UMass Resistance Studies Initiative to host BDS panel discussion

84 groups pen letter querying use of UMass name when departments host political events.

ANTI-ISRAEL PROTESTERS with a ‘boycott Israel’ sign. (photo credit: REUTERS)
ANTI-ISRAEL PROTESTERS with a ‘boycott Israel’ sign.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Eighty-four groups have called on University of Massachusetts (UMass) chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy to urge the university’s Faculty Senate to rule on whether faculty and departments should be permitted to use the university’s name and resources to promote an activist political agenda.
This comes as the UMass Resistance Studies Initiative, an official UMass academic unit, is co-presenting another anti-Israel political event on campus.
The event entitled “Criminalizing Dissent: The Attack on BDS and Pro-Palestinian Speech” will be hosted at UMass Amherst on November 12.
According to the UMass Resistance Studies Initiative, the panel will discuss “mounting efforts by US political leaders, right-wing pro-Israel lobbying groups and college and university administrators to silence pro-Palestinian speech on American campuses and criminalize supporters of BDS, a nonviolent movement that aims to hold Israel accountable for its violations of Palestinian human rights.”
The panel will be moderated by Linda Sarsour, the Palestinian-American co-founder of the Women’s March who has ties with antisemitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
Speakers will include Harvard’s Prof. Cornel West, anti-racism activist Tim Wise, journalist and leading Black Lives Matters activist Shaun King and Dima Khalidi, founder and director of Palestine Legal. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) co-founder Omar Barghouti, who has been barred from entering the US by the Trump administration, will join the discussion via video call.
Earlier this year, the academic unit hosted an event entitled “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech, and the Battle for Palestinian Human Rights,” which included speeches from Sarsour, Pink Floyd musician and BDS activist Roger Waters and Marc Lamont Hill.
The AMCHA Initiative – a watchdog that seeks to investigate, document, educate and combat antisemitism on US university campuses – stressed on Wednesday that each of these figures are “outspoken anti-Israel activists who have engaged in antisemitic expressions including charges that Jewish Americans are more loyal to Israel than America, calls for the elimination of the Jewish state, comparisons of Israelis to Nazis and other false and defamatory accusations about Israel and Israel’s supporters that draw on classic antisemitic tropes.”
In a letter penned by the organizations in April – including the AMCHA Initiative, which initiated the letter; the Simon Wiesenthal Center; B’nai B’rith International; Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA); and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors, called on the academic institution to “rescind all named university sponsorship of this event and ensure that no academic unit or other university entity is connected to this event in any way; [and to] provide us with assurances, highlighting relevant university policies and procedures, that UMass faculty will not be permitted to use their academic position or the university’s name or resources to promote a personal, political agenda that compromises the university’s academic mission and imperils the safety and well-being of UMass students.”
SOON AFTER the groups had contacted Subbaswamy, “the Rules Committee of the UMass Faculty Senate was directed to establish an ad hoc committee for developing guidelines regarding the departmental sponsorship of events” the AMCHA initiative explained in a statement on Wednesday. “The ad hoc committee’s charge is to ‘explore the terrain around hosting, sponsoring and co-sponsoring events and to clarify the various issues that arise when the campus or units within host, sponsor, or co-sponsor an event held on or off campus.’”
The watchdog also pointed out that its research “has found that schools with faculty who support an academic boycott of Israel are five times more likely to have acts of anti-Jewish aggression, including assault, harassment and vandalism.”
Responding to the scheduled November 12 event, Subbaswamy said in a statement last month that he disagreed with the event’s goal and said “the university remains firmly opposed to BDS and to academic boycotts of any kind.
“Academic boycotts are antithetical to academic freedom and it is ironic that individuals, who rely upon that very freedom to make their case, should advocate for a movement, in BDS, that seeks to suppress it.”
The chancellor received major backlash from BDS groups last week in response to the comments.
In a letter written to the chancellor this week, also coordinated by the AMCHA Initiative, the 84 groups “expressed appreciation for this critical and necessary action and for Subbaswamy’s recent statement condemning the upcoming event and emphasizing the harm of BDS and an academic boycott to the academic mission of the university.”
However, the groups made it clear to Subbaswamy that these steps alone will not sufficiently address this repeated problem.
“[E]ven with your excellent statement and the Faculty Senate’s commitment to grappling with the parameters of departmentally-sponsored events, the underlying problem – faculty who feel entitled to use their academic positions and the university’s name or resources to promote their own personal political agenda, thereby undermining the academic mission of the university and fostering political, ethnic, or religious hatred on your campus – will not be adequately addressed.”
They urged Subbaswamy to ask his Faculty Senate to directly answer whether “UMass faculty and departments should be permitted to use the name and resources of the university to promote an activist political agenda. Specifically, is this a legitimate use of academic freedom, or an abuse of it?”
In April, the initiative told The Jerusalem Post that this call is not for such events to be canceled “because everyone has the right to freedom of speech and is protected by the First Amendment,” but for the university to distance itself from it.