the Algemeiner. This campaign was done in collaboration with AEN’s partners at the Israel on Campus Coalition, who designed the website for the online letter and created an online portal for signature collection.
The referendum was ultimately passed in Fall 2020. President Bollinger quickly rejected the results, and AEN organized another faculty letter in support of his statement. The second letter was signed by 115 faculty members, across all disciplines and ranks.
In 2019-2020, AEN began a sustained effort to engage faculty and administrators at New York University to respond to longstanding issues with antisemitic and anti-Zionist activity on that campus. First, AEN recruited a faculty cohort representing a wide range of academic disciplines and levels of seniority. Then, in early March 2020, AEN held a lunch meeting for these faculty members, which was attended by senior administrators, with the goal of defining problems and challenges at NYU and brainstorming strategies for tackling them. The faculty members were deeply committed to moving the needle on their campus, and several are now in the process of organizing follow-up conversations and developing an agenda for future meetings with NYU administrators.
We are now in conversation with several senior administrators who are working on developing and implementing antisemitism awareness training for the upcoming year. Shortly after our visit, NYU issued multiple strong statements related to our issues—one against antisemitic remarks on social media by a former student; another recently opposing an academic boycott call by the graduate student union.
In early February 2020, AEN Executive Director Miriam Elman and Senior Communications Associate Raeefa Shams visited Tufts University for a series of meetings with senior campus administrators, faculty, Hillel professionals, and pro-Israel students. Around 15 current and prospective AEN members attended a convening in which Elman gave a presentation about the uptick in antisemitic forms of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist expression on the campus in recent years. Elman and Shams then led a facilitated a discussion with the faculty to allow them to share their concerns about these events and to develop strategies for effective short-term and long-term responses. Elman also met with a number of senior administrators to discuss the campus climate for Jewish and Zionist students at Tufts. As a result of this campus visit, several new faculty members at Tufts joined AEN, helping to form the basis of an active and engaged faculty cohort on that campus.
In September 2020, AEN organized a virtual convening of this faculty cohort, in light of efforts to insert the anti-Israel “Deadly Exchange” campaign into an anti-racist initiative, Tufts for Black Lives. The group discussed their current concerns and strategized about ways to move forward.
In response to a Department of Education letter which stated that the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies lacked viewpoint diversity and was thus out of compliance with the terms of its annual Title VI grant, AEN Executive Director Miriam Elman was asked for comment by both the New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Elman emphasized that a potential investigation should be a “wake-up call” for faculty members affiliated with these federally-funded National Resource Centers, who should undertake their own programmatic reviews in order to demonstrate compliance with the terms of the Higher Education Opportunity Act. In late September 2019, Miriam Elman and Raeefa Shams of AEN visited the Duke and UNC campuses to speak to faculty, students, and Hillel professionals and discuss their perspectives on the DoE letter and other pressing on-campus issues.
For the second year in a row, AEN was instrumental in defeating a BDS resolution at the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP). A proposed resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions, which was presented at the SSSP’s annual meeting on August 7, 2020, failed to receive a two-thirds majority after two weeks of voting.
With support from the AEN leadership team, AEN members in sociology as well as in adjacent fields such as psychology, political science, and law quickly mobilized to oppose the resolution. Members wrote to the SSSP leadership to voice their opposition and concerns, posted written comments on the open discussion board on the SSSP website, and spoke against the resolution during the SSSP’s annual meeting (held virtually). AEN also wrote a letter to the SSSP leadership highlighting the flaws and double standards in the resolution.
At SFSU, two faculty members planned to host Leila Khaled, a member of the PFLP who played a critical role in two airplane hijackings, for an “open classroom” Zoom event scheduled for September 23. Ultimately, the event did not take place, as Zoom, and later Facebook and YouTube, denied SFSU access to their platforms on the grounds of Khaled’s affiliation with a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.
Prior to Zoom’s decision, AEN Executive Director Miriam Elman was quoted in a JNS piece about the event as saying that “Professors should challenge their students and present them with controversial ideas and points of view” but “shouldn’t be turning their courses into vehicles for political or ideological indoctrination.” Elman’s social media posts about the event were included in an article on the website Law Enforcement Daily. AEN member Jonathan Marks also wrote a piece condemning the mainstreaming of Khaled for Commentary.
In response to the initial controversy, President Mahoney wrote a strong article in J. Weekly, in which she condemned the “glorification of terrorism and use of violence against unarmed civilians,” as well as “antisemitism and other hateful ideologies that marginalize people based on their identities, origins or beliefs,” while still defending the faculty members’ right to invite Khaled. She further clarified her remarks in an interview with J. Weekly. Mark Yudof, Chair of AEN’s National Advisory Board, remained in constant contact with California State University and SFSU leadership as the crisis evolved, including sending a personal note to President Mahoney to commend her for her remarks and offering assistance from AEN and Hillel International.
On the evening of September 23, students held a vigil – at which President Mahoney gave remarks – to honor victims of terrorism. The vigil had initially been proposed by Miriam Elman in conversation with SFSU Hillel and other organizations.
In response to a draft resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions which was planned for discussion during a membership meeting of the Foundations of Political Theory section of the American Political Science Association (APSA)’s 2019 Annual Meeting on August 31, AEN notified its members in Political Science and encouraged them to attend the meeting and voice opposition to the resolution and to its accompanying FAQ. AEN leadership also engaged extensively on this development with VERA (Committee of University Heads of Israel), including sending a letter to the leadership of APSA expressing opposition to the resolution and detailing the many inaccuracies contained in the FAQ document offered by the resolution’s sponsors. These early efforts were covered by the Algemeiner and commended by Zvi Ziegler, Chair of the Israeli Universities’ Forum to Combat Academic Boycotts.
Ultimately, the proposed resolution experienced a colossal defeat. Over 120 conference attendees attended the August 31 special meeting of the Foundations of Political Theory section where the resolution would be discussed, the large majority of whom were opponents of the resolution. Many speakers spoke out loudly and eloquently against BDS. AEN member and University of California at Berkeley Professor Ron Hassner worked with AEN leaders to organize a contingent to attend the meeting, where Hassner also spoke. During the meeting, the section chair noted that she had received some 360 emails regarding the resolution, of which some 80% were in opposition. She summarized those emails, listing the many reasons why members opposed the motion, and concluded the meeting by rejecting the proposed resolution as opposed to the views of the section. There will be no further action and no vote. This positive development, including AEN’s contributions, were covered by JNS and by AEN member Jonathan Marks in Commentary.
In October and November 2019, AEN and its members were very active in responding to developments at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. In response to a pro-BDS event scheduled for November 12 (featuring prominent anti-Israel activists such as Omar Barghouti, Linda Sarsour, and Cornel West), AEN members on the UMass-Amherst campus worked effectively behind the scenes, writing to and consulting with senior administrators and colleagues and advising students. When Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy released a statement criticizing the pro-BDS event and clarifying that it was being presented by an off-campus organization, AEN sent him a letter of support, which was highlighted in the Jewish Journal. AEN member Dan Gordon also wrote a piece for the Jewish Journal, in which he supported the chancellor’s statement, and highlighted the problem of “faculty members…organizing biased events, designed to attract thousands of anti-Zionists in the region.”
AEN also supported events organized by AEN faculty on the UMass-Amherst campus. On October 22, Professor Andy Pessin of Connecticut College spoke on the topic of “Anti-Zionism on the College Campus,” with the assistance of an AEN speakers’ grant. Then, on October 28 and 29, Israeli historian Benny Morris spoke at two separate events, on the topics of the Armenian genocide and Israel’s War of Independence, with the assistance of an AEN micro-grant. These grants were made strategically, in consideration of the many anti-Israel activities taking place on the UMass-Amherst campus.
Finally, when over forty faculty and administrators at the University of Massachusetts – Boston signed on to a letter condemning Chancellor Subbaswamy’s statement, AEN Executive Director Miriam Elman told JNS in an interview that the fact that “these many pro-academic boycotters at UMass-Boston also hold administrative positions throws the university’s commitment to academic freedom into question,” and that it was “troubling that these 40 administrators and faculty at UMass-Boston are signing such a letter which disparages the identities of the majority of Jewish and Zionist students on the Boston campus.”
AEN also collaborated with AMCHA to send a letter to the President of the University of Massachusetts system, urging him to issue a “system-wide statement clarifying that the University is opposed to academic boycotts of Israeli universities.” The letter was covered by the Algemeiner.
In Summer 2019, AEN members played an important role in helping to raise awareness about problems in an initial draft of an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC), which was under proposal by the California Board of Education (BOE). The draft model curriculum had been the subject of growing controversy since its public release earlier this summer, as it 1) omitted mention of Jews and/or antisemitism, 2) included blatant, one-sided anti-Israel biases (including pro-BDS writings) in its proposed curriculum for Arab-American Studies, and 3) had serious problems of rigor, methodological flaws, and poor pedagogy.
AEN alerted its faculty members in California, as well as those throughout the country who teach Jewish Studies, Israel Studies, Education, and Women’s/ Gender Studies, about the draft model curriculum, encouraging them to provide critical feedback to the CA BOE during the public comment phase (lasting through August 15). In response to our call, at least 10 AEN members submitted comments to the BOE, highlighting the many flaws and shortcomings of the ESMC and suggesting needed amendments. Without exception, the comments submitted by AEN members were excellent, drawing on the members’ academic and scholarly expertise on issues ranging from pedagogy to history to Jewish and Israel Studies to ethnic studies. AEN leaders worked closely with the Executive Director of the California-based Institute for Curricular Studies (ICS) to provide timely feedback regarding the ESMC from AEN members. As a result of the significant number of comments it received, the BOE released a statement on August 12 that it would not adopt the draft ESMC, as it “falls short and needs to be substantially redesigned.” One of the AEN members who wrote-in to protest the model curriculum published an op-ed which highlighted his concerns and reservations.
On April 23, the College Council at Williams College denied the request of Williams Initiative for Israel (WIFI), a pro-Israel student group, to become a registered student organization, AEN sent a letter to Williams College’s president, Maud Mandel, expressing these concerns and urging her administration to take swift action to reverse the College Council’s decision. In particular, AEN highlighted the discriminatory nature of the decision, the lack of transparency in the process, the potential effect of ostracizing Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus, and the damage to principles of free expression. The AEN letter was later published as an opinion piece in the Berkshire Eagle. An active faculty member at Williams also connected pro-Israel students to AEN as a source of support, and AEN members David Bernstein and Jonathan Marks condemned the College Council’s decision in articles for Instapundit and Commentary, respectively. Bernstein also filed a brief Title VI complaint against Williams with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The President’s office ultimately released a statement criticizing the decision and affirming that the “Williams Initiative for Israel…can continue to exist and operate without being a CC-approved RSO.”
AEN responded to a BDS campaign in which a resolution to encourage GSU to withdraw its police department from the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange Program (GILEE), end the program’s presence at GSU, and redirect its funding, was presented to student government. GILEE, which is directed by AEN member Robert Friedmann, seeks to enhance cooperation between local law enforcement agencies and those in Israel and several other countries.
Upon learning of the proposed resolution, AEN’s Miriam Elman liaised with Friedmann to discuss responses. Elman also worked intensively with several campus stakeholder groups to bring attention to the fact that the resolution was part of the “Deadly Exchange” campaign – which seeks to indict Israel for allegedly contributing to instances of police misconduct against minority communities in the United States – and not, as the organizations of the campaign claimed, a sincere effort to address police misconduct in the United States on its own terms. Elman provided links to in-depth articles she has written over the years on the issue, including most recently for the Algemeiner and Legal Insurrection. Elman also worked on a customized “talking points” document to send to students and campus leaders opposing the resolution, emphasizing the positive benefits of programs like GILEE and highlighting statements of support for GILEE among African-American, Native American, and Hispanic police officers’ associations. During the meeting, the resolution was tabled indefinitely.
A BDS resolution narrowly failed at Cornell on April 11, in part due to an unusual “sense of the body” measure whereby two votes would be given to undergraduates present in the room for the vote. Upon learning about the vote, AEN notified two of its faculty members at Cornell – these individuals worked with pro-Israel students to hone their strategies and provided regular updates through email and social media. The evening before the vote, they urged their own networks to attend the hearing, so as to help achieve a pro-Israel majority for the room.
On March 14, Pitzer College’s College Council approved a motion, originated by Pitzer faculty supportive of the BDS movement, to suspend Pitzer’s direct-enroll study abroad program at the University of Haifa in Israel. Immediately after the vote, AEN sent a letter to Pitzer President Melvin L. Oliver urging him to reject the College Council’s misguided decision and expressing continued support and confidence in Oliver’s leadership (AEN had previously communicated with President Oliver last Fall, praising him for his decision to condemn a preliminary vote by the Pitzer faculty to end the college’s study abroad program with the University of Haifa). President Oliver responded personally to Mark Yudof in an email, thanking him and AEN for their support. Within the same hour, shortly after the College Council vote, President Oliver released a strong public statement rejecting the Council’s recommendation and highlighting the flaws in the Council’s decision—including that it undermined core university values of academic freedom and open exchange. AEN thereafter released and disseminated its own public statement condemning the faculty vote and praising President Oliver for his forceful and eloquent response. AEN also signed on to a letter, initiated by AMCHA, thanking President Oliver for his moral leadership. When President Oliver faced pushback from certain quarters due to his stance, AEN collaborated with several organizations to develop the language for two separate petitions. The first, directed toward Pitzer’s Board of Trustees, thanked President Oliver for his courageous stance and offered him support in the face of opposition. The second affirmed the importance of academic freedom, dialogue, and exchange as central values, and expressed solidarity with Pitzer’s pro-Israel community. AEN circulated both petitions widely among its membership and within its social media channels.
Individual AEN members and leaders also engaged actively around the developments at Pitzer. The American Jewish Committee published an article, in which Miriam Elman was quoted as an expert, on the BDS movement’s strategic assault on study abroad to Israel. AEN member Jonathan Marks wrote a strongly-worded piece for Commentary in the aftermath of the Pitzer vote, highlighting the hypocrisy and ignorance inherent in the College Council’s decision; Marks had previously written about the importance of faculty mobilizing against BDS as a defense of academic freedom.
Seventeen faculty members signed on to a letter published in the Daily Californian warning about the BDS movement’s threat to academic freedom. AEN member Jason Wittenberg was the key author and organizer of the letter, and several AEN members were among the signatories. The AEN leadership team offered guidance and suggestions throughout the writing process. The letter voices support for the UC Chancellors’ statement against academic boycotts of Israel (see above) and also responds critically to an essay by other Berkeley faculty that had criticized the Chancellors’ statement. Additionally, In J. Weekly, Miriam Elman and Ken Waltzer co-authored a piece responding critically to the pro-boycott faculty letter. Elman and Waltzer emphasized that faculty “are not free to impose their own political views on the campus or onto their students, nor demand that UC depart from its steady support of open inquiry and free intellectual exchange,” and refuted the letter-writers’ misinformed claims about AEN.
After a University of Michigan professor caused controversy by refusing to write a letter of recommendation for a student wishing to study abroad in Israel, AEN, in partnership with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), developed model language on letters of recommendation for faculty handbooks. The proposed policy, which was distributed to major colleges and universities, emphasizes that the “decision to express or withhold support for students in the form of recommendation letters should not be influenced by political considerations,” and that “academic merit, knowledge, preparation, and achievement are the appropriate metrics that should guide faculty in making decisions to write and in preparing such letters.” The policy was covered by the Detroit Jewish News, the Algemeiner, and briefly in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
In March 2018, 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 Yudof and Ken Waltzer 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, 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 2019, the chancellor of UIUC, Robert Jones, denounced a one-sided, anti-Israel presentation which was included as part of a mandatory residential life meeting. Stating that the presentation “incited division, distrust and anger” instead of “fostering dialogue,” Jones pledged to review the University’s training, programming and hiring practices, institute training on antisemitism, and to commission an external review of the University’s multicultural education programs. AEN faculty were highly engaged throughout this process – writing letters of encouragement to the chancellor, speaking out at a student government hearing where the chancellor’s statement was denounced, and offering support to pro-Israel students. AEN leadership sent a letter to Chancellor Jones commending his stance and offering resources should he need them.