Statement by Jewish Studies Professors in North America Regarding the Amcha Initiative

Forward, October 1, 2014

We the undersigned are professors of Jewish studies at North American universities.
Several of us have also headed programs and centers in Jewish studies. Many of us have worked hard to nurture serious, sustained study of Israeli politics and culture on our home campuses and elsewhere.

It is in this latter regard that we call attention to the activities of an organization called the AMCHA Initiative whose mission is “investigating, educating about, and combatting antisemitism at institutions of higher learning in America.” Most recently, AMCHA has undertaken to monitor centers for Middle Eastern studies on American campuses including producing a lengthy report on UCLA’s in which that center is accused of antisemitism.

AMCHA has also circulated a list of more than 200 Middle Eastern studies faculty whom it urges Jewish students and others to avoid because, it asserts, they espouse anti-Zionist andeven antisemitic viewpoints in their classrooms.

It goes without saying that we, as students of antisemitism, are unequivocally opposed to any and all traces of this scourge. That said, we find the actions of AMCHA deplorable.

Its technique of monitoring lectures, symposia and conferences strains the basic principle of academic freedom on which the American university is built. Moreover, its definition of antisemitism is so undiscriminating as to be meaningless. Instead of encouraging openness through its efforts, AMCHA’s approach closes off all but the most narrow intellectual directions and has a chilling effect on research and teaching. AMCHA’s methods lend little support to Israel, whose very survival depends on free, open, and vigorous debate about its future.

Universities and colleges are designed to provide opportunities to students to consider theworld around them from a wide range of perspectives. The institutions where we teach, as well as many others we know well (including those appearing on AMCHA’s list), offer a
broad array of courses dealing with Israel and Palestinian affairs. None of these, whether supportive or critical of Israeli policy, ought to be monitored for content or political orientation. We find it regrettable that AMCHA, so intent on combatting the boycott of Israel, has launched a boycott initiative of its own. This further degrades the currency of academic freedom.

AMCHA’s tactics are designed to stifle debate on issues debated in Israel and around the world, and the presumption that students must be protected from their own universities is misguided and destructive. Efforts such as these do not promote academic integrity, but rather serve to deaden the kind of spirited academic exchange that is the lifeblood of the university.

Robert Alter, University of California, Berkeley
Bernard Avishai, Dartmouth College
Carol Bakhos, University of California, Los Angeles
David Biale, University of California, Davis
Ra’anan Boustan, University of California, Los Angeles
Matti Bunzl, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Steven M. Cohen, Hebrew Union College (New York)
Hasia R. Diner, New York University
Nathaniel Deutsch, University of California, Santa Cruz
John M. Efron, University of California, Berkeley
David Engel, New York University
Yael Feldman, New York University
Reuven Firestone, Hebrew Union College (Los Angeles)
Charlotte Fonrobert, Stanford University
Rachel Havrelock, University of Illinois at Chicago
Susannah Heschel, Dartmouth College
Hannan Hever, Yale University
Marion Kaplan, New York University
Ari Y. Kelman, Stanford University
Laura S. Levitt, Temple University
Shaul Magid, Indiana University
Frances Malino, Wellesley College
Barbara E. Mann, Jewish Theological Seminary
Tony Michels, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Deborah Dash Moore, University of Michigan
David N. Myers, University of California, Los Angeles
Anita Norich, University of Michigan
Derek Penslar, University of Toronto/University of Oxford
Riv-Ellen Prell, University of Minnesota
Aron Rodrigue, Stanford University
Marsha Rozenblit, University of Maryland
Naomi Seidman, Graduate Theological Union
Jeffrey Shandler, Rutgers University
Eugene Sheppard, Brandeis University
Sarah Abrevaya Stein, University of California, Los Angeles
David M. Stern, University of Pennsylvania
Jeffrey Veidlinger, University of Michigan
Sam Wineburg, Stanford University
Diane Wolf, University of California, Davis
Steven J. Zipperstein, Stanford University

Read more: