Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gordon - University Deserves Kudos, Not Blame

Evelyn Gordon..
31 May '12..

As a country with more than enough real enemies, the last thing Israel needs is for its supporters to start attacking its friends. But that’s what seems to have happened to the University of Texas – which has been attacked as an anti-Israel boycotter for taking a courageous stand against the boycott.

It began when Israel National News published a perfectly fair article with an unfortunate headline: “New Boycott: U. of Texas Cancels Book Including Israelis.” The headline seems to accuse the university itself of boycotting Israelis, and that’s how many people evidently read it: Comments such as “U of Texas Press bows to boycotters,” or the more generic “scandalous!” and “shameful,” soon appeared on Twitter and Facebook.

What actually happened, as the news story makes clear, is that the university’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies wanted to publish a collection of women’s writing about life in the Middle East that would include both Arab and Israeli authors. The problem began when a Palestinian woman who had been invited to contribute threatened to withdraw her own article if the two Israelis contributors weren’t excluded.

The university, quite properly, told her to go ahead and withdraw; the book could live without her contribution. But she countered by persuading other contributors to withdraw their manuscripts as well. Ultimately, according to Inside Higher Ed, 13 of the 29 authors did so, and a few others were wavering. That left the university with four choices:

First, it could violate every known standard of professional behavior, and open itself to lawsuits, by publishing the withdrawn manuscripts without their authors’ consent. Second, it could make itself a professional laughingstock by publishing a collection of articles on life in the Middle East that didn’t include a single Arab author. Its critics seem to think it should have chosen one of these two. Yet it should be obvious that no self-respecting university would seriously consider either of them.

The third option was to capitulate to the boycotters and publish 27 of the 29 articles, excluding only the two Israeli contributions. Many universities would likely have done exactly that: Just consider the craven behavior of Yale University Press, which capitulated to Muslim pressure to exclude pictures of controversial Danish cartoons of Mohammed from a book about the controversy over the Danish cartoons. But Texas, to its credit, did no such thing.

Instead, it chose the final option: It stood up to the boycotters and announced that if the Israelis aren’t published, the boycotters won’t be, either – even at the cost of canceling a book in which the university had already invested a good deal of time, effort and money. As Kamran Scot Aghaie, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, quite properly said, he refuses to “censor” people “based on religion or national origin. To do so is simply discrimination, and it’s wrong.”

That’s exactly how a self-respecting university should respond to anti-Israel boycotters. And for having done so, the University of Texas deserves kudos, not blame.


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