Wednesday, February 12, 2014


A bill that would outlaw academic boycott of Israel by U.S. universities, under penalty of loss of federal funding, was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives last Thursday by Jewish congressmen Peter Roskam and Dan Lipinski.  H.R. 4009, Protect Academic Freedom Act, is virtually identical to a New York State bill I discussed last week. (See NY Bill Defunds Colleges which Boycott Israel) Its stated purpose is "to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to prohibit an institution that participates in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars from being eligible for certain funds under that act."

This bill reacts to continuing efforts by the prestigious American Studies Association to withdraw U.S. academic cooperation with Israeli educational institutions (but not individual academics) that defend Israel's injustices.

In a video before the House of Representatives, Rep. Roskam described such an effort as "anti-Semitic." His bill says the U.S. has the duty to protect "the principles of academic freedom guaranteed by the United States."  Roskam evidently believes the U.S. government's First Amendment protections should extend to academics of a foreign country!

Like similar legislation in New York and Maryland, this bill attempts to portray academic boycott as a violation of Israeli human rights. In punishing the boycotting universities, their staffs, or even students who have presumed to influence Israel with more than just words, H.R. 4009's penalties could be very great.  Johns Hopkins University receives more than a billion dollars annually in federal aid.  Even more calamitous would be the chill on free speech as universities and colleges are coerced to cooperate or close their doors.

Yes, it is unpleasant for Israeli educational institutions to be restricted because they support Israeli policies of discrimination, harassment, land seizures, arbitrary imprisonment and denial of basic human rights, etc. against the Palestinians. Yet such inconvenience pales before the sufferings and deprivations Israel continues to impose on innocent Palestinians, especially in Gaza but also the West Bank.  

An academic boycott simply says to Israel: "Allow freedom and full human rights and dignity to the Palestinians, and American academic institutions participating in our boycott will restore free academic cooperation."