In an incident that received national attention, Gail Hamner, a professor of religion at Syracuse University (SU), wrote a polite letter to the Israeli filmmaker Shimon Dotan disinviting him from a conference on the place of religion in film; otherwise, she warned frankly, her colleagues were threatening to “make matters very unpleasant.” When the correspondence went public, university administrators stepped in to re-invite Dotan, whose film, The Settlers, can hardly be described as Zionist propaganda. Miriam Elman, a professor of political science at SU, comments on the episode:
SU responded admirably by reasserting the university’s commitment to free speech and its opposition to “any boycott of Israeli academic institutions or faculty.” An invitation to Dotan to present his film at a later time this year was also extended. For her part, Hamner issued an apology and reaffirmed her own support for academic freedom. To my mind, this rings hollow. A true defender of campus free speech actively solicits diverse viewpoints, and doesn’t surrender to peer-pressure to conform.
Elman goes on to derive some important lessons about “stealth boycotts” like the one targeting Dotan:
First, administrators need to recognize that just because their schools are on record as opposing academic boycotts of Israel doesn’t mean that individual faculty members are adhering to that institutional policy in their personal instructional practices. Administrators must make school policy crystal clear, but they also have to institute mechanisms to ensure that faculty members comply with it.
Second, the case highlights that successfully confronting silent boycotting ultimately depends on whether individual faculty are willing to take a stand. Like all bullies, stealth boycotters get away with their bigotry and intimidation because most faculty aren’t as honest and forthright as Hamner was about the pressures they’re facing, and because the vast majority of professors prefer to do their research and teaching and hesitate getting involved in “campus politics.” The now multiplying anti-BDS organizations operating on campus are going to have to figure out a way to incentivize more faculty to engage proactively—and get those [facing] BDS harassment to go public.