New York Academics Can Boycott Israel All They Want

February 5, 2014 | Andy Cush

For now, New York academic groups are free to boycott Israel all they want, as a bill that would limit their free speech on the matter has been withdrawn from the New York State Assembly. The legislation would curtail schools’ abilities to direct state funds to groups like the American Studies Association and the Association for Asian American Studies, both of which have instituted boycotts against Israeli colleges and academics in response to that country’s policies towards Palestine. Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick, the bill’s co-sponsor, said “we needed to take a longer look” before it moved forward.

As the New York Times points out, the bill isn’t explicitly written about Israel: it only mentions nations “that host higher education institutions chartered by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York.” However, there are only four such countries, and Israel is the only one that’s the target of a major boycott.

Some academics who opposed the boycotts came out against the bill. “NYU does not believe that the remedy for an ill-conceived vote against Israeli academics and academic institutions should be for the government to withhold funds in ways that would themselves appear to contradict the tenets of academic freedom,” said John Beckman, an NYU spokesman.

Under the legislation, colleges that direct state funds to the American Studies Association or the Association for Asian American Studies — even a paltry $170 annual membership fee — would be defunded for an entire year. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (that’s him above), who sponsored the bill, says once the punishment is clarified, he’ll reintroduce it. Maria LaHood, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, is ready for a fight. “They can’t improve the bill,” she said. “New Yorkers won’t accept any infringement on our free speech.”

(Photo: Azi Paybarah)